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Domestic disturbance in the medieval dramatic cycles of Chester and York Open Access


Other title
medieval drama
York cycle
Chester cycle
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Anderson, Judith R.
Supervisor and department
Epp, Garrett (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Reimer, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
Demers, Patricia (English and Film Studies)
Ashley, Kathleen (English, University of Southern Maine)
Muneroni, Stefano (Drama)
Bowers, Rick (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The English medieval cycle drama of Chester and York has attracted much scholarship that is critical of the anachronism, anglicization, and inconsistency found in these plays’ stagings of the Creation-to-Doom biblical narrative. By introducing the concept of domestic disturbance, this project demonstrates that these controversial features of medieval drama instead belong to a style of representation with which medieval audiences were familiar. The introductory chapter provides a definition of domestic disturbance, and explains this concept’s relationship to the relevant critical heritage. I propose that extraneous or inconsistent scenes should not be revised or excised; instead, we should consider that modern expectations of linearity, and of dramatic unity of time and place, may not accord with the medieval “horizon of expectations.” Domestic disturbance allows for a better appreciation of the cycles’ common strategies for subversion, as well as their differing attitudes towards conflict. Chapters Two and Three are case studies demonstrating the efficacy of this theory. Chapter Two focuses on the Chester cycle’s troublesome women: Mrs. Noah, and the Mothers of the Innocents, all of whom interrupt the spiritual narrative of the play in order to assert challenges to the patriarchal authority to which they find themselves subject. Chapter Three focuses on the less controversial figures of Mary, Elizabeth, and Eve, to demonstrate that domestic disturbance is not simply the work of a few troublesome women working against the spiritual goals of the play, but part of a larger strategy for introducing domestic conflict into the biblical narrative, without necessarily undermining it. Chapter Four extends the scope of domestic disturbance from the narrative of the plays to include their performance. Domestic disturbance is often a means of playing out gendered conflict, but any potential subversion is contingent on its presentation. This chapter compares features of medieval cycle drama against twentieth-century medieval dramatic scholarship relying on theories of the carnivalesque, in order to highlight the features of performance that contribute to medieval cycle drama’s unique performance style; cross-dressed actors, performance in and on the streets, and an episodic-processional mode, all work to support the respective narratives of Chester and York.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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