A Reading of Medieval English Society in the Wakefield Cycle and the Chester Cycle
Çakır, İlknur Büşra
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In the Middle Ages, mystery plays were performed by the clergy in the Church on the Corpus Christi Day to teach the biblical stories to the illiterate people; however, later these stories developed to include earthly elements and moved out from the Church to the towns where the city guilds began to perform these plays on the pageant wagons in cycles. As the medieval period is characterised with religious, political, economic, and social controversies especially in relation to feudalism, these cycles began to touch upon these issues with some entertaining elements. In this regard, this thesis is concerned with a reading of the Wakefield and Chester cycle plays to display the social criticism of society and the portrayal and criticism of women. The Wakefield Master’s plays, namely The First Shepherds’ Play, The Second Shepherds’ Play, and Noah deal especially with the criticism of society regarding the inequality between the feudal lords, serfs, and villeins with a more direct style when compared with the Chester cycle plays, namely The Creation, and Adam and Eve and Noah. Both cycles also reflect women’s condition in feudal society in relation to Eve and Virgin Mary. Although in both the Wakefield and Chester cycles the didactic purpose is intermingled with entertaining elements, the Wakefield Master brings in many elements in these plays reflecting women’s representation and status in the Middle Ages. Thus, different from the Chester cycle, the Wakefield Master’s women characters carry medieval stereotypical traits as well as innovative features, for instance, being individuals who stand against male oppression.