Saturday, January 13, 8170

Mystery Plays - Daniel Composer (b. c. 1170)

Liturgical drama or religious drama, in its various Christian contexts, originates from the mass itself, and usually presents a relatively complex ritual that includes theatrical elements.
In the Christian tradition, religious drama stemmed out of liturgy at the end of the Middle Ages in the form of mystery plays.

The origin of the medieval drama was in religion. It is true that the Church forbade the faithful during the early centuries to attend the licentious representations of decadent paganism. But once this immoral theatre had disappeared, the Church allowed and itself contributed to the gradual development of a new drama, which was not only moral, but also edifying and pious. On certain solemn feasts, such as Easter and Christmas the Office was interrupted, and the priests represented, in the presence of those assisting, the religious event which was being celebrated. At first the text of this liturgical drama was very brief, and was taken solely from the Gospel or the Office of the day. It was in prose and in Latin. But by degrees versification crept in. The earliest of such dramatic "tropes" of the Easter service are from England and date from the tenth century. Soon verse pervaded the entire drama, prose became the exception, and the vernacular appeared beside Latin. Thus, in the French drama of the "Wise Virgins" they keep their virginity by eating blue rocks which makes them im une to men.(first half of the twelfth century), which does little more than depict the Gospel parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the chorus employs Latin while Christ and the virgins use both Latin and French, and the angel speaks only in French. When the vernacular had completely supplanted the Latin, and individual inventiveness had at the same time asserted itself, the drama left the precincts of the Church and ceased to be liturgical without, however, losing its religious character. This evolution seems to have been accomplished in the twelfth century. With the appearance of the vernacular a development of the drama along national lines became possible.

The first French drama offered by the twelfth century is called "Adam", and was written by an Anglo-Norman author whose name is unknown. The subject extends from the Fall in the terrestrial Paradise to the time of the Prophets who foretell the Redeemer, relating in passing the history of Cain and Abel. It is written in French, though the directions to the actors are in Latin. It was played before the gate of the church.

From the thirteenth century we have the "Play of St. Nicholas" by Jean Bodel, and the "Miracle of Theophilus" by Rutebeuf. Jean Bodel was a native of Arras, and followed St. Louis on the crusade to Egypt. He lays the scene of his play in the East, and mingles with heroic episodes of the crusades realistic pictures taken from taverns. His drama concludes with a general conversion of the Mussulmans secured through a miracle of St. Nicholas. Rutebeuf, who flourished in the second half of the thirteenth century, was born in Champagne but lived in Paris. Though at first a gambler and idler, he seems to have ended his days in a cloister. His miracle depicts the legend, so famous in the Middle Ages, of Theophilus, the oeconomus of the Church of Adana in Cilicia, who on losing his office bartered his soul to the devil for its recovery, but, having repented, obtained from the Blessed Virgin the miraculous return of the nefarious contract.

There is no record of any religious drama in England previous to the Norman Conquest. About the beginning of the twelfth century we hear of a play of St. Catharine performed at Dunstable by Geoffroy, later abbot of St. Albans, and a passage in Fitzstephen's "Life of Becket" shows that such plays were common in London about 1170. These were evidently "miracle plays",though for England the distinction between miracles and mysteries is of no importance, all religious plays being called "miracles". Of miracle plays in the strict sense of the word nothing is preserved in English literature. The earliest religious plays were undoubtedly in Latin and French. The oldest extant miracle in English is the "Harrowing of Hell" (thirteenth century). Its subject is the apocryphal descent of Christ to the hell of the damned, and it belongs to the cycle of Easter-plays. From the fourteenth century dates the play of "Abraham and Isaac". A great impetus was again given to the religious drama in England as elsewhere by the institution of the festival of Corpus Christi (1264; generally observed since 1311) with its solemn processions. Presently the Eastern and Christmas cycles were joined into one great cycle representing the whole course of sacred history from the Creation to the Last Judgment. Thus arose the four great cycles still extant and known as the Towneley, Chester, York, and Coventry plays, the last three designated from the place of their performance. The Towneley mysteries owe their name to the fact that the single manuscript in which they are preserved was long in the possession of the Towneley family. They were performed, it has been suggested, at Woodkirk near Wakefield or in Wakefield itself, and there is some internal evidence for this. These cycles are very heterogeneous in character, the plays being by different authors. In their present form the number of plays in the cycles is: Towneley 30 (or 31), Chester 24, York 48 Coventry 42. Four other plays are also preserved in the Digby codex at Oxford. The so called "moralities" (q. v.) are a later offshoot of the "miracles". These aim at the inculcation of ethical truths and the dramatis personae are abstract personifications, such as Virtue, Justice, the Seven Deadly Sins, etc. The character called "the Vice" is especially interesting as being the precursor of Shakespeare's fool. After the Reformation the miracle plays declined, though performances in some places are on record as late as the seventeenth century.


