The court of Henry VIII. became especially fond of the Interlude, which was a short play, often given in connection with a banquet or other entertainment. Any dramatic incident, such as the refusal of Noah’s wife to enter the ark, or Mak’s thievery in The Play of the Shepherds, might serve as an Interlude. Cornish and John Heywood (1497?—1580?), a court dramatist of much versatility, incorporated in the Interlude many of the elements of the five-act drama. The Four P’s, the most famous Interlude, shows a contest between a Pardoner, Palmer, Pedlar, and Poticary, to determine who could tell the greatest lie. Wallace thinks that the best Interludes, such as The Four P’s and The Pardoner and the Frere, were written by Cornish, although they are usually ascribed to Heywood.
Cornish had unusual ability as a deviser of masques and plays. One of his interludes for children has allegorical characters that remotely suggest some that appear in the modern Bluebird, by Maeterlinck. Cornish had Wind appear “in blue with drops of silver”; Rain, “in black with silver honeysuckles”; Winter, “in russet with flakes of silver snow”; Summer, “in green with gold stars”; and Spring, “in green with gold primroses.” In 1522 Cornish wrote and presented before Henry VIII. and his guest, the Roman emperor, a political play, especially planned to indicate the attitude of the English monarch toward Spain and France. Under court influences, the drama enlarged its scope and was no longer chiefly the vehicle for religious instruction.
Early Comedies.—Two early comedies, divided, after the classical fashion, into acts and scenes, show close approximation to the modern form of English plays.
Ralph Royster Doyster was written not far from the middle of the sixteenth century by Nicholas Udall (1505-1556), sometime master of Eton College and, later, court poet under Queen Mary. This play, founded on a comedy of Plautus, shows the classical influence which was so powerful in England at this time. Ralph, the hero, is a conceited simpleton. He falls in love with a widow who has already promised her hand to a man infinitely Ralph’s superior. Ralph, however, unable to understand why she should not want him, persists in his wooing. She makes him the butt of her jokes, and he finds himself in ridiculous positions. The comedy amuses us in this way until her lover returns and marries her. The characters of the play, which is written in rime, are of the English middle class.