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Britain out of Europe?
I gotta question the formulation, "one of the earliest formally developed plays in Britain and Europe". Britain's no longer part of Europe, what? ;) -- April
- It used to was that "Europe" referred only to the continent. Britain being an island... --Brion
- Britain has always been a part of Europe, but many Britons seem uncomfortable about this. Use "Europe" to mean "Europe" and if you want to say "Europe but not Britain" say "continental europe". -- Tarquin
Errors and generalisations
There are several errors and misleading generalisations in the introductory paragraphs in the article on Mystery plays. Some of these remarks might be correct if applied to the English example, but do not hold for the mediaeval theatre in other countries.
It is only in England that the vernacular religious performances were taken over by the guilds and that each guild took responsibility for one particular dramatisation. Moreover, the etymology of the word mystery, in the sense of mystery play, is not found in the stated origin (handicrafts and relating to the guilds). Mystery does indeed go back to the Mediaeval Latin mysterium, which had the meaning of office or ceremony. Miracle plays were not normally performed in Latin, although a few were written in Latin. Most were performed in the vernacular of the country in question. In France, over 40 French language miracle plays survive from the 14th century.
The tradition of performing cycles of mystery plays on major feast days, such as Corpus Christi, is an English phenomenon, and not found in most other countries. The third paragraph only really applies to English mediaeval drama. The dividing of these large plays into separate units, performed on pageants, is again a purely English phenomenon, as is the reference to the stanza form.
For further details, see the Cambridge Guide to World Drama.
As an alternative to the introductory paragraphs, I would suggest the following:
Mystery plays were the most highly developed form of religious drama in Western Europe during the latter part of the Middle Ages. Most countries in Western Europe had mystery plays, but each country had different traditions, and there is little evidence mutual influence or borrowing. They were the latest form of mediaeval religious drama, prevalent especially during the 15th and 16th centuries. Mediaeval religious drama developed from the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux 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 embellishments of the liturgical text, and became more elaborate. As these liturgical plays became more popular, more vernacular elements were introduced and non-clergy began to participate. As the dramas became increasingly secular, they began to be performed entirely in the vernacular and were moved out of the churches by the 13th or 14th century. The word mystery goes back to the mediaeval Latin mysterium, meaning an office or a ceremony. The subject matter of mystery plays is either biblical or hagiographic. Many mystery plays dramatise the life of Christ, culminating in his Crucifixion and in his Resurrection; these are usually called Passion plays. But some extend to include the whole history of the universe starting with the Creation and ending in Doomsday. In some countries, mystery plays also dramatise the life of one or more saints. In their fullest form, mystery plays can be extremely long, taking several days to perform. The performance of mystery plays often involved the participation of very large number of people, sometimes all the members of a confraternity or guild, or many of the inhabitants of the town. The actors were normally amateurs. Mystery plays are similar in some respects to the shorter, and generally earlier, miracle plays, whose subject matter is normally hagiographic.
I would then alter the section on English mystery plays to the following:
English mystery plays In England, the performances of mystery plays were taken over by the guilds </wiki/Guild>, with each guild taking responsibility for a particular piece of scriptural history. The mystery play thus developed 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 tradition of acting these plays in cycles on festival days (such as the Feast of Corpus Christi </wiki/Corpus_Christi>) was established; in York for example, each play was performed on decorated carts called pageants, 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. There are four complete or nearly complete extant English biblical collections of plays; we may no longer call all of them "cycles": the York cycle of forty-eight pageants; the Towneley plays of thirty-two pageants, once thought to have been a true 'cycle' of plays acted at Wakefield </wiki/Wakefield>; the N Town plays of forty-three pageants (also called the Ludus Coventriae cycle or Hegge cycle) acted probably in Lincolnshire or Norfolk, and the Chester cycle </wiki/Chester_Mystery_Plays> of twenty-four pageants. Also extant are two pageants from a New Testament cycle acted at Coventry and one pageant each from Norwich and Newcastle-on-Tyne. There are three surviving plays in Cornish </wiki/Cornish_language>, and several cyclical plays survive from continental Europe. These biblical plays differed 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 were 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 </wiki/Horbury> Shrogys ( <http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-old?id=AnoTown&images=images/modeng&data=/lv1/Archive/mideng-parsed&tag=public&part=13&division=div> line 454) is strongly suggestive. 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 </wiki/Harrowing_of_Hell>, derived from the apocryphal Acts of Pilate </wiki/Acts_of_Pilate>, was a popular part of the York and Wakefield cycles. The dramas of the Elizabethan </wiki/Elizabethan_theatre> and Jacobean </wiki/Jacobean_era> periods were developed out of mystery plays. The Mystery Plays were revived in York </wiki/York> in 1951 </wiki/1951> as part of the Festival of Britain </wiki/Festival_of_Britain>.
I am not sure how to carry out this revision of this article.
Why is this lumped with Miracle plays? They are distinct enough to deserve their own seperate articles. This article even mentions that Mystery Plays should not be confused with miracle plays.
Easter play and passion play
- That's probably an article in its own right. Easter and Lenten (passion) plays were performed under the auspices of the catholic church. Mystery plays related to Corpus Christi and (tended) to be performed by the guilds - making the most of the double entendre - religious truth and trade, or craft. That's why initially they escaped the reformation in NOT(continental Europe).
- They are both alike, and from very different traditions. All of the plays also got caught up in a mix of popular imagination, church and state politics at some time. That's why they were ultimately suppressed. There are very few records of either the plays themselves, or their staging, and certainly nothing on why they were done. There's probably a PhD in there for someone willing to untangle them! There are a couple of books out there on mystery plays - do they attempt to make the link? Has anybody read them? Kbthompson 10:18, 6 December 2006 (UTC)
- Added them as "see also" for now. // habj 04:12, 14 December 2006 (UTC)