The Medieval Mystery Plays

Blue Medieval mystery plays began to be performed in the 1200’s and were performed outdoors. The plays were written in verse and taught Christian doctrine by presenting biblical characters as if they lived in medieval times. Many mystery plays were rich with comedy.

During the 1300’s, the performance of the mystery plays was taken over by such non-religious organisations as trade guilds. The local language replaced Latin. The short plays had been staged throughout the year, but by the 1300’s, they were often given as a group called a cycle. A cycle portrayed the entire Christian story of the relationship between god and human beings, from the creation of the world to the final judgement. It included an account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cycles were performed during the summer.

Mystery Play 5Cycles of mystery plays from four English towns – Chester, Coventry, Lincoln, Wakefield and York have been preserved. All date from the 1300’s. Towns in France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere also have surviving medieval mystery plays.

In EnMystery Plays 1gland, the setting for each play was mounted on a pageant wagon. This wagon was drawn through a city to various places where audiences gathered. Because of limited space, the actors performed on a platform beside the wagons. The audience usually stood in the street or watched from nearby houses. The actors were townspeople, and most of them belonged to the trade guilds that financed and produced the plays. They also had mansion stages that were popular in medieval Europe. These consisted of separate settings on a long platform – The actors moving from one setting to another, following the action of the play.

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