Presented at All Souls Parish in 2003 and 2004
Wakefield Cycle of Mystery Plays
(Edited by Martial Rose) Christmas 2003
The Procession of the Prophets
The Annunciation of Mary
The Salutation of Elizabeth
The Second Shepherd’s Play
The Deliverance of Souls from the Wakefield Cycle
Medieval Mystery Play Tradition
The earliest roots of what we know today as the English classical theatre can be found in the Medieval / Morality plays of Great Britain. Of uncertain authorship, they appear to be influenced in great part by the works of Roman dramatists Seneca and Plautus. Written in celebration of the miracles of Christianity, these early works strove to educate a people through the use of vernacular and relationship which would be understood best by a community of common folk, endowing the characters in the plays with human characteristics which the common public could relate personally to.
Gaining popularity, these liturgical pieces moved out of the church and took to the streets. Organized into larger play “cycles” identified with the locales from which they hailed, they provided the most pivotal form of community entertainment and education, maintaining a palpable and vibrant link to their God and the Church who gave them spiritual sustenance.
Sponsored by the trade guilds most popular in their individual areas, these cycles traveled through the townships in elaborately crafted pageant wagons, ritualistically re-enacting the biblical saga at key festivals.
The Miracle/Morality play took the story of Jesus and the biblical word and added a folkloric flavor, creating an “everyman” out of Jesus and presenting the people with characters who they could relate to: characters such as themselves, with the potential for good and evil, grace and clumsiness. A mixture of philosophical discourse, earthly humor, pathos and wonderment of their relationship towards their spiritual inheritance and the fate of man, these cycles were ritualized as ongoing reflections of the agricultural community and their relationship to God.
The most unique and sophisticated of these is the 14th-century Wakefield or Townley Cycle, comprised of 32 plays in 4 parts, covering The Creation through Judgment Day. The current folio of plays has been expertly edited and translated from the original Middle English text by acclaimed English scholar and academician Martial Rose. All Souls celebrates the religious inspiration and beauty of language as set forth dramatically by the medieval bard-monks.