Medieval Drama Syllabus (W14)

Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario


English 350:
Medieval Drama


Andrew Bretz                                                                            Winter 2014

Phone: 519-884-0710, ext. 4461
Office Hours: Mondays 11.00-12.30
Facebook ID: andrew.bretz
Twitter ID: @AndrewBretz001
Skype ID: andrewbretz
Skype Office Hours: TBA

Course Description:

In this course we will be looking at merely a sampling of the performance culture(s) of the medieval period. As the medieval world was composed of a number of different cultural conditions, spread out over a thousand-year swathe of history, we will be focusing our attention on the later middle ages, with the rise of liturgical Latin Drama to the early days of popular, public theatre in London. We will be addressing ourselves to the intersection between public performance and folk drama/folk traditions, though the primary areas of investigation will be mystery cycles and morality plays, which lead into popular, public theatre.


Course Objectives:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the historical conditions that informed the creation of medieval drama.
  • Articulate a complex argument regarding medieval performance in the period in the form of a research paper.
  • Present a familiarity with the major genres of theatre in the medieval period (Mystery Cycles, Mumming, Liturgical Drama, etc.).
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the performance conditions of the time, including changes in performance styles; theatrical design; publication regimes;
  • Demonstrate analytical, leadership and oral presentation skills through a short (10-15 minute) panel presentation and following group discussion.


Required Texts:

The Broadview Anthology of Medieval Drama. Gen. Eds. Fitzgerald, Christina M. and John T. Sebastian. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2013

Outline of Course:

N.B. – Please have the entire play read by the first day we take up the play in class. Highlighted areas are dates that have no presentations.



January 6


January 8

History – Ancient World to Medieval

January 10

History – Periodization

January 13

Theatre Basics


Readings: Quem Quaeritis

January 15

Theatre Basics & Latin Drama


Readings: Abraham & Babio

January 17

Panel #1

Latin Drama


Readings: Abraham & Babio

January 20

Terentian Comedy


Readings: Abraham & Babio

January 22


January 24

Panel #2

Pageants and Processional Theatre


Readings: The York Corpus Christi Play (Ordo Paginarium)

January 27

Mystery Cycles


Readings: The York Corpus Christi Play (The Creation, The Nativity, The Slaughter of the Innocents)

January 29

Mystery Cycles


Readings: The York Corpus Christi Play (The Crucifixion, The Harrowing of Hell, The Resurrection)

January 31

Panel #3

Representations of Salvation in Medieval Drama


Readings: The York Corpus Christi Play (The Last Judgement)

February 3

Mystery Plays and Modern Performance


Readings: The York Corpus Christi Play (The York Mercers’ Indenture)

February 5

Eternal vs Earthly


Readings: The Towneley Plays (The Second Shepherds’ Play)

February 7

Panel #4

Debate: Why is Bawdy Farce Studied/Performed?


Readings: The Towneley Plays (The Second Shepherds’ Play)

February 10

Afterlife of a Farce and Performance


Readings: The Towneley Plays (The Second Shepherds’ Play)

February 12

Gender and Marriage


Readings: The Towneley Plays (The Second Shepherds’ Play)

February 14

Panel #5

The State of the Course:

What Have We Learned So Far?


Morality Plays

February 17

No Lectures

February 19

No Lectures

February 21

No Lectures

February 24

Mankind – Allegory and How to Read It


Readings: Mankind

February 26

Mankind – The Devil’s Tongue


Readings: Mankind

February 28

Panel #6

The Devil in the Medieval World


Readings: Mankind

March 3

Mankind – Why Modern Theatre is not Medieval, nor Classical


Readings: Mankind

March 5


March 7

Panel #7

Robin Hood & Folk Drama


Readings: None (A Change of Pace)


March 10

“Return” to Allegory


Readings: Everyman

March 12

Accountancy and Reckoning


Readings: Everyman

March 14

Panel #8

Critique of the Clergy in Medieval Drama


Readings: Everyman

March 17

The Politics of Mumming


Readings: Lydgate (A Disguising at Hertford Castle, Mumming at Eltham)

March 19

What is an “Actor”?


Readings: Lydgate (A Disguising at London)

March 21

Panel #9

Spectacle and Drama


Readings: Lydgate (Mummings for the Goldsmiths of London)

March 24

“The Birth” of English Comedy


Readings: Gammer Gurton’s Needle

March 26

Recreation and Re-creation


Readings: Gammer Gurton’s Needle

March 28

Panel #10

The Borders of a Period – What Counts as Renaissance?

March 31

Needle, Needle, Who Has the Needle?


Readings: Gammer Gurton’s Needle

April 2

Flex Day


April 4

Conclusions and Debrief

  • 50 Things We Didn’t Get To Talk About
  • Final Papers Due



Description of Examinations and Major Assignments:

Outline of Assignments



In this course, you will choose a personae that you must stick to throughout the semester.  That is, the assignments will be weighted differently depending on what kind of personae you choose to develop.  You can choose to be a Peasant, a Knight, or a Cleric. This is in keeping with the three estates of medieval society. These appellations are roughly equivalent to students who wish to distribute their grades across all assignments, those who wish to more heavily weight the final paper, and those who wish to put all of their grades on the midterm exams.  (Please see below for the weighting.)

This choice must be made by January 12 (the end of the first week).  For those students transferring into the class after that date, it must be made as soon as realistically possible (this will be dealt with on a case by case basis). Students may not change their choice once it is made.  That is, if a student chooses to be a Knight, yet bombs the first midterm, that student may not then switch to another persona.  If you do not choose by the end of the first week, I will presume that you wish to be a Peasant and mark you down as such.


