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Encyclopedia > Mystery play

Mystery plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Their origin is obscure, but the most common theory is that they developed from the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song, such as the quem quaeritis, a short musical performance set at the tomb of the risen Christ. These simple structures were developed with tropes, verbal embellishment of the liturgical text, and became more elaborate. As these liturgical plays became more popular, vernacular analogues began to develop as traveling companies of players and civic theatrical productions became more common in the late Middle Ages. The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three ages: the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. ... World map showing Europe Political map Europe is one of the seven continents of Earth which, in this case, is more a cultural and political distinction than a physiographic one, leading to various perspectives about Europes borders. ... The Gutenberg Bible owned by the United States Library of Congress The Bible (Hebrew: תנ״ך tanakh, Greek: η Βίβλος hē biblos, the book) (sometimes The Holy Bible, The Book, Work of God, The Word of God, The Word, The Good Book, Scripture, or The Scriptures), is the name used by Jews and Christians... A church building (or simply church) is a building used in Christian worship. ... Tableau vivant, Folies Bergères c. ... This article is about the musical term. ... A trope is a rhetorical figure of speech that consists of a play on words, i. ...


These vernacular religious performances were, in some of the larger cities in England such as York, performed and produced by guilds, with each guild taking responsibility for a particular piece of scriptural history. From the guild control they gained the name mystery play or just mysteries, from the Latin mysterium (meaning handicraft and relating to the guilds). Mystery plays should not be confused with Miracle plays, which specifically re-enacted episodes from the lives of the saints; however, it is also to be noted that both of these terms are more commonly used by modern scholars than they were by medieval people, who used a wide variety of terminology to refer to their dramatic performances. York is a city in northern England, at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss. ... A guild is an association of people of the same trade or pursuits (with a similar skill or craft), formed to protect mutual interests and maintain standards of morality or conduct. ... A saint is a term to refer to someone who is a holy person. ...


The mystery play developed, in some places, into a series of plays dealing with all the major events in the Christian calendar, from the Creation to the Day of Judgment. By the end of the 15th century, the practise of acting these plays in cycles on festival days (such as Corpus Christi, performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi) was established in several parts of Europe. Sometimes, each play was performed on a decorated cart called a pageant that moved about the city to allow different crowds to watch each play. The entire cycle could take up to twenty hours to perform and could be spread over a number of days. Taken as a whole, these are referred to as Corpus Christi cycles. Corpus Christi is a passion play by Terrence McNally dramatizing the story of Christ and the Apostles. ... This article is about the Christian feast of Corpus Christi. ...


The plays were performed by a combination of professionals and amateurs and were written in highly elaborate stanza forms; they were often marked by the extravagance of the sets and 'special effects', but could also be stark and intimate. The variety of theatrical and poetic styles, even in a single cycle of plays, could be remarkable.


English mystery plays

Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise
Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise

There are four complete or nearly complete extant English biblical collections of plays; we may no longer call all of them "cycles." The most complete is the York cycle of forty-eight pageants; there are also the Towneley plays of thirty-two pageants, once thought to have been a true 'cycle' of plays acted at Wakefield; the N Town plays (also called the Ludus Coventriae cycle or Hegge cycle), now generally agreed to be a redacted compilation of at least three older, unrelated plays, and the Chester cycle of twenty-four pageants, now generally agreed to be an Elizabethan reconstruction of older medieval traditions. Also extant are two pageants from a New Testament cycle acted at Coventry and one pageant each from Norwich and Newcastle-on-Tyne. Additionally, a fifteenth-century play of the life of Mary Magdalene and a sixteenth-century play of the Conversion of Saint Paul exist, both hailing from East Anglia. Besides the Middle English drama, there are three surviving plays in Cornish, and several cyclical plays survive from continental Europe. Eva: Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise. ... Wakefield Wakefield is a city in the county of West Yorkshire, England, south of Leeds, and by the River Calder. ... The Chester Mystery Plays are a cycle of mystery plays from the 14th century, and the most complete set of such plays in existence. ... Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. ... Saul, also known as Paul, Paulus, and Saint Paul the Apostle (c. ... Norfolk and Suffolk, the core area of East Anglia. ... Middle English is the name given by historical linguistics to the diverse forms of the English language spoken between the Norman invasion in 1066 and the mid-to-late 15th century, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the... The Cornish language (in Cornish: Kernowek, Kernewek, Curnoack) is one of the Brythonic group of Celtic languages that includes Welsh, Breton, the extinct Cumbric and perhaps the hypothetical Ivernic. ...


