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Lay performances of work and salvation in the York Cycle.

That notions of work and its cultural value have captivated the attention of medievalists for quite some time is exemplified by James Simpson's recent claim that cycle plays "mounted a theology of labor at whose centre stands the practice of mercy in the active life." (1) This theology of labor becomes further nuanced and particularized when one examines the plays' contribution to what Nicola Masciandaro has called the "polysemy of werk," (2) which "attests ... to a cultural habit of perceiving relations between work and life, between occupational and personal agency." (3) The York plays emphasize the complexity and urgency of these relations by bringing them to bear upon salvation--a medieval Christian's ultimate goal. In this essay, I draw upon the many ways in which laypeople give meaning to work during theatrical performances to show how physical labor is transformed onstage for salvific purposes. Work emerges as the highest civic priority, and salvation is mediated through performances of work and its metaphorical applications, that is, the understanding of good work in a spiritual sense and good works in the sense of community welfare. These performances help lay drama negotiate the cultural relationship between individuals and their community. Surprisingly, however, community is understood in a fairly broad Christian sense rather than restricted to guilds and their families. Significantly, too, performances of work address larger issues, in particular the spiritual interdependence, in this broader Christian community, not merely between the rich and the poor but among all members of the community. (4)

Explicit or implicit references to werk, craft, and travail appear prominently in the plays, and perhaps that stands to reason since of work-related words, werk and craft are most closely associated with guilds- and craftsmen. (5) The semantic plasticity of both words, in fact, makes them especially well suited for onstage transformation. Werk's pliability is such that it accommodates binary oppositions (it means both good and evil deeds) (6) and it encompasses both literal and metaphorical uses (since it refers to both work and good works). (7) As Masciandaro points out, "the special value of werk within the Middle English work vocabulary lies in its being a holistic and versatile term that places relatively balanced emphasis on the subjective and objective dimensions of work". (8) Werk's various semantic possibilities can only be particularized through performance. Similarly, craft combines literal with metaphorical uses, referring to both physical and moral strength. (9) According to Masciandaro, craft emphasizes work's "intellective, technical component and the tangibility of its product," (10) thus differentiating itself from travail, which stresses instead the effort, striving, and exertion of work. (11) Of course, travail is also a gendered term because of its specific association with the pains of childbirth. (12) But, generally, travail refers to the harrowing of both body and spirit as illustrated in the following example from John of Trevisa: "There is double manet trauaile, of spirit and of wittis and bodely trauaile," and he gives the instances of "studiynge, wakyng, wreththe, sorewe, and busines." (13) Spiritual and/or emotional travail thus become a metaphorical extension of the physical. Further inquiry into the association of werk, craft, and travail with guild- and craftsmen helps tease out the complex relationship between work and salvation as it emerges onstage in four mystery plays from the York Cycle. Yet why is such an inquiry necessary, and why choose these four plays from this particular cycle?

While the emergence of mystery plays is still shrouded in mystery, (14) the work that craft guilds invested in staging and performing the York cycle is well documented. A look at the records shows us that guilds occasionally grumbled under its demands. In an entry from 31 January 1422 from the A/Y Memorandum Book, the Painters and Stainers, for example, deplore the fragmentation of the Corpus Christi play in too many pageants and point out that "unless a better and more speedy device be provided, it is to be feared that it [the play] will be impeded much further in a very brief passage of time." (15) The guildsmen's criticism touches specifically on what they perceive as an inefficient division of labor in the production of the Passion of Christ. Arguing that the play's content warrants one pageant instead of two, they suggest that one be removed and the guilds responsible for maintaining it--the Painters and the Stainers--contribute financially, rather than artistically, to the production of the remaining pageant:
 And the craftsmen of the Painters, Stainers, Pinners, and Latteners
 of the aforesaid city, formerly appointed separately to two
 pageants which must be performed in the aforesaid play, viz, one of
 the stretching out and nailing of Christ on the cross, and the
 other, indeed, on the raising up of the Crucified upon the Mount,
 knowing that the matter of both pageants could be shown together in
 one pageant for the shortening of the play rather profitably for
 the people hearing the holy words of the players, consented for
 themselves and their colleagues in the future that one of their
 pageants should be left out from now on and the other maintained
 following what the mayor and the council of the Chamber wished to
 arrange ... and that the Painters and Stainers each year should
 collect among themselves from the men of their craft 5s sterling
 yearly and pay them yearly to those who are the masters of the
 pageant of the Pinners and Latteners (at the time), yearly on the
 eve of Corpus Christi. (16)

What deserves our attention here is the guildsmen's claim that performance (based on the "matter" of the pageants) had something to say about work offstage. While this seems to be a matter of common sense, it is seldom the direction of argument scholars pursue. Instead of moving from the internal evidence of the plays to the external circumstances of the plays' performance, medievalists have largely focused on explicating the work involved in arranging and performing the plays. (17)

Influenced by the REED project, scholarship on the York plays has been highly historicized, illuminating guild regulations and relations during the plays' production. (18) Because, as Richard Homan has argued, "the play of Corpus Christi in York was a part of the economic and political world of the craft guilds and city government in a way the other plays never were," (19) scholars have sought to establish first and foremost the historical, economic, and sociopolitical conditions under which the York plays were performed. (20) Most recently, Pamela King's study, The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City, discusses the city politics involved in the selection and performance of the plays. (21) We know that the craftsmen who supervised the development and production of the York mystery plays belonged to the lay authority while in Lincoln and Norwich the lay governance was controlled by the clerical institutions of the towns. Similarly, in Chester the lay body was subordinated to the Abbey of St. Werburg until 1506. Only in Coventry and York was the lay authority strong enough to generate well-developed cycles. Lincoln and Norwich focused on processions, and Chester's budding cycle centered on a Passion play. (22) Unfortunately, only two Coventry plays survive, a fact that renders the York cycle of unique value for analyzing its plays as a repository of lay attitudes toward work.

Using historical evidence to explicate the work involved in arranging and performing the plays has proved, without doubt, a productive strategy. But, by itself, it forecloses the possibility that the plays themselves could teach us something about the ways in which the laity imagined (and connected) work and salvation onstage. Building upon previous historicist scholarship, this approach employs internal evidence from the plays to reveal the compelling story that the plays themselves recount--a story about the work performed and transformed on pageant wagons for a higher, spiritual purpose.

The theme of work performed for a higher purpose figures prominently in four plays--The Building of the Ark (uniquely divided in the York Cycle into two plays), (23) The Crucifixion, The Last Judgment, and The Entry into Jerusalem. Generally speaking, the first two plays focus on physical work while the last two shift the emphasis to good works, though the semantic complexity of labor does not always allow for such neat distinctions. The plays deal with labor and its metaphorical extensions (work and good works, respectively), while showing us how work's physicality is consistently transcended onstage. If, as Masciandaro points out, "werken is not only to labor, but to accomplish," (24) then the accomplishment of the York plays is always of a spiritual nature. Through the performance of work and good works these plays show their audiences the path to good citizenship on earth and salvation in heaven.

