Mankind: Medieval Morality Plays

Date and provenance

In his critical edition of the play published by the Early English Text Society in 1969, Eccles argues for a date between 1465 and 1470. Wickham, in his Dent edition of 1976, agrees, finally settling on 1470.[1] Similarly, Lester, in his New Mermaids edition of 1981, offers between 1464 and 1471.[2] Baker and, following his suggestion, Southern agree on a date of 1466.[3] These arguments are based upon references to coinage in the playtext, specifically the "royal" and the "angel", which were minted between 1465 – 1470. The poem certainly dates from the reign of Edward IV of England, and likely has an East Anglian provenance; it was likely "intended to be performed in the area around Cambridge and the environs of Lynn in Norfolk."[4] This is evidenced by numerous local place names dispersed throughout the play, including that of Bury St Edmunds, significant for being the home of two former owners of the play: Thomas Hyngman (15th century) and Cox Macro (18th century).[5]

Like Wisdom, Mankind bears a Latin inscription by the monk Thomas Hyngman and the phrase (translated), “Oh book, if anyone shall perhaps ask to whom you belong, you will say, “I belong above everything to Hyngham, a monk.” [6] Similarities between this hand and the text of the play lead scholars to believe that Hyngman transcribed the play.[7] However, several textual oddities likely derive from Hyngman's miscopying of the text because he was unfamiliar with it, so scholars do not credit Hyngman with authorship.

Along with The Castle of Perseverance and Wisdom, Hyngman's Mankind was acquired by the Reverend Cox Macro in the early 18th century. Macro bound them together somewhat arbitrarily, along with three other non-dramatic manuscripts. Early 19th-century owner Henry Gurney separated The Castle, Wisdom, and Mankind from the other manuscripts and bound them together as a collection in a separate volume. In 1936, the Folger Shakespeare Library purchased this manuscript at a Sotheby's auction for 440 pounds.[8]

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