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Medieval Mystery Plays in the Modern World: A Question of Relevance?

Margaret Rogerson
The Yearbook of English Studies
Vol. 43, Early English Drama (2013), pp. 343-366
DOI: 10.5699/yearenglstud.43.2013.0343
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Page Count: 24
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Medieval Mystery Plays in the Modern World: A Question of Relevance?
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The English Mystery Plays of the Catholic Middle Ages were both devotional and theatrical. This article investigates their ‘relevance’ for twenty-first century audiences that may not share the same faith. It considers how a number of playwrights have responded to the medieval genre to create new works that develop themes and narratives underlying the original texts. It argues that audiences for condensed versions of the Mysteries in the new millennium may be encouraged to process the performance intellectually and emotionally in similar ways. Two American plays are examined: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Mystery Plays (2001) and Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play (2005). The fifteenth-century plays from York are seen through the lens of the work of six modern dramatists who wrote ‘Modern Mysteries’ in direct response to their reading of a selection of the original episodes. These short plays were presented during the performance run of the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens. The script for the 2012 Mysteries, condensed by Mike Kenny for an evening's entertainment, and its performance by the community cast led by two professional actors, Ferdinand Kingsley and Graeme Hawley, confirms the potential of the medieval texts to forge a place in the modern imagination.

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