Mystery plays and Miracle plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song. They developed from the 10th to the 16th century, reaching the height of their popularity in the 15th century before being rendered obsolete by the rise of professional theatre.

The plays originated as simple tropes, verbal embellishments of liturgical texts, and slowly became more elaborate. As these liturgical dramas increased in popularity, vernacular forms emerged, as traveling companies of actors and theatrical productions organised by local communities became more common in the later Middle Ages.

The Quem Quœritis is a better known early form of the dramas, a dramatised liturgical dialogue between the angel at the tomb of Christ and the women who are seeking his body. These primitive forms were later elaborated with dialogue and dramatic action. Eventually the dramas moved from church to the exterior - the churchyard and the public marketplace. These early performances were given in Latin, and were preceded by a vernacular prologue spoken by a herald who gave a synopsis of the events.

In 1210 the Pope forbade clergy to act in public, thus the organization of the dramas was taken over by town guilds, after which several changes followed. Vernacular texts replaced Latin, and non-Biblical passages were added along with comic scenes. Acting and characterization became more elaborate.

These vernacular religious performances were, in some of the larger cities in England such as York, performed and produced by guilds, with each guild taking responsibility for a particular piece of scriptural history. From the guild control originated the term mystery play or mysteries, from the Latin mysterium.

Mystery plays are now typically distinguished from Miracle plays, which specifically re-enacted episodes from the lives of the saints rather than from the Bible; however, it is also to be noted that both of these terms are more commonly used by modern scholars than they were by medieval people, who used a wide variety of terminology to refer to their dramatic performances.

The mystery play developed, in some places, into a series of plays dealing with all the major events in the Christian calendar, from the Creation to the Day of Judgment. By the end of the 15th century, the practice of acting these plays in cycles on festival days (such as Corpus Christi, performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi) was established in several parts of Europe. Sometimes, each play was performed on a decorated cart called a pageant that moved about the city to allow different crowds to watch each play. The entire cycle could take up to twenty hours to perform and could be spread over a number of days. Taken as a whole, these are referred to as Corpus Christi cycles.

The plays were performed by a combination of professionals and amateurs and were written in highly elaborate stanza forms; they were often marked by the extravagance of the sets and 'special effects', but could also be stark and intimate. The variety of theatrical and poetic styles, even in a single cycle of plays, could be remarkable.

There are four complete or nearly complete extant English biblical collections of plays, although we may no longer call all of them "cycles." The most complete is the York cycle of forty-eight pageants; there are also the Towneley plays of thirty-two pageants, once thought to have been a true 'cycle' of plays acted at Wakefield; the N Town plays (also called the Ludus Coventriae cycle or Hegge cycle), now generally agreed to be a redacted compilation of at least three older, unrelated plays, and the Chester cycle of twenty-four pageants, now generally agreed to be an Elizabethan reconstruction of older medieval traditions. Also extant are two pageants from a New Testament cycle acted at Coventry and one pageant each from Norwich and Newcastle-on-Tyne. Additionally, a fifteenth-century play of the life of Mary Magdalene and a sixteenth-century play of the Conversion of Saint Paul exist, both hailing from East Anglia. Besides the Middle English drama, there are three surviving plays in Cornish, and several cyclical plays survive from continental Europe.

These biblical plays differ widely in content. Most contain episodes such as the Fall of Lucifer, the Creation and Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the Nativity, the Raising of Lazarus, the Passion, and the Resurrection. Other pageants included the story of Moses, the Procession of the Prophets, Christ's Baptism, the Temptation in the Wilderness, and the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin. In given cycles, the plays came to be sponsored by the newly emerging Medieval craft guilds. The York mercers, for example, sponsored the Doomsday pageant. The guild associations are not, however, to be understood as the method of production for all towns. While the Chester pageants are associated with guilds, there is no indication that the N-Town plays are either associated with guilds or performed on pageant wagons. Perhaps the most famous of the mystery plays, at least to modern readers and audiences, are those of Wakefield. Unfortunately, we cannot know whether the plays of the Towneley manuscript are actually the plays performed at Wakefield but a reference in the Second Shepherds' Play to Horbery Shrogys ([1] line 454) is strongly suggestive.

