Coventry Mystery Plays

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Coventry Pageant - Engraving
A Pageant in Coventry.

The Coventry Mystery Plays, or Coventry Corpus Christi Pageants, are a cycle of medieval mystery plays from Coventry, West Midlands, England, and are perhaps best known as the source of the "Coventry Carol". Two plays from the original cycle are extant having been copied from the now lost original manuscript in the early 19th century.[1] Another, separate manuscript (BL MS Cotton Vespasian D.8) was initially titled the Ludus Coventriae[2] by a 17th-century librarian who erroneously assumed it was copy of the Coventry mystery plays. The collection within this manuscript are now more commonly known as the N-Town Plays and are thought to have originated in East Anglia.[3]


Performances of the Coventry Plays are first recorded in a document of 1392–3, and continued for nearly two centuries; the young Shakespeare may have witnessed them before they were finally suppressed in 1579. Latterly the plays were performed in a version revised by one Robert Croo in 1534. In its fullest form the cycle comprised about ten plays, all on New Testament themes, though only two have survived to the present day. Of these two, the Shearmen and Tailors' Pageant was a nativity play portraying events from the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents, and the Weavers' Pageant dealt with the Purification and the Doctors in the Temple.[4]

The only ancient manuscript of the Shearmen and Tailors' Pageant was destroyed by fire in 1879; but it had previously been transcribed and published by Thomas Sharp.[5]


  1. ^ Chris Upton Midlands archive: No mystery ... Birmingham Post 9 September 2000
  2. ^ Ed. K. S. Block (1922) Ludus Coventriae or The Plaie called Corpus Christi : COTTON MS. VESPASIAN D. VIII. London: Oxford University Press for the Early English Text Society.
  3. ^ "Culture: Poetic justice for Coventry history". 2002. Birmingham Post, pp. 14-14.
  4. ^ R. M. Wilson The Lost Literature of Medieval England, 2nd edition (London: Methuen, [1970] 1972) pp. 226-7; Beatrice Groves Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare, 1592-1604 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007) pp. 36-41; Lawrence M. Clopper "English Drama: From Ungodly Ludi to Sacred Play", David Wallace (ed.) The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp. 750-751.
  5. ^ Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays, ed. by A. C. Cawley, Everyman's Library, 381 (London: Dent, 1922) [new edn 1979], p. 69.

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