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Four Middle English Mystery Cycles

Four Middle English Mystery Cycles: Textual, Contextual, and Critical Interpretations

Martin Stevens
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 378
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztwcv
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  • Book Info
    Four Middle English Mystery Cycles
    Book Description:

    Martin Stevens examines the four extant complete cycles of Middle English mystery plays in light of the most recent research on the manuscripts, sources, and records relating to the medieval drama. The first comprehensive treatment of all four of the cycles, the book emphasizes the study of the surviving manuscripts as texts distinct from their performance history.

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5872-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. TEXTUAL NOTE
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-16)

    This book undertakes to develop a comprehensive study of the four extant complete Middle English mystery cycles It does so at a time in the genesis of medieval drama scholarship when all of the plays have either been, or are in the process of being, reedited and when the records of the early English drama are being collected as part of a major scholarly enterprise¹ Its principal contentions are that the cycles deserve to be read as self-standing and individual works of literature, that they must be studied in the context of the manuscripts that have transmitted them, and that...

  7. ONE The York Cycle: City as Stage
    (pp. 17-87)

    The York plays present a special problem for those who find thematic or structural unity in the medieval Corpus Christi cycles. The difficulty is that the play in York, perhaps because it was staged from the outset in what was then a large regional city, was more nearly a communal enterprise than any other extant English cycle. One senses in reading the manuscript of the plays and the copious municipal records from York that the cycle itself is a corporate work, and not so markedly as the other cycles the work of an individual consciousness. In part one gets that...

  8. TWO The Wakefield Cycle: The Playwright as Poet
    (pp. 88-180)

    We have seen that the York cycle developed over the years as a corporate enterprise. As civic pageantry it apparently started in improvisational performance, gradually became recorded in a series of texts by the performing guilds, and eventually was compiled by the city fathers into a register, or a permanent, unified text that functioned both as official source and archival record. The whole play, in process and product, was a municipal enterprise of self-examination and self-celebration, and the York cycle as a whole was the first true “city play” in the history of the English drama.

    The Wakefield cycle (if...

  9. THREE The N-Town Cycle: Dramatic Structure, Typology, and the Multiple Plot
    (pp. 181-257)

    Among the extant cycles, the one ascribed in its Proclamation to N-Town (and now known generally by that name)¹ presents us with the least evidence of provenance, genesis, and performance history. Unlike the other extant cycles, it is totally devoid of references to its place of performance, within either rubrics or text, and there are no extant records that have been positively identified as linked to it. We do have ana quodate for the manuscript—1468—which is affixed to the Purification play (see f. 119v), but that date may refer to the play rather than the cycle...

  10. FOUR The Chester Cycle: The Sense of an Ending
    (pp. 258-322)

    The history of the Chester cycle has undergone a substantial revision in recent years. It used to be fashionable to think of the Chester plays as the oldest surviving Middle English cycle, a conclusion that was derived from E. K. Chambers’s interpretation of the Chester records. While Chambers himself was puzzled by various inconsistencies in these documents, he offered the years 1327–1329 as the date when the cycle was inaugurated. And while the evidence from the records did not really provide acceptable proof for such an early date, Chambers developed a series of interpretations that would vaguely justify it....

  11. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 323-328)

    I have argued in this book that the English mystery cycles, at least as we see them in the four extant complete examples, are remarkably unified and powerfully developed works of art. They rank with the best that poets, dramatic or nondramatic, wrote in their times, which extended roughly from the last half of the fifteenth to the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Despite this comparatively late date, the cycles are thoroughly medieval in world view and dramaturgy; they reflect a tradition that grew, as we have seen in the example from York, over a long period of performance....

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 329-350)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 351-360)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)