In The Building of the Ark, humankind is objectified as a craftsman's output. Sin has worn out God's handiwork and he decides to replace it (8.18-24). (25) From the beginning, God refers to the building of the ark as "my werke" (8.53), which he delegates to Noah. In exchange for his work, Noah is promised deliverance from physical pain and spiritual death (8.53-56). At this moment, the play becomes an encomium to labor. Work is God's gift that rejuvenates (or rather, in the case of a five-hundred-year-old, resuscitates) its receiver (8.89-94). Noah's work earns his rescue on earth and redemption in heaven; it is symbolic of the good works that Christians perform to earn their salvation.

Noah's physical labor brings an array of tools and building materials on the pageant wagon: line, nails, rivets, rews, and simmon fine are the material fruit of other guilds' labor. The presence of the tools onstage suggests that the shipman's craft depends in part on the craft of the other guilds. (26) This interdependence of labor ensures that each guild contributes its share to the act of construction and, implicitly, to salvation. Symbolically, all guilds are saved onstage through the shipman's craft. Yet, while the play focuses on tools as the means to salvation, one cannot help but notice that some tools are holier than others.

Noah's tools are instrumental in fulfilling God's plan. In contrast, when Noah's wife wishes to go home to gather her tools: "Nay, nedlyngis home me bus, / For I haue tolls to trusse" (9.109-10), her intention is rebuked as plain mischief. The problem does not lie in the gendering of tools (men's versus women's) but in their service in the divine scheme. The dramatic tension arises from the discrepancy between acting according to God's will, and acting against it. Only the tools employed for a spiritual purpose are deemed valuable. Later in The Crucifixion, working against God's bidding all but frustrates the divine plan, although the tool users are male. Significantly, however, God identifies men's tools (and not women's) as central to his plan. (27) Yet, if women's working tools cannot bring about their salvation, their good works surely can.

Noah's wife attains salvation onstage not only together with but also independently from her kin through her compassion toward the neighborhood gossips. Since she is prevented from salvaging her gossips, compassion takes the place of her good works. Looking at the play from the perspective of the wife's good works gives the audience a reason for endorsing her much maligned disobedience and illuminates a less conspicuous angle of medieval domesticity. But some close reading is necessary here. Among all her kin, Noah's wife is the only character who pities those who perished in the Flood. Her compassion appears in sharp contrast to the feelings of her family. First, there are the obedient but insensitive sons: "Beis mery modir, and mende youre chere;/ This worlde beis drowned, withouten drede" (9.103-4). Then, there are the self-centered and unfeeling daughters. In reply to the wife's lament over the death of their friends, one daughter callously praises God for exclusively protecting their own family: "Nowe thanke we God al goode / That vs has grauntid grith" (9.153-54). Callousness, of course, is a matter of performance. While the sentiment is not inherently callous, it may be rendered such by either the daughter's performance of it (for instance, by emphasizing the word vs) or the wife's (unscripted but theatrical) reaction to it. As Garrett P. J. Epp warns us, "we cannot know in any absolute sense how the play was staged, and we must remain aware that, in virtually any play, even obvious meanings can be undermined or reversed by such means as ironic intonation and extratextual action." (28) To accept unquestioningly previous readings of Noah's wife as the stereotyped character of the "shrewish" wife means to ignore the performative potential of the play and deny the merits of, to borrow Joseph Roach's rich term, "kinesthetic imagination." (29) As Roach has taught us, this kind of imagination "flourishes in that mental space where imagination and memory converge, is a way of thinking through movements--at once remembered and reinvented--the otherwise unthinkable." (30) Kinesthetic imagination potentially enriches the already available repositories of social memory, both as oral and written records.

A re-evaluation of Noah's wife's character becomes possible if one analyzes the kinesthetic possibilities of her travail in performance. Though generally seen as a "second Eve with all her negative qualities," a character with "no respect for God's will as revealed to her husband Noah," and a symbol for the "recalcitrant sinner ... who refuses to repent and enter the church symbolized here by the ark" Noah's wife is the only character in the play who thinks about the fate of her community. (31) For her, compassion does not end at home, and her version of domesticity stretches beyond the limitations of her own family. Onstage, she appears trapped in a medieval version of shell shock. When Noah tells her about God's plan to flood the world, she reacts at first with denial and disbelief, sentiments that make her more of a victim and less of a stock, shrewish character. Her disbelief has nothing to do with the disobedience imputed to her gender: Joseph reacts with similar incredulity when Mary informs him of the divine origin of her pregnancy in Joseph's Trouble about Mary. Epp's recent sympathetic interpretation of Noah's wife argues that modern critics normalize domestic violence in Noah's story whenever they ignore the deliberate disempowerment of the wife as she is left out of God's plan. (32) Similarly, James Simpson rejects reductive interpretations of the wife as "the butt of conventional anti-feminist satire" by pointing out the reasons why she is angry with her husband: "In York she says that Noah is always at work, without telling her what he's been up to; this will strike chords with the married couples of the audience, particularly as Noah has been at it for one hundred years." (33) Such kinesthetic insight might turn the audience's initial Schadenfreude at the marital discord onstage into knowing glances and sympathetic sighs. More significantly, Noah's well-kept secret can also be taken as proof for his wife's guilelessness. Had she been inquisitive and presumptuous like Eve, she would have most likely gotten the secret out of him, especially since she had a hundred years to try.

The wife's inner travail is symptomatic of the epistemological dilemma all Christians face when they are urged to relinquish the knowledge and experience of this world for a mere promise of an afterlife. One might say that her travail is further augmented by survivor's guilt. Far from being a disobedient Eve, Noah's wife can be imagined as a woman struck with horror at the terrible fate of those who cannot be saved. The script we have allows for a shifting of focus from her disobedience to her compassion, and there is no reason why it might not have been performed that way. Rosemary Woolf's observation that the wife's mood mends as soon as she gets on board is only reservedly supported by the script. (34) In fact, the wife is silent for a whole forty-three lines before she remarks: "Loved be that Lord that giffes all grace, / That kyndly thus oure care wolde kele" (9.197-98). There is plenty of room for the performance of doubt within these lines. "That Lord" sounds distancing and doubtful for a character who allegedly has just been won over to God's plan. Later in the play, she resumes her lament over the fate of the people left behind. Her reaction remains one of utter disbelief, and Noah needs to explain to her again what has just occurred:
 Vxor: For wrekis nowe that we may wynne
 Oute of this woo that we in wore;
 But Noye, wher are nowe all oure kynne
 And companye we knwe before?

