30:373 / 20:373: Medieval Drama

Dr. Rosanne Gasse

CHO 107

gasse@brandonu.ca / 204-727-9795

No attachments, please!

Office hours: I have an open door policy. If the door is open you are most welcome to come in.

This course surveys the various types of medieval drama from its earliest beginnings in the 11th and 12th centuries through to the middle of the 16th century. Some non-English texts are read in translation, but the focus is on the English drama of the medieval and early Tudor period.

 Required Text:              Walker, Medieval Drama: An Anthology, 2000.

Reading List:                Selections will be read from each category on the list.

          tropes (11th – 12th c):           The Service for the Consecration of a Church (Metz)

                                                                  The Visit to the Sepulchre (Regularis Concordia)

                                                                  The Visit to the Sepulchre (Winchester)

          liturgical drama (12th c):                 The Play of Daniel                                    

          biblical plays (15th – 16th c):           The Fall of the Angels (York)

                                                                  The Fall of Man (York)

                                                                  Joseph’s Trouble About Mary (York)

                                                                  The Nativity (York)

                                                                  The Second Shepherd’s Play (Towneley)

                                                                  The Shepherds (Chester)

                                                                  Christ before Herod (York)

                                                                  The Crucifixion (York)

                                                                  The Resurrection (York)

                                                                  The Last Judgement (York)

          morality plays (mid to late 15thc):   The (Croxton) Play of the Sacrament

                                                                  Mankind (circa 1450)

                                                                  Everyman (circa 1500)

          early Tudor drama                           Fulgens and Lucres (Medwall)

                                                                  Magnyfycence (Skelton)

                                                                  Johan Baptystes Preachynge (Bale)


Marking Scheme:          3 short assignments — due Sept. 24, Oct. 17, Nov. 21

                                               the best two = 15% each, the other = 10%

                                      term paper (30%) — due December 8, 2014

                                      final examination (30%) — December 16, 2014


Grading Equivalents for This Course.

letter grade          g.p.a.          numerical grade

A+                       4.3              95 – 100

A                         4.0              85 – 94                 Exceptional

A-                        3.7              80 – 84

B+                       3.3              77 – 79

B                          3.0              73 – 76                 Above Average

B-                        2.7              70 – 72

C+                       2.3              67 – 69

C                          2.0              63 – 66                 Average

C-                        1.7              60 – 62

D                         1.0              50 – 59                 Needs Improvement

F                          0.0              0 – 49                             Failure


Short Assignment #1: Are the tropes theatre?

Due: September 24, 2014

Length: two or three typed pages

Format: any standard 12 point font, double spaced, regular margins


When reading drama we often forget its theatrical component — that is, it is a performance with many visual aspects for us to consider.

Read the first section of Dunbar H. Ogden’s article, “Costumes and Vestments for the Medieval Music Drama” in Material Culture and Medieval Drama, ed. by Clifford Davidson (Kalamazoo, 1999), pp 17-33. (This article will be made available to you in class.)

Briefly summarize the information provided by Ogden about costuming and props in the visitatio sepulchri trope. Apply what you have learned from the article to an appreciation of the theatricality of the two visitatio tropes we read in class. In preparing your response you should consider the following questions. Do costuming and props transform this religious ritual into the potential for drama? What factors might keep the visitatio trope firmly in the realm of ritual rather than theatre? What factors push the trope toward theatricality? What other theatrical elements, beyond costume and props, does the article suggest are in play?

Keep in mind that Ogden is not interpreting the material evidence for you. He is outlining what evidence exists for costuming and props in these tropes. It’s up to you to interpret this raw data to be able to answer the questions suggested above.


Short Assignment #2: One picture is worth a thousand words.

Due: October 17

Length: three or four typed pages

Format: any standard 12 point font, double spaced, regular margins

A theatrical performance is one way that a story can be told by appealing to a spectator’s eyesight. But people in the Middle Ages were also used to ‘reading’ stories visually through various types of static media (e.g. stained glass windows, murals on church walls, stone carvings, pictures in books) where the image does not move or change.

Choose either the story of Noah’s Flood or the story of Daniel from the Old Testament.

Find one image from the 10th – 16th century that portrays your chosen story. You may find your image on-line or in something like an art history textbook. For an on-line image, provide the url where I can see the image too. For an image taken from a book, provide a photocopy of it. Make sure that your image was created during the medieval period!

Consider your choice of image. Explain why you chose it. What is it about this image that appeals to you?

