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The English Pater Noster Play: Evidence and Extrapolations Diana Wyatt Probably the best-known early reference (indeed the earliest yet found) to the Pater Noster play is a passage in the English translation of John Wyclif's De Officio Pastorali which claims that "freris han tau3t be paternoster in engli3sch tunge as men seyen in be pley of 3ork and in many opere cuntreys."' Karl Young's pioneering article on the York Pater Noster play also took this Wycliffite text as his starting point.2 His citation of this early reference (c.1378, about the same date as the earliest surviving references to the York and Beverley Corpus Christi pageants) raises a number of interesting points. Young concentrated in his study on the York play and the records of the York Pater Noster Guild that was founded to organize it; in this article I would like, after briefly surveying all the surviving records, to shift the emphasis onto the records of the Beverley Pater Noster play in an effort to investigate the nature of the play on the basis of all the extant evidence. Some caution is necessary when interpreting the Wycliffite reference (it seems to connect the York play with the friars, but no surviving records from York or elsewhere testify to a direct connection; in addition, the term 'play' in Middle English need not designate drama in modem terms), but it does verify that a "play," presumably dealing in some way with the Pater Noster, not only existed at York in the late fourteenth century but also was already sufficiently well established and well known to allow reference to it in passing in the expectation that readers would know what was being talked about. The York Pater Noster Guild return, made in response to a nationwide demand from the government for information about local guilds and their property in 1389, also indicates an early start in the life of the Pater Noster play in some form. What is interesting in the relatively early date is that scholars have for a long time believed the various 452 Diana Wyatt453 records of the play to be suggestive of the morality type, although most known moralities are later. In fact, the records—particularly those from Beverley, which are records of specific performances —suggest that it combined features of the allegorical morality (the names of the seven Deadly Sins being listed in Beverley as "losores," i.e., players or characters) with the production and performance methods of the northern English Corpus Christi cycle plays: that is, pageant-processional, on a large scale, along a route through the town with designated stations for performance, the individual pageants being assigned to local guilds under the overall control of the town government. The Pater Noster play may, on this evidence, have been a kind of sub-genre of the morality; but this may be the moment to repeat that we must exercise caution about contemporary terminology and remind ourselves that the surviving records are entirely concerned with practicalities and are correspondingly unconcerned with definitions and theories. Those engaged in putting on performances had no need to explain their activities to themselves and their audience of fellow-townspeople. This pragmatism is perhaps reflected in the use, certainly in Beverley and at least once in York, of the same route, stations, and possibly pageant wagons for two plays which seem to us to have been of quite distinct dramatic genres. The main purpose of this article, then, is to examine the contemporary records closely to ascertain how much and what kind of information they give us about the dates, performance conditions and methods, organization, and content of the Pater Noster play; and then, looking also at some contemporary evidence for interpretations of the Lord's Prayer itself and at some contemporary ways of presenting sin and sinners, to move closer to a definition of the dramatic nature and purpose of the Pater Noster play. Records of the Pater Noster play survive from only three places in England: York, Lincoln, and Beverley. It may be significant that these cities were all prosperous urban centers known for their dramatic, musical, and ceremonial activity—and that they are all relatively...


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pp. 452-470
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