Article Title

“Whom seek ye, sirs?”: The Logic of Searching in the York Herod and the Magi


Nicole R. Rice


This essay argues that York’s Herod and the Magi pageant, in dramatizing the suspenseful search for Christ’s body, reflects critically upon artisanal roles and regulations to suggest ways in which the city’s hierarchical system of labor inspections might work to promote a more inclusive “social body.” In the York Herod and the Magi, as in earlier liturgical dramas and other later English versions, the search for Christ motivates the action. But in a uniquely civic representation of this iconic journey, the York Herod and the Magi creates a compelling dramatic analogy between the magi’s seeking and the ubiquitous guild practice of searching. It does so in scenes whose interrogations and visitations strikingly evoke craft searching, the inspection of workshops by guild officers (searchers) for violations of craft standards or infringement of craft monopolies, punishable by fines that contributed in part to financing the city’s dramatic cycle. As guild ordinances and other civic records show, searching was an ambivalent practice in York. On the one hand it was a government-mandated form of inspection widely acknowledged to be intrusive and potentially abusive of fellow craftworkers; on the other hand, searching was a practice scrutinized by the guilds themselves and understood as a means of defining each guild’s interests among other workers, making even minor craft groups visible as participants in the wider urban economy. The pageant of Herod and the Magi dramatizes the ambivalence of searching in relation to fellowship within and among the crafts, interrogating and reforming the practice to suggest that if performed properly, searching might contribute to the unity of all crafts in the body of Christ.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.