Discontinuity in Medieval Acting Traditions

  • David Bevington


Fifty years or so ago, a common assumption about medieval drama was that it evolved steadily and progressively toward the secular art of the Renaissance. E. K. Chambers, Karl Young, J. M. Manly and others argued that drama of the church evolved first into drama performed outside the church and then into drama performed in the town, by craft guilds.1 Concurrently, the argument went, translation into the vernacular provided dramatic texts dealing with biblical history that needed only to be collected and slightly ampliled in order to create the Corpus Christi cycles. The introduction of comedy was viewed as a relatively late phenomenon and part of the process of “secularization” by which medieval drama moved toward the future greatness of the Elizabethan theatre. Medieval plays were read as “Specimens of the Pre-Shaksperean drama,” to borrow the memorably fatuous phrase used by Manly for his anthology of medieval drama.


Thirteenth Century Fourteenth Century Outdoor Play Major Discontinuity Secular Actor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1903);Google Scholar
  2. Karl Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1933);Google Scholar
  3. J. M. Manly, ed., Specimens of the Pre-Shaksperean Drama, 2 vols. (Boston, 1897).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    F. M. Salter, Medieval Drama at Chester (Toronto, 1955).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    O. B. Hardison, Jr., Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages (Baltimore, 1965), Essay I.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Flays (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1972), pp. 42 ff.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    V. A. Kolve, The Play Called Corpus Christi (London, 1966), pp. 39Google Scholar
  8. Grace Frank, The Medieval French Drama (Oxford, 1954), p. 67.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Glynne Wickham, Early English Stages, 1300 to 1660, Vol. I, 1300–1576 (London and New York, 1966), pp. 122 ff.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Fletcher Collins, Jr., The Production of Medieval Church Music-Drama (Charlottesville, Va., 1972), p. 16.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    O. Schüttpelz, Der Wettlauf der Apostel und die Erscheinungen des Peregrinispiels im geistlichen Spiel des Mittelalters (Breslau, 1930), p. 25;Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    G. Cohen, “The Influence of the Mysteries on Art in the Middle Ages,” Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th series, XXIV (1943), 329–330;Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Arnold Williams, The Drama of Medieval England (Michigan State University Press, 1961), p. 25.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Chaucer, “The Miller’s Tale,” II. 3312 and 3384, in The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson, 2nd ed. (Boston, 1957).Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Hardin Craig, ed., Two Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1957), p. 87.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Allardyce Nicoli. Masks, Mimes, and Miracles (London, 1931), p. 192.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    Alan Nelson, The English Corpus Christi Play: Processional Pageants and Cycle Drama (Chicago, 1974). Chambers, Mediaeval Stage, II, 133 ff., argues that the already-existing plays were adapted to the Corpus Christi procession, but supports the view that the plays were profoundly influenced by conditions of performance in the procession.Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    Kenneth Cameron and Stanley J. Kahrl, “Staging the N-Town Cycle,” Theatre Notebook, XXI (Spring, 1967), 122–138.Google Scholar
  19. 26.
    David Bergeron, “Actors in English Civic Pageants,” Renaissance Papers 1972 (1973), pp. 17–28,Google Scholar
  20. 27.
    See, for example, R. G. Thomas, ed., Ten Miracle Plays (Evanston, 1966), p. 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Bevington

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations