The Mystery Play

It is the mystery play, in medieval times, that forms our first record of English dramatic art. Taken around nearby towns by actors made up of people from craft guilds, these plays were popular from the 13th to the 16th century. It was from the trade (or "mestier") of the performers that these plays take their "mystery" name, although initially the term "miracle play" was also given to them (strictly, though, those are plays depicting saints’ lives). These plays did not only surface in England, but were common in Ireland and on the continent too: in France, Italy and Germany. Many different plays would be performed at festivals or pageants in the towns, forming "cycles" taken from Biblical sources and stripped down to their core narrative elements – each one to be played by a particular guild (shipmen for Noah’s story, ironically enough, in York). The four complete surviving play cycles show that the plays alternated between the serious and devout (for the Passion etc.), and the humorous or absurd (frequently involving Satan making a fool of himself or profane husband and wife arguments). It is no surprise that even during their time, these extremely popular plays caused certain controversy due to their apparent idolatry and the Church’s distaste for religious pageantry. In fact, the plays were spreading the knowledge and understanding of Christianity and Biblical stories at a time when books were not commonly available. However, they were finally repressed out of existence at the time of the Reformation.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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