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THE INTERLUDE

THE interlude, which grew out of the morality, was intended, as its name implies, to be used more as a filler than as the main part of an entertainment. At its best it was short, witty, simple in plot, suited for the diversion of guests at a banquet, or for the relaxation of the audience between the divisions of a serious play. Unlike the pageants, it was essentially an indoors performance, and generally of an aristocratic nature. In its development it tended always towards greater refinement and concentration. At first the flavor of the morality clung to it, as is seen by such titles as The Four Elements, or The World and the Child. In the early part of the sixteenth century political subjects began to be used, and public officials were satirized under allegorical names. It will be remembered that this was the century of Luther and much dissension in the Church; and religion was often criticized under cover of the interlude. Cardinal Wolsey imprisoned an author, John Roo, and an actor, for alleged satire against himself in a play called Lord Governance and the Lady Public Weal, presented at Gray's Inn at Christmas time, 1525 or 1527. The author pleaded that the play had been "compyled for the moste part" twenty years before, at a time when the Cardinal had not yet come to any position of authority; consequently the culprits were released. In a Latin play given before the king and the French ambassador in 1527 unflattering portraits of "Lewter" and his wife were presented, other characters in the piece being Religion, Veritas, Heresy, and False Interpretation. In the Protestant camp John Bale, author of God's Merciful Promises and other interludes, was one of the strongest of the anti-popish writers.

The best of the interludes, however, were not those used for the purpose of propaganda. As the species developed, abstract characters gave place to recognizable human beings, didacticism disappeared, and a spirit of genuine comedy emerged. Life was no longer like the morality, a battlefield between Virtue and Vice, with the betting chances strongly in favor of Vice, but an opportunity for amusing and diversified experiences. The engaging quality which characterizes Chaucer and Piers Plowman was little by little transferred to the stage, partly at least through the interlude.


This article was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. pp. 184-5.

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