Dr. Alan Lupack, Curator of the Robbins Library,
University of Rochester, presents
Library Resources on Medieval Topics
University of Rochester
When our students think of the term “theater,” what often comes to mind is our modern conception of the word. Attending a play evokes thoughts of getting dressed up, paying an exorbitant price for a ticket and sitting quietly in a dark theater, as actors strut about the stage throwing out the occasional “thou” and “doth.” One student, a few years ago on the website Yahoo Answers, asked if Christian themes were all that distinguished medieval drama from later iterations, specifically lamenting that he was “up to my ears in Christian plays” and that “they ‘doth’ bore me to tears.” Being familiar as we are with medieval dramatic figures such as Tutivillus, Mak the Shepherd, and Noah’s Wife, it is difficult for us to think of medieval drama as “boring.” The problem for our students, I believe, is one of perception.
A good deal of our students’ confusion about medieval drama might well be traced to how we label it—or, more accurately, how many different ways we label it. As noted by Christina Fitzgerald in her introduction to the recent edition of the Broadview Anthology of Medieval Drama, we have used a great many names to refer to that collection of plays, including “early drama, medieval drama, medieval and early modern drama, medieval and Tudor drama, drama before 1576 (the opening of the first theater in London), or even drama before Shakespeare” (Fitzgerald ix). Of course, we aren’t entirely to blame for that, as the early playwrights and printers used a wide variety of terms to refer to their own work, creating variations that they referred to as “ludus, jeu, ordo, representatio, officium, pagina, miraculum, mystere, processus, interlude, morality, mumming, disguising, and, of course, play” (Fitzgerald xi). Even with this combined list, which itself is not close to being exhaustive, we have twenty terms to refer to dramatic texts from the same time period. It’s no wonder that our students can seem overwhelmed.
Ultimately, I have three goals for this bibliography. First, it will provide a simplified understanding of the various genres of medieval drama. Second, it will offer a wide variety of texts, including primary and secondary sources, as well as actual performances, that will enable the classroom teacher to incorporate medieval drama effectively. Finally, it will offer ideas for performance-based pedagogy for these texts that can be easily implemented in classrooms.
Genre Simplification and Reason for Teaching Medieval Drama
In the interests of simplicity, this bibliography will focus on the four primary modes of medieval drama—Mummings, Mystery Plays, Miracle Plays and Morality Plays. As noted in the introduction, these four categories do not, and cannot cover all of the various modes of dramatic work found in medieval England. That said, these four do cover most of the best known examples of medieval drama, including those plays that were particularly influential on the emerging professional stage of Shakespeare’s England.
There are plenty of reasons for incorporating medieval drama into our curricula, with two reasons being particularly relevant—the fact that we don’t generally teach it at all, and the fact that current students would be very likely to respond well to it. Both of these points were made quite succinctly by Alan Baragona in the Spring 2011 issue of The Once and Future Classroom. Baragona noted that the standard high school textbook would likely leave a student believing that all “medieval literature” can be summed up by Beowulf, a few of The Canterbury Tales (and rarely the fun ones), some excerpts from Le Morte d’Arthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Medieval drama, as Baragona notes, is wholly absent, even though it would be more accessible to our students and their technology-based visual literacy. Since the drama of medieval England rarely makes the cut for our high school anthologies, this bibliography will hopefully provide the resources to incorporate these texts into our classrooms.
Mummings are also known by a litany of names, including “plough plays,” “sword dances,” and “Morris dances.” These short plays tend to be dramatic oddities, and were linked to the festival season, being performed most often during Christmas (Chambers 153). The actors would don haphazard disguises and masks, and deliver their lines in turn, “declaim[ing] their lines in a loud voice devoid of any inflections, and stand[ing] back at the conclusion of their speech (Helm, English Mummers 1). Mummings would often feature a rag-tag collection of stock characters, with particular focus on “the omnipresent Fool” and the plot, what there was of one, would generally include a mock death (Chambers 154) immediately followed by a miracle cure performed by a “wonder-working doctor” (Helm, English Mummers 1). Unlike the other three modes of medieval drama discussed in this bibliography, there is no consensus “must-read” example of a Mumming. These short plays are perfect for short lessons or warm up activities. Further, with their connection to festivity and the Christmas season, these plays are ideal in the secondary classroom for the last week before winter holidays.
Chambers, E.K. The English Folk-Play. New York: Haskell House, 1966. Print.
This text offers an accessible history of Mummers’ plays, including the numerous variations and their history in regional folk drama. Chambers includes information on a wide range of topics, including stock characters, costuming, abnormalities and early drama, and the types of people who would perform in such plays. Chambers looks at Mummers’ plays through a wide lens, including performances like the Morris Dance, which includes elements of a Mumming while also being quite distinct. While this is primarily a research text, Chambers does include several short examples of Mummings, and it would be a useful resource for secondary and post-secondary classroom use. Though initially released in 1966, it was re-released by Fisher Press in 2008, and is available in both print and e-text for less than ten dollars.
Helm, Alex. The English Mummers’ Play. Suffolk: DS. Brewer, 1981. Print.
Though a bit more difficult to find than Chambers’ text, Helm offers an extremely accessible history of Mummers’ plays. The primary content offers detailed descriptions of the actual practice of putting on a Mummers’ play, including details such as the elements of staging, the traditional roles, and the artificiality of the performances. While the content is engaging, the true benefit of this text is to be found in the Appendices, which include more than forty pages of material such as chapbook texts and several examples of the various kinds of Mummers’ plays.
Helm, Alex, and E.C. Cawte. Six Mummers’ Acts. Ibstock, Leicestershire: The Guizer Press, 1967. Print.
Helm, Alex, ed. Five Mumming Plays for Schools. London: Folk-Lore Society and English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1965. Print.
In addition to Helm’s critical work, he has put together collections of Mummers’ plays. These two texts are extremely short—fewer than 50 pages—and include a handful of Mummings, brief introductions and, most notably, photographs and artwork of those Mummings in performance, including photographs of late Victorian schoolboy productions. They also include sheet music for some of the plays. The 1965 text features five plays, most of which are of the “Hero-Combat” variety: Rudheath (Cheshire) Souling Play, Netley Abbey (Hampshire) Mummers’ Play, Chithurst (Sussex) Tipteerers, Plumtree (Nottinghamshire) Plough Monday Play, and Lancaster (Lancashire) Pace-Egg Play. The 1967 text, created in collaboration with E.C. Cawte, emphasizes regional texts, complete with brief introductory paragraphs that offer information about the origin, history, and preservation of each piece. This text includes six plays: The Derbyshire Guisers, Northamptonshire Mummers, The Staffordshire Guisers, Fermanagh Straw Boys (an Irish Mummers’ Play), The East Midlands Wooing Texts, and Lincolnshire Mummers’ Play, Ab Kettleby, Leicestershire Ploughboys (song). While both texts are well out of print, copies can be found on the secondary market at a fairly inexpensive rate.
Lydgate, John. Mummings and Entertainments. Ed. Claire Sponsler. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2010. Print.
Claire Sponsler’s edition of the Mummings of John Lydgate is useful as both a research text and a short anthology. Sponsler’s introduction is eminently readable, and she includes pithy yet scholarly sections on Lydgate’s life and milieu, the importance of John Shirley—the “preserver and disseminator of literary texts” whose anthologies helped to establish the Lydgate canon (5)—notes on possible performance practices, and Lydgate’s style. Sponsler acknowledges the difficulty in classifying these plays, and she intentionally limits her book to Lydgate texts that were “mimetic in some way and that featured both oral and visual display” (1). She includes not only the seven Mummings attributed to Lydgate, but also the Mumming for Margaret of Anjou’s entry into London—formerly thought to be a Lydgate work—in an appendix. The language is not modernized, which might lead to difficulty with younger students, but it is well glossed. Further, like all of the volumes in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, this text is available online as well as in print.
FeenishProductions. “Mummers, Masks and Mischief—Men of Straw: An Introduction to the Fermanagh Mummers.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxQ5BcY8feI
This short documentary offers a look at the history of the Fermanagh Straw mummings. In just under half an hour, this documentary intersperses clips of experts discussing the history, theatrical roles and cultural place of Irish mummings, with clips of actual performances from a wide variety of performance groups, ranging from youth performances to more veteran groups.
Wwwdotlucypeeldotcom. “Twelfth Night—Mummers play at the Globe theatre in London.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 Jan. 2010. Web. 14 Jan. 2014.
This is just one of dozens of examples of online performances of mummings. These clips feature a 2010 performance by The Lions Part, a collaborative group of performers who specialize in seasonal entertainment. The recording, broken up into three parts, depicts a performance of St. George and the Dragon. Such performances are particularly useful in the secondary classroom, as they can be useful in demonstrating the general tone and interactive nature of a mumming.
Marinevisionstudios. “Mummers Play, The Christmas Boys of Winterbourn Down, Boxing Day.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 18 June 2010. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gg5FBQuV6t0
This video offers a look at a Boxing Day production of a mummers’ play by The Christmas Boys of Winterbourn Down. The Turkish Knight is particularly entertaining. This production includes plenty of side commentary by the actors and shows how they go about playing to the crowd. The extended battle scene is an ideal clip for classroom use. In an odd, modern twist on the genre, the Doctor re-appears at the end of the video, sitting in an armchair, drinking a pint, and speaking on the tradition of the performance and assuring the digital audience that the regular shows in the community will continue with new actors carrying on the tradition when the current actors get old. As such, this video first offers a look at the traditional, public nature of the mumming play in a street performance, and then follows it up by speaking directly to the viewers of the video—bringing mumming interactivity to the internet age.
Mystery plays are another form with multiple and potentially confusing names. The term refers to dramatic cycles performed predominately in the north of England from about 1378 through the end of the sixteenth century (Bevington 227). We know these cycles as “mystery” plays not for any Sherlockian qualities, but rather because they were performed by the various professional trade guilds—with the word “mysteries” being a derivation of the Latin ministerium and the French mystere or métier, words that signify work or employment (Bevington 227). The cycles are also referred to as Corpus Christi plays, since they were usually performed at the same time of year as the Feast of Corpus Christi, about two months after Easter (Bevington 227). This particular form of medieval drama is particularly remarkable. These plays were, for the most part, local phenomena, “written by local clergy, supported by local guilds, and acted mostly by townspeople,” yet the productions—which would take approximately fifteen hours to perform, were incredibly elaborate and regularly drew large audiences (Kolve 1).
There are four mostly complete cycles extant—Towneley/Wakefield, N-Town, York, and Chester. There is significant variation in each cycle, with differing numbers of plays—also called episodes or pageants—and different styles or scripts, often tailored to fit the needs of the particular guild performing each play. The cycle would begin days in advance with the “riding of the banns,” a dramatic announcement of the forthcoming cycle, which combined “showmanship and advertisement with a serious ceremonial purpose” (Bevington 242). The Banns would feature speakers announcing the details of the cycle to come. The actual cycle itself consisted of plays drawn from Biblical narratives, often opening with a representation of the Fall of Lucifer and continuing all the way to the Last Judgment (Bevington 227).
In the four mostly complete cycles, there are well over a hundred plays, though some have received more critical and dramatic attention than others, including the Passion Play—which has its own often controversial performance history, such as the Oberammergau Passion Play—the Chester Cycle’s Noah plays—which feature some of the most comedic material to be found in the mystery genre—and the Towneley/Wakefield Cycle’s Second Shepherd’s Play—a humorous pageant unique to that cycle. There are likely more materials available on the mystery plays than on the other forms of medieval drama combined. Therefore, I have broken the resources here into four general sub-headings: Editions, Research Materials, Adaptations, and Modern Productions/Teaching Materials.
