York Mystery Plays

The Plays

There is no record of the first performance of the York Mystery Plays, but they are first recorded celebrating the festival of Corpus Christi, in York in 1376, by which time the use of pageant wagons has already been established. The plays were organised, financed (and often performed) by the York Craft Guilds ("Mystery" is a play on words, representing both a religious truth, or rite, and, in its Middle English meaning of a trade, or craft). The wagons would be paraded through the streets of York, stopping at each of 12 playing stations, designated by the City banners.

The cycle uses many different verse forms, but most have rhyme, a regular rhythm with fairly short lines, and frequent alliteration. The balance of critical opinion is in favour of the idea of several clerics being responsible for their authorship, one of whom is conventionally known as the "York Realist".

The cycle of plays comprise some 48 pageants, which were originally presented upon carts and wagons, dressed for the occasion. In some accounts, there are as many as 56 pageants. They told stories from both the Old and New Testaments, from the Creation to the Last Judgement.

The Plays continued after the Reformation, as part of which, in 1548, the feast of Corpus Christi was abolished in England. The plays accommodated themselves to the new religious orthodoxy, by cutting scenes honouring the Virgin, but were finally suppressed in 1569.

Traditionally, an individual guild would take responsibility for a particular play.[1][3]

  1. Barkers (Tanners) – The creation, and the Fall of Lucifer
  2. Plasterers – The creation myth – up to the Fifth Day
  3. Cardmakers – Creation of Adam and Eve
  4. Fullers (preparers of woolen cloth) – Adam and Eve in Eden
  5. Coopers (makers of wooden casks) – The Fall of Man
  6. Armourers – Expulsion from Eden
  7. Glovers – Sacrifice of Cain and Abel
  8. Shipwrights – Building of the Ark
  9. Fishers and Mariners – Noah and his Wife
  10. Parchmenters and Bookbinders – Abraham and Isaac
  11. Hosiers – Departure of the Israelites from Egypt;Ten Plagues; Crossing of the Red Sea
  12. Spicers – Annunciation and Visitation
  13. Pewterers and Founders – Joseph's Trouble about Mary
  14. Tile-thatchers – Journey to Bethlehem
  15. Chandlers (Candlemakers) – Shepherds
  16. Masons – Coming of the Three Kings to Herod
  17. Goldsmiths – Coming of the Kings: Adoration
  18. Marshals (Grooms) – Flight into Egypt
  19. Girdlers and Nailers – Slaughter of the Innocents
  20. Spurriers and Lorimers (Spurmakers and makers of horse bits and bridles) – Christ with the Doctors
  21. Barbers – Baptism of Jesus
  22. Smiths – Temptation
  23. Curriers (men who dress leather) – Transfiguration
  24. Capmakers – Woman Taken in Adultery; Lazarus
  25. Skinners – Christ's Entry into Jerusalem
  26. Cutlers – Conspiracy
  27. Bakers – Last Supper
  28. Cordwainers (Shoemakers) – Agony and Betrayal
  29. Bowyers and Fletchers – Denial of Peter; Jesus before Caiphas
  30. Tapiters (makers of tapestry and carpets) and Couchers – Dream of Pilate's Wife
  31. Listers (Dyers) – Trial before Herod
  32. Cooks and Water-leaders – Second Accusation before Pilate; Remorse of Judas; Purchase of the Field of Blood
  33. Tilemakers – Second Trial before Pilate
  34. Shearman – Christ Led to Calvary
  35. Pinners and Painters – Crucifixion
  36. Butchers – Mortification of Christ; Burial
  37. Saddlers – Harrowing of Hell
  38. Carpenters – Resurrection
  39. Winedrawers – Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene
  40. Sledmen – Travellers to Emmaus
  41. Hatmakers, Masons, Labourers – Purification of Mary; Simeon and Anna
  42. Scriveners (Scribes) – Incredulity of Thomas
  43. Tailors – Ascension
  44. Potters – Descent of the Holy Spirit
  45. Drapers (Dealers in cloth and dry goods) – Death of Mary
  46. Weavers – Appearance of Mary to Thomas
  47. Ostlers (Stablemen) – Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin
  48. Mercers (Dealers in textiles) – Judgement Day

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.