Such hath always been, and yet is, the perverse and wretched condition of sinful man, the cogitations of whose heart are evil and only evil before God, and that continually: that it is far more easy to estrange him from his best, and chiefest joys; than to divorce him from his truest misery, the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season, yet set in endless grief. Man always hugs his pleasurable sins so fast, out of a preposterous and misguided love, which makes his reformation desperate, that if any soul-compassionating Christians attempt to wrest them from him, he forthwith takes up arms against them, returning them no other answer, then that of Ruth to Naomi, in a far better case: The Lord doe so to me, and more also, if ought but death part them and me: where they dye, I will dye, and there will I bee buried. And thus alas he lives, nay, dies and lies (as too, too many daily do) entombed both with and in his darling crimes.
How naturally prone men are to cleave to worldly pleasures and delights of sin, in despite of all those powerful attractives which might withdraw them from them; to omit all other particular instances, we may behold a real and lively experiment of it in profane and poisonous STAGE-PLAYS, the common idol and prevailing evil of our dissolute and degenerous Age. Which though they had their rise from hell, yea, their birth, and pedigree from the very Devil himself, to whose honour and service they were at first devoted. Though they have been oft condemned and quite exploded by the whole Primitive Church, both under the Law and Gospel, by the unanimous vote of all the Fathers, and sundry Councils from age to age, by modern divines, and Christian authors of all sorts, by divers heathen states, and emperors, and by whole Grand Juries of profane writers (as well historians and poets as philosophers) as the incendiaries and common nurseries of all villainy and wickedness, the bane and overthrow of all grace and goodness, the very poison and corruption of men's minds and manners, the very fatal plagues and overtures of those states and kingdoms where they are once tolerated, as I shall prove anon.
Yet we, we miserable and graceless wretches, after so many sentences of condemnation passed upon them, after so many judgments already inflicted on and yet threatened to us for them, after so many years and jubilees of the glorious Gospel-sun-shine which teacheth us to deny ungodliness and all worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, looking for the coming, and appearance of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. Yea, after our very vow and sacred covenant in Baptism, which binds us to forsake the Devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world and all the sinful lusts of the flesh, of which these Stage-Plays are the chief. As if we were quite degenerated, not only from the grace and holinesses of Christians, but even from the natural goodness and morality of pagans in former ages, do now, even now, in the midst of all our fears at home and the miserable desolations of God's Church abroad (the very thoughts of which should cause our hearts to bleed, and souls to mourn; much more our hellish jollity, and mirth to cease): as if we had made a covenant with hell, and sworn allegiance to the Devil himself, enthrall, and sell ourselves to these diabolical, and hellish interludes, notwithstanding all that God or man have said against them. And would rather part with Christ, religion, God, or heaven, than with them. Yea, so far are many men's affections wedded to these profane and heathenish vanities, that as it was in Saint Augustine's time, even so it is now, whosoever is but displeased and offended with them, is presently reputed for a common enemy.
He that speaks against them or comes not at them, is forthwith branded for a schismatical or factious Puritan. And if any one assay to alter or suppress them, he becomes so odious unto many, that did not the fear of punishment restrain their malice, they would not only scorn and disgrace but even stone or rent him all to pieces, as a man unworthy for to live on earth. Whereas such who further these delights of sin are highly magnified, as the chief contrivers of the public happiness. There was once a time (if Tertullian, with some other ancient Fathers may be credited) when as it was the chiefest badge and character of a Christian, to refrain from Stage-Plays: yea, this was one great crime which the pagans did object against the Christians in the Primitive Church, that they came not to their interludes. But now (as if Stage-Plays were our Creed and Gospel, or the truest emblem of our Christian profession) those are not worthy of the name of Christians - they must be Puritans and Precisians; not Protestants, who dislike them.
Heu quantum mutatus ab illo?
Alas, how far are Christians now degenerated from what they were in ancient times; when as that which was their badge and honour heretofore is now become their brand and shame? Quantus in Christiano populo honor Christi est, vbi religio ignobilem facit? How little doe we Christians honour Christ, when as the ancient character; and practical power, of religion (I mean the abandoning, and renouncing of sin-fomenting Stage-Plays) subject men unto the highest censure, and disgrace?
Conquerar? an taceam?
This being the dissolute and unhappy constitution of our depraved times, it put me at the first to this dilemma, whether to sit mute and silent still and mourn in secret for these overspreading abominations (which have got such head of late among us, that many who visit the Church scarce once a week, frequent the Playhouse once a day). Or whether I should lift up my voice like a trumpet and cry against them to my power? If I should bend my tongue or pen against them (as I have done against some other sinful and unchristian vanities), my thoughts informed me that I might with the unfortunate Disciples, fish all night, and catch just nothing at the last but the reproach and scorn of the histrionicall and profaner sort, whose tongues are set on fire of hell against all such as dare affront their hellish practices. And so my hopes and travail would bee wrecked at once. If I should on the other side, neglect to doe my uttermost to extirpate or withstand these dangerous spectacles, or to withdraw such persons from them as my pains and brief collections in this subject might reclaim, when God had put this opportunity into my hand and will into my heart to do it, my conscience then persuaded me, that my negligence and slackness in this kind might make me guilty of the death of all such ignorant, and seduced souls, which these my poor endeavors might rescue from these chains of hell, and cords of sin, and interest me in all the evil which they might suppress.
Whereupon I resolved with myself at last, to endure the cross and despise the hate and shame, which the publishing of this HISTRIO-MASTIX might procure me, and to assuage (at least in my endeavors, if not otherwise,) these inveterate, and festered ulcers (which may endanger Church, and State at once) by applying some speedy corrosives and emplaisters to them, and ripping up their noxious and infectious nature, on the public theater in these ensuing Acts and Scenes. Which I thought good to style, The Players' or Actors' Tragedy - not so much for the style or method of it (for alas, here is neither tragic style, nor poetical strains, nor rare invention, nor clown, nor actor in it, but only bare, and naked truth which needs no Eloquence nor strain of wit for to adorn or plead its cause) - as for the good effects I hope it may and will produce, to the suppression and extirpation, at least the restraint and diminution` both of plays, and common actors, and all those several mischievous and pestiferous fruits of hellish wickednesses that issue from them. Which much desired success, and reformation, if I could but live to see; I should deem myself an happy man, and think my labour richly recompensed.
[Spelling and punctuation modernized]
Ruth 1: 17 - Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
attractives = attractions
degenerous = degenerate
Isaiah 28:15 - "Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement".
schismatical = The most extreme English puritans separated themselves from the English Church, refusing to attend its worship; they were accused of the sin of schism - a deliberate and unwarranted break with the church.
Precisians = Puritans were regarded as being to rigidly precise in their insistence on proper religious forms and so were detractingly called precisians, e.g. Drayton (1612) "Like our Precisians. Who for some cross or saint they in the window see will pluck down all the church."
Heu "quantum mutatus ab illo [Hectore]" = Vergil, Aeneid, II 274-275 Alas "how changed from that earlier Hector"
"Conquerar, an taceam?" = "Complaint or silence?" Ovid, Ex ponto, IV.iii (To a faithless friend).
histrionicall = histrionic, i.e. theatrical, dramatic.
emplaisters = plasters, a substance spread on a wound to close it.