The N-Town Plays. Ed. Douglas Sugano. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2007. Print.
Douglas Sugano’s introduction to the N-Town cycle is both engaging and easy to read. He discusses the mystery of N-Town’s origins—N-Town being a reference taken from the Banns of the play, most likely used as a stand-in for a town’s name, or Nomen. Sugano, concurring with the current critical view, looks at the N-Town plays not as a play cycle for a specific location, but rather as a manuscript that anthologized or compiled plays over time. Sugano then proceeds to offer a potential context for the N-Town plays, connecting them to specific regions and potentially to religious and parish guilds. He closes his introduction by looking at manuscript issues and potential means of staging the N-Town plays, before ultimately finishing with a short summation of the critical history of the plays. He also offers a useful chart, displaying the N-Town plays and contrasting the cycle with other extant play cycles of the time.
The York Corpus Christi Plays. Ed. Clifford Davidson. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2011. Print.
Clifford Davidson offers a similarly detailed introduction to his TEAMS Middle English Texts Series edition of the York Cycle. Opening with a description of the origin of Corpus Christi cycle plays, Davidson quickly transitions to a textual history, explaining both how the manuscript came to be, and how we know what we know about its performance. He includes a lengthy section on the wagon stages used in the cycle, drawing from a 1433 inventory of the Mercer’s Doomsday play that was discovered just over forty years ago. This section of the introduction might appeal in particular to craft and construction-minded students, and reinforces the connection between the trades and the plays. From there, Davidson ventures into an analysis of authorship, discussing the variation between the plays and the collective authorship involved. He concludes his introduction with a discussion of the 1950’s revival of the York cycle in the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, and other more recent productions.
Davidson’s edition, like Sugano’s, features meticulous footnotes and glosses, which will help younger readers to comprehend the language. As is the case with all of the volumes in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, this edition is available in an easy to navigate online edition in addition to the print option. While TEAMS has not yet released editions of the Chester and Towneley cycles, both are listed as “Volumes currently in progress” on the TEAMS/METS website.
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays. Ed. A. C. Cawley. London: J.M. Dent, 1993. Print.
This text, misleadingly titled, was first published in 1956, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the text is A.C. Cawley’s introduction combined with the 1993 preface. The 1993 edition maintains Cawley’s original introduction but notes that it is a bit of an anachronism for modern readers, striking, according to the preface, an apologetic tone for studying medieval drama, and discussing an emerging resurgence of interest in medieval drama that, to modern readers, had already long since come to pass. Cawley’s introduction, in short, attempts to defend cycle plays as being more than “quaint, naïve and sub-Shakespearean evidence of an emergent dramatic tradition”—something that no longer needs defending for the modern reader. The book’s potentially confusing title may also be traced to the book’s anachronistic tone. Cawley titles his text to indicate that it includes the play Everyman and medieval miracle plays, but the contents of his book are quite clearly mystery plays. While the two terms are occasionally used interchangeably, the term “miracle play” is generally used now to refer to a play centered on saintly intercessions. The academic strength of Cawley’s text is his inclusion of plays hailing from all four of the mostly complete cycles (York, N-Town, Chester and Wakefield/Towneley) as well as selections from fragmentary cycles such as Brome, Coventry and the Cornish Trilogy. Regardless of any confusion caused by the original terminology, this edition offers a cross-section of texts, providing students with an accessible version of medieval cycle drama.
York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling. Eds. Richard Beadle and Pamela M. King. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
This partial edition, a 2009 reissue of Beadle and King’s 1984 text, includes 22 of the York cycle pageants with modernized spelling. Part of the Oxford World’s Classics series, it retains the detailed introduction by Beadle and King that outlines not only the history of the York cycle, but also discusses staging and performance history. Each of the included pageants also carries a short introduction, containing material about the nature of the guild attached to that play as well as information on staging and verse. Beadle and King have modernized the spelling, but they have not “translated” the text, which results in an easier reading experience while still retaining the sense and feel of the original. The text is available in a variety of formats, including paperback, a thriving secondhand market, and as a digital text (Kindle).
Scoville, Chester N., and Kimberley M. Yates, eds. The York Plays. University of Toronto, 2003. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/yorkplays/york.html
Described as a “modernization” by the editors, this free online version is fantastic both for saving money and for students doing self-selected work, such as play grouping or literature circles. The site contains all 47 York Cycle pageants, and was at that time the latest in a long line of performance editions. It lacks the extensive introductory material of some of the other available editions, but what it lacks in historical context, it makes up for with benefits such as low cost and ease of use. Beyond that, the introduction that is offered is one of the most pedagogically rich aspects of the entire site. The editors offer a short history of performance-oriented, modernized editions of the York Cycle, and proceed to ponder the differences between “translation” and “modernization.” As a result, the brief introduction takes on an almost philosophical tone, and it can be used to teach everything from the importance of diction to issues of performance and adaptation.
The Wakefield Mystery Plays. Ed. Martial Rose. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. Print.
Martial Rose’s 1969 edition was an attempt to create “a complete acting version” of the cycle with modernized spelling. Rose offers a standard general introduction to the cycle, but the most intriguing aspect of this work is the way in which Rose organizes the plays into four different parts. Part One covers nine plays, from “The Creation” to “Caesar Augustus.” Part Two also covers nine plays, from “The Annunciation” to “The Play of the Doctors” (including The Second Shepherds’ Play). Part Three covers seven plays, from “John the Baptist” to “The Crucifixion.” Finally, Part Four also includes seven plays, from “The Talents” to “The Judgment.” Though initially published in 1969, it is still available in both paperback and as a digital text (Kindle), and there is an abundance of inexpensive copies on the secondary sales market.
Mills, David, ed. The Chester Mystery Cycle: A New Edition with Modernised Spelling. East Lansing: Colleagues Press, 1992. Print.
An appendix included that outlines his major variations from the EETS Edition. Mills and RM Lumiansky had collaborated on three volumes that, together, comprise a “full edition with scholarly apparatus.” The volumes dealt with the text, commentary, and essays on production and textual matters. Recognizing that their edition was not likely to be as useful for the “general, non-specialist reader,” Mills created this modern-spelling edition of the cycle. Introduction: What is a mystery cycle, brief history of the Chester cycle, textual and staging concerns, modern response to the plays, editorial practice. And a useful section on further reading, subdivided into interest areas including other editions, criticism and more.
Happe, Peter, ed. English Mystery Plays. London: Penguin, 1975. Print.
Featuring an introduction by noted scholar Peter Happe, this text is essentially a conglomerated mystery cycle. Happe, creates a Corpus Christi cycle by selecting various plays from among the extant cycles. In two cases, he offers multiple versions of the same play, including both the Towneley and the Chester “Noah” plays, and the Chester and the Brome “Abraham and Isaac” plays. This amalgamated cycle includes many of the well-known plays, including the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play. The spelling is not modernized, so care should be used before selecting this text for struggling readers. This text is particularly useful as a composite whole—showing the pattern of a Corpus Christi cycle that, while it never existed, provides a taste of the various cycles that did. This text is currently available as a digital text (Kindle), and there is a thriving aftermarket of affordable used copies for those who prefer to have a physical text in hand.
Hourihane, Colum. Pontius Pilate, Anti-Semitism, and the Passion in Medieval Art. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.
This text by Colum Hourihane offers a wealth of visual information on Pontius Pilate, a figure who plays a crucial role in mystery cycles. Hourihane demonstrates how history has changed its opinion on Pilate’s Biblical role and how visual and textual representations of Pilate have played a key role in that changing opinion. This text points out the conflicting positive and negative descriptions of Pilate, and discusses the oddity of history’s fascination with Pilate’s washing his hands of guilt in the death of Christ, noting that the textual foundation for such a scene is one short line from the Bible. This is a relatively expensive text for classroom use, but it would serve as a useful starting point for iconographic study of the mystery plays, and allow students to work with the intersection of the textual and the visual. The Pilate from the York Cycle in particular is influenced by the visual narratives described in Hourihane’s book.
Kolve, V.A. The Play Called Corpus Christi. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1966. Print.
V.A. Kolve’s The Play Called Corpus Christi grew out of his dissatisfaction with earlier studies and how they viewed medieval audiences. He was interested in seeing the plays as the playwright and the various parts of the medieval audience would have seen them. He took great care “not to underestimate the scope of the dramatist’s address, the size and comprehensiveness of the audience he wanted to reach” (Kolve 2). Kolve was less interested in tracing specific religious texts as direct sources for mystery plays, and far more interested in looking at those texts as general sources, “members of the same family” (2). In effect, Kolve’s study is focused just as much on the historical context of the medieval Corpus Christi cycles as it is on the plays themselves. He offers chapters on everything from the feast of Corpus Christi, to religious laughter and the sources of evil. While most critical introductions will mention Kolve at least in passing, this remains a worthwhile text to bring in to the classroom, as it served as the foundation for many of the more contemporary studies of mystery cycles.
Davidson, Clifford. Festivals and Plays in Late Medieval Britain. Burlington: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
Clifford Davidson, the same scholar who edited the TEAMS edition of the York Cycle, here offers a study focusing specifically on the medieval ritual year. Davidson opens with a detailed chapter outlining the various occasions for feasts and festival in an English year, and linking dramatic production to those feasts. This chapter is particularly useful, even when taken piecemeal—and the structure of the chapter makes it ideal for breaking it up for group work—as a look at the overall connection between drama, festival, and folk tradition. From there, Davidson questions many of the commonplace ideas held about Corpus Christi plays, including whether or not they were truly unified works and whether they had any substantial connection to the feast of Corpus Christi. Davidson takes the lens even closer in his analysis of the York Cycle. This text, in addition to being a useful resource for cultural/historical research, would work particularly well in tandem with Davidson’s edition of the York Cycle, as it offers a far more nuanced argument than can be found in a critical introduction. As such, in addition to the value of the content, Davidson’s two works can be used as examples of different kinds of critical texts, opening the pedagogical door to a classroom discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Fitzgerald, Christina M. The Drama of Masculinity and Medieval English Guild Culture. New York: Palgrave, 2007. Print.
This text, the first of three in this bibliography dealing specifically with guilds, takes as its thesis the idea that the plays of the York and Chester Cycles are a “drama of masculinity.” Fitzgerald adds issues of gender to a discussion where such issues are frequently neglected. Fitzgerald demonstrates how the plays may be read as expressions of anxiety among members of English guilds during a period of unfixed masculine identity and rapid change in late-medieval England. Ultimately, she argues that these two cycles are “not only guild-produced dramas, but also guild-producing dramas” and that they played a significant role in the “cultural construction of masculinity” (2). In a classroom setting, Fitzgerald’s work, particularly in tandem with the next two texts, could help to add layers and nuance to our students’ understanding of professional guilds and their role in the creation and performance of mystery plays.
Epstein, Steven A. Wage and Labor Guilds in Medieval Europe. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991. Print.
In contrast to Fitzgerald’s text, Epstein’s study of labor guilds is purely historical. As such, instead of using history to offer a reading of mystery cycles, students may use Epstein’s work to influence their own readings of the plays. Epstein’s work has an incredibly wide scope, offering a historical look at the development of the labor guild and its role in the changing economic and religious realities of medieval Europe. He includes chapters on Roman and early medieval guilds, early craft and professional guilds, the internal organization of guilds and the labor market, guilds and labor in the wider world, and labor and guilds in crisis. In short, he offers a chronological look at labor guilds, from their origination through the economic crisis of the fourteenth century—the very time that we know labor guilds began producing cycle drama.
