Article Title

But owthir in frith or felde : The Rural in the York Cycle


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

City dwellers frequently treat their city as foreground and that which surrounds it as background, or, indeed, as invisible. Such an attitude is, perhaps, part of the urban experience itself, not only in modern cities but also in medieval ones. A city such as York seems small and even somewhat rustic to a dweller in a modern metropolis like New York, Toronto, or London; but to the medieval people who called York home, the city was anything but bucolic. In the opening chapter of his Tudor York, David Palliser argues that “town and hinterland” were linked and complementary rather than opposed “in the case of a provincial capital” such as York.1 Surely this is so, yet it does not necessarily follow that the citizens of medieval York were always entirely at ease with the complementary relationship. Indeed, one can detect in the greatest literary production of that city—the York cycle—an attitude toward the rural that is both suspicious and colonizing. The plays of York show a dramatic flexibility that allows the city streets on which they are performed to become a variety of places: everywhere from heaven to hell and all degrees between. Yet they are peculiarly cautious when portraying the countryside around the city, as if reluctant to touch the place without strict controls over what aspects of the rural may, and may not be let inside.

Notes 1 David Palliser, Tudor York (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 1.

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