York Plays Criticism - Essay

Lucy Toulmin Smith (essay date 1885)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to York Plays, 1885. Reprint by Russell & Russell, 1963, pp. xlv-lx.

[An authority on medieval English literature, Smith was the first modern editor of the York plays (1885). In the following excerpt from her introduction to that edition, she remarks on the skillfulness of the unknown author of the york plays and alludes to the influence of these and other religious cycles on later English dramatic literature. Smith calls attention to the deft use of alliterative verse, keen understanding of human nature, and thorough knowledge of the Bible and the legends associated with it.]

Although the date of composition of the York Plays is not known,...

(The entire section is 1264 words.)

Charles Mills Gayley (essay date 1904)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The York Schools of Humour and Realism," in Plays of Our Forefathers, 1904. Reprint by Duffield and Company, 1907, pp. 153-60.

[In the following excerpt, Gayley identifies a core of six plays that, he suggests, are probably the work of a single authorto whom he refers as "the York real ist." Gayley discusses the versification, style, and dramatic techniques of these plays, and postulates three distinct composition periods for the cycle.]

The York cycle affords very few situations ministering to the humour of the incidental. Such as are of that character must be assigned to more than one period of composition; none, however, is to be found in the...

(The entire section is 1766 words.)

E. Hamilton Moore (essay date 1907)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Great Cycle," in English Miracle Plays and Moralities, 1907. Reprint by AMS Press, 1969, pp. 31-48.

[In the excerpt below, Moore discusses the connection between the York pageant plays and the celebration of the annual Feast of Corpus Christi. By 1426, Moore notes, the festival was characterized by crowds and boisterous revelry—inappropriate for the observance of a sacramental feast—and in that year the religious procession itself was formally separated from the staged production of pageants.]

The latter half of the fourteenth century saw the translation of the Bible into the English tongue, for those who were fortunate enough to have learned to read;...

(The entire section is 1591 words.)

Hardin Craig (essay date 1955)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "York-Wakefield Plays," in English Religious Drama of the Middle Ages, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1955, pp. 199-238.

[In the excerpt below, Craig contends that the York and Wakefield cycles were once identical. In his estimation, the York plays were earlier and provided the initial molds for Wakefield.

There is only one theory that accounts completely for the likenesses and differences of the two cycles. Many alterations and developments had occurred during the fourteenth century and, as Burton's list of 1415 shows, the York plays had become a great and extensive cycle. At some time, probably before the year 1390, the York cycle was borrowed outright and...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Eleanor Prosser (essay date 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Joseph," in Drama and Religion in the English Mystery Plays, Stanford University Press, 1961, pp. 89-92.

[In the excerpt below, Prosser examines York XIII, Joseph's Trouble about Mary, finding in it an innovative and vigorous portrayal of Joseph's doubts about his wife's virtue. Whereas the Chester treatment of this episode is sketchy, Prosser points out, the York play includes extended dialogues between the couple in which Joseph passionately scorns Mary and expresses his personal shame.]

The best Joseph plays [in the English mysteries]… are those which most effectively fuse dramatic structure and doctrine…. [The] doctrine of repentance became the...

(The entire section is 1316 words.)

Rosemary Woolf (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Passion," in The English Mystery Plays, University of California Press, 1972, pp. 238-68.

[In the excerpt below, Woolf remarks on the characterization of Judas and Pilate in the York plays. Judas's dialogue with the porter is a rare and effective dramatic device, she notes, while the role of Pilate is unusually elaborate and—by modern standards—inconsistent.]

The characterisation of Judas in the [English mystery] plays is exceptional: though so pre-eminently a collaborator with the devil in his betrayal of Christ, and placed by Dante in the mouth of Satan himself in the deepest circle of hell, yet in the plays he is not modelled upon the devil, and is...

(The entire section is 1656 words.)

Richard J. Collier (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Poetry of the Play," in Poetry and Drama in the York Corpus Christi Play, Archon Books, 1978, pp. 38-61.