 Noe: Dame, all ar drowned, late be thy dyne,
 And sone thei boughte ther synnes sore.


What exactly might Noah be referring to, as he speaks the words "thy dyne"? Has his wife shared her inner travail by loudly bemoaning the loss of kin and company? Have his words "all ar drowned" triggered a plaintive wail to which his "late be thy dyne" responds? Or are we to suppose that her "dyne" is merely her words? Whether Noah's response reflects sympathetic sadness or self-righteous satisfaction, his wife appears shaken by the fate of those who perished in the Flood.

The wife's travail illustrates her readiness (if not her ability) to perform good works, only to be told at the last minute that those works would be misguided. Because of travail's long-standing associations with childbirth and Creation, her plight is particularly poignant when she is suddenly confronted with death and destruction. Due to her compassion, Noah's wife has lost all similarity with Eve, and may even be seen as a prefiguration of Mary, the epitome of mercy, in The Last Judgment. Perhaps medievalists need to recall that medieval exegetes occasionally made her a type of the Virgin, (35) especially since historians have long pointed out that charity was a significant part of a woman's social role. (36) Noah's wife merits salvation through her own compassion, not the physical work of her husband. This compassion represents her good works manque, of course, but there is little doubt that the wife would have acted on it if given the chance. Like Noah's physical work, Uxor's travail also has a spiritual purpose: it makes her privy to God's plan albeit as a tardy, abrupt, and painful afterthought. According to Masciandaro, travail is the kind of work that "appears narrowly focused on the suffering subject, a subject who like the one who is tortured, experiences pain as something forced upon [her] from without." (37) Having been initially left out of God's design, the wife's participation in Noah's work is restricted to the realm of the affective.

Ironically, it is Noah's werk (or craft) that causes the wife's travail. The play suggests that different kinds of work (physical work vs. good works) are tied into different perceptions of domesticity (family vs. community), understandable in light of the historical evidence. (38) The recipients of the wife's compassion are her parish coworkers, her female "companye" which amounts to an extended family, whereas for Noah domesticity (and responsibility) ends at home. Deprived from any insight into Noah's salvific labor, the wife reacts in the only manner available to her: she reveals the travail of her soul as she watches her gossips drown. From a modern perspective, both kinds of work can be summarized in the concept of "action," which Hannah Arendt regards as fundamental to the condition of being human. (39) Arendt's action presupposes human distinctiveness and plurality, which allow both Noah and his wife to perform the kinds of work available to them. While the play favors men's work through their tools, it also emphasizes Uxor's good works, which invite a more generous understanding of domesticity, and implicitly, community.

If The Building of the Ark celebrates skilled work done toward a salvific end, The Crucifixion incriminates work done so dismally that it almost deters the divine plan. The soldiers' work proceeds helplessly off track despite their painful attention to detail: "Thanne to this werke vs muste take heede, / So that oure wirkyng be noght wronge" (35.25-26). Ironically, the soldiers' werk is wrong in any case, even if they did it properly. "Good works" are here oxymoronic because they mean good crucifixion, which appears in various formulations: "Sen ilke a thyng es right arrayed, / The wiselier nowe wirke may we" or "the crosse on grounde is goodely graied," or "now wirke we wele" (35.37-38, 39, and 48). Unlike Noah, who receives his technical details from God, the soldiers have dispensed with all teaching: "Vs nedis nought for to lere / Suche faitoures to chastise" (35.35-36).

The soldiers' physical werk involves some of the tools the audience has observed in The Building of the Ark, only now, tools and materials are no longer employed in construction but rather in destruction. The "hammeres and nayles large and lange" (35.30) are no longer used to construct the ship of salvation but to crucify the Savior; trees are no longer used to build the vessel of survival but the instrument of death. By misconstruing their work's spiritual purpose, the soldiers have divested the Cross of any symbolic meanings. (40) Noah is indeed a good worker: he measures everything correctly with his line. In contrast, the soldiers have to improvise in order to fit Jesus' body on the Cross because of a faulty mark: "I hope that marke amisse be bored/ ... /In faith, it was ouere-skantely scored, / That makis it fouly for to faile" (35.109-12). As the alliteration indicates, the soldiers' foul work is a direct consequence of their failed faith. (41)

The soldiers' poor workmanship soon turns into travail as they experience physical pain and exhaustion when they need to carry the suffering Jesus on their backs up the hill:
 I Miles: For-grete harme haue I hente,
 My schuldir is in soundre.
 II Miles: And sertis I am nere schente,
 So lange haue I borne vndir.
 III Miles: This crosse and I in twoo muste twynne,
 Ellis brekis my bakke in sondre sone.


Yet their pain could not be more different from the wife's. First, Uxor's travail is mental, not physical. Second, her travail is due to her Christian compassion and inability to save her gossips through good works. The soldiers' travail, meanwhile, is negatively connoted with lack of faith and practical skills. Out of breath, and at a loss about what to do, they look for a hoist ("gynn") to perform the task in their place. Consistently enough, the dramatist has provided them with no such technical device. In contrast, Noah's gin (8.101) lies handily about when he needs it to assemble the planks of the ark together.

The soldiers' work symbolically crucifies them. The scene becomes utterly grotesque, as the soldiers discover that the Cross does not fit into the mortise and starts to move to and fro, its instability emphasizing the soldiers' patchwork and inviting the audience's uneasy laughter, which according to V. A. Kolve was a didactic tool in the Middle Ages. (42) And indeed, the soldiers' lack of skill teaches the audience that they deserve to become the target of mockery. Through their inept workmanship, the soldiers have successfully transferred mockery from Jesus onto themselves, allowing the audience to partake in what Hans-Jurgen Diller calls "pious Schadenfreude." (43) At this point it is doubtful whether the Crucifixion can take place at all. The soldiers literally take some of the crucifixion ritual upon themselves by carrying not only Jesus' cross but also Jesus up the hill.

What the soldiers lack in skills they make up for in hubris. When, after further improvisations, they eventually render the Cross stable, they show pride in their werk and even mockingly ask Jesus what he thinks of it:
 I Miles: Say sir, howe likis you nowe,
 This werke that we haue wrought?

 IV Miles: We praye youe sais vs howe
 Ye fele, or faynte ye ought.