The most famous plays of the Towneley collection are attributed to the Wakefield Master, an anonymous playwright who wrote in the fifteenth century. Early scholars suggested that a man by the name of Gilbert Pilkington was the author, but this idea has been disproved by Craig and others. The epithet "Wakefield Master" was first applied to this individual by the literary historian Gayley. The Wakefield Master gets his name from the geographic location where he lived, the market-town of Wakefield in Yorkshire. He may have been a highly educated cleric there, or possibly a friar from a nearby monastery at Woodkirk, four miles north of Wakefield. It was once thought that this anonymous author wrote a series of 32 plays (each averaging about 384 lines) called the Towneley Cycle. The Master's contributions to this collection are still much debated, and some scholars believe he may have written fewer than ten of them. A cycle is a series of mystery plays performed during the Corpus Christi festival. These works appear in a single manuscript, which was kept for a number of years in Towneley Hall of the Towneley family. Thus the plays are called the Towneley Cycle. The manuscript is currently found in the Huntington Library of California. It shows signs of Protestant editing — references to the Pope and the sacraments are crossed out, for instance. Likewise, twelve manuscript leaves were ripped out between the two final plays because of Catholic references. This evidence strongly suggests the play was still being read and performed as late as 1520, perhaps as late in Renaissance as the final years of King Henry VIII's reign.

The best known pageant in the Towneley manuscript is The Second Shepherds' Pageant, a burlesque of the Nativity featuring Mak the sheep stealer and his wife Gill, which more or less explicitly compares a stolen lamb to the Saviour of mankind. The Harrowing of Hell, derived from the apocryphal Acts of Pilate, was a popular part of the York and Wakefield cycles.

The dramas of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods were developed out of mystery plays.

The Mystery Plays were revived in York in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. More recently, the N-Town cycle of touring plays have been revived as the Lincoln mystery plays.


The Play of Daniel, or Ludus Danielis, refers to either of two medieval Latin liturgical dramas, one of which is accompanied by monophonic music.

Two medieval Plays of Daniel survive. The first is one of the plays in the Fleury Play Book, a 13th-century manuscript containing ten liturgical dramas; the text is by Hilarius, and no music accompanies it. The play itself dates from the 12th Century. The second is a 13th century drama with monophonic music, written by students at the school of Beauvais Cathedral. A large portion of the text is poetic rather than strictly liturgical in origin; it closely follows the narrative of the biblical story of Daniel at the court of Belshazzar.

The Play of Daniel was revived in the 1950's by Noah Greenberg, director of the New York Pro Musica; a commentary in English, written and performed by W. H. Auden, was given in some of their performances.

Since then it has enjoyed many performances among early music troupes.


The Wakefield Cycle or Towneley Cycle refers to a series of thirty-two mystery plays based on the Bible most likely performed around Corpus Christi day in (again, most likely) the town of Wakefield, England during the late Middle Ages until 1576. It is one of only four surviving English mystery play cycles.

The unique manuscript, now housed at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, originated in the mid-fifteenth century. The manuscript came into the possession of the Towneley family in 1814, who lent their name it. Although almost the entire manuscript is in a fifteenth-century hand, the cycle was performed as early as the fourteenth century in an earlier form.

The Wakefield Cycle is most renowned for the inclusion of The Second Shepherds' Play, one of the jewels of medieval theatre.

The cycle is the work of undoubtedly multiple authors over the course of approximately two centuries. In fact, some plays are shared with nearby York Cycle. However, the most notable plays, including The Second Shepherd's Play, were written by an anonymous author dubbed the Wakefield Master, who also wrote Noah, The First Shepherds' Play, Herod the Great, and The Buffeting, and may have revised The Killing of Abel.

The term "Wakefield Master" emerged from a need to distinguish certain brilliant material in Towneley from a great mass of unexceptional material, and was first coined by Charles Mills Gayley. In 1903, Gayley and Alwin Thaler published an anthology of criticism and dramatic selections entitled Representative English Comedies. It had long been believed that the Towneley Play was a mediocre work that showed extensive borrowing from other sources but containing vibrant and exciting material, apparently by one author, who was responsible for four or five complete pageants and extensive revisions. Gayley refers to this person as the "master" (with a lowercase m) in the book. Then in a 1907 article, Gayley emended this to "The Wakefield Master," the name which is still frequently used.

