Re-Writing the Script: Updating the Massacre of the Innocents for the Twenty-First Century

  • Kerstin Pfeiffer Heriot-Watt University

Abstract

Mystery plays constitute an important element in the heritage practice of York and Chester, two English cities with surviving medieval play cycles, which have been at the forefront of mystery play revivals since 1951. In their historic and their modern incarnations, the York and Chester mystery plays are considered vehicles for the celebration of community. However, the medieval and modern plays seek to reach out to their spectators in different ways, not least because modern mysteries are performed for an increasingly diverse audience, drawn from a wider constituency, both in cultural and religious terms, compared to their medieval antecedents.

Drawing on theatre studies scholarship and performance observation, this article explores the challenges that contemporary productions have to overcome in order to engage twenty-first century audiences. It focuses on dramatizations of the Massacre of the Innocents, a particularly popular episode in the Middle English Corpus Christi cycles, which remains a firm favourite with modern directors. By exploring the strategies that historical mystery plays and their recent incarnations in 2013 (Chester) and 2014 (York) use for managing feeling, it illustrates how modern productions seek to build a sense of community – not necessarily a religious but an ethically engaged sense of community. Modern versions of the Massacre of the Innocents emerge as exemplary sites for exploring the ways in which re-appropriating the culture of the past in the present through performance creates spaces for negotiating contemporary senses of community.

Keywords: Mystery Plays; York; Chester; Innocents; revival; affect; community

Published
2019-05-23
Section
Special Section