Medieval Drama Notes for Students and Teachers

Welcome, students and teachers of Medieval Drama! I hope this
page serves as a good introduction to the theatrical genres
popular in the Medieval times - the Mystery and the Morality

Toward the end of the Middle Ages (1400-1499), the most
common form of literature in England was the mystery or
morality play. These 2 types of plays were very different in
terms of theatrical presentation, yet very similar in terms of
intent. Here’s a short summary of the characteristics common
between these two theatrical genres: 
1. both genres were intended to instruct people about religious
issues - the goal was to educate, enlighten, or evangelize 
2. both were about the same topics - human spirituality 
3. both were popular and well-attended in England during the
Middle Ages 
4. both brought literature to the masses 
5. both were sometimes written anonymously 

These common characteristics make the two genres similar.
Yet, distinct differences existed between them. This chart
makes a visual comparison of several differences:


1. produced by a group of traveling actors 
2. plays were light in tone 
3. plays provided  a humorous look at human spirituality 
4. plays were held outdoors on and around a “pageant wagon”
which was constructed to make the plays portable 
5. plays were seen by a huge audience at one time 
6. plays were part of a “cycle” of Bible stories which would be
seen one after another 
7. plays contained realistic characters and often made fun of
real people in the community 
8. plays were usually presented in conjunction with a religious
festival called the Corpus Christi 
9. plays used the common language of the people 
10. plays were spectacles of special effects and ingenious
staging with trapdoors and other visual spectacles and staging
11. plays were anachronistic (meaning that they sometimes
presented an idea or an object which was historically out of
place - such as a local person in a Bible story (for comic effect)).
12. THE SECOND SHEPHERD’S PLAY is a famous example of a
Mystery play. It is written by someone called the Wakefield
Master who is believed to have written five plays in the Wakefield cycle.

1. produced officially by the church 
2. plays were sophisticated/serious in tone 
3. plays provided a serious look at human spirituality 
4. plays were held in the cathedral space 
5. plays were seen by a select, small audience 
6. plays were presented singularly 
7. plays utilized some “stock” characters that curiously enough
were personifications of abstract ideas such as “beauty,”
“love,” “the devil,” or “mankind;” these characters were meant
to be allegorical or symbolic in order to teach a lesson 
8. plays could be seen all year long 
9. plays used high, lofty, or poetic language 
10. cathedral setting did not allow for grand spectacles 
11. a sense of history wasn’t necessary because the plays have
a “timeless” feel 
12. EVERYMAN is a famous example of a Morality play. It is
anonymously written. 

Use what you have learned above in a puzzle. Go to the following site, download and/or print.

Learn more about Medieval Theatre by using the Medieval Theatre Trackstar found at:

Visit the Georgia Learning Connections website to find more activities,  information, and web resources for the study of Medieval Theatre - and any other educational unit for that matter!  

Feel free to email me for help!

Visit Mrs. Bishop's IBTheatreArts Class. We'd love to have you!

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