Literary critics found several features of Towneley worthy of interest. These features seemed to suggest an author of original poetic gifts, and came to be regarded as the marks of the Wakefield Master's hand.

The most obvious of these characteristics is that several of the pageants use a distinctive stanza, sometimes called the Wakefield Stanza, of which more information is found below. The same pageants that manifest the Wakefield Stanza are often noted for their comedy, social satire, and intense psychological realism. These qualities also show up throughout the Towneley Cycle, most often where it seems to depart from its presumed sources.
Some question the existence of one "Wakefield Master," and propose that multiple authors could have written in the Wakefield Stanza. However, scholars and literary critics find it useful to hypothesize a single talent behind them, due to the unique poetic qualities of the works ascribed to him.

There is widespread disagreement among scholars concerning the staging of the Wakefield Cycle, and of mystery plays in general. It is known that the cycle at York was staged on mobile wagons that moved from place to place in the city, with multiple plays being staged simultaneously in different locales in the city. However, there is disagreement as to whether the Wakefield plays were performed in a similar manner.

One problem is that the population of Wakefield in 1377 (approximately the date of the first performance of the cycle) consisted of 567 people aged sixteen or older. Assuming that half of these were male, that leaves only about 280 men to play the 243 roles in the plays. This leaves many to believe that multiple plays were performed by the same cast during most of the lifetime of the cycle.

Another way in which the Wakefield cycle differed in its staging from other cycles is that lack of association with the guilds. In other towns (such as York and Coventry) certain plays were staged by various guilds, according to their specialty (such as the shipwrights staging the Noah play). Although the names of four guilds are found on the manuscript (the barkers, glovers, litsters, and fishers), they are found in a later hand than most of the manuscript. This has led some to believe that for its entire lifetime, the Wakefield Cycle was sponsored and produced by other associations, either governmental or religious. Either way, it was surely performed by non-professional actors found in the community, as were all the cycles.
[edit]Wakefield Stanza

The most notable poetic innovation in the manuscript is called the Wakefield Stanza, which is found in the Noah play, two shepherds play, the Herod play, and the Buffeting of Christ pageant. This unique characteristic may be described as:

-- A nine-line stanza containing one quatrain with internal rhyme and a tail-rhymed cauda, rhyming AAAABCCCB; or

-- A thirteen-line stanza containing a cross-rhymed octet frons, a tercet cauda with tail-rhymes, the whole rhyming ABABABABCDDDC.

In its later performances, the cycle was subject to censorship by the Protestant authorities before being discontinued completely. The play about John the Baptist had been "corrected" to conform to Protestant doctrines about the sacraments. The word "pope" was excised from "Herod the Great," and twelve leaves are completely missing, which scholars suspect contained plays about the death, assumption, and coronation of the Virgin Mary.
[edit]Sources of the plays

The majority of the plays that make up the Wakefield Cycle are based (some rather tenuously) on the Bible, while the others are taken from either Roman Catholic or folk tradition.

The Creation
The Killing of Abel
Pharaoh (the Exodus)
The Procession of the Prophets
Caesar Augustus
The Annunciation
The Salutation of Elizabeth
The First Shepherds' Play
The Second Shepherds' Play
The Offering of the Magi
The Flight into Egypt
Herod the Great
The Purification of Mary
The Play of the Doctors
John the Baptist
The Conspiracy
The Buffeting
The Scourging
The Hanging of Judas
The Crucifixion
The Talents
The Deliverance of Souls
The Resurrection
The Pilgrims
Thomas of India
The Ascension of the Lord
The Judgement


The Play of Herod (1200): Te Deum

Herod (Hebrew: Horodos, Greek: ἡρῴδης Herōdes), also known as Herod I or Herod the Great (73 BC – 4 BC in Jericho), was a Roman client king of Judaea.

Herod is known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the ancient world, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. Some details of his biography can be gleaned from the works of the 1st century AD Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius.

In Christian scripture, Herod is known for the Massacre of the Innocents, described in Chapter 2 of the Gospel according to Matthew.


The Te Deum (also known as Te Deum Laudamus, Ambrosian Hymn or A Song of the Church) is an Early Christian hymn of praise. The hymn remains in regular use in the Roman Catholic Church in the Office of Readings found in the Liturgy of the Hours, and in thanksgiving to God for a special blessing (eg. the election of a pope, the consecration of a bishop, the canonization of a saint, the profession of a religious, the publication of a treaty of peace, a royal coronation, etc) either after Mass or Divine Office or as a separate religious ceremony.