The first soldier's question may be read as a parody of the codes for industry regulation in medieval York, according to which "a man was responsible to his customer.... The interest of the customer, whether ordinary consumer or export merchant, was paramount." (44) The soldiers' hubris is in sharp contrast to Noah's Uxor's humility: while they take pride in their ill-performed werk, she displays all signs of survivor guilt in her travail. Significantly, Jesus recognizes the soldiers' evil doings as werk: "My fadir, that alle bales may bete, / Forgiffis thes men that dois me pyne. / What thei wirke, wotte thai noght" (35.259-61; my emphasis). Replying in accordance with the biblical story, which has been reduced here to its utmost literality, Jesus intimates that work without a spiritual purpose is worthless in a material and moral sense. (45)

The negative connotations of soldiers' werk have raised questions about the image of the guild sponsoring the spectacle and the cultural value of work. In considering the relationship between a pageant's content and its sponsoring guild, critics have pointed out the negative light that this play throws on the Pinners' craft. (46) Yet, because soldiers (and not craftsmen) perform the Crucifixion, their werk, and not the guild's craft gets tainted. The semantic differentiation between the Middle English words werk and craft proves essential here: while werk "could indicate just about any action whatsoever," craft stresses "not only production but making, the purposive creation of a new and exceptionally human product" with "both its intellective, technical component and [its] tangibility" (47) Far from being identified with the Pinner's craft, the soldier's bungling werk would have been laughed at by the medieval audience in a manner unlikely to jeopardize their pardon. (48)

The soldiers' werk does not transform them into craftsmen but into tools. Their werk fails because they obey Pilate--"Als Pilate demed is done and dight" (35.281)--instead of God. Nevertheless, as Kate Crassons has pointed out, the soldiers consider their work well done in relationship to the hierarchical order that engendered it. (49) But obeying a worldly authority at the expense of the divine is exactly what a craftsman should not do. Instead, craftsmen should follow Noah's example. In the construction of his ark--an original human product accomplished for a spiritual purpose--werk and craft become synonymous. While The Crucifixion ingeniously displaces laughter to emphasize the futility of physical work in the absence of a spiritual purpose, the play of The Last Judgment resorts to old-school didacticism to show its audience the path to salvation through good works.

Unlike Uxor's good works, which are restricted to the affective realm, charity in The Last Judgment is materially organized according to the Seven Works of Corporal Mercy and devoted to the bodies of the hungry, the thirsty, the pilgrims, the naked, the sick, the prisoners, and the dead. (50) It is no accident that the Mercers' guild presents a pageant about the spiritual value of charity, although this guild was one of the wealthiest in the city. Unlike other guilds, the Mercers could afford elaborate pageant wagons and multiple special effects. (51) Their play comprises fourteen speaking parts, almost three times as many as The Fall of the Angels, performed by a considerably poorer guild, the Barkers. Yet the message of The Last Judgment contrasts sharply with its sumptuous setup.

Charity is the currency on which the barter system of The Last Judgment operates: in return for their good works, the haves receive the key to heaven's gates from the have-nots. I would like to call this system spiritual capitalism to differentiate it from what Max Weber has called the "spirit of capitalism." (52) Whereas the spirit of capitalism is based on the obligation to increase one's wealth as an end in itself, spiritual capitalism, as I am conceiving of it here, rests on the exchange of earthly goods or good works for a place in heaven. This exchange is congruent with the philosophical and theological disdain for the world, as illustrated in Boethius's De consolatio philosophiae (c. 523), or in Pope Innocent III's late twelfth-century tract Contemptus mundi, or De miseria humane conditionis. The exchange is also consistent with the moral obligation of giving to the poor.

Spiritual capitalism is hardly its own incentive, or an end in itself, but rather a system with an ultimate goal of salvation. For haves and havenots, good works secure a common destiny in heaven, not contingent on pecuniary values on earth. Since spiritual capitalism provides an equal opportunity of salvation for people with vastly different economic resources, it undermines the sense of superiority that the rich may have toward the poor. On the contrary, spiritual capitalism creates a sense of obligation in the rich: since they have already received much on earth, they must also relinquish much. Only good works can balance out the surplus in supply, so that the rich can enjoy their worldly goods while also preserving their chance at salvation.

The Last Judgment play stresses both the spiritual and material aspects of good works. Even God's Last Judgment is defined as the absence of charity: "Therfore till hell I schall you synke--/ Weele are ye worthy to go that gate" (47.331-32). Jesus explains that any lack of charity in heaven is the direct consequence of absent good works on earth:
 Deus: Whanne I had mistir of mete and drynke,
 Caytiffis, ye cacched me fro youre gate.
 Whanne ye wer sette as sirs on benke,
 I stode theroute, werie and wette;
 Was none of yowe wolde on me thynke,
 Pyte to haue of my poure state.


Eternal hell is the reward of those who make life a living hell for others by depriving them of charity. Jesus identifies with human suffering, thereby granting every human an exceptional claim to equality. The instances of sheer need, which Jesus enumerates, bring to the attention of the audience a forgotten section of the community: the sick, the poor, and the incarcerated (333-40). (53)

It may seem ironic that the rich Mercers performed this play, unless one regards the play's message as a memento mori, a widespread medieval and early modern topos. Proud as they may have been outside theatrical "reality" the Mercers enact humility onstage through dramatic performance. Their example must have resonated with a medieval audience: after all, who can understand sin better than a sinner? The Mercers remind fellow guildsmen that human beings can doom themselves through their lack of charity (341-48). Those who do not need to work must nevertheless perform good works to help those who cannot work.

Since good works presuppose faith and good will independent of the recipient, the play does not differentiate between the worthy and unworthy poor. (54) Rather, the very fact that Jesus vicariously endures the humiliations of the impoverished sanctions their need. As the compliant recipient of their deprivations and blame, Jesus is invested with executive powers in this play, in a markedly different way than the depiction of God's agency of punishment in The Flood. Predictably, the uncharitable souls protest that they would have treated Jesus differently had they known of his divine origin. But hierarchy (whether worldly or divine) is precisely not the point here. Instead, true charity demands that one treat one's neighbors compassionately regardless of their origin or social position. The following lines are meant to warn against ignorance and self-delusory rationalizations, which do not exempt the callous from eternal punishment:
 I Anima Mala: Whan had thou, lorde that all thing has,
 Hungir or thirste, sen thou God is?
 Whan was that thou in prisoune was?
 Whan was thou naked or herberles?


The message appears to be clear: every human being in need is a potential Jesus in disguise and must be treated charitably. Indifference toward the poor translates into indifference toward God. Yet the protests of the caitiffs continue to pile up according to the same flawed logic that has prevented bad souls from showing a good heart: (55)
 II Anima Mala: Whan was it we sawe the seke, allas?
 Whan kid we the this vnkyndinesse?
 Werie or wette to late the passe,
 When did we the this wikkidnesse?


