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York Mystery Cycle Workshops


This course is aimed at all those who would like to learn a little more about the long and rich history of the York Mystery Plays and about the society within which the plays were originally conceived and performed. The series of four evening sessions, based loosely around a lecture / seminar / performance format, will explore various aspects of the history of the York Mystery Plays. Each week we will explore a different aspect of the plays’ history and context.

The topics explored will range from the nature of medieval society, how the plays may have been written by their (anonymous) playwrights and how the performers set about producing these remarkable plays.

The sessions will be stand alone and pitched at the level of the interested amateur rather than the professional scholar, but will seek to open up avenues of further thought or investigation for anyone who wishes to pursue the topics explored in greater detail.

Tickets are £10 for one session or £40 for the whole course. Bookings at York Theatre Royal on 01904 623568 or on


The Course Programme:

Over the four weeks of the course, we shall explore the history and character of the York cycle of mystery plays, using a combination of illustrated lectures supported by readings from contemporary documents and from the drama itself. Each week will be led by members of Ars Ludendi, York’s premier educational performance group. The sessions will be chaired by Dr Mike Tyler and Paul Toy, with significant input from the other members of Ars Ludendi – Dr Rob Wright, Dr Joanna Huntington, Gillian Tyler, and Lesley Wilkinson..

Week 1 – Wednesday 7th March 7pm at De Grey Rooms, York
When? The historical context

This week we shall explore the traces that have been left in the historical records, and consider what these tell us about the importance of the plays to their original medieval audience. We shall also look at the problems that their style of performance created for the performers and for the city as a whole. We shall conclude the session by looking at how, after a gap of 300 years, the plays came to life once more as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Week 2 – 14th March 7pm at De Grey Rooms, York
Whence? So how were they written?

This week will focus on the construction of the cycle, and examine what may have inspired the playwrights in their choice of episodes and their dramatic and didactic content. Focussing in detail on the plays which make up the passion sequence, it is possible to shed light on the ways in which the playwrights drew on contemporary texts in very specific ways in order to present their interpretations.

Week 3 – 21st March 7pm at De Grey Rooms, York
Why? The religious landscape of medieval York.

In this session we shall consider the ways in which religious belief and practice permeated the everyday lives of the medieval citizenry of York. This week’s key themes include the nature and implications of the multiplicity of religious orders and houses active in the city in the fifteenth century.

Week 4 – 28th March 7pm at De Grey Rooms, York
How? Performance of the cycle.

Anyone who has experienced the cycle as an audience member cannot fail to be struck by the combined impact of various elements of performance – the sum is invariably even greater than its parts! This was no less true for a medieval audience than it is for us today. In this final week we shall consider various practical aspects of the plays in context, focussing especially on performance technique, logistics and music