Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Mysteriesor Miracle Plays

Mysteries, or Miracle-Plays, mediaeval religious dramas. Not to be confused with the word as used in the preceding article. Strictly, the word should be spelt misiery, as it is derived from the Latin ministerium, a craft, or occupation, and was applied to those plays which were performed by the guilds. They were acted by lay associations, especially the craft guilds in their halls. We possess three collections of English plays of this type: the Towneley plays, believed to have been acted at the fairs of Woodkirk, near Wakefield, in the 13th or 14th century;. the Chester plays, dating from about 1400, and Coventry plays, which, for the most part, belong to the 15th and 16th centuries. All these are what are called "collective mysteries" - i.e. each consists of a group of plays which, taken together, constitute a complete cycle of Bible history. In 1264 - a date probably earlier than the composition of any of these plays - Pope Urban IV. endeavoured to restore the sacred character of the mysteries and miracles by making them an integral part of the Corpus Christi festival, which was then instituted, but his efforts met with little success. It remains to mention a form of dramatic entertainment which may have had some share in shaping the destinies of the miracle, though its influence was probably not very great. This was the literary monastic drama, which grew up in imitation of the "comedies" of Hroswitha (circa 920-68), a nun of Gandersheim, in Saxony. Plays of this class were sometimes acted by the children of a convent or monastery school- such for example, was the play of St. Catherine performed at Dunstable in 1110. Amongst the -various countries of Europe, in each of which the growth of the drama took a somewhat different course, France requires special mention, on account of the secular characteristics which were maintained through the influence of the jongleurs and menestrels, who corresponded to the Roman mimi. In France, theatrical performances were mostly in the hands of three great lay fraternities: the Bazoche (founded 1303), the Confrerie de la Passion, and the Enfans sans Souci, whose sottiss and farces were in many respects an anticipation of the regular drama. Such plays as Griacldis (1395) and Maistre Pierre Patelin (1480) supply important landmarks in the development of dramatic art. Throughout western Europe the modern drama was developed from the miracle through the morality, in which allegorical personages representing certain virtues and vices took the place of the characters from Scripture or sacred history; their popularity was ensured by the ludicrous behaviour of such characters as the Devil and his attendant, the Vice. Afterwards historical, and then purely fictitious, characters were introduce-1 side by side with the symbolical figures. John Hey wood (d. circa 1580) was the first dramatist in England who set the latter entirely aside; but though the advance through the preliminary stages was so much more rapid in France, it was in England alone that the romantic drama was destined to reach its full development.