The third Medieval Mystery Cycle was held on Saturday 22 April 2023 at St Edmund Hall, 12noon-3:30pm. https://seh.ox.ac.uk/mystery-cycle. Read a report on the cycle by Alison Ray and one on the French play by Elisabeth Dutton. Photographic documentation thanks to artist Pam Davis who took the plays as inspiration for her own production CAT.
0:02:50 O quanta qualia (St Edmund Hall Choir) Latin
0:06:18 Extracts from Piers Plowman (Swonken ful harde) Middle English
0:35:40 The Nativity and Salutation (English Faculty) Middle English
1:07:13 The Innocents (Les perles innocentes) 16th-century French
1:30:19 The Passion (Sorores Sanctae Hildae) Latin and German
1:54:03 The Harrowing of Hell (Medieval Germanists) Middle High German
2:08:08 The Last Judgement (Past and Present Teddy Students) Modern English
Welcome to the third incarnation of the Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle! As in 2019 and 2022, this highlight of the Oxford medieval calendar offers a variety of plays in different medieval and modern languages, staged at several stations in the beautiful grounds of St Edmund Hall. Cycles of plays retelling stories from the Bible were a popular form of entertainment in the Middle Ages, which we are only too happy to revive for modern audiences. Admission is free and you are welcome to turn up at any time.
Join us, then, on this merry multilingual journey featuring plays dating from between the 12th and the 16th century! When the chapel bell rings at midday, the choir of St Edmund Hall will open the Cycle with a performance in front of the Old Dining Hall. We then start with an allegorical vision of Piers the Plowman before running through episodes of the New Testament, with the Christmas cycle unfolding in the Front Quad, followed by the Easter cycle in the churchyard around St Peter-in-the-East and – last but not least – the Last Judgement closing with the sound of the trumpet from the tower of St-Peter-in-the-East.
A special thank you goes to all the actors, directors, singers and other enthusiasts who have made these performances possible, to Professor Lesley Smith and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, co-directors of Oxford Medieval Studies, the driving force behind the Mystery Cycle, and to the Fellows and Principal of St Edmund Hall, for once again agreeing to host our medieval madness!
Master of Ceremonies
Jim Harris is Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum, a career he came to having trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked for over a decade in theatre, television and radio before deciding there was more to life than castings for shower gel commercials. “Some people would describe this as the role of a lifetime. Me, I’m just glad I don’t have to actually learn the lines.”
Composer of Linking Verses
David Maskell specialises in both the academic and practical aspects of theatre in Classical and Modern Languages. He is an experienced creative writer, and he also created the verses linking the plays for last year’s Mystery Cycle.
The Mystery Cycle will be opened by a performance of Peter Abelard’s ‘O quanta qualia’ by the Choir of St Edmund Hall. Afterwards, our plays will be accompanied by the heavenly choir of the Turba Angelorum, composed of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ angels.
The Mystery Cycle is managed by Henrike Lähnemann, Co-Director of Oxford Medieval Studies and Professorial Fellow at St Edmund Hall, and Michael Angerer, Graduate Convenor for the Medieval Mystery Cycle and a DPhil student in medieval English.
The performances was filmed by Natascha Domeisen and documented by members of Oxford Medieval Studies. The videos were uploaded to the Oxford Medieval Studies Youtube and TikTok account.
A coffee and cake stall was provided by members of the Oxford University German Society, organised by Thomas Henning, in aid of the German Red Cross.
1. 12noon Extracts from Piers Plowman
Group: Swonken ful harde. Language: Middle English. Director: Eloise Peniston
While our complete play follows a man named Will, who falls asleep beside a stream on a May morning in Malvern Hills with a succession of dreams, we begin with the deadly sins. We then find Piers Plowman, taking only momentary repose from his plough to guide the field of folk towards Truth, although his directions are very confusing. He agrees to take the folk himself as long as they assist him in ploughing the half-acre. However, he finds many of the folk, including pickpockets, knights, common women, wafer-sellers, pardoners, to be wasters! Piers calls Hunger to encourage them to work however, after the acre has been ploughed, Hunger refuses to leave until he has consumed the best food and wine! Truth intercedes and sends Piers a pardon however it is discovered to not be a true pardon at all so Piers, in scandalous fashion, tears it asunder! Watch a full performance of Piers Plowman on the OMS Youtube channel.
- Will (the Dreamer): Sòlas McDonald
- Piers (the Plowman): Charlie Epps
- Repentaunce: Eloise Peniston
- Pride: Sabrina Coghlan-Jasiewicz
- Lechery/Gluttony: Laurence Nagy
- Envy: Anna Cowan
- Covetousness: Zelda Cahill-Patten
- Wrath/Sloth: Sonny Pickering
- Wastour: Liam Stewart
2. 12:30 The Chester Nativity and Salutation
Group: English Faculty. Language: Middle English. Director: Rachel Burns
In this play from the 15th-century Chester Mystery Cycle, witness the wonder of Jesus’ birth, the prophecy of the Sybil, the magnificent humility of Emperor Octavian, and the discomfiture of the midwives!
