The Mercers, Civic Power, and Charity in the York Cycle

  • Roger A. Ladd
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Scholarship of the Corpus Christi cycle form remains productive for scholars interested in urban social history and cultural production, especially for the York cycle, where the city’s own register of the plays shows the hand of the town clerk.1 The same record-keeping also preserved city archives that allow scholars to understand the York cycle’s urban milieu, enabling exploration of the ties between civic identity and the representation of faith. Since the merchants dominated the oligarchy sponsoring the cycle, the York cycle also represents one of those rare literary texts to have a direct link to that estate. For the influential mercers’ guild in particular, a prime position in this collective production presented an opportunity to interpret biblical history in terms of their anxiety about trade’s sinfulness, and to counter the estates satire tradition’s vision of mercantile greed. With the York register, we can see how that response was formulated in the later fifteenth century, since as Richard Beadle observes, the current consensus dates the register to “the third quarter of the fifteenth century.”2 The mercers’ “Last Judgement” reveals how, roughly a century after John Gower’s Mirour de l’Omme, merchants could sponsor a performance that argued for their salvation; from the possibilities of scribal connections between mercantile readers and literary texts in the late fourteenth century, we have moved to the certainty of mercantile involvement in literary production.


Cultural Production Fifteenth Century Guild Structure Divine Power Corporal Work 
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© Roger A. Ladd 2010

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  • Roger A. Ladd

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