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Discovery Medieval Drama Lecture

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Mary Flannery

on 15 April 2014

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Transcript of Discovery Medieval Drama Lecture

Discovery Week 9: Medieval Drama
...brings together:
doctrinal/ecclesiastical AND commercial/social concerns

biblical history AND medieval present

individual souls AND Christian community
Today's lecture:
Brief intro to medieval drama


Play of the Crucifixion

Audience perspective
Medieval Drama
York Mystery Plays/York Corpus Christi Plays

N-Town Cycle

'n' -->

(proclamation that these plays are 'to be performed at N-town')
Dark hints about their work...
Christ's Willing Sacrifice
Lines 75 ff.: 'Byhalde, hymselffe has laide hym doune / In lenghe and breede as he schulde bee.'

Lines 51 ff. [Jesus]: 'Thou badde that I schulde buxsome be, / For Adam plyght for to be pyned. / Here to dede I obblisshe me / Fro that synne for to save mankynde, / And soveraynely beseke I thee / That thai for me may favoure fynde[.]'
Soldiers unable to carry the 'weight':
Lines 189 ff.:

[I MILES] For grete harme have I hente: My schuldir is in soundre.

[II MILES] And sertis I am nere schente,
So lange have I borne undir.

[III MILES] This crosse and I in twoo muste twynne
Ellis brekis my bakke in sondre sone.
To sum up:
Form makes these texts work
Public/inclusive performance is key
Bringing Christ's birth and suffering to life
Reminders of triumph to come
misteri(e), n. (1)
misteri(e), n. (2)
1a. Hidden symbolism, doctrine, or spiritual significance; 1b. a sacrament; 2. an inexplicable feat
(a) Ministry, office, service; (b) a handicraft, an art; (c) a guild
Mystery Plays
Largely biblical materials rendered as drama

Miracle Plays
Accounts of saints’ lives and miraculous events

Moralities or ‘Morality Plays’
Focus on archetypal, allegorical narratives with personified abstractions: e.g. ‘Mankind’ encounters the Seven Deadly Sins, Mercy, Grace, Death….

Elaborations of the Moralities, with more secular emphasis; focusing mostly on social, courtly qualities, e.g. slander, magnificence, discretion etc. Later development (s. xvi).
Some Types of Medieval Drama
Between Orality & Literacy
Public event, mostly in open spaces like town squares and fields on festivals and ‘holydays’

Performance : visual and verbal
-->non-literary performance, socially inclusive

Vernacular (non-Latin) treatment of religious issues

Performance of the York Cycle
Written down between 1463-1477 (performed ~ 1377-1569)

Performed on the feast of Corpus Christi

Moveable stages (pageant carts/wagons)

‘Procession’ through 12 successive stations

48 plays / episodes

Performed by non professional actors; each specific craft guild being responsible for a particular play
Religious subject matter, but performed by lay actors: consolidates lay devotion

‘participative’ conception of performance, where the barrier between audience and actor is fluid and blurred

Display of wealth, authority and power of the different craft guilds
Performance, devotion, and community
Barkers (Tanners) – The creation, and the Fall of Lucifer

Armourers - Expulsion from Eden

Shipwrights - Building of the Ark

Goldsmiths - Coming of the Kings: Adoration

Bakers - Last Supper

Saddlers - Harrowing of Hell

--> full list at http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/yorkplays/york.html#pag
Some key episodes from the York Cycle
--> N-Town Plays: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/sugano-the-n-town-plays
Lindau Gospels, cover
St Gallen ca. 880

s. vi

Byzantine crucifixion
Northern Italy, s. xi-xii

Some early examples…

Huth Psalter
(English manuscript),
After 1280


Albrecht Altdorfer,
(danube school) 1512

Some later examples..

Lines 102 ff.: 'Yis, her is a stubbe will stiffely stande, / Thurgh bones and senous it schall be soght.'
Lines 145 ff.: 'Ther cordis have evill encressed his paynes / Or he wer tille the booryngis brought.'
Lines 147 ff.: 'Yaa, assoundir are bothe synnous and veynis / On ilke a side, so have we soughte.'
Full transcript