mystery play

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mystery play:

see miracle playmiracle play
or mystery play,
form of medieval drama that came from dramatization of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. It developed from the 10th to the 16th cent., reaching its height in the 15th cent.
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Mystery Play


a genre of Western European religious theater of the late Middle Ages (14th to 16th centuries). Mystery plays were most highly developed in France. They were based on biblical stories and written by priests, learned theologians, physicians, and jurists. Religious scenes alternated with comic everyday episodes. Presentations, which generally took place in the public square, were organized by town authorities and artisans’ guilds to coincide with town celebrations, usually days when fairs were held. Although they were supervised by aristocratic and church circles, mystery plays were a form of popular art in which piety constantly clashed with blasphemy, and religious mysticism with the realities of everyday life, which were introduced into the plays by the performers, most of whom were local amateurs.

Among the most vivid examples of the genre are Arnoul Greban’s Mystery of the Passion (mid-15th century) and the Mystery of the Siege of Orleans (presented after 1429). As the realistic and comic elements in the plays became stronger, clerical and secular authorities attacked the mystery plays, and in the 16th century the presentation of the plays was prohibited.

In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, mystery plays were periodically presented in Oberammergau, Germany, and in Paris in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The play Story of the Glorious Resurrection by Mikolaj of Wilkowieck (1962, People’s Theater, Warsaw) is distinguished by its ironic interpretation of medieval mystery plays.

Mystery plays developed in Iran in the tenth century, where they became part of the religious shahsey-vahsey procession. The taziyeh, a form of Persian tragedy, is derived from the mystery play.


Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.

Mystery Play (Elche)

August 14-15
El Misterio d'Elx, or the Mystery Play of Elche, is a medieval drama about the death and assumption of the Virgin Mary that takes place in August on the Feast of the Assumption in Elche, a town in Valencia, Spain. The first part of the play is performed on August 14, the day before the feast, and it deals with the death of the Virgin and the ascension of her soul to heaven on a throne, or araceli, carried by five angels. In the second part, performed on August 15, the Virgin is buried and the Gate of Heaven opens. The araceli descends a second time and takes the Virgin away. She is crowned at the heavenly portal while organ music plays, bells ring, and firecrackers explode.
The mystery play is performed from a raised platform in the sanctuary of the Church of La Merced. It is considered by many to be one of Spain's greatest religious dramatic survivals, and it is believed to date back to the early 13th century.
Valencia Tourist Office
Communitat Valenciana, Aptdo. de Correos 48
Burjassot, 46100 Spain
34-902-123-212; fax: 34-902-220-211
FestEur-1961, p. 141
FestWestEur-1958, p. 203
SpanFiestas-1968, p. 164

Mystery Play (Tibet)
January-February; last day of Tibetan year
Originally performed by a devil-dancing cult to drive out the old year along with its demons and human enemies, this annual dramatic presentation was known to Tibetans as the Dance of the Red-Tiger Devil and to Europeans as the Pageant of the Lamas or the Mystery Play of Tibet. Under Buddhist influence, it was seen as symbolizing the triumph of the Indian missionary monks, led by Padmasambhava ( see also Hemis Festival and Paro Tshechu), over pagan devils, and more recently, it has been changed to represent the assassination of Lang-darma, the king who tried to rid Tibet of Lamaism. Despite its many transformations over the years, however, the play continues to retain the devil-dancing features of its earliest form.
It is performed on the last day of the year in the courtyards of Buddhist temples or monasteries and continues for two days. A group of priests in black miters is confronted by one group of demons after another, which they manage to exorcize. On the second day, a dough effigy representing the enemies of Tibet and Lamaism is dismembered and disemboweled. Pieces of the effigy are thrown to the audience, who eat them or keep them to use as talismans. The play is followed by a burnt offering and a procession.
See also Losar
Office of Tibet
Tibet House, 1 Culworth St.
London, NW8 7AF United Kingdom
44-20-7722-5378; fax: 44-20-7722-0362
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 777 (c)

mystery play

(in the Middle Ages) a type of drama based on the life of Christ
References in periodicals archive ?
The scorn of Prynne and the Treatise of Miracles Pleying grew out of the way that the mystery plays embraced the association between theater and games.
Ford has previously appeared in the Mystery Plays, which are staged every four years or so, as Mary Magdalene and the wife of Pontius Pilate.
First performed in 1392, the historic Coventry Mystery Plays were one of the largest festivals of their time.
The exciting contemporary revival of the traditional mystery play cycle, it will include contributions from the likes of award-winning authors David Almond and Ian McMillan.
The Coventry Mystery Plays were among a number of cycles of dramatised Biblical stories created in historic English towns in the Middle Ages -interestingly, they have almost no tradition in Ireland.
BUDDING actors are wanted to star as Bible characters in a modern reworking of a traditional mystery play.
For the first time in its 700-year history, the Chester Mystery Plays is going on tour.
Set in 14th-century Coventry, it tells the story of a reclusive woman whose life begins to change when she agrees to play the Devil in the Medieval Coventry Mystery Plays.
As a result, they provide a relatively lengthy introduction that draws on recent scholarship to place the play within its literary context - including its sources in Josephus and the Bible, the precedents in mystery plays and continental drama, and the tradition of English closet dramas - and its social context, specifically its associations with the topical issue of Henry VIII's divorce and remarriage to Anne Boleyn which, the editors argue, "informs Cary's play much more deeply than critics have allowed" (33).
The mystery plays, usually representing biblical subjects, developed from plays presented in Latin by churchmen on church premises.
COVENTRY'S mystery plays are a huge part of our musical heritage, as they were performed by the city's very first organised musicians, civic minstrels called Waits.
Mystery Plays - the enactment of major events in the Christian calendar, from the Creation to the Day of Judgement - are the very earliest form of drama.