[In the following excerpt, first published in 1977, Collier analyzes the language and versification of the York plays, emphasizing the flexibility, effectiveness, and appropriateness of both. More than twenty different stanzaic forms appear in the York cycle, he points out, with different forms used for different kinds of episodes, characters, and dramatic action. Collier discerns three levels of style or language in these plays—ornate, formulaic, and colloquial. The use of vernacular language and the prevalence of the formulaic style are wholly in keeping, he remarks,...

(The entire section is 7754 words.)

Meg Twycross (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Playing the Resurrection," in Medieval Studies for J. A. W. Bennett, edited by P. L. Heyworth, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1981, pp. 273-96.

[In the following excerpt, Twycross describes the reconstruction of the production of the Resurrection of Christ, focusing on "what happens to the play in performance." Emphasizing the active involvement of the audience in the performance and the physical closeness of audience and actors, Twycross maintains that the Resurrection playwright made his audience aware of the part they played in the drama, engaging them directly in the emotional dynamics of the pageant.]

This essay is about the performance of a...

(The entire section is 7493 words.)

Clifford Davidson (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "After the Fall," in From Creation to Doom: The York Cycle of Mystery Plays, AMS Press, 1984, pp. 39-59.

[In the following essay, Davidson calls attention to the traditional dialectical pattern of hope and despair in the York plays that are based on episodes from the Old Testament. He also traces this pattern in medieval English pictorial art, including windows in York Minster and other churches, ecclesiastical sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts.]

A comparative method involving study of the York plays and analogous representations of subjects in the visual arts may suggest some new ways of approaching the vexed question of the selection of episodes in the...

(The entire section is 7815 words.)

Richard Beadle (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling, edited by Richard Beadle and Pamela M. King, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1984, pp. ix-xxx.

[In the excerpt that follows, Beadle provides an outline of the narrative scope of the plays and an overview of several issues connected with the York plays: the historical context of the Corpus Christi festival; the evidence of the manuscript, the Register, and other relevant documents; the role of the York craft guilds; the processional presentation of the plays; and stagecraft and dramatic technique in the cycle.]

The York cycle of Mystery Plays is one of the great literary and theatrical...

(The entire section is 7233 words.)

Martin Stevens (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The York Cycle: City as Stage," in Four Middle English Mystery Cycles, Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 17-87.

[In the excerpt below, Stevens contends that the unity of the York cycle is based on the medieval view of the plays as a mirror image of the city of York and its inhabitants. He argues that the processional staging of the cyclesespecially in the pageant depicting Jesus' entry into Jerusalemreflects York's use of the Corpus Christi festival as an opportunity for self-celebration that particularly emphasizes the tradition of royal entries into the city.]

The York plays present a special problem for those who find thematic...

(The entire section is 4556 words.)

Christine Richardson (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "York Crucifixion Play," in Medieval Drama, edited by Christine Richardson and Jackie Johnston, St. Martin's Press, 1991, pp. 61-78.

[In the following excerpt, Richardson examines the staging of the York Crucifixion playin her judgment, "the central climactic point of the Mystery Cycle"and demonstrates how it draws the spectators into the responsibility for Christ's suffering and death. She maintains that the vivid portrayal of Christ's sacrifice leads the audience, first, to understand its personal relevance and, second, to acknowledge it as the route to redemption for humanity.]

A wealth of details in civic documents, guild...

(The entire section is 5380 words.)

Richard Beadle (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The York Cycle," in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, edited by Richard Beadle, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 100-08.

[In the excerpt below, Beadle evaluates the variety of alliterative verse in the York cycle. Focusing in particular on the Crucifixion pageant and the second Christ Before Pilate play, he remarks on the verbal subtleties and structural details that are carefully woven into the twelve-line stanza throughout the play.]

Most of the York cycle still awaits detailed study along lines that move towards an integration of the textual, documentary and theatrical evidence, complex and resistant to consensual...

(The entire section is 3247 words.)