The Mayor and council enjoyed the York Play with a feast at the Common Hall. The Mayor’s wife and ladies had refreshments. The commons had the hospitality of inns and food stalls. But was the play presented like platters on a conveyor belt? Did they take the play in little bites like strawberries? A different approach to the text, as a recipe for staging rather than a menu for reading and selection, reveals surprising possibilities about the course and courses of the play. The York Cycle was a movable feast in more ways than one.
Food and drink play a fundamental role in the Spanish ‘Danza general de la muerte’ (vaguely dated between the second half of the 14th century and the start of the 15th century). As much as eleven characters are represented according to their dietary habits, and it is not only the gluttonous clergymen who are satirized, but also peasants, maidens and even a physician. All of them – including a hermit, who only eats herbs – are condemned to leave worldly pleasures and dance with Death. Further elements in the poem point in the same direction: it is not in vain that the original sin is mentioned (Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit), and humans – without regard to their social class – finally become food for worms and Death’s ‘hard teeth’. If we take into account that Dances of Death probably originated during an ergotism pandemic, we can conclude that these images are by no means casual, but intentionally sought and placed.
The Noah pageants of the York Corpus Christi Cycle and the Towneley MS have long been praised for their humour, largely derived from the comic squabble between the righteous patriarch and his co-called ‘shrewish’ wife. In an urban context, scholars have argued that the Noah character amalgamates the figure of the divinely chosen man with the bourgeois craft-master, reinforcing and sanctifying the status, role, and responsibilities of the latter within the civic hierarchy. Yet the binary which this approach establishes, positioning the respectable Noah against the unruly Uxor, requires further examination. In this paper I will elaborate on the possible interference of the later biblical Noah – a figure of drunkenness and bodily transgression often portrayed in contemporary sermons and artefacts – on the narrative provided in the drama. I will consider what the impact of this alternative narrative might have been on spectators’ reception of the patriarch, and how the surviving scripts may demonstrate a response to the uneasy dualism of Noah as saviour and drunkard.