Discuss how your chosen image tells the story of Noah’s Flood/Daniel. How is the narrative conveyed through the static image? Where is the focus of the story? Does it tell the whole story or just a part (which part?) of it? How are the people conveyed? How are the animals (if any) conveyed? What does any major structure (e.g. the ark or the lion’s den) look like? Does the image suggest any parallels to stories/characters in the New Testament? If so, to who/what and how?


Short Assignment #3: Everyone’s a critic

Due: November 21, 2014

Length: 3-4 typed pages

Format: any standard 12 point font, double spaced, regular margins

Write a critical review of a video performance of a medieval or early Tudor drama. The point of this assignment is NOT for you to tell me whether or not you enjoyed the play. Discuss the video in critical terms. Is it a stage production or a film production of the play? What are the strengths of the production? What are the weaknesses? How does the staging draw out the themes of the play? How are particularly important scenes/events handled? What is the effect of choices made about the age and costumes of characters?



The Library has the following performance videos available:

                   Ordo Virtutum (Hildegard of Bingen)

                   Highlights of the York Mysteries

                   Death of Christ Not in textbook

Y0u may sign out one of the following videos from me:

                   Second Shepherd’s Play

                   The Mysteries — Part One: The Nativity (tape #1 = Old Testament)

                   The Mysteries — Part One: The Nativity (tape #2 = New Testament)

                   Everyman (Douglas Morse)

                   Everyman (Insight Media)

                   The Castle of Perseverance (not in textbook)

The Mysteries, tapes 1 and 2, contains several pageants spliced together into one continuous performance. You could certainly choose to review either the whole performance (looking at how pageants meld together, e.g.) or you could choose one pageant within the larger whole. The Castle of Perseverance is a long morality play of which the 55 minute video shows highlights. Do not attempt to watch this VHS video on anything other than a small television screen. Otherwise you will discover exactly how far video equipment has advanced in 35 years!)

There are, of course, video performances that you can watch on-line. Look for one that shows the entire play, not just short selections from a performance. You will need to provide me with the url for any video performance that you review from an on-line source.


Major Research Project:

Due: December 8, 2014

Length: 10 – 12 typed pages, standard format 

Below are suggested term paper topics. If you have a topic of your own that you are interested in working on, talk to me about it.

  1. Discuss the survival of elements of medieval and early Tudor drama in the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe. Choose one Elizabethan play (for example, Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One or Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus) as the base for your discussion. How do the medieval elements help to direct the interpretation of the play? You must use a minimum of three critical academic sources in preparation of your essay.
  2. Discuss the humour found in medieval drama. What did medieval audiences apparently consider to be comic? How does the humour contribute to the overall impact of the play in which it occurs? Limit your paper to a detailed discussion of the humour in no more than three plays. You must use a minimum of three critical academic sources in preparation of your essay.
  3. Women and medieval drama. Discuss the theme of marriage, husbands and wives in medieval drama. Or investigate behind the scenes for the roles of women in the production of these plays. You must use a minimum of three critical academic sources in preparation of your essay.
  4. Medieval drama generally attempts to deliver religious doctrine through a dramatic structure. Choose any one morality play and any one mystery play (or the Croxton Play of the Sacrament) and discuss/compare the strategies they employ to educate the audience about the truths of Christian experience. Be sure to think about these plays in dramatic terms. You might even want to discuss how to produce and stage the play in order to bring out its doctrine. You must use a minimum of three critical academic sources in preparation of your essay.

OR you can adapt this question to apply to early Tudor drama, which seems less concerned with religious doctrine and more concerned with issues of social and political doctrine. How do Fulgens and Lucres and Magnyfycence educate their audiences about the social and political truths of Tudor society (e.g. the nature of true nobility, questions of good kingship)? You must use a minimum of three critical academic sources in preparation of your essay.

  1. Put on a production of any one medieval mystery pageant (or perhaps a major scene from one of the longer plays) in front of the class. Your production must include theatrical elements such as costumes, props, music, and use of space — that is, it must be an acted performance, not a read-through, and you are expected to have your lines down pat. In addition to the performance, a spokesperson for the group must give a short (10 minute) talk on the elements of the production (for example, the main challenges of staging the play, the choices behind costuming and music, the typology/iconography associated with the play and how it is reflected in your performance or why you chose not to include it, and what the group learned about medieval drama through performing one of its works). A written copy of the talk must be handed in at the end of the class. Each member of the cast also must hand in a character study of his or her role. In sum, how does your performance draw out the themes of the play? To be a viable option, at least 3 members of the class must participate in the production. (To be scheduled at a time and place convenient for all concerned.)


Final Examination: Tuesday, December 16, 2015

Details TBA