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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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)
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

mystery play

(in the Middle Ages) a type of drama based on the life of Christ
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(2) All citations from N-Town refer to Douglas Sugano, ed., The N-Town Plays (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2006), 379.
Kinservik, "The Struggle over Mary's Body: Theological and Dramatic Resolution in the N-Town Assumption Play," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95 (1996): 190-203 (191); Emma Lipton, Affections of the Mind: The Politics of Sacramental Marriage in Late Medieval English Literature (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 118,119, 120-21, 123, 127; William Fitzhenry, "The N-Town Plays and the Politics of Metatheater," Studies in Philology 100 (2003): 22-43 (34, 36); Lisa Lampert, Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 129, 131; Cindy L.
See also N-Town Play, 30.97-98; Chester Mystery Cycle, 16.247-50; The York Plays, ed.
(18) For performative possibilities for the Vox, see Sugano, The N-Town Plays, 366 n231 sn.
Sugano proposes that the psalms, as prophetic works thought to bridge the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, may appear at this point in the N-Town compilation because it is the point at which the 'Old and New Laws' meet (The N-Town Plays, 368 n 421-56).
Mary's lamentation over the disappearance of Christ's body opens the pageant in the York plays and in the N-Town plays. Echoing the Blessed Virgin's words uttered during the Crucifixion, (3) Mary Magdalene complains of utmost sorrow that makes her heart break and takes her voice away.
Unlike the N-Town plays, she does not mourn in isolation but goes out into the world as if in anticipation of her apostolic mission.
Wherever the N-Town plays were produced, though, it is clear that--at least around the time of their compilation in the mid-fifteenth century(17)--they were being produced primarily for a wealthy and urbanized lay audience.
(40) Stephen Spector (ed), The N-town Play (New York, 1991), xvi.
(39) Although I am aware of recent scholarship that suggests that the N-Town Plays as represented in Cotton MS Vespasian D.viii are more a compilation for reading than a book of plays to be performed as a cycle, I use the term "audience" to identify the interpretive community of the N-Town Plays throughout this article.
In the N-Town play, the Third and Fourth Consolers exchange excited comments on her behavior.
In the Digby Play of Mary Magdalen, The Brome Abraham, The Last Supper: The Conspiracy with Judas and The Betrayal of Passion Play 1 of the N-Town Plays, action is intended to happen 'sodeynly' in order to achieve theatrical impact through contrast.