Miracle plays

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miracle plays, mysteries, and moralities. The custom of teaching Bible stories by means of sacred dramas (often in church) is venerable. These dramas were known as miracle plays (or, simply, miracles), another name, given by writers on the subject (apparently first in the 18th cent.), being mystery. Of similar character were the plays which, personifying virtues and vices, taught moral lessons, e.g. moralities. Religious plays of such types as these are recorded as early as the 4th cent. In Eng., there are records of them from the 11th to the 16th cents., some of the finest being perf. in York and Chester. Even today there are traces of them in the rural perfs. of mummers in the N. of Eng. (e.g. the play of St George and the Dragon).

Corpus Christi (June) was in some cities a great occasion for plays in the streets (at Chester 24 such played in a single day, moving to different locations, with all 24 given at each). Some of the plays involved a good deal of singing, and contained the seeds of the future masque, oratorio, and opera. In the 20th cent. several composers have based works on the old mystery plays, notably Stravinsky and Britten (whose Noye's Fludde is a fine example). Vaughan Williams described his opera based on Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress as a morality.

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mir·a·cle play • n. a mystery play.

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Miracle Plays: see THEATRE AND DRAMA.

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miracle play See mystery play

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