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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

§ 12. York Mysteries

Of such processional plays, three complete, or almost complete, cycles have been handed down to us—those of York, Wakefield and Chester. Besides these, we possess single plays from the cycles of Coventry, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Norwich; two fifteenth century plays of Abraham and Isaac are also, probably, to be considered as originally forming part of a cycle. Of the collective mysteries, none is uniform in character; in all of them may be distinguished, besides older parts, sundry later additions, omissions and transpositions; and a comparison of the collections one with another reveals mutual agreements as to whole scenes as well as to single stanzas. Nevertheless, each cycle has distinguishing qualities and a pronounced character of its own. The York series, preserved in a fifteenth century MS. and consisting of forty-nine single plays (inclusive of the Innholders’ fragment), is notable for many original features in the representation of the passion. Tyrants, especially, and the enemies of our Lord, are depicted with powerful realism: Annas, for example, shows a grim joy at holding the defenceless victim in his power, but then falls into a violent passion at what he takes to be that victim’s obduracy; he says, “we myght as wele talke tille a tome tonne”; he even attempts to strike Jesus, but Caiaphas holds him back. When Herod addresses Jesus in a jumble of French and Latin, and Jesus gives no answer, the bystanders think He is afraid of the boisterous tyrant. But, above all, the figure of Judas is represented in a way more dramatic and more impressive than in any other medieval mystery, both in the scene where he offers his services as betrayer, and in another where, in an agony of remorse, he implores the high priest to take back the money and spare Jesus. He is coldly refused, and, when he grows more and more violently importunate, Caiaphas bids him be off, or he will be taught how to behave to his betters.