Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 10. Costliness of production

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

III. The Early Religious Drama

§ 10. Costliness of production

The performance of one of these mysteries was a serious undertaking, requiring long preparation and considerable expense. On the continent, the stage for performances was generally erected in a large open square, and on the stage were represented, one beside the other, the places of action—thus, in a passion play, the garden of Gethsemane, the praetorium of Pilate, the hill of Calvary, the entrance to hell. The personages moved from one place to the next before the eyes of the spectators; if the performance, as was more frequently the case, lasted for several days together, change of scenery was possible. Such monster productions were known in London in the time of Richard II; thus, in 1384, the “clerks” of London gave a ludus valde sumptuosus at Skinnerswell, which lasted five days; in 1391, one, of four days, on the Old and New Testaments; then, again, in 1409, in the presence of Henry IV, one lasting four days, comprising events from the creation of the world to the last judgment. For such a stage arrangement, the play of Mary Magdalene, preserved in the Digby MS., was, likewise, intended, and, undoubtedly, many other English mysteries of whose existence only documentary evidence survives. But, in the majority of texts and accounts of performances handed down to us, we find a different sort of mise-en-scène adopted, in accordance with national custom and preference.