Chester Plays


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Related to Chester Plays: Towneley Plays, York Plays

Chester Plays:

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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(4) The quotations from the Chester plays will be taken from Lumiansky and Mills' edition (1986) and numbers of the lines refer to this edition.
After all, it has long been recognized that the Chester plays contain borrowings from other medieval texts and mystery plays elsewhere.
Yet it is the repeated joke about "teaching an infant to hop" that is particularly striking in the Chester play. The very fact that it is made twice suggests that it had important resonances for the playwright--and presumably also for his audiences.
Passages from the Douai bible accompany selected Towneley and Chester plays, showcasing their elaboration upon the sparse biblical text.
The best current authority on the Chester plays, David Mills, has recently described in detail, in Recycling the Cycle.
In this paper I sketch out and to explore further some of those circumstances surrounding the last performance of the Chester plays, proposing that during the course of the late sixteenth century the town's civic identity changed in more drastic ways than have been appreciated before, and that the fate of play performances there represents a story with darker significance, one about social forces bent on policing the lives of citizens.
For scholars of the drama, perhaps Mills' most significant contribution is his account of the Puritan opposition to the last performances of the Chester plays. Mills discovered a letter-book of Christopher Goodman, a Puritan preacher, that contains letters to the Earl of Huntington, the lord president of the Council of the North, and Archbishop Grindal of York, with regard to the performance of the plays in 1572.
(3) See The Chester Plays, adapted as an acting text by Alexandra Johnston, assisted by Linda Phillips (2010), from the modernized version by David Mills: available as PDF pages at <http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/chester/> and <http://www.reed.
Indeed, it is already generally accepted that direct influence between a non-cycle play and the Chester plays exists.
One suspects that these alliances were often more powerful in their effects than other social relationships among women, if only because gossips are excoriated so extensively in male-authored literature, for instance, in the Noah interpolation in the Chester play, where Noah's wife prefers them to him, or in Thomas Parrot's 'The Gossips Greeting', which reveals, as Margo Hendricks demonstrates, how the 'discursive act engenders a range of possibilities for women to function as social agents' ('Alliance and Exile: Aphra Behn's Racial Identity', 262).
Other stage directions in the Chester Plays (11) and The Conversion of Saint Paul (12) make similar requirements but do not determine from whose perspective the disappearance occurs.
--'The Chester Plays at Chester: Some Stray Thoughts on Chester 1983', English Medieval Theatre 5 (1983), 42-4.

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