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15 Audience Responses and the York Corpus Christi Play

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Chapter Summary

In arguing for possible reactions to the pageants of the York Corpus Christi Play in the early-fifteenth century, this essay looks at a range of material, not all of it contemporary with the period under consideration. It investigates evidence from sermons and other religious writing, memoirs of spiritually-inspired women, a letter from the year 600 written by Gregory the Great, pictorial narrative in the twelfth-century St. Albans Psalter, and civic documents, including records from York relating to two pageants for which no texts survive, The Hanging of Judas and The Funeral of the Virgin (Fergus). Much of this material has been examined before by theatre scholars, but consolidated re-examination here allows for further speculation. While it is impossible to define audience reception of theatrical events in any age or any culture with anything approaching precision, this discussion takes into account the social and spiritual nature of the York Play to suggest ways in which the ruling civic authorities and the guilds that had responsibility for the financing and presentation of the pageants may have attempted to shape audience responses to their Play, and in turn, may have shaped their Play in response to perceived audience reactions.



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