Davidson, Clifford. Technology, Guilds, and Early English Drama. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996. Print.
This text offers yet another look at labor guilds—and yet another text by Clifford Davidson. Where Fitzgerald offered gender and literary texts, and Epstein offered historical development, Davidson offers the practical aspects of the labor guild’s role in the creation of Corpus Christi cycles. This text is one focused on the practical and the visual. It is rare to find a single page without an image on it, and exceedingly rare to find two such pages in a row. Davidson covers all of the practical aspects of staging a guild production of a mystery play, from stage technology, construction and traits of a pageant wagon, staging issues with the passion play, textiles and costume creation and how to handle things like falling and rising on the medieval stage. Davidson’s words work in tandem with the plethora of visual material he has compiled, consisting of everything from paintings, photographs, sketches, and medieval diagrams that bear a striking resemblance to modern blueprints. This is a text that will certainly appeal to the reluctant readers in the classroom and particularly to kinesthietic learners. It emphasizes that, in a guild production of a mystery play, the guildsmen had many parts to play, not all of which involved acting and verse.
The Oberammergau Passion Play, 1634-1984: Text. Oberammergau: Buch- und Kunstdruckerei H. Weixler, 1984. Print.
This text is a printed script from the famous Oberammergau Passion Play, published on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of that town’s production. According to local history, the people of the German town of Oberammergau, during a particularly deadly plague season in 1634, gathered together and swore to God that, if He would end the plague, they would put on a Passion Play once every ten years in return. According to the story, from that day, nobody else in the town died of the plague, and they have been putting on the play ever since. This text includes these and other historical details in a preface from Josef Forstmayr, the Ecclesiastical Counsellor and Priest of Oberammergau. Forstmayr not only tells of the origin and progression of the town’s Passion Play, but he also spends a lengthy paragraph addressing charges of anti-Semitism that have long been attached to the town’s play script. Aside from the script and preface, this text contains a number of useful, if odd, additions, including a calendar of performance dates for the 1984 production, a complete cast list and, at the very end, a number of advertisements for the various souvenirs that could be purchased. This short text opens up avenues of discussion ranging from the religious aspects of this particular cycle play, as well as contemporary political implications and the material/commercial aspects of the play.
Banki, Judith Hershcopf. What Viewers Should Know About the Oberammergau Passion Play, 1980. New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1980. Print.
This short pamphlet offers a detailed look at why the 1984 play text of the Oberammergau Passion Play addressed concerns about anti-Semitism. Banki offers a detailed yet concise account of why Jewish groups had protested against the Oberammergau Passion Play. The text is broken into sections, looking at the modern attempts to make the Oberammergau script less offensive (“Attempts at Reform”), and an attempt to dispute the claims of the traditionalists that the offensive material had a Biblical authority. Banki addresses a number of key issues, from the portrayal of Pilate to the question of Barabbas’ true crime. This text, in addition to being useful as part of a lesson on Oberammergau—which is probably the best known and longest running mystery play—is also useful for discussions of audience, modernization, and the function of dramatic texts in history.
Shapiro, James. Oberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World’s Most Famous Passion Play. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.
Shapiro, right from his brief preface, outlines his conflicting interests regarding the Oberammergau Passion Play. As a theatre historian, he is intrigued by the long performance history of the play and the way that it has come to define the town. As a scholar who engages with the links between art and anti-Semitism, he is disconcerted by the play’s virulent anti-Jewish tones—tones once praised by none other than Adolf Hitler. Shapiro, best known for his book 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, offers the best of both of his worlds in this study, which was written during the preparation for the millennial production of the Oberammergau Passion Play—a production that, for the first time, would be directed by the reformers of the town rather than the traditionalists. Shapiro’s text offers five chapters, each looking at different aspects of this famous play, and the sleepy town that hosts it once a decade. He opens with an account of the history of the town and the play, demonstrating through interviews, photographs and historical records how the town and the play have grown to be almost indistinguishable from one another (Chapter One—“Next Year in Jerusalem”). He proceeds to offer chapters on staging, the myths that have grown around the history of the play, the now infamous visit by Adolf Hitler in 1934, and the tension between tradition and the individuals who perform in the plays. Shapiro’s academic trademark—his incredibly readable tone—is on full display in this text, which often reads more like an engaging documentary film than the critical text that it is. As such, this text, particularly in combination with the 1984 play script and the 1980 pamphlet by Banki, could be particularly useful for students interested in anything from history, World War Two, and topics in religion, to commercial aspects of staging, family traditions and small town politics.
Jesus Christ Superstar. Dir. Norman Jewison. Universal Studios, 2004. Film.
Jesus Christ Superstar 2012 Live Arena Tour. Dir. Laurence Connor and Nick Morris. Universal Studios, 2013. Film.
These two DVD’s represent two versions of the classic rock opera initially brought to the stage by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1971. The original stage production, due to its use of slang, modern allusions and a heavier focus on Judas than Christ, has long been used as a more accessible bridging text for students of traditional passion plays. It is also a popular selection for high school musicals. The first DVD is the classic 1973 film production, re-released as a special edition DVD in 2004. Directed by Norman Jewison and starring Ted Neeley as Christ, this film adaptation offers an irreverent take on the Passion story, with Christ re-imagined as a rock star. Josh Mostel gives a particularly entertaining turn as King Herod, the opulent—and corpulent—ruler who demonstrates his excess in every conceivable way, including at one point using his servants as footrests. This version was filmed entirely on location in Israel, and was nominated for several Golden Globe awards. The special edition DVD features an interview with lyricist Tim Rice.
The second DVD is a live recording of a 2013 arena stage production starring Tim Minchin as Judas, Melanie Chisholm—once known as Sporty Spice of Spice Girls fame—as Mary Magdalane, and Ben Forster as Christ. The staging of this production is more closely connected to its origin as a “rock opera,” and indeed, the DVD includes an introduction by Andrew Lloyd Webber wherein he discusses his original notion that the play would be staged in open-air arenas. Both recordings are included together in this bibliography, as they provide an ideal opportunity for comparative study of the text. With both versions at hand, students will be able to read the script, read one or more of the mystery cycle passion plays that inspired Webber and Rice, and then see how two different directors, forty years distant from each other, brought those words to life.
Ruhl, Sarah. Passion Play. New York: Samuel French, 2010. Print.
Initially influenced by a book about Oberammergau, Sarah Ruhl has created a modern, meta-theatrical take on the Passion play. Ruhl’s three-act play begins in 1575 in England, just as Queen Elizabeth I is set to end dramatic representations of the Bible. The second act moves to Oberammergau itself, highlighting the anti-Semitic nature of the 1940s production of that town’s play. She intersperses her own writing with some of the 19th century Oberammergau play-script as well as quotations from Adolf Hitler’s infamous visit to the play, though she is careful to acknowledge the modern efforts by the town of Oberammergau to reduce the anti-Semitic overtones. Finally, the third act moves to Spearfish, South Dakota, and an American production of the Passion. The end result is an often politicized take on the Passion play that crosses chronological borders, casting the familiar characters of Christ, Pontius Pilate and Mary right alongside modern characters including a VA psychiatrist, Adolf Hitler, and Ronald Reagan.
Morrison, Grant, and Jon J. Muth. The Mystery Play. New York: Vertigo, 1995. Print.
Grant Morrison, best known for his critically acclaimed run on New X-Men and graphic novels such as Doom Patrol and The Invisibles, offers an 80-page graphic novel depicting a modern take on the mystery play motif. Set in a small town in the midst of putting on its own mystery cycle, Morrison’s tale opens with the man playing Satan accused of killing the actor who had been set to play God. A mysterious detective arrives to try to sort out the conflicting stories. The end result is a graphic novel that combines mystery cycles with a murder mystery. This could be a potential support text or even introductory or enrichment material. Students interested in comic books and graphic narration will be sure to recognize Morrison’s name, and painter Jon J. Muth won an Eisner Award for his work on The Mystery Play.
Modern Productions/Teaching Materials York Theatre Royal. “York Mystery Plays 2012—Cinematic Trailer.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAKzf4zndmc
This particular video is simply a short teaser trailer for the York Theatre Royal’s 2012 production of the York Cycle, directed by Paul Burbridge and Damian Cruden. Even in such a short clip, students will be able to see the remarkable staging of this production, as well as the sheer scope of attempting such a show. The trailer offers a brief look at a cross section of the performance, including scenes of Noah’s flood, the Passion and the Harrowing of Hell. While this clip is just a short trailer, the Youtube channel for the York Theatre Royal is treasure trove of pedagogical material. The channel has plenty of videos related to the theatre’s current and past productions, and it specifically includes eleven distinct video clips related to their production of the York Mystery Plays. Some videos are “behind the scenes” clips, showing the actors doing a read-through, rehearsing scenes, or even detailing the hair and make-up process for the show. Other clips offer insight into the artistic vision, the impact of the community volunteers, and an interview with God (Ferdinand Kingsley) and Satan (Graeme Hawley). Ultimately, while students won’t be able to watch the actual 2012 production, they will get a detailed look at one company’s adaptation, which will allow them to see the text as the starting point for a production—not the production itself.
Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries. Dir. Mark Dornford-May and Charles Hazlewood. Kultur, 2005. Film.
The Mysteries is a 2005 DVD recording of the final performance of the West End production of the Chester Cycle. The show, a collaboration between the Broomhill Opera Company in London and the Spier Festival near Cape Town, South Africa, can best be described as a combination of cultural, generic, and performance influences. The play features seven different languages, including medieval English and the four major South African languages. Often, two characters in the same scene will be speaking entirely different languages, yet remarkably, the play is still easy to follow due to the physical and emotional performances of the strong cast. The play also features a wide array of musical influences, with the cast singing traditional African music in one scene, and—as seen after the flood of Noah—singing a rousing chorus of “You Are My Sunshine” in the next. Some of the staging is elaborate—Lucifer’s fall into Hell is particularly impressive, with fire and smoke erupting from trap doors in the stage—while other scenes feature minimalist staging—Noah’s “Ark” is merely a piece of lattice board with a hand-written sign reading “The Ark” hanging on it. The constant variation in tone and style should have been distracting, but it ultimately turned into one of the primary strengths of the show.
The DVD also includes an array of special features, with the documentary being most appealing for classroom use. The documentary walks the viewer through the early casting process, including a discussion of how the casting calls were made through the extensive network of South African choruses in order to take advantage of the rich musical history of the region. Several of the actors appear in interviews, speaking about their individual audition process, with some of the lead actors discussing their initial reluctance to audition, as they were convinced that they had no chance of success. The end result is a DVD of a remarkable production. The combination of music, multicultural influences, cycle drama, language and stagecraft make this a phenomenal resource for any classroom.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Second Shepherds’ Play.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nuF1Le7UCk
This black and white recording of a 1954 performance of the Second Shepherds’ Play is available on the extensive (831 videos) Youtube channel of the Museum of Modern Art. Staged at The Cloisters, this short production opens in the middle of the play, with the three shepherds confronting the thieving Mak and his wife, who have attempted to pass off the stolen lamb as their newborn child. The production includes many interesting performance choices, particularly an amusing moment where Mak’s wife turns on him after the theft is discovered. By cutting the early scenes of the play, the performance highlights the parallel between the two nativity scenes—the one involving the stolen lamb, and the one featuring the “Lamb of God.” The production was directed by famed avante garde director Tad Danielewski. Students might be particularly interested in Danielewski’s biography and legacy. He came to the United States from Poland after being imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War 2. He soon founded the Professional Actors Workshop in New York City, where he counted Martin Sheen and James Earl Jones among his students. His children have also gone on to make their mark in the arts, as his daughter is alt-rock musician Poe, and his son is novelist Mark Danielewski (House of Leaves).
