Introduction: Devotional Modes of Becoming in Late Medieval York

Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)


I remember distinctly the experience that sparked my passion for theatre. I was ten years old and sat in the front row of the mezzanine at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. During the performance, I leaned forward, my forehead pressed to the balcony railing and eyes glued to the stage. In the weeks that followed, despite repeatedly recounting in vivid detail all that I had heard and seen onstage, I felt incapable of expressing in words the show’s powerful impact on me. Its narrative and main idea were not the source of pleasure; the spectacular set, make-up, and costumes were not the cause either. And although I am certain that I had seen other plays before this one, this is the production that stays with me even now. It was Cats.


Cognitive Theory Performance Literacy Theatrical Event Visual Culture Parish Church 
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    I am not suggesting that an exact reconstruction of the medieval performance could ever take place. However, York’s topography still provides the pageant route, with many medieval buildings and churches along its path. As Eileen White admits, “it is still possible to walk the streets of York that contained the procession of wagons and by their shape and size dictated the style of performance, and sense a link between the old and the new tradition” (75). “Places to Hear the Play: The Performance of the Corpus Christi Play at York,” Early Theatre 3 (2000): 49–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Ibid., 3. Revisiting the A/Ywith a digital camera, Meg Twycross has identified previously unseen erasures and emendations that shed further light on the continually shifting life of the York cycle. In respect to this particular 1376 entry, she discovered that it “is written over an erasure in a different ink and different, later, hand, and that the accepted dating of the earliest record of the York cycle is therefore, to say the least, unsafe” (113). She suggests that, at this point, the hand looks like “one which appears later in the Memorandum Book, from the 1390s” (129). “The Ordo paginarum Revisited, with a Digital Camera,” in “Bring furth thepagants”: Essays in Early English Drama Presented to Alexandra F. Johnston, eds. David Klausner and Karen Sawyer Marsalek (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 105–31.Google Scholar
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    Alexandra F. Johnston argues that these plays were presented on wagons in the same processional format as the Corpus Christi cycle, and most scholars believe that both the Creed and Pater Noster plays were divided into smaller pageants that coincided with the petitions. See Johnston, “The Plays of the Religious Guilds of York: The Creed Play and The Pater Noster Play,” Speculum 50 (1975): 55–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Jill Stevenson 2010

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