To set the caitiffs straight, Jesus temporarily relinquishes his posture as a righter of wrongs and assumes instead the role of a teacher. This is not to say that the caitiffs are allowed to escape by the power of their ignorance. Rather, the play is used as a dialectic session to prepare the audience for the real situation. Salvation depends on recognition, which emerges from a process of reasoning. (56) All possible scenarios must be rehearsed and elucidated onstage, for on Doomsday there will be no time left for clarifications. Jesus elevates the poor in the economy of spiritual capitalism by making himself the recipient of their sufferings. He explains that, whenever the caitiffs refused to do good works for the poor, they refused charity to him (47.357-64). Ultimately, they must pay the price for offending God, who has taken the shape of the needful.

Through good works spiritual capitalism provides the poor with a security net. While the rich Mercers display their power and status in the procession of pageant wagons, (57) they also renegotiate their relationship to the poor. Kate Crassons identifies the poor as other, outside the mechanisms of social production and material reward. (58) This is certainly true in view of medieval realities. But The Last Judgment imagines onstage an ideal of social security aimed at helping the poor, who like the sick and the incarcerated, cannot help themselves. Such a system cannot function without the cooperation of the rich. As Heather Swanson has pointed out, the poor constituted a significant segment of the medieval population. (59) In The Last Judgment, charity is performed not as an abstract virtue but as a social solution meant to address (and arguably redress) the socioeconomic gaps of the medieval city onstage. (60)

That good works are at the heart of the play is also visible in the order of speeches. God's introductory speech and Jesus' last speech frame the many instances in which good souls behave charitably, while bad souls do not. While for bad souls the end of the world coincides with the end of charity, for good souls charity remains part of the divine until the end of the play, and implicitly, the world. They are saved in the play as they will be saved at the time of the Last Judgment. The play employs a similar question-and-answer session to reveal the compassion of good souls as it did to uncover the callousness of bad ones. Charity is accompanied in the play by innocence, since good souls are fully unaware of their merits. In fact, good souls are as ignorant of their merits as bad souls are of their faults:
 I Anima Bona: Whanne hadde we, lorde that all has wroght,
 Meete and drinke the with to feede,
 Sen we in erthe hadde neuere noght
 But thurgh the grace of thy Godhede?

 II Anima Bona: Whanne waste that we the clothes brought,
 Or visite the in any nede,
 Or in thi sikenes we the sought?
 Lorde, when did we the this dede?


Resuming his role as Teacher, Jesus explains how, by being charitable to the poor, good souls have been generous to him, thus meriting his mercy (47.311-14). The innocence of good souls renders even the ignorance of the bad plausible. This ambiguity has an educational effect upon potential bad souls among the audience. It reminds them that even for ignorant sinners divine charity is still available upon repentance. Significantly, lay drama circumvents clerical control by promoting good works as a lay value. Laypeople will be judged by their good work and good works, a standard that rigorously differentiates them from one another.

The foregrounding of good works in the play proposes an innovation of the Trinity onstage (God, Charity, Jesus), which is directly connected with the Mercers' spiritual identity offstage. This is, of course, a representational strategy, and should not be understood as a theological innovation. But the very insertion of charity in between the speeches of God and Jesus points to its centrality. Before the religious guilds were officially dissolved in 1547, one referred to the Mercers in the records as the Holy Trinity Guild. Their identity is materially represented through the city building that stands today at Fossgate--the Mercer's hall, occasionally referred to as Holy Trinity Hall in the records of the Corpus Christi Guild. (61) But the Mercers had also established a hospital at Fossgate in 1371 after receiving royal license in 1357. (62)

The guild's administration of the hospital in real life allows us to speculate on the guild's influence on the values mediated onstage--just as those who cannot be cured of physical illness must die, those who cannot be cured of moral infirmities must be doomed. Here drama and reality engage in a symbiotic relationship. The play may also be the Mercers' self-affirming (and self-serving) claim to belong to the virtuous, since they do care for Jesus offstage, in the city's poor and ill. Regardless of how one interprets this public act, the Mercers' social image is not the most important aspect that emerges from the guilds' procession. More significantly, the laity carries their share of social responsibility through work and good works. The same also holds true for the next play, The Entry into Jerusalem, in which physical and spiritual health are brought about through the performance of lay charity but with an intriguing twist: the play shows how any member of the community (not just the wealthy) can participate in spiritual capitalism.

In The Entry into Jerusalem, charity is dramatized as a lay value that evades clerical control. Clerics come off badly in this play due to their reluctance to perform good works, while laypeople support one another in the face of misfortune. The less fortunate are again at the heart of the drama, since Jesus enters the city as the king of the poor. Nevertheless, his coming is the most amazing ("ferly") thing since the Creation: "Sen firste this worlde was made of noght / ... / Such ferly thyng was neuere non wroght" (25.392-94). For a medieval audience, the setting would have suggested a royal entry (complete with the request for mercy) as well as a prefiguration of the heavenly kingdom. Significantly, Jerusalem functions dramatically as both a heavenly and an earthly city, eerily resembling York in the latter. Jesus' vision of Jerusalem on Judgment Day is an implicit warning to the city of York, should its citizens trespass against God in their indifference to the less fortunate (475-81). As in the Mercer's play, salvation depends on people's ability to assist those who need it most. The poor, the sick, and the disabled are recuperated into the community for their spiritual capital. Just as the guilds are dependent on one another for accomplishing good work directed toward a spiritual purpose, the community depends on the poor to perform good works. Each segment of the population depends materially on the others, while everyone's salvation depends spiritually on the poor. This is the principle on which spiritual capitalism operates.

Christ provides deliverance to those in need via the good works of the community. (63) If The Last Judgment teaches the audience about good works theoretically, here, laypeople are taught by example amidst the tumult of Jesus' entry, which must have been staged as an event of huge proportions. As Rosemarie Woolf has suggested, "the mood [of the play] depends upon the movement of the triumphal progress:" (64) The atmosphere thickens with suspense as Jesus advances through the crowds. Richard Beadle and Pamela King's staging proposal, according to which Jesus rides in the street among the audience, seems quite viable for a city like York whose citizens are physically drawn into the action of the play as they acclaim the Savior. In this way, the audience experiences Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as a royal entry into their own city. Such entries were not unusual in medieval York. (65) Staged in this way, the play has the maximum effect upon the audience when Jesus is given the same honors as any monarch of England. Despite his humble appearance he is the "true" king and protector of the destitute; the city cannot acclaim him without implicitly agreeing to everything he represents.