Sarah Peverly. “The Chester Noah Play—Liverpool University Players.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 12 June 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cn0pcYONuxc
This production of the Chester Noah play was staged by the Liverpool University Players. Performed for an apparently impromptu audience at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in May of 2013, this production features a clear attempt at being family friendly and culturally relevant. The flood, a difficult effect to pull off in a student production performed outdoors on a sunny day, was signified by music. Noah and Uxor Noah began a duet of Rihanna’s hit song, “Umbrella” while they held up contrasting umbrellas of their own, with Noah’s reading “I love rain” while his wife’s read “I hate rain.” The staging is very simple, with a wooden boat as the only significant prop, and a variety of toys and craft projects—including everything from puppets and stuffed animals to poster boards with hand-drawn animal pictures—used for the menagerie of animals that joined the family in the Ark. The play closed with the cast breaking into song once more, this time a performance of the Johnny Nash/Jimmy Cliff classic, “I Can See Clearly Now (The Rain is Gone).”
While this is a student production, director Sarah Peverley gets the most out of an energetic group of young actors. This production would work well in tandem with other performances of the Chester Noah play as a comparative analysis activity. Students could contrast the use of song in this production and the South African production of The Mysteries, for example. Ultimately, there are dozens of productions to be found on the internet, from professional theater to student projects. The few included in this bibliography should be seen only as an example of the video resources that can be found on Youtube and other similar websites.
Paster, Gail Kern. “From an Ill-Spun Wool: The Second Shepherds’ Play and Early English Theater.” Folger Shakespeare Library. n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. http://folgerpedia.folger.edu/The_Second_Shepherds%27_Play:_A_Medieval_Mystery_for_the_Yuletide_Season_%282007%29
During the winter season of 2007, the Folger Theatre in Washington D.C. staged a production of “The Second Shepherds’ Play.” Directed by Mary Hall Surface and Robert Eisenstein, the production featured a heavy emphasis on music and was staged as part of the Folger Consort Musical season. While it is not possible to take students back to 2007 to see the actual production, the Folger Shakespeare Library website has provided plenty of useful pedagogical material that can still be used in classrooms today. The link listed here leads to a series of three audio documentaries, hosted by noted scholar Gail Kern Paster. The first documentary, “Staging the Play,” discusses the role of music in the production. Even though the play itself does not mention music often, Eisenstein and Surface opted to make the Consort an active part of the show. Surface explains that they had every musician play a part, ranging from actual characters to inanimate objects on the stage. About six minutes into the recording, the actors and directors discuss potential meanings of a single line, debating whether or not a character actually believes that the lamb is a real baby, and the implications of that question for their performance. That discussion would serve as a good model for the types of questions students could and should ask about the text.
The second documentary clip, “Re-Discovering Our Theatrical Past,” moves from issues of performance to issues of academic research. Gail Kern Paster again narrates, this time a discussion between University of Maryland scholar Theresa Coletti and Barbara Palmer, the President of Records of Early English Drama USA. These engaging academics discuss the standard view of theater history—that there were the Greeks and Shakespeare, with nothing much in between. They take issue with that view, arguing in favor of viewing medieval drama as plays unto themselves rather than simply precursors to Shakespeare. Particularly interesting is their discussion of the interactive nature of medieval mystery plays, even going so far as to compare them to big modern parades or Mardi Gras.
The third and final documentary clip, “The Mystery Behind the Mystery Play,” again features Gail Kern Paster with Professors Coletti and Palmer, this time discussing the materials that Palmer discovered while compiling records and materials for Records of Early English Drama. As she notes, those records ultimately challenged and contradicted everything they thought they knew about the Towneley/Wakefield cycle. They question whether the town of Wakefield could have even financially supported a Corpus Christi Cycle, and they ultimately end up at a point where they note that, in medieval studies, the gaps in the record often highlight the importance of the texts themselves as the focus of our research.
All three documentary clips are intercut with performed lines from the Folger production of the play. Beyond these clips, the Folger site has a litany of classroom material for “The Second Shepherds’ Play” connected to their 2007 production. Many of these are even classroom-ready activities, such as a page that offers a look at some of the words from the play that are now forgotten. There are pages featuring production photographs, a page providing links for further research on topics including mystery plays, scholarship, and even links to websites on sheep and the wool trade. There are pages on the various instruments used in the production, complete with audio clips that would allow students to hear the distinct sounds made by fiddles, lutes, bagpipes and recorders. In short, the Folger website, long known as a must-visit site for Shakespeare pedagogical material, offers plenty of resources for medieval drama as well.
The Lincoln Mystery Plays. Lincoln Mystery Plays Trust Ltd, n.d.. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. http://www.lincolnmysteries.co.uk/index.html
The Lincoln Mysteries have been regularly performed since 1969, and in their present form, based on a Keith Ramsay translation of the N-Town Cycle, since 1978 on a four-year cycle. While a trip to England during a performance year would be ideal, the website for this modern production offers the next-best thing. Right from the home page, it offers a video featuring scholarly discussion of the history and production of medieval mystery cycles, before ultimately transitioning into a series of scene clips and compilations of scenes from earlier productions set to music. With every click, the website offers up interesting material that could be useful in a classroom. There are photo galleries of productions—organized by production year—dating all the way back to 1978. There is an archive section containing digital reproductions of previous programs, critical reviews, and even more photographs. There is also a history section, with pages discussing the Lincoln production’s process of editing the text, directing the show, the role of music in the plays, and more. Not only does the website offer students a look at a modern production of a mystery cycle, but it also offers them a modern cycle with a unique and well-documented history. Students can use this site to see how one cycle has changed and adapted over its more than thirty year history, which could be a wonderful starting point for classroom discussions of the plays themselves.
Normington, Katie. Modern Mysteries: Contemporary Productions of Medieval English Cycle Dramas. Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2007. Print.
Katie Normington’s critical text addresses the world of contemporary productions of mystery plays. Normington discusses the relative resurgence of the cycles, offering three potential reasons that a modern company looks to stage these plays—the “desire to challenge” the fixed staging forms of modern theater, the opportunity to “present a strong directorial vision” of the plays, and “a desire to use the plays to develop a sense of community identity” (Normington 18). Normington is particularly persuasive in her discussion of three millennial productions of mystery cycles. After discussing the modern advent of the auteur, Normington argues that each of the three productions were changed significantly to adapt to “distinctive directorial styles” that each director sought to incorporate. Aside from the scholarly value of Normington’s argument, she has also collected a series of excellent photographs of some of the various modern productions of mystery cycles.
The term “miracle play” can cause some confusion. Many texts use the term to refer to the same set of cycle plays from the previous section of this bibliography. For David Bevington and many other scholars, however, the term refers to a number of plays depicting the life of a saint, often focused on the martyrdom of that saint, or the saint’s role in saving a repentant sinner. Like the mystery plays, miracle plays were connected to the celebratory religious calendar, and were often written and performed to honor a local patron saint. Increasing in number during the later part of the medieval period, these plays featured themes involving “the miraculous power of a saint that enabled him to admonish sinners or convert the heathen” (Bevington 661). While saintly conversion may not sound like an overly engaging topic for students, these plays frequently place a heavier emphasis on the sinners seeking salvation. Frank McCourt, in his memoir Angela’s Ashes, commented on his boyhood discovery of saints’ narratives that “there are stories about virgins, martyrs, virgin martyrs and they’re worse than any horror film at the Lyric Cinema” (285). A similar sentiment was expressed in Marina Warner’s text—listed below—as she discussed the dubious quality of the people saved by saintly intervention, as they frequently represented a fairly reprehensible community. The characters in miracle plays are not only entertaining, but they also provide an excellent opportunity for classroom discussions on the role of salvation in early dramatic texts, whether the characters were worthy of that salvation, and why medieval audiences may have desired to see such displays of salvation. I have included here a selection of materials, including editions, sources for research, and audio and visual productions of one text. I have placed a particular focus on texts dealing with the “Cult of Mary” as, of the extant miracle plays, a large number fit into this category, a sub-genre wherein the Virgin Mary is the intercessor on behalf of the repentant.
Harvey, Carol J. Medieval French Miracle Plays: Seven Falsely Accused Women. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2011. Print.
Focused on French miracle plays from the two-volume Cange Manuscript, “a remarkable record of dramatic production comprising forty miracles arranged in chronological order of performance from 1339 to 1382” (Harvey 17). Harvey offers a detailed account of the manuscript and its history, demonstrating how the manuscript established dramatic trends on the 14thcentury French stage. While Harvey mentions multiple trends—specifically the emphasis on Marian intercession plays—this text specifically collects plays that follow the trend of falsely accused women, and saints’ efforts to save them. For example, in the first play Harvey addresses, Une femme que Nostre Dame garda d’estre arse, a woman named Guibour asks her jailors to pass the church on the route to her execution, in order to pray and repent. The bailiff, portrayed as bloodthirsty in the rest of the play, assents, thus providing the opportunity for the salvation of her soul. Guibour’s repentance is true, and Mary saves her from burning at the stake. Harvey specifically selects plays that demonstrate important elements within the genre, including fall and redemption, sin and sickness, war and peace, and challenging social conventions, among others.
Malcolmson, Anne, ed. Miracle Plays: Seven Medieval Plays for Modern Players. London: Constable and Co., 1960. Print.
This intriguing text opens with a dedication explaining the origin of the text. A young neighbor and his friends, founders of a pre-teen neighborhood acting company, needed a play that had plenty of speaking parts and roles for some animals—to give younger siblings who could “moo like cows and roar like lions” something to do. Malcolmson immediately thought of the Chester Noah play, but realized that, at the time, it was only available in early modern English. Her solution was to translate the play for the young actors, and her project continued from that beginning. Most of the translated plays here are cycle plays, but the last two, “Saint Nicholas and the Three Scholars” and “The Statue of Saint Nicholas” better fit the miracle play tradition. In the first, Saint Nicholas is an active character who uses divine intervention to expose dishonesty. In the second, it is a statue of Saint Nicholas, in true relic tradition, that performs the miracle. The text is delightfully illustrated by Pauline Baynes, and would serve as an excellent introduction to both cycle drama and miracle plays. The text might be difficult to track down, as it is long out of print, but it is an ideal option for struggling readers, and it is generally inexpensive when found on the used book market.
The Late Medieval Religious Plays of Bodleian MSS Digby 133 and E Museo 160. Donald C. Baker, John L. Murphy, and Louis B. Hall Jr. Eds. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982. Print.
Two of the best-known extant miracle plays, The Conversion of St. Paul and Mary Magdalen, were first gathered in the Digby Manuscript. This edition offers a Middle English transcription of those plays complete with an extensive introduction covering the history of the larger manuscript and an analysis of the plays within that manuscript, including information on sources of the plays, versification, staging, and language. This is a rigorous scholarly edition, with copious endnotes and an extensive suggested bibliography that would be useful for source mining. While the text is as accurate to the manuscript as possible, the result is that this is a text best reserved for challenging high-level students.
