Medieval Drama: the Mystery Cycles

Course Dates: 03/06/24 - 08/07/24
Time: 19:30 - 21:00
Location: Online
Tutors: 
This course explores the Medieval Mystery plays, also known as the York Corpus Christi plays, focusing on the oldest of the four great cycles of biblical drama that have survived from late Medieval England. We will consider theatrical conventions, costumes and props, the performances and open-air staging of the plays and the medieval guilds and writers that were responsible for them.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £99.00 Senior fee £99.00 Concession £64.00

Medieval Drama: the Mystery Cycles
  • Course Code: HLT326
  • Dates: 03/06/24 - 08/07/24
  • Time: 19:30 - 21:00
  • Taught: Mon, Evening
  • Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)
  • Location: Online
  • Tutor: Rachel Buglass

Course Code: HLT326

Mon, eve, 03 Jun - 08 Jul '24

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

The focus will be on the oldest of the four great cycles of biblical drama that have survived from late medieval England. The York Mystery plays were performed annually on the feast of Corpus Christi and form a chronological sequence of stories from the Old and New Testaments, charting the Fall and Redemption of humanity. The course will focus on the essential episodes, including the Fall of the Angels and the Fall of Man; the Building of the Ark and The Flood; Joseph’s Trouble about Mary and the Nativity; the Crucifixion and The Last Judgement. It will consider the different medieval craft guilds that financed and produced these plays on wagons and the staging of the plays in a huge annual procession. There have been many recent revivals of these delightful cycles. Audiences never fail to be charmed by these gorgeous spectacles of civic pride!

Tutor biography:
Dr Rachel Buglass holds an MA in Medieval Writing and Culture from The University of East Anglia and a PhD in late 15th century literature from the Canterbury Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies, University of Kent. She is particularly interested in dream poetry and the period in the late fifteenth century during which manuscript and print culture overlap. She was a research assistant on the first volume of The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 1 (Anglo Norman, Anglo-Latin, Anglo Saxon and Middle English).

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

In this online course we consider theatrical conventions, costumes and props, the performances and open-air staging of the plays and the medieval guilds and writers that were responsible for them. We read the stories, considering their typology and eschatology, their language and poetical structures, their humour and realism. We will engage with the traditions of liturgical and secular drama and the religious world picture from which these plays emerged. Society was religious and the works that survive reflect the way in which the Medieval Church sought to shape the lives of ordinary people. Extracts from the three other main surviving cycles – Chester, N-Town and Townley cycles – and other secondary texts will be used to support the study of the York Cycle. We will look at the language of the original texts as well as considering more modern responses and critical approaches to staging the plays.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Understand something of the beliefs and civic structures of Medieval society
• Evaluate the stagecraft of Medieval actors
• Discuss literary form and structure, and perhaps Middle English linguistic choices, with reference to the York Mystery plays
• Have awareness of the key Old and New Testament Biblical stories and their resonance for people living in Medieval England.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

No previous knowledge of literature is necessary, although it maybe helpful if you have seen some plays performed outdoors! However, learners will ideally need the following skills and attributes:
• An enthusiasm for reading and discussing drama within large and small groups
• Confidence to explore language that looks different and to persevere with linguistic challenges
• A willingness and ability to read the plays and wider criticism outside the class
• An interest in, and ability to listen to, the responses of other students about the works discussed
• An ability to imagine a world different from our own and to engage empathetically with different religious beliefs.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

A variety of teaching methods will be used, including short lecture, small group work using primary and secondary text extracts, discussions. There may be some reading aloud of texts if course members are willing to participate! Classes will be supported with powerpoint presentations.

Work outside class is to read the relevant plays in preparation for the upcoming week. You will be directed to wider reading as the course progresses, but this is optional.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Please purchase: Pamela M King & Richard Beadle ed., York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling (Oxford World Classics – OUP, 1995 / 2009)

All further texts will be provided by the tutor.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

The tutor will teach HLT325 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in term one. Look for all Literature courses under History, Culture and Writing/Literature at www.citylit.ac.uk.

Rachel Buglass

Dr Rachel Buglass holds an MA in Medieval Writing and Culture from The University of East Anglia and a PhD in late 15th century literature from the Canterbury Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies, University of Kent. She is particularly interested in dream poetry and the period in the late fifteenth century during which manuscript and print culture overlap. Rachel has lectured and taught adults at a range of institutions, including undergraduates at the University of Kent and at Oxford University and, while completing her doctorate, worked as a research assistant on the first volume of The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 1 (Anglo Norman, Anglo-Latin, Anglo Saxon and Middle English).

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.