Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Recycling the Cycle: The City of Chester and Its Whitsun Plays

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Recycling the Cycle: The City of Chester and Its Whitsun Plays

Article excerpt

David Mills, Recycling the Cycle: The City of Chester and its Whitsun Plays, Studies in Early English Drama 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). xii + 281 pp. ISBN 0-8020-4096-9. L40.00.

In his wide-ranging interdisciplinary study of theatrical performance, ceremony, and game in medieval and Renaissance Chester, David Mills has explored not only the politics of producing these events but also their ostensible meaning to Cestrian performers, sponsors, and audience. Once readers understand the inadequacy of the book's title in relation to its breadth, they can appreciate Mill's encyclopedic over-view of how performance has defined the place of Cestrians in their city and their perception of the city's place in Britain and the Christian world.

Among the topics that Mills covers in the first half of the book are the historiography of the criticism of early drama during the past two centuries; the use and meaning of time and space in the city of Chester, partly in relation to its Roman heritage and its proximity to Wales; the city's history as written by antiquarian amateurs of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries; and non-dramatic secular annual ceremonies and entertainments, including bearbaiting and the illegal playing of football.

Central to Mill's portrait of the Chester cycle is the change, around 1421, of the performance date from Corpus Christi Day to a three-day production around Whit Sunday, eleven days earlier in the liturgical calendar. This move partially freed the drama from its religious function and, in the eyes of Cestrians, aligned it more closely with previously existing summer festivals. Medieval records describing the change explicitly state that the drama served both the city and the Church, a conflation allowing the Chester cycle to survive well into the sixteenth century, since the Church's former responsibility for the drama could be effaced with relative ease. …

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