The needy depend, however, on the good works of the community at large to receive their spiritual deliverance. In this context, the healing of the blind man deserves closer consideration. Jesus' words make it clear that the blind man deserves his eyesight because of his strong faith: "Thi faith shall the sane" (25.350). Yet the blind man does not obtain his redemption without difficulty. What we have here is an instance of medieval suspense: lost in the crowd, the blind man cries his lungs out in order to be heard by Jesus and healed. At times, his hope dissolves into nothingness, as he realizes that Jesus cannot hear him. It is this suspense that makes the first miracle unpredictable: "Allas, I crye, he heris me noght, / He has no ruthe of my mysfare. / He turnes his herre, where is his thought?" (25.323-25). Every Christian plagued by misfortune must have wondered at times about the very same thing. The rhetorical effect of the blind man's words is enhanced by the audience's sudden fear that, after all, he might miss his opportunity to be healed. The effect is supreme, if we imagine the blind man crying his words in the midst of the audience, while trying to part his way left and right to advance to Jesus. (66) When the poor man advises the blind man to shout louder, he speaks for the whole audience: "Cry somwhat lowdar, loke thou noght spare, / So may thou spye" (25.326-27). Although Jesus ultimately heals the blind man, it is through the effort of the lay community, represented here by the poor man, that the blind man regains his eyesight. Clearly, wealth is not a prerequisite for spiritual capitalism. The poor man has nothing to give except moral support and good advice, but these, too, count as good works.

Civic solidarity is consistent with the work ethics of the guilds: "when a guild brother.., fell into poverty or could not work, or went blind, or lost his goods 'by the unhap of the world; "his fellows supported him until the end of his days. (67) To be sure, one may read the relationship between this scene and its historical context as more vexed by pointing out that guilds looked out for their own, not the community at large. The play, however, may also be understood as criticizing the guilds' practice of restricting care to their own members by bringing the less fortunate to the attention of the whole community. The miracle in the play and the solidarity of laypeople outside it emphasize the idea of a medieval Christian community unified in their duty of performing good works. Its moral obligation is to look after the citizens who can no longer look after themselves.

To emphasize charity as a lay value, the play juxtaposes lay solidarity with clerical indifference. While the poor man aids the blind man in regaining his eyesight, Phillip, one of Jesus' disciples, seems indifferent to his plight and even discourages him from trying any further:
 Phelippus: Cesse man and crye noght soo,
 The voyce of the pepill gose the by.
 The aghe sette still and tente giffe to,
 Here passez the prophite of mercye-Thou
 doys amys.


Phillip misaligns the divine hierarchy with the earthly by mistaking Jesus for a church official who might become annoyed at the clamoring poor. One is uncertain whether the second disciple, Peter, is more merciful than Phillip, or whether he intervenes for the blind man only in order to escape his aggravating clamor. The play seems to suggest the latter possibility:
 Petrus: Lorde, haue mercy and late hym goo,
 He can noght cesse of his crying.
 He folows vs both to and froo,
 Graunte hym his boone and his askyng
 And late hym wende.
 We gette no reste or that this thyng
 Be broght to ende.

(25.337-43; my emphasis)

The disciples' haughtiness, which separates man from God, might be taken as an attack on clerics, who have lost their vocation and are just performing menial jobs within the church (for instance, fetching the ass for Jesus). To be sure, these actions give a model of humble service to Jesus. Yet, like the soldiers in The Crucifixion, the disciples have emptied out their work of its spiritual meanings. Instead of facilitating individuals' salvation, they very nearly prevent it. It is significant that Jesus does not grant the blind man's eyesight upon Peter's request (i.e., through the mediation of a cleric), but wants to hear the plea from the man himself: "What wolde thou man I to the dede / In this present? Telle oppynly" (25.344-45). The happy denouement of the blind man's plight stresses good works as a distinctly lay value, negotiated between the individual and the divine. As in Reformation drama, individual salvation does not need the mediation of a cleric.

All four plays contribute to a civic narrative about work that has not been previously available. By looking not just outward, at sociohistorical contexts, but simultaneously inward, at the playable aspects of the text, we can learn something new about medieval ideals. This line of inquiry complements previous historicist approaches that have brought us closer to medieval realities. Work and good works are dramatized onstage as the highest lay values. Good works, which can range from compassion and moral support to charity toward God and neighbor according to the Seven Works of Mercy, are imagined as a social solution for alleviating suffering and poverty, both material and spiritual. Together with good work, that is, physical work performed for a spiritual purpose, good works are crucial to human survival and salvation. While ritual might have been intended to solidify social hierarchies, as some critics have argued, (68) performance renegotiates differences in wealth, status, and power by emphasizing lay solidarity and a reformed work ethic.

Community, historically divided by the politics of labor, is unified onstage through spiritual capitalism, which solidifies the interdependency of all laypeople. By representing charity onstage as a form of werk or travail, the Corpus Christi plays attempt to heal communal rifts with shared ideals. According to Kate Crassons, the Mercers' guild records indicate "the virtual impossibility of living out the Last Judgment's teaching at the institutional level" as the Mercers try to accommodate the play's ideal of indiscriminate charity with the reality of labor relations and their quest for profit or financial stability. (69) Ideals, however, are seldom meant to become tangible. In a Christian context, striving for perfection and falling short is not only defensible but also useful, since awareness of one's shortcomings brings one closer to God and enables true humility. Instead of viewing the ideals of work and good works as being at odds with medieval realities, one needs to acknowledge the value of these plays as a source of inspiration for individual behavior.

The plays' emphasis on individual salvation and individual responsibility may explain their popularity at the vanguard of the Reformation. By highlighting work and salvation as core Christian values, the plays avoid touching on controversial doctrinal points, to which a Protestant audience would have been resistant. In fact, focusing on individuals (as members of a community) and their ideals of work and salvation may well be one secret to the staying power of these plays.

University of the Pacific

I am grateful to Theresa Tinkle and Skip Shand for stimulating feedback on earlier drafts of this essay, and to Eve Salisbury, whose astute editorial suggestions made this a better essay. I would also like to thank the University of the Pacific for an Eberhardt Research Faculty Award, which supported my work on this article in the summer of 2007.


(1) James Simpson, Reform and Cultural Revolution: 1350-547, vol. 2 of The Oxford English Literary History, gen ed. Jonathan Bates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 513.

(2) Nicola Masciandaro, The Voice of the Hammer: The Meaning of Work in Middle English Literature (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 53.

(3) Masciandaro, 3.

(4) For the cultural work of drama, see Lawrence Clopper's seminal book, Drama, Play and Game: English Festive Culture in the Medieval and Early Modern Period (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). See also Pamela M. King's article "The York Plays and the Feast of the Corpus Christi," Medieval English Theatre 22 (2000): 13-32 (13-14). For the contract between play and spectator in East Anglian drama see Gall Gibson, The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

(5) MED, s.v. "werk," n. 8a.; MED, s.v. "craft," n. 3, 6, and 7.

(6) MED, s.v. "werk" n. la.

(7) MED, s.v. "werk," n., see 1a. and 1b.

(8) Masciandaro, 20.

(9) MED, s.v. "craft" n. 1.

(10) Nicola Masciandaro, The Voice of the Hammer, 22.