- Gabriell/Angelus: Mishtooni Bose
- Marya: Eugenia Vorobeva
- Josephe: Tom Revell
- Elizabeth/Preco: Siân Grønlie
- Nuntius/Expositor: Cosima Gillhammer
- Octavyan: Jacob Ridley
- Primus Senator/Tebbell: Michael Angerer
- Secundus Senator/Salome: Yinghan Li
- Sybbell: Clare Mulley
3. 1pm Comédie des Innocents, by Marguerite de Navarre
Group: Les perles innocentes. Language: 16th-century French. Director: Elisabeth Dutton. Read a report on the play.
Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549) was wife of King Henry II of Navarre, sister to Francis I, King of France, and ancestress of the Bourbon kings of France. With her brother she made the French court a celebrated intellectual and cultural centre; having received an excellent classical education, she became an author and patron of humanists and reformers. Her salon was internationally famous as the ‘New Parnassus’. She wrote poems, a collection of short stories called the Heptameron,and the intense mystical poem Miroir de l’âme pécheresse. She also wrote a number of plays: today we present her dramatization of the narrative of King Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents.
- God/Herod/1st Woman: Aurélie Blanc
- 1st Angel/1st Tyrant: Coraline Vuarnoz
- 2nd Angel/Captain: Helene Wigginton
- 3rd Angel/2nd Tyrant: Carmen Vigneswaren-Smith
- Mary/1st Doctor of the Law/Nurse of Herod’s Son/1st Soul: Felicitas Harris
- Joseph/2nd Doctor of the Law/2nd Woman, Rachel/2nd Soul: Elisa Pagliaro
- Singer: Lucy Matheson
4. 2pm The Carmina Burana Passion Play
Group: Sorores Sanctae Hildae (unter Beteiligung einiger Bauern aus Iftelei). Language: Latin and slightly modernized Middle High German. Director: David Wiles. Stage manager: Isabel Schwörer
Mary Magdalene is a courtesan who repents her life of sin and pleasure. When she anoints Christ’s feet with expensive ointment, Judas is outraged, and betrays his master for thirty pieces of silver. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begs for the cup to be taken from him, before accepting God’s will. Mary his mother suffers at the foot of the cross, and takes John as a replacement for the son she is losing. The juxtaposition of the two Maries is a striking feature of the play from which our extract is taken. The text originates in 12th-century Bavaria. Our performance can be seen again in Iffley churchyard at 12.00 on Sunday, 23 April, and at the Oxford Festival of the Arts on 16 July.
- Narrator: Alex Marshall
- Angel/Voice of Jesus: Imogen Lewis
- Devil: Andrew Stilborn
- Mary Magdalene: Irina Boeru
- Merchant/Weeping Woman/Longinus: Laura Laube
- Caiaphas/Woman: Jonathan Honnor
- Judas: Alice Hawkins
- Virgin Mary: Laurence Nagy
- Amator/John the Evangelist: Justin Vyvyan-Jones
- Joseph of Arimathea: David Wiles
5. 2:30pm The Harrowing of Hell
Group: Medieval Germanists. Language: Middle High German. Director: Luise Morawetz.
In the Harrowing of Hell you can follow the battle between Christ and Lucifer – good and evil – from Lucifer’s perspective. Imagine how Lucifer feels when Christ and his retinue of angels storm hell without difficulty and rush off with his most precious captured souls, Adam and Eve! No wonder he overreacts and tries to make up for quality with quantity by sending his faithful servant Satanas on the hunt for as many lost souls as possible. Watch out, or they might get you too!
The script is based on the ‘Innsbruck Easterplay’ edition by Nigel F. Palmer & Henrike Lähnemann, with modern English narration by Haley Flower.
- Lucifer: Montgomery Powell
- Satan: Freya Hoult
- Jesus: Timothy Powell
- Adam: Alyssa Steiner
- Eve: Nicholas Champness
- Narrator: Evgeny Gurin
- Lost souls: Lena Vosding, Godelinde Perk, Anja Peters, Justin Vyvyan-Jones, Julia Brusa, Felix Clayton McClure, Elizabeth Hogermeer, Georgia Macfarlane
- Angels: Andrew Dunning, Travis Fuchs, Cosima Gillhammer, Nicole Jedrzejko, Henrike Lähnemann, Oliver Riordan
6. 3pm The Last Judgement
Group: Past and Present Teddy Students (and Friends). Director: Amy Hemsworth. Assistant Director: Aili Channer
Language: Modern English
A modern take on the final play of the Towneley Cycle by Amy Hemsworth and Alex Gunn, featuring a very confused John of Patmos, an exasperated Angel, and their best attempts to make sense of the Book of Revelation. For a full account of the story behind the script, read the blog post on the 2019 Medieval Mystery Play website.
- John of Patmos: Patrick Painter
- Angel: Lily Massey
- Jesus: Sebastian Morson
- Satan: Freddie Houlahan
- 1st Evil Soul: Hester Gleeson
- 2nd Evil Soul: Holly James Johnston
- 1st Demon: Alex Gunn
- 2nd Demon: Jake Caudwell
- 1st Good Soul: Aili Channer
- 2nd Good Soul: Amy Weihang Deng
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