Brock, Alice J. and David G. Byrd. The Digby Plays: Rendered into Modern English. Dallas: Paon Press, 1973. Print.
Though out of print and potentially difficult to find, Alice Brock and David Byrd’s 1973 modernization of the Digby plays is a useful text to have in the classroom. Less concerned about maintaining the Middle English, Brock and Byrd have created a text that is accessible for all students. This edition includes a brief preface, discussing the history and construction of the Digby Manuscript, and then modernized versions of the Digby plays, including the two miracle plays, The Conversion of St. Paul, and Mary Magdalene.
Sebastian, John T., ed. Croxton Play of the Sacrament. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2012. Print.
Labeled here as a morality play, the Play of the Sacrament is often classified as a saints’ play or conversion play. Part of the issue is that it isn’t a saint who performs the miracle of the play, but rather a piece of the host—captured and abused by five Syrian Jews, in a graphic metaphorical recreation of the crucifixion. Sebastian fully acknowledges the play’s “unabashed anti-Semitism and its almost ghoulish obsession with tortured, broken, and bloodied bodies” but argues that study of the play will enable readers to “seek out and understand better the sources of religious violence both then and now.” Due to the graphic and potentially problematic nature of the play, it might be best reserved for more mature students. This text, like many in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, is available online.
Ogden, Dunbar H., ed. The Play of Daniel: Critical Essays. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996. Print.
Though difficult to find, this text would make a wonderful addition to a curriculum and a classroom. The Play of Daniel is a twelfth-century musical production of the story of Daniel, a man who literally reads the writing on the wall that predicts the overthrow of the king. When those events come to pass, Daniel is thrown to the lions, until God, sending an angel, intervenes on his behalf. Ogden’s text brings together both primary and secondary materials in a way that makes this a particularly useful resource for students. After an introduction by Ogden, the text features essays on The Play of Daniel, focusing on twelfth-century staging, issues of divine judgment and local ideology, modern performances, and music. Ogden includes visual reproductions of several pages of the play from the Egerton Manuscript. The text also includes a transcription of both the music and the text of the play itself, including a very accessible English translation by A. Marcel J. Zijlstra.
Lyons, William, cond. Play of Daniel. Perf. Dufay Collective. Harmonia Mundi Fr., 2008. CD.
This audio disc, also available in MP3 format, consists of a 34-track recording of the Dufay Collective’s performance of the Play of Daniel. While the text is in Latin, this potential resource offers students an opportunity to experience the combination of words and music that made The Play of Daniel, first performed by twelfth-century choristers, so popular in the first place. While students might not be interested in listening to all 34 tracks, the MP3 version would allow teachers to download selected tracks, that could be matched with the text in Ogden or Bevington.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Play of Daniel—Balthasar’s Feast.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 Mar. 2010. Web. 12 Jan. 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBDd77rqxaM
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s YouTube channel makes another appearance on this bibliography, this time with a recording of a production of The Play of Daniel in The Cloisters from December 19th, 2009, commissioned to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Noah Greenberg’s modern production of the play. This production was directed by Drew Minter and Mary Anne Ballard. While the play, like the Dufay Collective audio recording, is not in English, the combination of music and movement makes it relatively easy to follow the plot. The Museum of Modern Art has also uploaded a second clip from this production to its YouTube channel, featuring Daniel’s interpretation of the writing on the wall.
Boss, Sarah Jane. Empress and Handmaid: On Nature and Gender in the Cult of the Virgin Mary. London: Cassell, 2000. Print.
Boss’ text is one of two included here dealing with the “cult of Mary.” While Boss doesn’t speak directly to miracle plays or even dramatic production at all, what she does offer is an intriguing account of the iconographic representations of Mary and the role those images played in the late medieval “cult of Mary.” Boss describes the intense focus medieval audiences paid to Marian iconography, particularly as it related to her role as a mother. The potential usefulness of this resource is in connecting Boss’ iconographic analysis with drama. Since drama is itself a visual form, students may gain insight by drawing corollaries between the statuary and portraiture that Boss discusses, and elements of the plays read in class.
Warner, Marina. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. Print.
Warner provides a wonderful overview of the cult of Mary, breaking it down based on the titles that have become synonymous with the figure—the Virgin, the Queen, the Bride, the Mother and, most importantly for our purposes, the Intercessor. Warner offers several chapters addressing each title, all in a conversational, easy to read tone. The fifth section, comprised of chapters 18 through 21, is focused on Mary’s role as a spiritual intercessor. The last of those chapters in particular, “The Hour of Our Death,” raises moral questions about the elements of Marian intercession, particularly in miracle plays. As she notes, the figures saved by Mary in many of these plays were “raffish” characters, including “liars, thieves, adulterers, and fornicators, footloose students, pregnant nuns, unruly and lazy clerics, and eloping monks” (Warner 325). Warner’s text, in combination with miracle plays, could be the starting point for some wonderful classroom discussion on not only how and why the characters were saved, but whether they really should have been.
The Saint Play in Medieval Europe. Ed. Clifford Davidson. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications. 1986. Print.
This text is a collection of essays edited by Clifford Davidson. Each essay offers a distinct take on saints’ plays. Clyde W. Brockett offers an analysis of the musical elements in surviving St. Nicholas miracle plays. Davidson contributes a chapter on iconography, and Lynette R. Muir and Kathleen C. Falvey discuss, respectively, medieval French and Italian miracle plays. Peter Happe and John Wasson contribute essays on the saints’ play after Protestantism, with Happe looking at Protestant adaptation of the texts and Wasson discussing Elizabethan secular saints’ plays. This collection would be a useful resource for classroom use, as it not only offers material specific to miracle plays, but the Happe and Wasson essays in particular provide a potential way to segue from medieval drama to Renaissance texts.
Scoville, Chester N. Saints and the Audience in Middle English Biblical Drama. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2004. Print.
Chester Scoville offers a rhetorical analysis of saints’ plays based on a key point of critical divergence. Unlike most critics, who place a heavier focus on the more entertaining characters—the sinners, villains, and rogues—Scoville aims his inquiry at the rhetoric of the saints and saintly characters in the miracle plays. Scoville suggests that saints’ plays portray a representation of an interaction between the divine realm—Heaven—and the mortal realm. He also discusses the saints’ plays’ connection to visual iconographic texts, demonstrating the plays’ origins as spiritually mimetic vehicles for church doctrine. Ultimately, Scoville’s text could be useful in a classroom context in that it would engage the connections between the text and the initial audiences while also highlighting a critically neglected aspect of the plays—the saints themselves.
Findon, Joanne. Lady, Hero, Saint: The Digby Play’s Mary Magdalene. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2011. Print.
Joanne Findon offers a theoretical look at the Digby Mary Magdalene by tracing the influence of secular literature in the plays’ intertextual elements. In short, Findon examines the Digby playwright’s “especially complex version” of Mary Magdalene through an analysis of secular genres, with a particular emphasis on lyric poetry, medieval romance, and comedy. Her final chapter offers a gendered analysis of the play’s use of theatrical space, suggesting that the combination of that space and the secular intertextual influences served to present the audience with an “exemplar of active, virtuous womanhood.” Findon’s work would enable students to engage in discussions of gender and mimetic theater.
It should be no surprise at this point that there are some potential problems with the term “morality play.” While there is no confusion about what plays fall under this label, the label itself was, as far as we know, not one that was used in a medieval context. Many of the plays we now call “morality plays” carried labels such as “a moral play” or “a moral interlude” however. These plays generally depict a character that embodies all mankind, struggling to choose good over evil. This struggle, and its allegorical nature, is made painfully clear with the general naming conventions of morality play characters. These plays tend to feature characters such as Everyman, Fellowship, Good Deeds, Strength, Knowledge, Mercy, and Mischief. As such, while these characters are rarely well rounded, they do tend to be particularly good at their namesakes.
Like mystery plays and miracle plays, morality plays can be tracked to a late 14th century origin, and they thrived during the 15th century. They featured similar staging conventions as their contemporary dramatic brethren, though, as Bevington notes, they were different in two key ways. Unlike the mysteries and miracles, moralities had “virtually no precedents” in the church drama of the previous generation, making them an “essentially new genre” (Bevington 791). Further, likely because of this, the moralities were able to adapt and last into the Renaissance, while their mystery and miracle counterparts more commonly drew the ire of the Reformation Church (Bevington 791).
Bevington offers a fairly succinct definition of the morality play as “the dramatization of a spiritual crisis in the life of a representative mankind figure in which his spiritual struggle is portrayed as a conflict between personified abstractions representing good and evil” (792). It is this notion of the genre that might particularly appeal to our students. Entertainment for younger audiences often incorporates “personified abstractions.” Death, most frequently voiced by Adam Carolla, has appeared in 11 episodes of the popular cartoon Family Guy. The Grim Reaper, as portrayed by William Sadler, appeared in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. In the first issue of Marvel Comics’ The Thanos Imperative, Peter Quill—a character who will be appearing in the film version of The Guardians of the Galaxy—tells Nova, another cosmic hero, that deep trouble happens when “the abstracts get involved…The universal constants. Eternity. Death. Oblivion.” Those very abstracts appear later in the series, joining the heroes in battle. Overall, according to the international movie database, “Death” has appeared as a character in no fewer than 198 distinct projects. As Bevington notes, medieval society was rather focused on these allegorized representations of abstract good and evil, and this is a trait shared by modern society, as those abstractions make up the foundation of many kinds of entertainment, including the highly popular comic book genre. As such, this is a genre whose relevance to our modern students can be clearly established.
This section of the bibliography is inordinately geared towards various editions of the morality play. This is due in part to the odd critical reputation that these plays once had as nothing more than the crude precursors to Shakespearean drama. The morality plays are not performed with the same regularity as the mystery plays, and on the rare occasion that they are staged, they are rarely preserved in recorded form. The major morality plays—the Macro Plays and Everyman—are well represented here, and a selection of potential research materials has been included as well, particularly sources that might be especially appealing to students.
Mankind. Eds. Kathleen M. Ashley and Gerard NeCastro. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2010. Print.
Of all the morality plays, Mankind is likely to be the most entertaining for young audiences. The plot involves the title character, Mankind, being repeatedly tempted into sin by four minor vices—Mischief, New Guise, Nowadays, and Nought—and their demonic companion, the delightfully evil Titivillus—as the representation of virtue, Mercy, attempts to sway Mankind towards redemption. In the introduction to this edition, Kathleen M. Ashley calls the play, “the most amusing and controversial morality play surviving from fifteenth-century England.” Ashley’s critical introduction focuses heavily on the notion that Mankind was more theatrical than its morality play companions, suggesting that the play might represent the beginnings of popular drama. The introduction covers a wide range of topics, including the play’s association with the pre-Lenten season, its role in social protest, an incredibly concise literary review of critical trends on the play, the play’s specific connection to Cambridgeshire, and the play as a manuscript, including a discussion on how that manuscript managed to make it to its modern home at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. The text of the play is thoroughly glossed, though it is not a translated text and the spelling is not modernized, so younger students and struggling readers may experience some frustration. This text, like many in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, is also available online.
The Castle of Perseverance. Ed. David N. Klausner. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2010. Print.
