Article Title

Lay Performances of Work and Salvation in the York Cycle


Andreea Boboc


Traditional scholarship on work in the York cycle has been highly historicized, focusing on guild regulations and relations, at the expense of the compelling narrative about work that the plays themselves propose. While historicist approaches teach us a great deal about medieval realities, they tell us nothing about the plays’ contributions to medieval ideals as expressed via the “polysemy of werk,” which “attests . . . to a cultural habit of perceiving relations between work and life, between occupational and personal agency” (Nicola Masciandaro, The Voice of the Hammer 3). The York plays emphasize the complexity and urgency of these relations by bringing them to bear upon salvation---a medieval Christian’s ultimate goal.

Work emerges as the highest civic priority, and salvation is mediated through performances of work and its metaphorical applications, that is, the understanding of good work in a spiritual sense and good works in the sense of community welfare. These performances help lay drama negotiate the cultural relationship between individuals and their community. Surprisingly, however, community is understood in a fairly broad Christian sense rather than restricted to guilds and their families. Significantly, too, performances of work address larger issues, in particular the spiritual interdependence, in this broader Christian community, not merely between the rich and the poor but among all members of the community.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.