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Word Count: 560
The distinguishing features of medieval drama are its Christian content and its didactic purpose Vernacular plays typically dramatized the lives of the saints stories from the Bible or moral allegories The biblical cycle plays sometimes called mystery plays were originally performed under church auspices but by the late 14th century they were produced under the supervision of craft guilds misteres and performed in public places on the feast of Corpus Christi or during Whitsuntide Fairly complete texts survive for the English cities of York Wakefield Chester and an unidentified fourth town two pageants are extant from the Coventry cycle Similar cycles dramatizing events from the fall of Lucifer to the Last Judgment were produced on the continent Although they contained Old Testament and nativity sequences the cycles were primarily devoted to portraying the life and passion of Christ his harrowing of hell his resurrection and appearances to his disciples and to the two Marys and his ascension Some cycles centered on the life of the Virgin but these were suppressed in Protestant countries during the Reformation period Typically the plays adhered as closely as possible--given their translation into verse--to the biblical narratives the most atypical are those based on episodes that had been left undeveloped in the Bible such as the visit of the Shepherds or Balaam and his ass or those derived from legendary sources such as plays about the Antichrist The cycle plays rarely made use of allegorical figures although the historical persons depicted were often represented as moral types They reached their greatest expansion in the 15th and early 16th centurties but in England were suppressed as popish in the 1570s Protestant antagonism also accounts for the disappearance of most of the miracle or saints plays Only two such English plays are extant the Conversion of Saint Paul is a straightforward narrative history similar to the biblical cycles however the Mary Magdalene combines elements of the
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