Page:A short history of social life in England.djvu/153

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133
END OF THE MIDDLE AGES

knit. Some of them, too, were fairly accomplished in the arts of painting and music, professions hitherto restricted to the clergy.

Even as the fifteenth century dies, we find the power of the clergy waning. The early Mystery and Miracle Plays, drawn from Scripture and the legends of the saints for the instruction and amusement of the people, had degenerated into the Morality Play, which, though professedly religious in character, had departed from the old earnestness of earlier days. The plays reflect the life of the period, being personifications of the vices and virtues of the age, rudely represented and coarsely conceived.

If the Middle Ages die away in a wail of sadness, if the rude manners, low morality, coarse tastes, and gross ignorance of the people seem in strong contrast with the influence of the Medieval Church, it must be remembered that degeneration invariably precedes renaissance, that the darkest hour is before the dawn, and that a new life was about to burst over England, pregnant with a new morality, a new refinement of tastes, a new enthusiasm for learning, and a more generous interpretation of the needs of humanity by the Church of England.