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Plays, London Clubs And

In 1220 King Henry III issued a charter to "The Society of Parish Clerks," often called "London Clubs." The particular clerks (clerics) referred to were those trained men in each parish upon whom a priest depended for music; and a set of notes was drawn in their crest when their charter was written. In very old times priests and monks themselves acted out "holy plays" under such titles as "Noah's Flood," "Story of Samson," etc., and it may be that it was out of this tradition that the "London Clubs" developed from a society of singers into one for writing, costuming, and acting plays for the City Companies. Herbert, one of the historians of the Companies, describes them as "being the first t actors of the middle ages."

That these clerks (Stow refers to them as "The Clerks Company") acted plays at the feasts of the London City Companies is proved by the Company books in which amounts of money paid by them for plays are frequently entered. Their subjects were nearly all taken from the Bible; and it would appear that the clerks could prepare a play for any given Company which would be appropriate to its work, especially since almost every Company had a set of legendary stories of its own origins indirectly based on Scripture stories; the Company of Carpenters, for examples based theirs on the stories of Jesus in the carpenter shop; the Shipwrights, on the story of the Ark; the Ironmongers, on the story of Tubal Cain; the Masons, on the story of Solomon and the Temple; etc. Arundell, in his Reminiscences of the City of Lone don and its Livery Companies (page 226), gives a specimen list as: "The Fall of Lucifer,1' "The Shepherds feeding their flocks by night," "The Killing of the Innocents," etc.

Toulmin Smith, who was the first scholar to make researches in the Mystery and Miracle Plays, especially of Chester where they were performed in public by the gilds and very elaborately, was nowhere able to find any play with any similarity to the ceremony of HA.-., nor has any other specialist since found any evidence; but it could easily be that The Clerks Company of Players had produced such a play for Masons Companies, not for use in a street pageant but for giving at a feast in the Masons Hall. Lodges of Freemasons existed separately from these permanent Masons Companies in the towns and cities, but it often happened that a Craftsman was a member of a Lodge and a Company at the same time--as is still true--so that a play originally created for a Company might be used by a Lodge.

Some students of Craft history (as is true in the ease of the present writer, do not believe that the Rite of Raising is or ever has been of theatrical origins; others do, and it may be that these latter are more likely to find some form of a Hiram Abif story among the London Clerks' plays than among plays for street pageants.

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