(11) MED, s.v. "travail," n. 2.

(12) MED, s.v., "travail" n. 3.

(13) John of Trevisa, On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa's Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus "De Proprietatibus Rerum" gen. ed. M. C. Seymour (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 338. Quoted in Masciandaro, 15.

(14) See R. B. Dobson, "Craft Guilds and the City: The Historical Origins of the York Mystery Plays Reconsidered," in The Stage as Mirror: Civic Theatre in Late Medieval Europe, ed. Alan E. Knight (Woodbridge: Brewer, 1997), 91-106.

(15) Records of Early English Drama: York, ed. Alexandra Johnston and Margaret Rogerson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), 722.

(16) Records of Early English Drama: York, 722-23.

(17) For the topographical conditions under which the work of arranging and performing the plays was accomplished see Meg Twycross, "'Places to hear the play': Pageant Stations at York, 1398-1572," Records of Early English Drama 2 (1978): 10-33; Alexandra Johnston, "The York Cycle," University of Toronto Quarterly 48, no. 1 (Fall 1978): 1-9; Peter Holding, "Stagecraft in the York Cycle" Theatre Notebook: A Journal of the History and Technique of the British Theatre 34, no. 2 (1980): 51-60; Angelo Raine, Medieval York: A Topographical Survey Based on Original Sources (London: Murray, 1955). Of course, there are exceptions: for instance, James Simpson's work on the York and Wakefield cycles in Reform and Cultural Revolution, 513-28.

(18) P. J. P. Goldberg, "Craft Guilds, the Corpus Christi Play and Civic Government" in The Government of Medieval York: Essays in Commemoration of the 1396 Royal Charter, ed. Sarah Rees Jones, Borthwick Studies in History 3 (York: University of York, 1997), 141-63. Martin Stevens, Four English Mystery Cycles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 77. Sarah Beckwith, Signifying God: Social Relation and Symbolic Act in the York Corpus Christi Plays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), and Christ's Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings (London: Routledge, 1996); Mervyn James, "Ritual, Drama, and the Social Body in the Late Medieval English Town," Past and Present 98 (1983): 3-29. Heather Swanson, "Artisans in the Urban Economy: The Documentary Evidence from York," in Work in Towns 850-1850, ed. Penelope J. Corfield and Derek Keene (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1990), 42-56.

(19) Richard Homan, "Ritual Aspects of the York Cycle" Theatre Journal 33 (1981): 303-15 (315).

(20) J. N. Bartlett, "The Expansion and Decline of York in the Later Middle Ages," Economic History Review 12 (1959): 17-33.

(21) Pamela M. King, The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2006). See also Alexandra E Johnston, "The City as Patron: York," in Shakespeare and Theatrical Patronage in Early Modern England, ed. Paul Whitefield White, and Suzanne R. Westfall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 150-75.

(22) See Lawrence Clopper, "English Drama: From Ungodly Ludi to Sacred Play," in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 739-66 (748). For a history of the Chester plays see R. M Lumiansky, and David Mills, The Chester Mystery Cycle: Essays and Documents (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).

(23) See Richard Beadle, and Pamela M. King, eds. York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 15.

(24) Masciandaro, 20.

(25) All quotations are from Richard Beadle, ed., The York Plays (London: Arnold, 1982). I have replaced all original thorns with th and the yoghs with y, g, or gh (depending on meaning).

(26) This depends, of course, on the dramatic production.

(27) Christina M. Fitzgerald aptly notes the many ways in which women are left out of God's plan ("Manning the Ark in York and Chester," Exemplaria 15 (2000): 351-84).

(28) Garrett P. J. Epp, "Noah's Wife: The Shaming of the 'Trew,'" in Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts, ed. Eve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002), 223-41 (233-34).

(29) Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 27.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Clifford Davidson, "After the Fall: Design in the Old Testament Plays in the York Cycle" Mediaevalia 1 (1975): 1-24 (13). Also, see Alfred David, "Noah's Wife's Flood," in The Performance of Middle English Culture, ed. James J. Paxson, Lawrence M. Clopper, and Sylvia Tomasch (Cambridge: Brewer, 1998), 97-109; and Melvin Storm, "Uxor and Alison," Modern Language Quarterly 48 (1987): 303-19 (308-9). More recent approaches have departed, however, from reading Noah's wife as a negative and predictable character. See, for instance, Epp, and Jane Tolmie, "Mrs. Noah and Didactic Abuses," Early Theatre 5 (2002): 11-33.

(32) Epp, 223-41.

(33) Simpson, 522.

(34) See Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), 139.

(35) David, 97.

(36) p. H. Cullum, "'And Hit Name was Charite': Charitable Giving by and for Women in Late Medieval Yorkshire," in Woman is a Worthy Wight: Women in English Society, c. 1200-1500, ed. P. J. P. Goldberg (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1992), 182-211 (203).

(37) Ibid.

(38) As Felicity Riddy has taught us, beginning with the fourteenth century, guild masters were responsible for the public and private conduct of their household members. See "Looking Closely: Authority and Intimacy in the Late Medieval Urban Home" in Genclering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Mary C. Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 212-28 (212). Meanwhile, as Katherine L. French points out, in medieval and early modern England, "the parish became a major forum for women's group activities that provided them with opportunities unavailable outside the parish." See "Women in the Late Medieval English Parish" ibid., 156-73 (156-57).

(39) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 176.

(40) There is a double meaning here--the Cross is not just the tool of death that the soldiers mean it to be but also (and more significantly) the tool of life.

(41) Clifford Davidson argues for ingenuity on the part of the soldiers, who find a way to cover up their mistakes and increase Jesus' pains at 35.145. See "Suffering in the York Plays," Philological Quarterly 81(2002): 1-31 (8).

(42) V. A. Kolve, The Play Called Corpus Christi (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), 129.

(43) Beadle and King note that such distortions of the workman's professions might invite the audience's laughter, drawing them into mocking the suffering Jesus and causing them to experience the Crucifixion firsthand. The audience is educated as soon as they become aware of their impious laughter. See York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling, 211-12. For me, however, the ingenuity of the play lies in the transference of the mockery from Jesus onto the soldiers. Laughter thus becomes "pious Schadenfreude" because the audience is invited to laugh at Jesus' bungling torturers, not at Jesus himself. For the pious laughter of St. Brice, who laughs at the misfortunes of the devil, see Hans-Jurgen Diller, "Laughter in Medieval English Drama: A Critique of Modernizing and Historical Analyses" Comparative Drama 36 (2002): 1-19 (4).

(44) P. M. Tillott, ed., A History of Yorkshire: The City of Yorfi (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 93.

(45) Richard Beadle notes the play's emphasis on work in his essay "The York Cycle," in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theater (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 85-108.

