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Recycling the Cycle

Recycling the Cycle: The City of Chester and Its Whitsun Plays

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    Recycling the Cycle
    Book Description:

    David Mills has produced a detailed study of the city of Chester Whitsun Plays in their local, physical, social, political, cultural, and religious context.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7908-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Play Manuscripts
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. 1 Approaches to Early Drama
    (pp. 3-19)

    Since this is a book about traditions, it should start by establishing the tradition in which it stands, for every critical work is in part a product of and in part a response to the state of criticism of its time. The study of ‘medieval drama,’ however that slippery term is defined, has been a major growth point since the 1960s after a period of virtual stagnation in the first half of the twentieth century. That upsurge of interest, and the tradition against which it reacted, forms the focus of this chapter. The situation at the beginning of the century,...

  7. 2 Time and Space in Tudor Chester
    (pp. 20-38)

    The streets, buildings, and physical geography of the town we live in are the most immediate determinants of our networks of relationships with one another and with our collective past. They also constitute the physical context in which public celebration is conducted. That context is not neutral. It is the product of an ongoing process of urban development which has led to the construction of buildings which may serve not only as functional places for habitation, commerce, and assembly, but also as structures symbolic of authority and tradition The streets and open spaces of a medieval town determined processional routes...

  8. 3 Writing the Record
    (pp. 39-56)

    The buildings of the city housed a number of important ceremonial objects and also constituted a daily reminder to the citizens of the city’s continuity from the past. It was in and among these buildings that Chester’s drama and ceremonial were performed. But the buildings were also the repositories of the written records of the city’s past. That past was important not simply for its intrinsic antiquarian or historical interest but as a point of appeal for the present. It served to substantiate claims of power and privilege, and as such was a political as well as a scholarly resource....

  9. 4 A Spectrum of Ceremonial and Entertainment
    (pp. 57-78)

    There are various ways of approaching the diversity of drama, ceremonial, and entertainment in Chester. One of the most obvious, and one used of ceremonial in other cities, is to trace the city's ceremonial year, a procedure which has the advantage of presenting the various activities in the sequence in which they would have been experienced by the citizens. The ceremonial pattern in Chester changed markedly over our period, however, and since it is with that process of change and its implications for the significance and survival of the various activities that we are concerned, it seems more useful to...

  10. 5 The Midsummer Celebrations
    (pp. 79-100)

    The most spectacular and most contentious of Chester’s civic celebrations was held at Midsummer, the time of one of the city’s two great fairs. Midsummer Day, 21 June, was a major pagan festival and it is often assumed that the revelry and celebrations which took place around that date in local communities across the country had their roots in earlier pagan rites. It seems impossible to establish the truth of that claim, but the secular, boisterous, and often licentious activities of that point in the calendar attracted the disapproval of the devout and a suspicion of at least inadvertent pagan...

  11. 6 Religious Feasts and Festivals
    (pp. 101-124)

    The worship of the Christian church provided an early and continuing source of quasidramatic actions which have been the subject of many specialist studies.¹ It is unlikely, however, that Cestrians in the Plantagenet and Tudor periods were conscious of or concerned about the possible historical priorities of such actions or their connection with civic ceremonial. The rituals of the church were to the glory of God and were performed in a building dedicated to God by a priest who claimed, with the authority of the church, to have special powers to administer the sacraments and to consecrate the eucharistic elements...

  12. 7 Professionalism, Commercialism, and Self-Advertisement
    (pp. 125-152)

    The sixteenth century was a time of considerable change in the field of theatre. These changes have been thoroughly documented and discussed by theatre historians and there is neither space nor necessity to rehearse the details once more here.¹ For an understanding of the implications of those changes for drama and ceremonial in Chester, however, I would emphasise two areas of change within the wider national pattern — one an incentive towards private sponsorship, and the other a disincentive towards the continuation of communal celebration.

    First, theatrical performance and display became an accepted form of self‐advertisement and noblemen commissioned pageants...

  13. 8 The Past in the Present: The Text of the Whitsun Plays
    (pp. 153-178)

    It is my purpose in this book to set Chester’s plays in a wider context of civic celebration, religion, and politics, to present them as a cultural artefact. But the plays differ from Chester's other celebratory activities in being textually controlled and having the potential for mimetic action. The ownership of the text and the control of the information it conveys become increasingly important and controversial as the sixteenth century progresses. To understand at least something of the controversies that arose, we need to look at the character and content of the version of the plays that has survived —...

  14. 9 Manuscripts, Scribes, and Owners
    (pp. 179-198)

    Chester’s Whitsun Plays were performed as a cycle for the last time in the sixteenth century at Midsummer in 1575. Two years later one of the plays, ‘The Shepherds’ Play,’ was performed for Lord Derby and his son. That was the last recorded performance of any of the plays in the city before the present century. Some early critics have suggested that a revival was projected in 1600, partly on the strength of the date of 1600 on one of the cycle manuscripts to which the Post‐Reformation Banns are prefaced, but there is no evidence of such an intention.¹ Since...

  15. 10 Medievalism and Revival
    (pp. 199-219)

    The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have seen a remarkable resurgence of interest, both scholarly and popular, in medieval drama. Chester’s Whitsun Plays have been among the beneficiaries of that interest and may serve therefore as a case study of that wider development. This final chapter briefly examines the developments which led to the production of the first printed edition of the full cycle, and the circumstances in which the Plays returned to the theatre.

    As the texts and supporting material for the study of Chester’s plays migrated through private collections towards national repositories, scholars showed only a passing and condescending...

  16. Postscript
    (pp. 220-226)

    Among the many charitable provisions in his will of 16 July 1603, Valentine Broughton of Chester left 20s to the mayor, aldermen, and sheriffs’ peers ‘to make them a repast or banquet in the pentice within the said city of Chester yearly, upon the day of solemnization of the coronation of our Sovereign Lord the King, his heirs and successors.’¹ The legacy provides an indication of the progressive change that was taking place in civic celebration during the seventeenth century, not only in Chester but throughout the country. These new national festivals have been discussed by David Cressy, who summarizes...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 227-252)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-272)
  19. Index
    (pp. 273-281)