Staging the York Plays: The Scholarly Debate

Martial Rose in 1961 made an attempt to determine how long a full production of the York cycle would actually have taken. In 1970, Alan Nelson corrected several of Rose's oversights in estimating performance times and his suggested method for moving wagons from one station to the next. Margaret Rogerson (then Dorrell) basically accepted Nelson's modifications to Rose's runtime estimations, but improved upon their work by pacing out the distances between stations herself. Martin Stevens countered by noting that Rogerson limited her study to a cycle with 12 performance. An attempt at a full processional production of the York Cycle at Leeds in 1975 raised as many questions as it answered, and rain turned part of the 1977 Toronto production into an indoors, stationary event. Meg Twycross in 1978 tabulated information on the number of stations (varying from 8 to 17 or more); and Margaret Rogersonn in 1989 supported the idea that every play need not have been performed every year.

Largely because the controversy over the York staging has settled down in favor of the traditional view (that each play in the cycle was performed in full at each station in succession), nobody has taken these more recent ideas and suggestions back to the time-charts in order to play "what if." My study does not refer back to the primary records, mostly due to my lack of appropriate training and resources, but also because the present state of research has already uncovered enough loose ends to warrant this computer-aided attempt to tie some of them together.

The computer cannot uncover any information that researchers could not have discovered on their own eventually using a pencil and paper. However, the computer's ability to follow repetitive instructions without complaining makes it very useful. To write a useful computer program, one first must lay out the ground rules which govern how the program works. See "Understanding the Program (PSim)" for more information. What follows here is a discussion of how those "ground rules," generally accepted today, have been shaped by scholarly investigation. I discuss the traditional view of the performance, address several challenges to it, and present my simulation results, which confirm the traditional view.

Next: Estimated Run Times

by Dennis G. Jerz
June, 1997 -- first published in (Re)Soundings
16 Jul 1999 -- posted here 
02 Jan 2001 -- last modified