English Mystery Plays – Staging Patterns and Orality Features

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The aim of the first part of this thesis was to compare the staging patterns of English mystery plays and the possibilities they offer, to analyse the way selected plays use the particular acting space and to trace the effect they achieve.

The place-and-scaffold staging pattern is associated with larger audiences. The plays ascribed to this pattern tend to attract the audience with spectacular effects and action. In The Conversion of St Paul, the subject matter itself allows for the use of horses and pyrotechnics. The dramatist also added the episode with the devils to add to the spectacular effect.

Processional staging is limited by the size of the pageant wagon, but its advantage is the manageable size of the audience and the option to use the street as an acting place. In The Entry to Jerusalem, performing on the street level enabled a closer contact with the audience and it included the audience into the play, making its presence an active participation in the event.

Medieval plays are typical for their appeal to the audience. The fact that medieval stage does not have clearly defined boundaries combined with the fact that medieval theatre thrives on representation instead of illusion allowed the actors to address the audience directly without the danger of breaking the theatrical illusion. Medieval theatre does not employ illusion. It is a communal matter that is based on the interaction between the actor and the audience.

The aim of the second chapter of this thesis was to prove the influence of oral culture on the basic features of medieval plays. The aspects of oral communication are apparent in the use of verse, proverbs and formulaic expressions. Episodic plots are due to the way oral culture perceives time. And finally, the emphasis on interaction and the importance of the community contribute to the interactive character of medieval drama.

Thus the primary concern of this thesis was the communal character of medieval drama and its representations in the staging and in the texts of English mystery plays.


The Martyrdom of St Apollonia by Jean Fouquet

Detail from The Triumph of Isabella by Denis van Alsloot


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1 a dialogue styled singing when two halves of the chorus respond to each other

2 Kinship will creep where it can not go. (i.e. only a parent could love his child). Coll coments on the ugliness of Mak’s son, which is actually the stolen sheep hidden in the cradle)

3 The devil is always on the move, Gib. speaks about Mak’s wife.

4 food

5 pinch

6 work

7 We are so hamstrung, overtaxed and beaten down (that) we are made slaves by these highborn men. (317)

8 stop

10 if

11 Take heed that you miss none of my suffering. (220)

12 rehearse

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