The Castle of Perseverance is unique in a number of ways in comparison to its morality play brethren. It focuses on Humanum Genus, the representation of all mankind, as he goes through life struggling between the advice of his Good Angel and the tempting of his Bad Angel. He routinely is taken off course by characters like Lust and Folly, only to be redeemed by characters such as Shrift and Penance. He ultimately dies in a state of sin, but prays for redemption at the last moment. The play is resolved when the four daughters of God–Mercy, Peace, Righteousness and Truth—debate his fate, with God ultimately saving Humanum Genus’ soul. What makes The Castle of Perseverance unique is the fact that the surviving manuscript includes a stage diagram, offering a glimpse into how this play would have been performed, and suggesting that, unlike what we know of other medieval plays, it might have been performed in the round. David N. Klausner’s introduction to this edition offers a thorough discussion of morality plays, their background and their history. He calls The Castle of Perseverance the “most comprehensive” of the surviving morality plays, and spends the majority of his introduction discussing the staging of the play, the manuscript, and the language of the play, with particular emphasis on issues of versification. The play itself includes copious notes, though it is not a translated text, and the spelling is not modernized. Like many of the texts in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, this edition is also available online.
Everyman and Its Dutch Original, ELCKERLIJC. Eds. Clifford Davidson, Martin W. Walsh, and Ton J. Broos. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2007. Print.
If Mankind is potentially the most entertaining morality play, Everyman is probably the most familiar. In the play, the title character is informed that he must proceed to death, and he begins seeking companions for his journey, including personified abstracts such as Fellowship, Knowledge and Goods. Abstracts that Everyman was certain would accompany him ultimately fail to do so, and he ends up arriving at his grave with only one companion—Good Deeds. This edition of the oft-printed play is rather unique. In the introduction, Davidson, Walsh and Broos address and ultimately dismiss the traditional view of Everyman, that it is a “bridge between the medieval mysteries and secular Renaissance drama culminating in Shakespeare.” They rejected this notion partly in an attempt to defeat the long-held notions that all early drama was merely a low-quality precursor to Shakespeare, but also as part of a larger idea that Mankind is likely not a wholly English work at all, but rather a translation and adaptation of a Dutch play, Elckerlijc. While the editors do offer some material that is normally expected of a critical introduction, including a short section on the stage history of the play and a list of earlier important editions of the play, the vast majority of the introduction reads more like a scholarly paper, setting up the argument for why the play should be read as a translated adaptation rather than as a natural development of English drama. This unique tone will be particularly useful for classroom use, as it presents students with ideas that they can engage with.
Beyond the introduction, the play itself is incredibly engaging on a textual level, offering a number of things not to be found in any other edition of Everyman. The text offers a side-by-side edition, with the Dutch language text of Elckerlijc in the left column and Everyman in the right. Everyman is supported by frequent margin glosses, while Elckerlijc has been translated into English—at the end of the text in the print edition and in a useful text box at the bottom of the screen in the online edition.
Two Moral Interludes: The Pride of Life and Wisdom. Ed. David N. Klausner. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2008. Print.
David Klausner’s introduction to this edition offers an accessible discussion of the occasionally conflicting terminology used to label morality plays. He defines the two plays in his edition as an example of a sub-genre called the “Tudor Interlude.” He differentiates between an interlude and a morality play by the focus of the work. Morality plays focus on the “whole moral life of a man” while the interludes are aimed more specifically at certain aspects of mortal life, from the political to the educational and the social. Klausner also offers discussions on the two interludes included in this edition. Pride of Life is an incomplete manuscript, depicting a king’s foolish decision to challenge Death to battle. Wisdom, one of the Macro Plays, is different in structure from the other morality plays in that humanity is represented by nine characters rather than one. The foremost of those characters, Anima, is set to marry Wisdom, a clear representation of Christ. The action of the play involves Lucifer’s attempts to scuttle the marriage by tempting the other aspects of humanity’s representation. Like many of the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, this edition is neither translated nor modernized, and it is available online.
Lester, G. A. Ed., Three Late Medieval Morality Plays. New Mermaids Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Print.
Though this text was published more than thirty years ago, G. A. Lester’s New Mermaids edition of three morality plays is a welcome addition to any classroom. It includes two of the three best-known morality plays—Mankind and Everyman—in addition to Mundus Et Infans, or “The World and the Child.” The latter play was a potential influence for Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV, and depicts the entirety of a man’s life, from childhood into manhood, with personified vices and virtues influencing him along the way. The text has all the hallmarks that have become associated with New Mermaids editions, including an extensive introduction that covers topics including the nature of morality plays, authorship of the texts, dates, sources, staging and sections on each of the three individual plays. That attention to detail continues into the texts, as they feature thorough notes and liberal glossing of potentially problematic words. These supplementary features make this modern-spelling edition of three morality plays a very accessible text for students and ideal for classroom use.
Riggio, Milla Cozart, Ed. The Play of Wisdom: Its Texts and Contexts. New York: AMS Press, 1998. Print.
Wisdom is one of only two morality plays—along with Everyman—to survive in more than one manuscript, as parts of this play appear in both the Digby and Macro Manuscripts. Milla Cozart Riggio’s text offers both an edition and a scholarly take on this play. Riggio’s introduction pays particular attention to the manuscript texts and the play’s connections to multiple contexts and the genre of the morality play. The critical portion of this text looks at the play in light of its lack of a performance history. Riggio explores a number of potential contexts, beginning with the notion that the play might have been a dramatized sermon more than a text intended for the stage. Riggio’s edition is particularly useful for its facing page layout, offering students the chance to see the medieval language and spelling on one side, with the more accessible modernized version on the other. As such, this would be a useful resource for both advanced and struggling readers.
Bruster, Douglas, and Eric Rasmussen, Eds. Everyman and Mankind. Arden Edition. London: Methuen, 2009. Print.
Like the New Mermaids editions, Arden Edition texts have a reputation for being incredibly thorough. This 2009 edition of Everyman and Mankind is no exception. Bruster and Rasmussen include an extensive introduction, covering the morality play genre and short summaries of the two plays before moving into discussions of language, places and people, date, the plays in performance, a critical history, and an introduction to their textual and editorial methods. This attention to detail does not end with the introduction. The editors include copious footnotes and, particularly useful for students, a detailed cast list, with a full paragraph on each character, explaining the context for the role and the origins of that character. Bruster and Rasmussen have also included twenty-two illustrations, including several images of manuscript pages and photographs of some modern performances of the two plays. Students will likely find the text of the plays to be very accessible, as the editors have not only opted for modern spelling, but they have also liberally added stage directions to clarify ambiguous passages.
Hopper, Vincent F. and Gerald B. Lahey, Eds. Medieval Mystery Plays, Morality Plays and Interludes. Great Neck, NY: Barrons, 1962. Print.
This text was published as part of the Barron’s Educational Series designed to “reproduce the values and effects” of the theatrical experience in published form. Hopper and Lahey offer an extensive introduction—nearly 70 pages in length—that includes an overview of the various forms of medieval drama and the origin of those forms, as well as individual sections addressing each of the seven plays included in the edition. The edition includes three mystery plays (Abraham and Isaac, Noah’s Flood, and The Second Shepherd’s Play), and four morality plays and interludes (The Castle of Perseverence, Everyman, Johan the Husband, and The Four pp.). This text, a modern spelling edition, is useful in the classroom primarily for two reasons. First, the editors open each play with a brief note on the potential staging options. This can help students get on their feet and put the plays into action. Second, it includes two interludes—Johan the Husband and The Four pp., a John Heywood play focusing on a Palmer, a ‘Pothecary, a Pardoner and a Pedler—that are not printed quite as often as the better known plays.
Eccles, Mark, Ed. The Macro Plays: The Castle of Perseverence, Wisdom, Mankind. London: Oxford UP, 1969. Print.
Mark Eccles edition of the three Macro Plays, published as part of the Early English Text Society series, has long had a respected place on academic bookshelves. Eccles offers an incredibly thorough introduction, expounding on topics including the manuscript, date, language, verse, sources, analogues, and staging. Particularly useful is the way in which he organizes this introduction. Eccles gives each of the three plays a dedicated space, and he proceeds to discuss the aforementioned topics as they relate to each play. This makes the introduction a useful resource whether a classroom teacher wishes to teach all three plays, or just one of them. As is the case in many editions of these plays, the text is neither translated nor modernized. Many of the features that make this edition indispensible for classroom use may be found at the end of the text. Eccles’ endnotes are extensive, and he offers an incredibly useful glossary of proper names. Most impressive, however, is his glossary of terms, which is so extensive that it almost appears to be a compact medieval English dictionary. These supplementary features are worth having the text in the classroom, with the plays themselves being a bonus.
Happe, Peter, Ed. Four Morality Plays. New York: Penguin Books, 1979. Print.
Peter Happe’s 1979 edition is useful in that it includes three texts that are not printed with the same frequency as the Macro Plays and Everyman. The text includes the Macro Play, The Castle of Perseverence and then three plays that fit David Klausner’s definition as Tudor moral interludes: Magnyfycence by John Skelton, King Johan by John Bale, and Ane Satire of the Thrie Estaitis by Sir David Lindsay. Happe opens his introduction by dismissing the need for classificatory labels. He includes the four plays listed here simply because “they are examples of long moral plays” (Happe 9). Happe’s introduction continues to address the didactic function of morality drama, staging, and the political aspects of the plays before dedicating introductory space to each individual play in turn. One of the more intriguing arguments he presents is his notion that these plays, unlike the shorter moralities, were written for indoor performance. The text is neither modernized nor translated. Happe does include extensive endnotes and a medieval word glossary, but the play-texts themselves could be problematic for struggling readers.
Cushman, Lysander William. The Devil and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature Before Shakespeare. London: Frank Cass, 1970. Print.
Originally published in 1900, L.W. Cushman’s classic text on stage vices and devils is still foundational reading for anyone looking to critically engage with medieval drama. Cushman opens by taking issue with the notion that there is a linear developmental line between dramatic representations of the Devil and the more abstract Vice, clown, fool, and villain. Cushman’s text collects archival evidence that demonstrates that the “devil, Vice, clown, fool, and villain are parallel figures of quite independent origin and function.” He effectively breaks his study into two parts, with part one discussing the Devil and part two discussing the Vice. Within that larger structure however, Cushman subdivides his work into dozens of smaller readings, all outlined in the table of contents. Rather than being organized by lengthy chapters, Cushman provides two to three page sections detailing how the Devil and the Vice operate within specific texts and dramatic traditions. As such, this text is an ideal source for students, as it allows them to do some quick research with a high quality text that is broken up into accessible, small sections.
Brown, Dorothy H. Christian Humanism in the Late English Morality Plays. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1999. Print.
One of the common academic discussions surrounding morality drama centers on what to make of its didactic nature. Dorothy Brown enters this discussion from an interesting frame of reference, opting to focus more attention on the secularized morality plays that appeared into the Renaissance. While Brown does mention the major medieval morality plays, she seems far more interested in the plays that drew upon their medieval forebears through the lens of early Humanist pedagogy. What makes Brown’s text particularly useful for classroom use is its demonstration of an adapting and evolving dramatic form that survived well into the Renaissance, as opposed to the earlier critical assumption that medieval dramatic forms fell by the wayside immediately upon the arrival of Shakespeare.
Davidson, Clifford. Visualizing the Moral Life: Medieval Iconography and the Macro Moralities. New York: AMS Press, 1989. Print.