Midterm #1

The Midterm on January 22 will consist of a series of short answer questions and term identification. You will have one (1) class period to complete the exam.  If a student has not prearranged an alternate time to take the midterm exam and does not attend the exam during the scheduled time, s/he will receive a 0% on the exam.  “Prearranged” shall here be taken to mean more than 24 hours in advance.


Midterm 2

The Midterm on March 5 will consist of a series of short answer questions.  You will have one (1) class period to complete the exam.  If a student has not prearranged an alternate time to take the midterm exam and does not attend the exam during the scheduled time, s/he will receive a 0% on the exam.  “Prearranged” shall here be taken to mean more than 24 hours in advance.



Throughout the semester, there are ten classes that are devoted to a more Socratic form of pedagogy, based around question and answer or interview format. The interview is intended to be relatively informal, yet public form of knowledge mobilization. Each interview class will have approximately three to four panelists. Panelists for that class will be given a set of questions to go out and research. Then, on the day of the interview, the panelists will be asked those questions, which they have already researched, and will be expected to explain the answers both to the other members of the panel and to the class in general. All panelists may bring in however many notes they wish to bring in to refer to, but they may not read their answers by rote off of their notes. Panelists may add to or augment each other’s answers, pointing out (for instance) how a particular reading of the historical record may be, in their estimation, overly pessimistic or that there isn’t enough evidence to support certain claims. The idea is that the interviews become a conversation between researchers working on a period and a series of texts and not a catechism delivered by an authority upon his cowed students. Each panelist is expected to come up with at least one question for the other panel members, which may be either prepared before hand, or flow out of the conversation. In essence, panelists will be the experts in a given topic and will discuss their area of expertise. At the end of the panel, members will hand in a bibliography of the materials that they consulted in preparing their research notes.

I will be looking for:

  • Thoroughness of Research (e.g. Have you answered the questions? Do you have enough material to consider yourself an expert? What sources have you used? Are they reputable? How can you tell? In general, if you think you have enough sources, you probably don’t.  Consider using Zotero to aid in the research process.)
  • Ability to Present Information (e.g. Are you answering questions with confidence? Are you speaking clearly? Are you concise? If you are dealing with a particularly difficult historical issue or theoretical concept, can you explain it clearly?)
  • Engagement with the Text/History/Concepts (e.g. Do you present the implications of a particular idea or concept, or do you merely reduce it to its lowest common denominator?  Are you providing close readings of a text or just “surface” readings? Do you understand the ways in which history can be understood as more than just “one damn thing after another”?)
  • Engagement with Fellow Panellists (e.g. Did your fellow panellists use different sources than you? Does that affect their reading(s) of a particular text or period?  Do you want to position yourself oppositionally to another panellist? What questions are you going to ask him/her?)
  • Professionalism (e.g. What is your vision of professional behaviour/attire/comportment?)

n.b. – In many ways I’ve structured these panels on the model provided by the BBC4 Arts and Culture program “In Our Time.” I highly encourage you to listen to one of the episodes of “In Our Time” to get a sense of what I will be looking for. Seriously, listen to one of these before you start preparing for the panel. They are all available through iTunes or off of the BBC4 website. For this class, I would recommend in particular the following episodes:

IOT: Culture “The Medieval University”

IOT: Culture: “Chaucer”

IOT: Culture: “Abelard and Heloise”

IOT: Culture: “Robin Hood”

IOT: History: “The Magna Carta”

IOT: History: “The Black Death”

IOT: History: “The Norman Yoke”

IOT: History: “The Peasants’ Revolt”

Please see MyLearningSpace for more.


Final Paper

The topic of the final paper is up to the student, which means that you probably want to run it by me before you start researching it.  The paper is to be an “English paper” – which means research, close reading, and theoretical/methodological complexity.  If you have questions about that, please come see me.  Remember, be concise, define your primary terms of analysis, and provide examples that support your reading(s).  All writing assignments MUST conform to MLA formatting.  Perfect MLA formatting will be rewarded with an extra 3% on the assignment.

Paper length is determined by your personae.

  • If you are a Knight: 500-1000 words
  • If you are a Cleric: 2500-3000 words
  • If you are a Peasant: 1500-2000 words


Assignment Peasant Cleric Knight
Midterm #1 20 15 25
Midterm #2 20 15 25
Interview 40 40 40
Final Paper 20 30 10
Total 100 100 100

A Riddle:

Medieval culture was obsessed with wordplay and riddles, so here’s one to get you started.

Legite hanc, adducite mihi, et retribuetur enim tibi.

Ic seah wrætlice     wuhte feower
samed siþian     swearte wæran lastas
swaþu swiþe blacu     swift wæs on fore
fulgum framra     fleotgan lyfte
deaf under yþe     dreag unstille
winnende wiga     se him wægas tæcneþ
ofer fæted gold     feower eallū

In pretium, bonus fuerit, non in quinque marcis assignatione



An assignment is considered “late” if the student and I have not agreed at least 24 hours beforehand to an alternate deadline to the one noted on this course outline.  Students handing in essays late will be docked 5% per calendar day until the essay is handed in or until 10 calendar days have passed, at which time the assignment will receive 0%.  Extenuating medical circumstances will, obviously, be grounds for compassionate waiver of late penalties.


Accessible Learning

Students with disabilities or special needs are advised to contact Laurier’s Accessible Learning Office for information regarding its services and resources.  Students are encouraged to review the Calendar for information regarding all services available on campus.


Academic Misconduct

Wilfrid Laurier University uses software that can check for plagiarism,  Students may be required to submit their written work in electronic form and have it checked for plagiarism.


FOOT Patrol


After evening classes call 886-FOOT for a walk or drive home – No Walk is Too Short or Too Long!!!@