These biblical plays differ widely in content. Most contain episodes such as the Fall of Lucifer, the Creation and Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the Nativity, the Raising of Lazarus, the Passion, and the Resurrection. Other pageants included the story of Moses, the Procession of the Prophets, Christ's Baptism, the Temptation in the Wilderness, and the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin. In given cycles, the plays came to be sponsored by the newly emerging Medieval craft guilds. The York mercers, for example, sponsored the Doomsday pageant. The guild associations are not, however, to be understood as the method of production for all towns. While the Chester pageants are associated with guilds, there is no indication that the N-Town plays are either associated with guilds or performed on pageant wagons. Perhaps the most famous of the mystery plays, at least to modern readers and audiences, are those of Wakefield. Unfortunately, we cannot know whether the plays of the Towneley manuscript are actually the plays performed at Wakefield but a reference in the Second Shepherds' Play to Horbery Shrogys ([1] line 454) is strongly suggestive. Map sources for Horbury at grid reference SE294182 Horbury is a large village, west of Wakefield in Yorkshire. ...


The most famous plays of the Towneley collection are attributed to the Wakefield Master, an anonymous playwright who wrote in the fifteenth century. Early scholars suggested that a man by the name of Gilbert Pilkington was the author, but this idea has been disproved by Craig and others. The epithet "Wakefield Master" was first applied to this individual by the literary historian Gayley. The Wakefield Master gets his name from the geographic location where he lived, the market-town of Wakefield in Yorkshire. He may have been a highly educated cleric there, or possibly a friar from a nearby monastery at Woodkirk, four miles north of Wakefield. It was once thought that this anonymous author wrote a series of 32 plays (each averaging about 384 lines) called the Towneley Cycle. The Master's contributions to this collection are still much debated, and some scholars believe he may have written fewer than ten of them. A cycle is a series of mystery plays performed during the Corpus Christi festival. These works appear in a single manuscript, which was kept for a number of years in Towneley Hall of the Towneley family. Thus the plays are called the Towneley Cycle. The manuscript is currently found in the Huntington Library of California. It shows signs of Protestant editing — references to the Pope and the sacraments are crossed out, for instance. Likewise, twelve manuscript leaves were ripped out between the two final plays because of Catholic references. This evidence strongly suggests the play was still being read and performed as late as 1520, perhaps as late in Renaissance as the final years of King Henry VIII's reign. This fact says something about the power and influence of the medieval mystery play — the genre was still popular when Shakespeare was a small boy, and he might very well have grown up watching such plays before writing his own.


The best known pageant in the Towneley manuscript is The Second Shepherds' Pageant, a burlesque of the Nativity featuring Mak the sheep stealer and his wife Gill, which more or less explicitly compares a stolen lamb to the Saviour of mankind. The Harrowing of Hell, derived from the apocryphal Acts of Pilate, was a popular part of the York and Wakefield cycles. Christs Descent into Limbo by studio of Andrea Mantegna, c. ... The Acts of Pilate (Latin Acta Pilati) is a book of the New Testament apocrypha. ...


The dramas of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods were developed out of mystery plays. The Mystery Plays were revived in York in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. Elizabethan theatre is a general term covering the plays written and performed publicly in England during the reign (1558 - 1603) of Queen Elizabeth I. The term can be used more broadly to also include theatre of Elizabeths immediate successors, James I and Charles I, until the closure of public... The Jacobean era refers to a period in English history that coincides with the reign of James I (1603 – 1625). ... York is a city in northern England, at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss. ... 1951 (MCMLI) was a common year starting on Monday; see its calendar. ... The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition which opened in May 1951 in London. ...


External links


  Results from FactBites:
 
Mystery play - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1102 words)
Mystery plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe.
The plays were performed by a combination of professionals and amateurs and were written in highly elaborate stanza forms; they were often marked by the extravagance of the sets and 'special effects', but could also be stark and intimate.
The Mystery Plays were revived in York in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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