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Mystery

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MYSTERY. The name given to a very early type of the mediaeval drama, founded upon some part of the Bible narrative, and in England often used indiscriminately with that of miracle play (q.v.). The traditions of the ancient drama sur vived to some extent the fall of the Western Empire, and on them were modeled religious plays, intended less for acting than for reading. There is extant a Creek play entitled Xporros llauxwv (The Passion of Christ), long attributed to Saint Gregory Nazianzen. but now thought to be of much later (late, which follows the struc ture of the ancient Greek drama. In the second half of the tenth century. llroswitha o• Roswitha (q.v.). a Benedictine nun of Candersheim in Saxony. wishing to provide her sisters with a sub stitute for Terence, who was widely read by the learned throughout the Middle Ages. cast six martyrdoms in the form of the old Latin comedy. Through imitations of this kind, the classic drama may be said to have continued to exert some influence as late as 1200. But the main 1w petus to a revival of popular dramatic literature came from the Church. The clergy wished to pro vide some mean: of making the great events on their teaching was based more vivid and real to their unlettered ]locks. This was the more natural because the service of the Church was in its very nature dramatic. Its chief act I if worship was, in no abstruse sense, a represen tation of the sacrifice of Christ ; and both the symbolism of the ritual and the responsive na ture of the liturgy shared the same character. Espevially at the great festivals of Christmas and Easter it was customary to make it still more dramatic by representing the events then coin mencoratiA as actually taking place before the congregation. Traces of this procedure are found as early as the closing years of the tenth century. The words used, the directions to the performers, hymns and anthems, were at first in Latin; but as diabigue was introduced, they were naturally turned into the vernacular. In the thirteenth century, in fact, mysteries and miracle plays lost the favor of the Church. Where they were not still a part of the ritual, they were banished by various decrees from the sacred building, and the clergy were forbidden to take part in them. They passed list to the churchyard, and then to the streets and public squares, where they were per formed on 1110Vable stages drawn from place to place. The actors in England were frequently

members of the trade guilds, who arranged for these performances at Christmas, Easter, and Corpus ('hristi, supplemented by strallimg play ers. hi France they came muter the control of the Conjrirics dc la Passion, which were estab lished in many of the leading towns—societies half religious, half literary. and wholly secular ized by the fourteenth century. The plays devot ed to the exposition of special mysteries were combined. in England at least, in an immense cycle, covering the entire range of the Scriptural narrative from the Creation to the Day of Judg ment. In texts belonging to the fourteenth, fif teenth. and sixteenth centuries, four of these cycles, more or less complete, have come down to us. They are the York cycle (48 plays), the Towneley f 32 plays), the Chester (25 plays), and the Coventry (42 plays) ; of other cycles there are fragments. The mystery plays died slowly as the regular drama clinic into existence. As late as 1380, we hear of one being represented at Coventry. Consult for both mysteries and mira ele plays: Bates, English Religious Drama (New York, 1893) ; hose, Das grist lirhe A'ehnuspiel des Mittelalters (Leipzig, 185S; Eng. trans., Lon don, 1880) ; Stoddard, References for of iraele Plays and Mysteries, a elassilied list I Berkeley, 1~87) ; Sepct, Lr (frame chrc'tirrr au II-6 ( Pa r is 1878) ; Pollard, English cle Plays, Moralities, and Interludes. With speci mens 1590) : N1anlcys Sperimcns of thr Pr,Shakespearean Drama, arranged so as to show development ( Boston, 1897) ; Wright, Early .11ysteries ( London, 18381 ; d'Ancona, Sarre rorpres. ntozioni dri seven; 111-/r; (Florence, ; Ward. English Dramatic Literature (Lon don, 1?90 c : Jusserand. Livrrvcry History of (lir Enylish IYoplr 149.i); Petit de Julleville, Les mm/6-f, ( Paris. IS•41l) : Davidson. 1:nglish ystvry Plays (New Haven. 1892) : and for reprints. besides the speeimens given alcove, York Plays (ed. I,. T. Smith. Oxford. 1855) : Chester Plays (ed. Wright. London, 1843 47 ); Toirneley Mysteries (ed. Raine, Newcastle, 1536) ; Diyby Mysteries (ed. Furnivall, London, 1882) ; Miracles de noire Dame (ed, G. Paris and Robert, Paris, 187(I-81). See DRAMA ; :MIRA CLE PLAY; PASSION PLAY.