the friend online
04 July 2008


So what’s the Mystery? - preview

Peter Speirs looks at the Mystery plays as produced at Chester Cathedral

Mystery plays, or miracle plays, have a long history in Britain and elsewhere in Europe
  • They tend to date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: each play, depicting its own episode from the Bible, would traditionally have been performed by a different city guild
  • Texts were in the medieval vernacular and presented the Bible stories in a direct, earthy style

  • Chester's original cycle (they exist also in Coventry, Lincoln, Wakefield and York) consisted of twenty-four plays
  • The first record of a performance dates from Corpus Christi in 1422
  • One play (The Assumption of the Virgin) has not survived; this play (amongst others) was suppressed during the Reformation, but its text was never recorded
  • The remaining plays were all transcribed from the spoken tradition, during the early fifteenth century
  • The fable of an abbey monk, one Ranulf Higden, composing the plays in the early fourteenth century is unlikely to be true
  • Medieval presentations ceased after the Reformation, following the translation of the Bible into English

  • Peter Speirs

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