The Fall Of Man, York Mystery Cycle (play 5)

S1151541/B020117 (c) Visalini S. No reprinting is permitted without the permission of author. The Fall of Man York Mystery Cycle Medieval Theatre Conventions Staging and Language The Fall of Man had been traditionally performed within a larger set of plays called The York Mystery Cycle. Mystery Plays have been a part of medieval culture for centuries. They were used in religious festivals to deliver religious messages to York residents. The plays were usually translated from Latin into vernacular to make them easier to understand for the illiterate audience of the day. This plays’ most distinctive feature was their staging. The York Cycle consisted of 47 separate plays that were each performed on a pageant carriage. The wagons would then move in procession to the designated stops of the cycle, such as churches or markets. The plays would move towards the audience instead of being fixed in place like many morality dramas of that time. John Wesley Harris explains the pageant-wagon structure in Medieval Theatre Context: an Introduction. The audience is expected to be awed by it (Harris 1993: 126). The wagons have two levels. On the upper level is the stage. On the lower, actors change their costumes and props. The audience, parked below street level, would be forced to look upwards at the actors as they imparted religious lessons, almost like a divine message. Harris says that actors would wrap cloths all around the wagon to block out the rest of world so the audience can only watch the play. The tight space in which the play is being acted was a way for the audience members to be drawn into the play. The York Cycle played began as a show of craftsmanship run by guilds. Guilds were eager to participate in the pageants. But they faced a stiff fine for not contributing or performing. (Davidson, 2011) The city guilds looked after the pageant carts. Each wagon was assigned to the guild that represented the play and allowed them to display their goods in their performances. Harris says that the goldsmiths in the city will be responsible for The Magi, allowing them to showcase their goldsmithing abilities. York Mystery Cycle would be part of religious festival but also showcase the city’s wealth. The Intent of Medieval Theatre The Fall of Man is a good example of this. The intention of the play was to inform the public about Bibilical principles. The York Plays were written, unlike many morality plays in the past, in vernacular for an illiterate audience. Sequencial 48 played condensed Bible lessons down into short plays that could be easily absorbed by the public. Lessons were always the same: don’t give in to the seven sins. In The Fall of Man for example, the original crime is shown as Adam and Eve treasoning God’s Word. It continues on by illustrating how God punishes all men with sinful tendencies. The story’s lesson – God will punish men if they sin – can be seen in the many plays that follow, such as The Last Supper. The audience is able to confirm the message by comparing it with other 46 stories from the bible. This play’s staging is essential to its educational value. The elevated platform of the pageant cart is what makes the audience look up, like they are praying. The bible messages are then delivered physically to the audience by a source higher, subconsciously creating an illusion that these messages come from God himself. This was done to keep the audience interested in the play and ensure that its message would get through. Epic Theatre Conventions Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre distances the audiences from the stage play. (Brooker, 1994: 191) The audience benefits from this estrangement as they are able to step back and reflect critically on the social and political circumstances and/or the realities of the narrative staged. The audience is transformed into a critical observer. Verfrumdungseffekt, or the V-effect is a characteristic of epic theatre that captures Brecht’s concept of audience estrangement. Olga Taxidou says the V-effect is achieved by a variety of means, including theatrically explicit narratives, masks, or music. These elements serve to distract the audience’s attention from the action on the stage. This distance forces the audience into an empathetic experience between them and the stage. They can then judge the character objectively. The V-effect draws critical attention to the performance’s theatricality. The spectator is then trained to be more critical. The epic theatre was performed traditionally indoors on a proscenium-style stage. This provided a separation of sorts between the actors and the spectators. I think the V-effect can be most effectively used on a traditional stage, such a the proscenium, for epic productions. The V-effect can be used to disorient the audience and make them unfamiliar with the play. This allows the audience to reflect on the issues raised by the play in relation to their own world. Epic Theatre’s Intent Epic theatre makes use of the stage to educate and instruct. Its intellectual foundation is a concern for social and political issues at the time. Epic plays aim to shock audiences and stimulate thought. Epic theatre’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness of social issues and to encourage people to take action to improve their societies. Epic theatre also uses the V effect to isolate audience members and to stimulate their critical reasoning skills. The Fall of Man in epic theatre forces the audience into critical thinking, as they are forced to examine and question the play’s moral. Epic audiences would not accept the biblical story to explain man’s separation with God. Instead, they would question it. Why did man suffer for following Satan’s scheme? Why didn’t God protect man from Satan? How did Satan enter Eden? Where is the Garden of Eden located? The play’s purpose is undermined by these questions, even though they are natural for an epic audience. The moral is clear: don’t question God’s will. God’s decision will be questioned, unfortunately, because the epic audience is so critical. The medieval audience has no other duty than to listen. The audience is taught morals, which they will accept without question. A mystery play’s purpose is to convey religious morals, not to question them. Therefore, the medieval tradition will be more suitable to depict a play. A Comparison between Epic and Medieval Theatre The stage is perhaps the biggest difference in the epic and medieval theaters. Medieval play sets like The Fall of Man had small pageant carriages around which the audience crowded. Epic plays are often staged in theaters with a clear division between actors and audience. The reader’s theatre experience is much less intense after the switch from medieval to the epic stage. While medieval audiences were shown their place as individuals in a greater religious order, epic spectators remain isolated and insulated. They are tangled in endless questions. The epic theatre audience is expected to start social change later, but the actual experience of the play remains based on personal experience. The individuality of engagement makes the experience feel shallow compared to medieval theatre’s enlightening experience. The Fall of Man will also be separated from the other plays in the Mystery Cycle as it is performed separately. Hence, it loses the original meaning of ritual. Even if the play is set in a theatre, it implies that the play is fictional, and thus loses its authority. It no longer appears to be biblical truth. Brooker, Peter. The Cambridge Companion to Brecht. Ed. Peter Thomson, Glendyr sacks. Cambridge, UP: 1994. 185-200. Print. Davidson, Clifford. The York Corpus Christi Plays, “Introduction”. Ed. Clifford Davidson’s name is mentioned. Medieval Institute Publications. Kalamazoo, 2011. Web. April 3, 2013.

. Gorelik, Mordecai. Brecht Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2000. 31-36. Print. John Wesley Harris. Medieval Theatre Context: A Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992. Print. McCartney, Nicola. “Medieval Theatre.” Performance: Critical Practice. The University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh, 31st January 2013. Lecture Notes. Taxidou, Olga. Critical Practice in Performance: “Brecht, Epic Theatre.” The University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh, 21st March 2013. Lecture Notes.


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