End of Europe's Middle Ages
The performance of a cycle of mystery plays in York, England can be
documented from the late fourteenth century although they had probably been
performed for some time before. The production and staging of the plays was
the responsiblity of the various craft guilds of the town. A list of the
plays and guilds responsible for the production of each was drawn up in 1415
and the texts of forty-five plays were written down between 1463 and 1477.
Records of performances indicate that the plays were performed until at
The plays were performed on pageant wagons that followed a set route
through the town, stopping for performance at twelve designated sites.
Beginning at dawn and ending after midnight, the cycle was performed every
year on the feast of Corpus Christi (which falls in May or June).
The cycle of York (also spelled "Yorke") mystery plays covers the entire
histroy of salvation, beginning with the Fall of the Angels and ending with
the Last Judgement. The life of Christ is especially emphasized. This
excerpt, written in Middle English, is from The Crucifixion of Christ.
The Crucifixion of Christ
Thanne to this werke us muste take heede
So that oure wirkying be noght wrange.
|None othir noote to neven is nede,
But latte us haste hyme for to hange.
|And I have gone for gere goode speede,
Bothe hammeres and nayles large and lange.
|Thanne may we boldely do this ded;
Commes on, late kille this traitoure strange!
|Faire myght 'e fallen in feere
That has wrought on this wise.
|Us nedis nought for to lere
Suche faitoures to chastise
|Sen ilke a thyng es right arrayed,
The wiselier nowe wirke may we.
|The crosse on grounde is goodely graied
And boorede even as it awith to be.
|Lokis that the ladde on lenghe be layde
and made me thane unto this tree.
|For alle his fare he schalle be flaied;
That one assaie sone schalle ye see.
|Come forthe, thou cursed knave;
Thy comfort sone schalle kele.
|Thyne hyre here schall thou have.
|Walkes oon! Now wirke we wele.
|Almighty God, my fadir free,
Late this materes be made in my mynde.
Thout badde that I schulde buxsume be
For Adam plyght for to be pyned.
Here to dede I obblisshe me
Fro that synne for to save mankynde
And soveraynely beseke I the
That thai for my may favoure fynde
And fro the fende thame fende,
So that ther saules be saffe
In welthe withouten ende;
I kepe nought ellis to crave.
|We, here, sir knyghtis, for Mahoundis bloode!
Of Adam kynde is all his thoght.
|The warlowe waxis were than woode,
This doulfull ded ne dedrith he noght.
|Thou schulde have mynde, with mayne and moode,
Of wikkid werkis that thou haste wrought.
|I hope that he hadde bebe as goode
Have sesed of sawes that he uppe-sought.
|Thoo sawes schall rewe hym sare,
For all his saunteryng sone.
|Ille spede thame that hym spare
Tille he to ded be done.
| Return to Language & Literature
The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
Copyright © 1997, The Applied History Research Group