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Middle English Drama Beyond the Cycle Plays

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Abstract

The study of Middle English drama has long been dominated by discussion of the cycle plays, the sweeping multi-part pageants of biblical history that were performed yearly in cities such as York. But those cycle plays form only part of a complicated and rich culture of performance in late-medieval England. This essay seeks to provide a sense of the variety of that culture, attesting to the breadth of medieval English drama in play texts such as Mankind, the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, and the Digby Mary Magdalene, and also in other kinds of performance record, such as dramatic fragments and prose meditations. For the broadening of medieval theater history beyond the cycle plays includes not only other significant genres of dramatic activity, but also performative practices and literary texts that lie relatively far from the stage. A theater history beyond the cycle plays also necessarily becomes a theater history beyond the theater, as scholars write a new history of medieval performance.

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