York Mystery Plays

The York Realist

The authorship of all the plays is unknown, but analysis of the style allows scholars to recognise where authorship changes. One particular group of plays, concerned with the Passion, have been attributed to a writer called "The York Realist"[4] and the name has come into general use.[1] The eight plays concerned are

  • Cutlers – Conspiracy
  • Cordwainers (Shoemakers) – Agony and Betrayal
  • Bowyers and Fletchers – Peter's Denial; Jesus before Caiphas
  • Tapiters (Makers of tapestry and carpets) and Couchers – Dream of Pilate's Wife
  • Listers (Dyers) – Trial before Herod
  • Cooks and Water-leaders – Second Accusation before Pilot; Remorse of Judas; Purchase of the Field of Blood
  • Tilemakers – Second Trial before Pilate
  • Butchers – Mortification of Christ; Burial

They are all written in vigorous alliterative verse, as are other plays in the cycle. The distinctive feature, apart from the high quality of the writing, is the attention to incidental detail in the story-telling, and in the subtle portrayal of the negative characters, such as Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Playwright Peter Gill expressed the view that "If it hadn’t been for the York Realist, Shakespeare would have been a second rate writer like Goethe".[5]

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