N-Town Cycle Criticism - Essay

Hardin Craig (essay date 1914)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A note to the University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature, Vol. 1, October, 1914, pp. 72-83.

[In the following excerpt, Craig surveys nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century scholarship on the N-Town plays and suggests Lincoln as the home of the cycle.]

It has never been known where the cycle of mystery plays published by the Shakespeare Society in 1841 as "Ludus Coventriae: a Collection of Mysteries formerly represented at Coventry on the Feast of Corpus Christi," were acted, although it has long been known that they are not the Coventry plays. The editor of the cycle, J. O. Halliwell(-Phillips), follows a tradition to the effect that this cycle...

(The entire section is 5707 words.)

G. K. Chesterton (essay date 1920)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Humor of King Herod," in The Uses of Diversity: A Book of Essays, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1920, pp. 96–100.

[In the following essay, Chesterton relates the so-called Coventry Nativity play to more familiar Renaissance dramatic conventions and asserts that the proximity of comedy and tragedy began with medieval miracle plays.]

If I say that I have just been very much amused with a Nativity play of the fourteenth century it is still possible that I may be misunderstood. What is more important, some thousand years of very heroic history will be misunderstood too. It was one of the Coventry cycle of mediæval plays, loosely called the Coventry...

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K. S. Block (essay date 1922)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to Ludus Coventriae or the Plaie Called Corpus Christi, edited by K. S. Block, Early English Text Society, 1922, pp. xi-lvii.

[In introducing her edition of the cycle, Block describes the details of the manuscript. This excerpt includes her assertions that the manuscript is a compilation and that the cycle differs from other cycles in its ritual and dramatic complexity.]

The general evidence of the various features of the MS …shows that the collection contains parts or the whole of four separate groups: (1) the composite Contemplacio group (viii to xiii); (2) the first Passion (xxvi to xxviii); (3) the second Passion group...

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Timothy Fry (essay date 1951)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Unity of the Ludus Coventriae," in Studies in Philology, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3, July, 1951, pp. 527-70.

[By relating the doctrinal content of Ludus Coventriae to the writings of patristic authorities, Fry argues that the theory of the Redemption as a response to the devil's abuse of power unifies the cycle.]

Scholars have been pretty well agreed that the Ludus Coventriae, as the compilation of plays now stands, is [as Å. E. K. Chambers puts it in his English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, 1945] "in a state of confusion." Studies devoted to the cycle as a cycle have been chiefly concerned with the stages in the development of the...

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Kenneth Cameron and Stanley J. Kahrl (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Staging the N-Town Cycle," in Theatre Notebook, Vol. XXI, Nos. 3 and 4, Spring and Summer, 1967, pp. 122-38, 152-65.

[In the following excerpt, Cameron and Kahrl explore the staging of plays in Lincoln, as well as internal evidence from the N-Town cycle, in order to argue for the use of both movable and stationary staging methods in the cycle.]

Much attention has been given to problems of doctrine, of supposed unity, and of geographical ascription in the N-Town Plays. Known also as the Ludus Coventriae or the Hegge MS. plays, this lengthy cycle has been frequently examined because of its great complexity and the many problems it poses. Its staging,...

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Anne Cooper Gay (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The 'Stage' and the Staging of the N-Town Plays," in Research Opportunities in Drama, Vol. X, 1967, pp. 135–40.

[In the following except, Gay revises previous notions of medieval stage structures, arguing that the N-Town plays differ from other cycles not in the stage structures themselves but in dramatic techniques.]

The term "stationary ("fixed" or "standing") stage" has long been applied to the N-Town Plays because the term stands for the opposite of "movable ("perambulatory") stage." Certainly, the stage directions of the N-Town "Passion," combined with the evidence for con tinuous playing within sequences of plays in other parts of the cycle, preclude...

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Theresa Coletti (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Devotional Iconography in the N-Town Marian Plays," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring, 1977, pp. 22-44.

[By exploring the Marian plays' connection to devotional art, Coletti reveals how the cycle embodies its audience's spiritual concerns.]

The Middle English N-Town cycle evinces an extraordinary consciousness of the motifs and interpretations that characterized late medieval devotion to the Virgin. Of the four Middle English Corpus Christi plays, only the N-Town cycle includes a group of plays, extending from The Conception of Mary to The Trial of Joseph and Mary, specifically concerned with the life of the Virgin before the birth of...

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Lynn Squires (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Law and Disorder in Ludus Coventriae," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 12, No. 3, Fall, 1978, pp. 200-13.

[By exploring fifteenth-century law, Squires suggests that many of the plays of the N-Town cycle contain severe criticism of the contemporary legal establishment.]

My purpose is to provide a new context for the late medieval cycle of plays traditionally referred to as Ludus Coventriae by investigating the fifteenth-century legal conditions reflected in these plays. Critics of medieval drama have not recognized the importance of laws as a religious ideal and so have not noticed its significance in late medieval and early Renaissance religious drama....

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Gail McMurray Gibson (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Bury St. Edmunds, Lydgate, and the N-Town Cycle," in Speculum, Vol. CVI, No. 1, January, 1981, pp. 56-90.

[In this seminal essay, Gibson asserts that the N-Town plays originated not in Lincoln but in the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds.]

No scholar of medieval English drama needs to be reminded of the old and unsolved puzzle of the provenance of the fifteenth-century cycle of mystery plays preserved in MS B. L. Cotton Vespasian D.viii. The socalled N-Town Cycle has been plagued by a series of misnomers, erroneous catalogue descriptions, and confusions of place attribution ever since about 1629, when Sir William Cotton's librarian wrote on the flyleaf...

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Peter Meredith (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to The Passion Play from the N. Town Manuscript, edited by Peter Meredith, Longman, 1990, pp. 1-36.

[In an excerpt to his introduction to this edition, Meredith discusses the staging and general themes of the Passion Play.]

Play and pageants

It is sometimes implied or stated that the present Passion Play is a revision of earlier pageants (those described in the Proclamation) to make a continuous play. While it is impossible to disprove this it seems to me that in the case of Passion I and the first part of Passion II (up to I. 880) this is unlikely. The demonstrable overlaps between the episodes in...

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Gail McMurray Gibson (essay date 1993-94)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Writing Before the Eye: The N-Town Woman Taken in Adultery and the Medieval Ministry Play," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 27, No. 4, Winter, 1993-94, pp. 399-407.

[Here, Gibson argues that the Woman Taken in Adultery play enacts the Christian mystery of the connection between the flesh and the divine.]

Richard Beadle has recently observed [in a review in Medium Aevum 60, 1991] that "If any area of medieval English studies can be said to have changed out of all recognition over the past twenty years or so, it must be that of the drama." Certainly, twenty years ago I could have asserted the perversity of teaching a field of scholarly...

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Alan J. Fletcher (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The N-Town Plays," in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, edited by Richard Beadle, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 163-88.

[In the following excerpt, Beadle describes the provenance of the N-Town manuscript, arguing against Gibson's suggestion of Bury St. Edmunds as its origin. He also asserts that the manuscript is a composite, and offers a general overview of the plays.]


'Corpus Christi plays', 'cycle plays': these are just two of the more familiar boxes in which modern critics have tried to contain the resisting diversity of much late medieval English drama. Indeed, such pigeon-holing has a long...

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