Wakefield Master Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The Wakefield Master is a mysterious figure, and the high literary value of his work has enticed many scholars into speculating about who he may have been. The dialects used by the Wakefield Master are from the general area of Wakefield, England, and the Master’s plays also refer to places in and around Wakefield. Therefore, he probably wrote while living in or near the town. Evidence that the town staged mystery pageants indicates that the Master’s work was composed specifically for Wakefield. The signs of his style in revisions of various portions of the cycle as well as the neatness with which his plays fit into the cycle have led some scholars to conclude that all the plays in the Towneley manuscripts were performed in Wakefield. Such a conclusion is reasonable and accounts for many scholars calling the cycle the “Wakefield Mystery Plays.”

Drawing on what is known of the York and Chester cycles, scholars have speculated that the Wakefield Master was a cleric, perhaps a monk. He was probably a man, although not necessarily so. Custom and known practice indicate that women were excluded from participation in the writing of such works as the Wakefield pageants. He almost certainly had an occupation other than writing; his plays were probably commissioned, as was his editing of other plays in the Towneley Cycle Learned members of the clergy were often expected to be able to contribute writings to public religious activities. The variety of dialects in his plays indicates that the Wakefield Master may have traveled in the Midlands area of England; the dominant dialect indicates that he was native to the Wakefield area.