Medieval Drama

marys_at_sepulcher(2)Here are some World Wide Web and Internet resources for the study of Medieval and Early Renaissance Drama.

Our knowledge and interpretation of medieval drama in England, especially of the mystery plays, has changed radically over the past 25 years, thanks largely to the work of the Records of Early English Drama (REED). Dr. Gloria Betcher of Iowa State University has provided an excellent comparison of what we thought we knew about medieval drama in 1951 and what we think we know now, for which click here. Most importantly, local civic and parish records show that 1) cycles of biblical dramas from Creation to Judgment were almost unique to York and Chester, whereas other towns had a variety of entertainments, including short, individual plays that were not part of a larger cycle–this is true of the so-called “Wakefield Cycle” or more properly “the Towneley Plays”; and 2) there is no genre called “the Corpus Christi Play” particularly connected to the Feast of Corpus Christi; any of these plays might just as well have been performed on a variety of holidays, mostly in the Spring and Summer, especially during Whitsuntide (the week of Pentecost Sunday). For the latest scholarship on these issues, see the works of, among others, Garrett P.J. Epp, Alexandra F. Johnston, and Barbara D. Palmer in the bibliographies which can be found in the menu on the right.


Baragona’s Medieval Drama Bibliography – Selected primary and secondary sources.

Medieval English Drama Bibliography – An excellent bibliographic site from the Robbins Library at the University of Rochester (N.Y.), including sources not listed in the previous bibliography.

Medieval European Drama in Translation – Steven Wright of Catholic University has provided this bibliography of translations of medieval dramatic texts from Latin, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Cornish, Welsh, and Croatian.

Adam de la Halle Bibliography – A bibliography of a major figure in medieval European drama, by Jesse Hurlbut at BYU.

General Resources

Medieval Drama Links – A wonderful collection of links for medieval drama, both British and European, from Prof. Sydney Higgins of the University of Camerino. This site sponsored by the University of Leeds Workshop Theatre.

Medieval Drama Resources – Part of the Luminarium site for medieval literature, this page has links to background articles for medieval drama, bibliographies, and assorted other material.

The Early Drama, Art, and Music Project – A Research Project at the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University.

Middle English Biblical Plays – This web site for Dr. Gloria Betcher’s medieval drama class at Iowa State has a number of useful links.

Poculi Ludique Societas – “The PLS (Poculi Ludique Societas) sponsors production of early plays, from the beginnings of medieval drama to as late as the middle of the seventeenth century.”

Medieval French Theater – Links provided by Dr. Robert “Tennesse Bob” Peckham of the University of Tennessee- Martin.

The York Mystery Cycle

The York Doomsday Project – What began as “a multimedia computer project on the fifteenth-century York Mystery Plays, arguably the most famous of the cycles, [has grown] into a research project exploring all aspects of the plays and their various social, intellectual, religious, and theatrical contexts. It also aims to present the surviving evidence around the original performance in a completely new way, using both traditional and innovative techniques.”

The York Pageant Simulator – “This website, by Dennis G. Jerz, is intended to provide a gentle introduction to the York Corpus Christi Play, so that readers may better understand the significance of the computer simulation I conducted. This is also the document I would have liked to have read, before I began my own study of the York plays.”

Illumination: From Shadow Into Light – This site from the National Centre for Early Music, in York, England, presents research on the history of the York Mystery Plays since their revival in 1951. (Requires Flash 6 for full use.)

The York Cycle of Mystery Plays: York 1998 (and after) – “The York Mystery Plays are a magnificent example of medieval drama. Using the colourful language of medieval Yorkshire, they present the ‘history of the world': from the mystery of God’s creation of the world to the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. They were performed from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, as part of the annual celebrations of the feast of Corpus Christi, and have now been revived – to much acclaim – in twentieth-century York. This Web site contains a wealth of information on the plays and their history . . . .” Includes video clips. For an overview of the most recent production, click here.

The Guilds of York: York Mystery Plays – The offical site for the plays, with links to productions of 2002 and 2006.

The York Cycle of Mystery Plays: Toronto 1998 – “The performance of the York Cycle of Mystery Plays in Toronto on June 20, 1998 . . . under the auspices of the Poculi Ludique Societas, a society dedicated to the preservation and performance of early English drama . . . was the first outdoor processional presentation of the entire cycle of 47 surviving plays since the final performance in York in 1569. The event was a useful experiment for theatre historians interested in determining whether the entire cycle could be performed processionally on a single day. Even more importantly, however, it was also a genuinely entertaining and profoundly moving theatrical experience for audience and actors alike.”

Play Texts

E-text of The York Plays from the University of Virginia.

The York Plays, texts modernized by Chester N. Scoville and Kimberley M. Yates for the University of Toronto’s Poculi Ludique Societas.

The N-Town Plays, texts modernized by Stanley J. Kahrl and Alexandra F. Johnston for the University of Toronto’s Poculi Ludique Societas.

E-text of The Towneley Plays from the University of Virginia.

The Castle of Perseverance, text modernized by Alexandra F. Johnston for the University of Toronto’s Poculi Ludique Societas, based on an acting edition prepared by David M. Parry.

Search the entire corpus of Middle English texts at the University of Virginia’s E-Text Center. Enter a Middle English key word to search through the whole corpus. (A subscription service.)

Miscellaneous Play Sites

Le jour dou jugement: Images from a 14th-Century French Mystery Play – Another site by Jesse Hurlbut, this one with excellent manuscript illuminations of the French play.

Images from play productions by Poculi Ludique Societas since 1964

A PowerPoint presentation by Garrett P.J. Epp of images from the 1985 Toronto production of the Towneley Plays

Other Resources

The Douay-Rheims Bible – A Catholic translation of the Vulgate Bible into English, often closer to the Latin text that medieval authors would have known than any more modern translations, Catholic or Protestant. If a student can’t read the medieval Latin Vulgate itself, this is the translation to use. Also available at Intratext Library, which contains a built-in concordance for many of the words.

The Catholic Encyclopedia – An excellent first stop for research into Catholic doctrine and the history of the medieval Catholic Church.

ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies – ORB is an academic site, written and maintained by medieval scholars for the benefit of their fellow instructors and serious students. All articles have been judged by at least two peer reviewers. Authors are held to high standards of accuracy, currency, and relevance to the field of medieval studies.

Medieval Sourcebook – Fordham University’s website with links to translations of many medieval texts.

The Labyrinth – A prime site for all medieval resources on the World Wide Web.