Clifford Davidson contributes yet another text, this time, connecting moments of dramatic tableaux in the Macro Plays to iconographic evidence from the historical record. Davidson pulls together an impressive array of visual sources, including illuminated texts, painted glass, wall paintings, ivory mirror cases, psalters, carvings in the ends of church pews and more. He dedicates a full chapter to each of the three Macro plays. In a classroom setting, this text could open up a multitude of pedagogically rich activities. Davidson’s focus on iconographic texts—particularly on images of an unexpected type—opens the door to interdisciplinary work. His focus on dramatic tableaux sets up an ideal opportunity to bring in a performative approach to the plays. By having students get up on their feet to create these tableaux, they will better understand the plays and the visual culture that they those plays reflected.
Happe, Peter and Meg Twycross, Eds. Song in Morality Plays and Interludes. Lancaster: Medieval English Theatre, 1991. Print.
Peter Happe and Meg Twycross have edited a resource that will particularly appeal to the musically inclined students in our classrooms. A reference-style text, Happe and Twycross have gathered together information on the use of song in morality plays and interludes between 1425 and 1590. The text is broken into two primary sections. The first part is an alphabetical list of songs, burdens and titles. The second section is comprised of a list of literary texts and a checklist of song cues arranged in chronological order by play title. In the latter half of the text, the editors include the lyrics for a number of the songs, which could be useful for comparative analysis of music across multiple plays. This would be a fantastic resource for budding musicologists, or even just students with an interest in music.
McNamee, Mike. Sports, Virtues and Vices: Morality Plays. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Regardless of what it says in the title, this is not a text about morality plays. That said, it could still be a useful resource in a unit about morality plays. McNamee, admitting that his comparison is “crudely analogous” suggests that sports have come to fill the role and function occupied by morality plays in the 15th and 16th centuries. He suggests that “sports offer a cognitively simple canvas of good and evil writ large in the everyday contexts of the arena, the court, the field and, of course, the back pages of our newspapers and the screens of our televisions” (McNamee 1). He breaks his text into three sections, with a foundation, an account of rules and rule books and their connection to vices and virtues, and a section linking morality to the pursuit of excellence fostered in elite sports. These sections contain chapters on a wide variety of issues including hubris and humility, racism, role models, sportspersonship—McNamee’s term—and suffering in and for sport. This is a text whose ideas are at best tangential to our field. McNamee is essentially using a generalized notion of the morality play as the starting point for his idea that sport now fills that role. That said, it is a text that students might find engaging, and at the very least, McNamee’s ideas could prove to be fertile ground for rousing class discussion, and it could provide an accessible entry point to medieval drama for student populations that might otherwise be reluctant.
PCCvideos. “Everyman—PCC Performing Arts Center.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkM8v0m3URg
Despite extensive searching, few recorded productions of morality plays seem to be available. Those that were to be found were often incoherent or had dubious production values. The one clear exception to that dynamic was the 2012 production of Everyman by Portland Community College. The PCC production incorporated “larger than life” puppets that were actually made in a PCC puppetry class. The production opens with a figure on stilts announcing the play and, in an amusing, versified tone, instructing the audience to turn off their phones and let the cast be the only ones to read and send text. While differentiating accessories were utilized, the base costume for all of the characters was a sweat suit superimposed with a white skeleton. Not only did this create a visually interesting effect—particularly in an early scene, which involved the characters dancing under a blacklight, creating an eerie scene of glowing, dancing, skeletons—but the constant presence of these skeletons served as an ever-present reminder of one of the primary themes of the play—that death is inevitable. The puppets occasionally distract from the scene, but the student actors generally do a fine job, and the language of the play seems comfortable to them.
Finnissy, Michael. Mankind: Score and Parts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
This text, though printed fairly recently, is difficult to find. It is included here solely due to its unique status as a text that adapts a morality play into a musical genre. Michael Finnissy’s 108 page opera version of Mankind was commissioned by St. Peter’s School, Solihull. The school performed the operatic play in 2008, and while it was based on the morality play, Finnissy added in a wide variety of musical elements from various sources, both in an artistic endeavor and to make the text serve as an instructive model for the school’s music classes. If this semi-rare text can be located, it would thus be uniquely useful in a similar pedagogical context, serving as an interdisciplinary text that brings together the worlds of literature and music.
There are several potential sources that cover a range of medieval dramatic genres. In the interests of making this bibliography easier to navigate, I have attempted to restrict the sections above to texts dealing solely with those individual genres. The texts below, a short list of editions, academic and pedagogical sources, had such a large scope that it seemed best to keep them separate from other sections. Due to their scope, the sources below are particularly useful for survey courses and long-term, in-depth study of medieval drama.
Bevington, David. Medieval Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Print.
David Bevington’s anthology, Medieval Drama is a necessary text for any rigorous study of these early plays. Nearly every text and edition in this bibliography that was written after 1975 cites Bevington, with most noting his role in changing the way we view the importance and value of those plays. He breaks his text into six parts, first covering the liturgical beginnings of English drama and the church plays of the twelfth century before moving into sections dealing with the same categories discussed in this bibliography—the Corpus Christi cycles, Saints’ plays and the morality play. He also includes a section on early Humanist drama, demonstrating the connections between medieval and Renaissance plays. As a result, he includes almost all of the major plays from the most common forms, including the Macro morality plays and a composite cycle, using plays from five different extant cycles—N Town, Wakefield, Brome, York and Chester. His sections on the early church drama are particularly useful, as he includes the Quem Quaeritis, an early, influential play where the just-risen Christ appears to the three Marys. Bevington’s introductory essays are lengthy, thorough and wonderfully rigorous, making this text ideal for advanced students at the secondary level. The text is neither translated nor modernized, though it is thoroughly glossed.
Beadle, Richard, and Alan J. Fletcher. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.
Cambridge companions are always useful for students looking to do research and this companion to medieval English theater is no exception. Beadle and Fletcher have gathered together a series of essays that will provide students with accessible scholarship on just about all of the major kinds of medieval drama. The text includes an introduction to medieval drama and essays on topics including the cultural role of early drama, each of the four mostly complete Corpus Christi cycles, morality plays, miracle plays, modern productions, an intriguing chapter by John Coldewey on non-cycle plays and the East Anglian tradition, and a guide to the major trends in criticism. This is the kind of text that every student could use as the starting point for a research project.
Fitzgerald, Christina M. and John T. Sebastian, Eds. The Broadview Anthology of Medieval Drama. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2013. Print.
One of the more recent texts included here, Fitzgerald and Sebastian’s Broadview Anthology includes an impressive array of plays, from the works of Hrosvitha of Gandersheim forward. The major plays are all here—the Quem Quaeritis, ten selections from the York Cycle, selections from the Towneley plays, including the Second Shepherds’ Play and an entry on the “Wakefield Master,” selections from the Chester Cycle, the N-Town plays and even some plays of Welsh and Cornish origin. A series of Mummings by John Lydgate are included, as are several morality plays, including Mankind and Everyman. The plays are meticulously edited in a modern-language update that simultaneously makes every effort to maintain the spirit of the original while also making the plays accessible to a wider audience. Added stage directions for clarity, glosses of difficult words and s number of stunningly vibrant full-color images of paintings, manuscripts and productions are all strong points of this anthology. Most entries are preceded by a short—usually less than a page—introduction, offering a brief overview of the play and its role in dramatic history. These introductions might be a little light for the advanced scholar, but they are ideal both in length and tone for a secondary school audience or an undergraduate class of non-majors.
Coldewey, John C. Ed. Medieval Drama: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.
This collection of essays will be particularly useful for students interested in scholarly issues relating to genre. John Coldewey has organized the text into a logical structure. The text focuses on four kinds of medieval drama—Liturgical and vernacular Latin drama, cycle plays, non-cycle plays, and vernacular European drama. Coldewey’s text has dedicated two sections to each of these four types of drama, with each type receiving a section that “situates” that dramatic form “historically and culturally” and a second section that explores the “critical paths” of that form. This text could be particularly useful within a classroom setting, as its deliberate organization would allow students to find specific information quickly, making it ideal for in-class group work.
Emmerson, Richard K. Approaches to Teaching Medieval English Drama. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1990. Print.
This text is somewhat unique in this bibliography as it is a text geared primarily for the instructor’s use, rather than the student. The MLA Approaches to Teaching series has long been the standard-bearer for pedagogical theory and practice, and this text is no exception. Some of the biggest names in medieval drama contribute essays to this text, with V.A. Kolve penning the introduction, and David Bevington contributing the conclusion, answering the question of “why teach medieval drama?” The text does have some weaknesses, mostly related to its publication date. In several locations, the contributors discuss using VHS videotapes, slides and other now-obsolete technology. The result is that many of the resources mentioned are not available in modern technological formats. That said, the somewhat dated technology references are a relatively minor issue. The “Aids to Teaching” section (28-30) is particularly useful, as Emmerson offers a compilation of the survey responses on the approaches to teaching medieval drama taken by veteran instructors. This text does have a heavy focus on the mystery plays, but it does include several useful chapters, including essays on such topics as teaching an anthology of medieval drama, the instructor’s library, cultural and feminist approaches to the plays, modern adaptations such as Jesus Christ Superstar, and performance-based approaches to the plays. This latter section is particularly relevant. While the text’s technological and resource references are almost comically out of date, the move towards performance-based teaching was ahead of its time.
Price, Lindsay. “Medieval Drama.” Spotlight: A Free Newsletter for Theatre Teachers. Theatrefolk, Nov. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. https://www.theatrefolk.com/spotlights/medieval-drama#everyman
Theatrefolk, a company that sells play scripts to secondary schools, has been publishing its Spotlight journal for drama teachers since 2005. In 2011, Lindsay Price wrote and edited the 65th issue of the newsletter, focused entirely on medieval drama. The issue offers a fantastic and easy to read basic introduction to the material. Price includes an introduction, an overview of medieval history, sections on mysteries, moralities, and miracles, a section specifically on Everyman, and a few classroom exercises. The section on Everyman even links to a free copy of a modernized adaptation of Everyman, created by Price. This site is a potentially useful resource for younger students at the middle school level, or for high school students who struggle with the language of some of the more scholarly editions.
Lupack, Alan. “Medieval English Drama.” University of Rochester. U of Rochester, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. http://www.library.rochester.edu/subject/english/medieval-drama#chester
Compiled by noted Arthurian scholar Alan Lupack, this resource bibliography is exceptional in its scope and its rigor. While Lupack includes sections of materials dealing with the expected categories—general resources, bibliographies, critical studies, the four extant cycles and the other medieval dramatic genres—he also includes sections on more specialized academic interests, including a section on resources for records and documents, liturgical background, art and music, and staging. As such, this resource bibliography is not only a useful starting point for the academic student looking to begin a general paper, but it also offers guidance for students specifically interested in areas such as iconography, archival research, the church and performance studies. The end result is a resource bibliography that is both general and specific, creating a hybrid that will surely prove useful for a wide range of students.
Tiner, Elza C., Ed. Teaching with the Records of Early English Drama. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006. Print. Records of Early English Drama Online. University of Toronto, 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/
Records of Early English Drama, founded in 1975, has long been a go-to resource for scholarly archival research. By compiling regional records, scholars have been able to discover more about the historical world that provides the context for these plays, their audiences and the guilds and religious orders who perform them. While REED does not offer much of its material online, it does offer students ideas on where they might access that content, providing lists of its own publications as well as other research and educational tools. This is a resource that can be paired with Elza Tiner’s text. Tiner opens with the notion that REED, while useful for scholars, has proven difficult for students. In response to that difficulty, Tiner has collected a series of essays from contributors who describe the various ways in which REED can be more effective in a classroom setting.
