S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

The York Mystery Plays

The 1950s were the early days of medieval play recreation, as Prof. David Klausner explained quite nicely at his Vagantes keynote speech this year, with slides and with recordings. One of the early groups active in play recreation was in York, particularly with the York Mystery Plays, where a selection of them were performed. Another was in Toronto, with the Poculi Ludique Societas (PLS), where the first modern recreation of the complete cycle was performed. One of the elements in this resurgence, as the PLS website reports, was the lifting of a de facto ban on presenting God on stage. The recreation of medieval drama spurred the study of it, and in 1975, the Records of Early English Drama (REED) project had been founded (where curtana will be working in the near future!)

When I was studying at York, reading the plays was part of the curriculum, and then, in the summer, there were a selection of the plays performed in the street (perhaps 15?), conveniently available to watch. Now that I am at Toronto, there are still medieval play recreations regularly available to watch, since the PLS is alive and well. The scholarly study of medieval drama has improved substantially since those early days, as Prof. Klausner made particularly clear in the Vagantes talk. REED, of course, has been a major contributor to the information available on the performance of medieval drama.

The York Mystery Plays were intended to be performed on Corpus Christi day, a day celebrated in honor of the Eucharist. Corpus Christi was established in England in the 1320s. Corpus Christi Day is the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday - which makes today Corpus Christi Day.

In honor of this, you could watch the video history of the modern recreation of the plays, which is available on the York Mystery Plays website. Another good piece of information on the way in which the plays work is available in the form of the Pageant Simulator, which, inspired by a U of T class with Alexandra Johnston (who is director of the REED project), simulates the relative lengths and progressions of the entire cycle of plays through the streets of York. It really does require a very full day to work through the entire cycle.

(Thanks to Denis G. Jerz for suggesting I mention Corpus Christi Day, and to curtana, whose incipient job inspired me to put a little more effort into the post than I might have otherwise.)

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