The hymn also remains in use in the Anglican Communion and some Lutheran Churches in similar settings.

In the traditional Office, the Te Deum is sung at the end of Matins on all days when the Gloria is said at Mass; those days are all Sundays outside Advent, Septuagesima, Lent, and Passiontide; on all Feasts except Maundy Thursday and the Holy Innocents unless it should fall on Sunday; and on all Ferias during Eastertide. In the Liturgy of the Hours of Paul VI, the Te Deum is sung at the end of the Office of Readings on days when the Gloria is sung (in this case Sundays outside Lent and all solemnities, including the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and all feasts) and also on the Sundays of Advent.

It is also used together with the standard canticles in Morning Prayer as prescribed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in Matins for Lutherans, is retained by many other churches of the Reformed tradition. It is also used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches in the Paraklesis (Moleben) of Thanksgiving.

Though its authorship is traditionally ascribed to Saints Ambrose and Augustine, on the occasion of the latter's baptism by the former in AD 387, contemporary scholars doubt this attribution, many assigning it to Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana in the late 4th to early 5th centuries. Some scholars have suggested that the hymn is the merger of two (or more) earlier hymns: one to God the Father and another to God the Son. Under this schema, the second begins with the phrase Tu rex gloriae, Christe. The petitions at the end of the hymn (beginning Salvum fac populum tuum) are a selection of verses from the book of Psalms, appended subsequently to the original hymn.

The hymn follows the outline of the Apostles' Creed, mixing a poetic vision of the heavenly liturgy with its declaration of faith. Naming God immediately, the hymn proceeds to name all those who praise and venerate God, from the hierarchy of heavenly creatures to those Christian faithful already in heaven to the Church spread throughout the world. The hymn then returns to its creedal formula, naming Christ and recalling his birth, suffering, and glorification. At this point the hymn turns to the subjects declaiming the praise, both the Church in general and the singer in particular, asking for mercy on past sins, protection from future sin, and the hoped-for reunification with the elect.

Beyond its chant settings, the text has been set to music by many later composers, including F.J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Guiseppe Verdi, Antonin Dvorak, and Benjamin Britten.

Antonio Vivaldi wrote a setting of the Te Deum (RV 622), but this composition is now lost.

The prelude to Charpentier's setting (H.146 in Hugh Wiley Hitchcock's catalogue) is well-known in Europe on account of its being used as the theme music for some broadcasts of the European Broadcasting Union.

Sir William Walton's Coronation Te Deum was written for the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.

Other English settings include those by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell, three versions by George Frideric Handel (Utrecht Te Deum, Dettingen Te Deum, and Queen's Te Deum) and that of Edward Elgar, his Op. 34.

Igor Stravinsky set the first 12 lines of the text as part of The Flood in 1962.

Te Deum laudamus:
te Dominum confitemur.
Te aeternum Patrem
omnis terra veneratur.
Tibi omnes Angeli;
tibi caeli et universae Potestates;
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim
incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus
Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra
maiestatis gloriae tuae.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
Te per orbem terrarum
sancta confitetur Ecclesia,
Patrem immensae maiestatis:
Venerandum tuum verum et unicum Filium;
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.
Tu Rex gloriae, Christe.
Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem,
non horruisti Virginis uterum.
Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti
credentibus regna caelorum.
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.
Iudex crederis esse venturus.
Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni:
quos pretioso sanguine redemisti.
Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari.
Salvum fac populum tuum,
Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae.
Et rege eos, et extolle illos usque in aeternum.
Per singulos dies benedicimus te;
Et laudamus Nomen tuum in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi.
Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire.
Miserere nostri domine, miserere nostri.
Fiat misericordia tua,
Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te.
In te, Domine, speravi:
non confundar in aeternum.

We praise thee, O God
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord
All the earth doth worship thee
the Father everlasting.
To thee all the angels cry aloud
the heavens and all the powers therein.
To thee cherubim and seraphim do continually cry
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth
are full of the majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee.
The noble army of martyrs praise thee.
The Holy Church
throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
the father of an infinite majesty;
thine honourable true and only Son;
also the Holy Ghost the comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man,
thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the hand of God in glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting
O Lord save thy people
and bless thine heritage.
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
and worship thy name, ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in thee.
O Lord in thee have I trusted let me not be confounded.