(46) See, for instance, Kathleen Ashley, "Sponsorship, Reflexivity and Resistance: Cultural Readings of the York Cycle Plays," in The Performance of Middle English Culture, ed. James J. Paxton, Lawrence M. Clopper, and Sylvia Tomasch (Cambridge: Brewer, 1998), 9-24 (21); and Stevens, 30.

(47) Masciandaro, 20, 22.

(48) Diller points out that impious laughter was listed as undesirable in the York Memorandum Book, and might have caused, along with "feastings, drunkenness, clamors, gossipings, and other wantonness," the "loss of the pardon that was promised for participation in the procession" (4).

(49) Kate Crassons, "The Practice of Poverty: Literature, Culture, and Ideology in Late Medieval England" (PhD diss., Duke University, 2004), 237.

(50) Matthew 25:35-36: "esurivi enim, et dedistis mihi manducare / sitivi, et dedistis mihi bibere / hospes eram, et collegistis me / nudus et cooperuistis me / infirmus, et visitastis me / in carcere eram, et venistis ad me." The Seven Works of Mercy consist thus in giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter to the stranger, clothing to the naked as well as visiting the sick, comforting the incarcerated, and burying the dead. See Biblia Sacra Vulgata, ed. Robert Weber, 4th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibel Gesellschaft, 1994). The standard translation of the Vulgate is the Douay-Rheims Bible, ed. William H. McClellan (1941; repr. Fitzwilliam, N.H.: Loreto, 2004).

(51) The Mercers were a trading craft, which in the structure of civic government was regarded differently from mere manufacturing crafts. Nevertheless, the Mercers were as much under the jurisdiction of the mayor and the civil council as other guilds. From the Records of Early English Drama, we know that the pageant money came from three main sources: "(i) yearly contributions from members of the craft, from non-members who gained part of the income by practicing the skills of the craft, and from other crafts which did not own pageants; (it) special payments made by a man when he entered his apprenticeship; (iii) a percentage, usually half, of fines levied for breaking craft ordinances (the other half went into the city treasury) .... The number of pageant masters varied with the size and affluence of the craft: for example, the Mercers elected four each year while the Bakers elected only two" (xiv). See Alexandra F. Johnston and Margaret Rogerson, eds., Records of Early English Drama: York (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979). In "Ritual Aspects of the York Cycle," 311, Richard Homan argues for a concentration of power in the hand of the Mercers. Beside economic power, the Mercers' guild had also significant political influence. See A History of Yorkshire, 71: "out of 88 mayors between 1399 and 1509, one was a glazier, one a spicer, one a pewterer, and one a vintner; there were three drapers, 4 grocers and goldsmiths, and 5 dyers; but 68 were merchants or mercers. So far as the mayoralty is a measure of it, the government of late medieval York was not so much as aldermanic as a mercantile oligarchy. It was the merchant who had stepped into the place of the property-owning patrician of earlier times."

(52) Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (1930; repr. London: Routledge, 2001), 17.

(53) Heather Swanson, Medieval British Towns (Britain: Macmillan, 1999), 116.

(54) For an introduction to charitable giving according to the various kinds of poor, see R. N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215 1515(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 205-17. An excellent overview of formal view of charitable obligations and the structured nature of the charity of guilds is given by Miri Rubin, Charity and Community in Medieval Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), esp. chapters 3 and 4. For the limits of charity, see Sheila Lindenbaum "Rituals of Exclusion: Feasts and Plays of the English Religious Fraternities," in Festive Drama, ed. Meg Twycross (Cambridge: Brewer, 1996), 54-65 (54 and 65).

(55) As Crassons remarks, the logic of the bad souls relies on the "anti-mendicant argument that denies their charitable obligations in the first place" She adds: "Viewing [Christ] as all-possessing, they assume that Christ's entitlement to the goods of the world nullifies his experience of need" See "The Practice of Poverty" 263. Helpful studies of mendicant ideals and social practice are in the work of Barbara H. Rosenwein and Lester K. Little, "Social Meaning in the Monastic and Mendicant Spiritualities," Past and Present 63 (May 1974): 4-32; and R. B. Dobson, "Mendicant Ideal and Practice in Late Medieval York" in Archaeological Papers from York presented to M. W. Barley, ed. P. V. Addyman and V. E. Black (York: York Archaeological Trust, 1984), 109-22.

(56) For Aristotle, recognition or discovery (anagnorisis) is "a change from ignorance to knowledge.... The finest recognition is that which occurs simultaneously with reversal" (Poetics 11.28). See Aristotle, Poetics, ed. and trans. Stephen Halliwell (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995). Aristotle differentiates among five kinds of discovery, one of which is discovery by inference or reasoning (Poetics 16). Jesus' question and answer session suggests that he intends to move the caitiffs (and implicitly the audience) from ignorance to knowledge by a process of reasoning.

(57) See, for instance, James.

(58) Crassons bases her analysis on Heather Swanson's work on craft guilds. See Medieval Artisans (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989); and "The Illusion of Economic Structure: Craft Guilds in Late Medieval English Towns" Past and Present 121 (1988): 29-48.

(59) Swanson, Medieval British Towns, 116.

(60) The accommodation of spiritual values and active pursuit of wealth had always been a concern for the medieval rich. This is reflected, for instance, in East Anglian drama. Theresa Coletti's cultural study, "Paupertas es Donum Dei: Hagiography, Lay Religion, and the Economics of Salvation in the Digby Mary Magdalene," Speculum 76 (2001): 337-78, explains how spiritual values and riches are reconciled onstage.

(61) See Records of Early English Drama: York, xvi.

(62) See A History of Yorkshire, 111.

(63) For Christ as allegorical love knight, see Rosemary Woolf, "The Theme of Christ the Lover-Knight in Medieval English Literature," Review of English Studies 13, no.49 (1962): 1-16.

(64) See Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), 232.

(65) Charles I, Richard III, Edward IV, and Henry VII, all paid visits to York or had their headquarters there. See Records of Early English Drama: York, ix-x. George Sheeran notes: "As England's second city for much of the Middle Ages, monarchs visited and resided at York, brought the court there, and held parliaments there" (Medieval English Towns: People, Buildings, and Spaces [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001], 9).

(66) Stevens argues for a total identification of the spectators with the characters (61).

(67) A History of Yorkshire, 95.

(68) Benjamin McRee, "Unity or Division?: The Social Meaning of Guild Ceremony in Urban Communities," in City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe, ed. Barbara Hanawalt and Kathryn Reyerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 189-207 (190-91).

(69) Kate Crassons, "The Challenges of Social Unity: The Last Judgment Pageant and Guild Relations in York," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 37 (2007): 305-34 (326).
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Author:Boboc, Andreea
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Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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