In my experience as both a secondary and a university teacher, I know that there is a large difference between seeing a list of potential resources and implementing those resources into functional lesson plans. Collating such a list, while time consuming, is a relatively easy task. Transforming those materials into engaging lessons is the all too often unacknowledged work of the teachers who inspire classrooms full of students on a daily basis. In the interests of offering something practical and tangible to this bibliography, I have included below a handful of lesson plans that use some of the materials listed above. These should be used, adapted or discarded according to the wishes of each reader. Most of the lessons are based on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s exceptional performative approach to teaching dramatic texts.
Lesson One: Noah vs. Noah: Blocking a Comedic Scene
Lesson Objectives: The objective for this lesson is to allow students to engage with the Chester Noah play by means of subtext, movement and tone. While it is true that medieval plays have an historical context, as Katie Normington made clear in Modern Mysteries, the modern productions of the plays are influenced by performance decisions. Students know this is a comedic play. Do they know what that means? This lesson will allow them to do a close reading by putting the play on its feet and experimenting with different performative options. The lesson is modeled in part on the Folger Library’s scene blocking activities. The following lesson assumes that students had read the Chester Noah play as homework before class.
Needs: The Noah play from the Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries DVD, the Liverpool
University Players’ Chester Noah Play (YouTube), copies of the Chester Noah play, a prop cabinet/cupboard.
Journal: Where does humor come from? What are the different kinds of humor? Why are things funny? Discuss.
Group Work: Break the class into two or three groups. Assign two or three “directors” for each group, with the rest being “actors.” Each group is responsible for blocking the Chester Noah play (depending on time and resources, it might be more effective to select a more manageable piece of text, perhaps a teacher-selected piece of the Chester Noah play), with the goal of making it as funny/comedically effective as possible. They will do this by blocking the text for performance, identifying which words will be emphasized or infused with particular emotional tones. Students are also encouraged to add props to their productions, and to convey meaning through movement and gesture. All of these decisions should be deliberate, and written down in an acting copy of the script. Once the groups have come up with their adaptation of the text, the groups will share their performances with the rest of the class.
Whole Class Work: Now that the students have put on their own productions, compare their decisions with two professional productions of the play by showing students the Liverpool University Players’ production of the Chester Noah and the Yiimimangaliso Noah play. Ask students what surprised them. Did these productions find humor is different aspects of the play? How were they different from each other and from the students’ productions?
Closure: Emphasize the idea that humor may be achieved in different ways and used for different purposes. End the class with a short discussion of why humor was utilized so much in this play, and what the potential reasons may have been for adding that kind of humor to this point of the cycle (between the death of Abel and the play of Abraham and Isaac).
Lesson Two: Morality Plays, Mankind and Cutting a Scene
Lesson Objectives: The objective for this lesson is to emphasize the idea that elements of morality drama are still relevant to today’s society and can still be seen in popular culture. As many of the sources above noted, it is only recently that medieval drama has been seen as anything more than a precursor to Shakespeare. This lesson is designed to enable students to see the universal aspects of morality drama, which in turn will make it easier for them to engage with the actual medieval texts. As part of that activity, the students will do a scene cutting activity with Mankind. For a good overview of how to implement a scene cutting activity, see this Folger Library example (http://www.folger.edu/editing-close-reading-cutting-and-performing-complex-texts). The following lesson assumes that students had read Mankind as homework before class.
Needs: Three different critical introductions on morality plays, Fullmetal Alchemist episode 31 “Sin,” Possibly Mike McNamee’s book (Sports, Virtues and Vices: Morality Plays) or excerpts from it, the YouTube silent production of Mankind (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNWpxWcNS5I).
Journal: Split students into three groups, assigning each group a different critical introduction (or, more realistically, a portion of a critical introduction) on morality drama—there are several examples listed in the bibliography above. Have students create a list of traits and details about the genre in their journals as they read. When they have finished, come together as a full class, and come up with a composite list, incorporating elements from all three introductions. There are multiple benefits to this approach. Not only does it encourage students to engage in synthesis, but it also allows the teacher to select and assign introductions based on student capabilities, making it easier to facilitate differentiated learning.
Group Work: Keep the students separated into three or four groups, and provide each group with a performance copy (a copy that can be marked up) of Mankind—or, depending on time constraints, a smaller, more-manageable portion of the play. Using the lesson from the Folger website as a model, instruct each group to cut the scene in half. This activity essentially gets students to perform a close reading while remaining fully engaged. In deciding which lines are crucial and which lines may be cut, they often end up passionately advocating for certain lines while leading the charge to cut others. The end result is a closer reading than they would have otherwise performed. When they have finished cutting the scene in half, come back as a whole class to share their performance drafts and discuss the decisions that were made. Time permitting, allow students to add their “performances” to the silent production of Mankind linked above. The video is a recording of a production that had previously included audio. YouTube removed the audio track due to copyright violations, resulting in a video that has no sound whatsoever. Give each group a chance to provide the vocals of their script to the actions of the performers on the screen.
Whole Class Work: Having now discussed morality plays in general and Mankind in particular, bring the class together to look at modern variations of this theme/genre. Show part of the episode “Sin” from the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist—a good section to show begins about midway through the 19th minute. At 18:30, villainous characters Greed, Envy and Sloth have a conversation, noting that for the first time in a long while, all seven of them were running around. They mention other villainous characters named Lust and Wrath, and the show also has representations of Pride and Gluttony. These seven characters comprise the main villains of the series, each with powers reflecting their namesakes. Interestingly, these villains are “homunculi”—artificial beings created by humans. These characters are also unable or unwilling to influence events directly. Instead, they opt to manipulate others, including the protagonists of the series, Edward and Alphonse Elric. These elements draw strong parallels with morality plays, with themes of temptation and the idea that these sins, though embodied, are derived from within mankind. Like the homunculi of the anime, morality play sins are man-made. After students view the clip from the episode, moderate a discussion about this connection, guiding the students towards these and other parallels. Once they have exhausted that topic, see how many other modern examples they can come up with that draw heavily from the morality play tradition—for further ideas, you could also incorporate the Brad Pitt film, Seven, or even segments of Mike McNamee’s text.
Closure: Emphasize the continued popular focus on certain elements of the morality play genre. Point out that this interest seems to transcend time, religions and cultures (Fullmetal Alchemist is a story created by a Japanese woman who has adamantly claimed that that world had no Christianity). End the class with a short discussion about why that may be the case. Why are we still so interested in these elements long after their heyday?
Lesson Three: There’s Something About Miracles: Staging by Means of Graphic Design
Lesson Objectives: The objective for this lesson is to have students do a close-reading of a miracle play while simultaneously incorporating technology, photographic art, and concepts of staging. The lesson emphasizes the non-verbal aspects of performance by placing the focus on the role of movement, costume, and gesture. As part of that activity, the students will create a digital comic strip of key moments in The Play of Daniel. I have selected this play because it may be found in both translated form (in the Dunbar Ogden text) and in middle English (in Bevington), making it particularly useful for the differentiated classroom. That said, the core of this lesson could easily be applied to any miracle play, including those found in Bevington (the Digby Mary Magdalene and The Conversion of St. Paul and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament), the French miracle plays from the Carol Harvey text on falsely accused women, or the Anne Malcolmson text of miracle plays for modern players (this text being particularly useful for younger students or struggling readers). As with the previous lessons, this one leans heavily on Folger performance techniques. This time, I borrow the Folger’s strategy of doing a group close reading or “reading around the room” (see example at: http://www.folger.edu/to-be-or-not-to-be-close-reading-hamlets-soliloquy)
to have students create digital graphic representations of a miracle play. The following lesson assumes that students had read The Play of Daniel as homework before class.
Needs: Digital camera, a handout on group close reading (again, see the Folger lesson for ideas), some Mumming play scripts, costume and prop materials, the MET’s production of The Play of Daniel (on YouTube, and linked in the bibliography above), computers, a candy treat of some sort (chocolate coins would be ideal).
Warm-Up Activity: Whenever a class will be doing a performance-based lesson, it is usually a good idea to open with an activity to set the tone. Try opening the class with an impromptu mumming. The mumming playtexts are copious and often free. You might try one of the Lydgate mummings from the Sponsler text for advanced classes, or a mumming from Helm or Chambers. Another option is to access one of the mummings from Peter Millington’s excellent historical database of folk play scripts (http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm). Millington’s database includes a variety of mummings from different nations (England, Wales, Canada and the Caribbean among others) and from regions within those nations. As such, this could easily be used as a daily warm up activity, with an ongoing discussion about the ways that the mummings differed by region. It would be a particularly easy warm up to run. Simply hand out the scripts at random as students file into the room. Label each script with either a role from the mumming or the role of “audience.” Give students one minute to make an impromptu mask out of the various materials in the room (paper towels, backpack, book cover, etc) and then begin the show. To make it a bit more fun, you could give the “audience” members a handful of chocolate coins, which they could then give as “payment” to the most entertaining mummers. The end result is a short (the whole process would take less than ten minutes) warm-up activity that gets students up on their feet and ready for performance-based work, all while reinforcing/introducing elements of one of the medieval dramatic genres.
Group Work: Break the class into three groups, giving one of the groups the scene depicting Balthasar’s feast, another group the scene where Daniel reads the writing on the wall, and the third group the scene depicting Daniel’s rescue from the lion pit by the sword-wielding angel. The students should perform a group close reading of their scene. Once the students have finished their close readings, have them identify three to five of the most important moments of their scene. Once your students have identified those three to five moments, have them create tableaux’ of each one, using materials from a pre-established prop and costume cupboard (this cupboard does not need to be elaborate—a towel can be a cape or a nun’s habit while a rolled up piece of paper can be a royal decree or a secret message—let students get creative with these items). They should take several digital photographs of each tableaux before moving on to the next one (to ensure the odds that one of those pictures will be high quality). Once the students have their digital photographs of each tableaux, they should upload them to a website that enables students to create digital comic strips. Richard Byrne’s blog, “Free Technology For Teachers” (http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/12/10-ways-to-create-comics-online.html#.UyiGUM7vimQ), offers several such websites. Personally, I prefer befunky.com, as it allows students to get more creative with their images (including a fun option to transform the image so that it looks like a drawn comic, a feature it calls the “cartoonizer” effect). Once students have uploaded and edited their images, they should add two text boxes to each—one a caption, written by the group, that states the action, and the other a short quotation from that part of the play—think of it like a narration box, describing the moment, and a voice bubble, expressing the actual speech. The end product of their work will be a three to five panel tableaux graphic play, based on their own close reading of the scene.
Whole Class Work: First, allow the groups to share their comic strip versions of their scene, and then moderate a class discussion on what they noticed about the role of movement, gesture, costume, etc in creating meaning. When the discussion begins to taper off, show the students the two clips from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2009 production of The Play of Daniel (on YouTube. The clip on Balthasar’s feast is linked in the bibliography above. The clip of Daniel reading the writing on the wall is also online on the MET’s YouTube channel). After viewing clips from this professional production, ask the students what surprised them. In the MET production, what were some of the other things creating meaning (beyond the words of the text)? What are the possible ways to stage the final scene?
Closure: Close the class by bringing up some of the more contentious aspects of miracle plays—particularly the question of whether or not the repentant sinner was wholly deserving of such saintly intercession. Connect this idea to more modern texts that explore similar ideas. Some suggestions: Twelve Angry Men, Touched by an Angel, Highway to Heaven, Quantum Leap, City of Angels and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Citation: The Once and Future Classroom, Volume XII, Issue 1 (Fall 2015)
NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted. No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.