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SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Leicester plays organization

Subject: Provisions for the Leicester pageants
Original source: Borough archives, Hall Book
Transcription in: Mary Bateson, ed. Records of the Borough of Leicester, (London, 1901), vol 2, 297.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Leicester
Date: 1477


At a town council meeting held at Leicester on 26 March 1477 the actors who had performed the Passion play the previous year presented a petition regarding payment of debts and concerning whether the passion [play] should be made the responsibility of the craft gilds or not. At that time the actors turned over to the pageants the money they had received for performing the play in the past, and all the costumes and other items they had at the time. And at the same meeting, by the advice of the community, there were chosen the persons hereafter named to organize and direct [the performance of] the play.


The Passion play in some places (e.g. York) was part of the Corpus Christi cycle of plays – although they more commonly dealt primarily with Old Testament events – and in others was presented at Easter. It focused on the events surrounding the death of Christ, although in its fullest representation might encompass events from throughout his life. Emerging out of liturgical dramatic representation, it is known as a play in its own right from as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century (in Italy). In England, the Passion play was second in popularity only to the Corpus Christi play.

A list of 19 townsmen and two beadles were named to take charge of the next performance. Here as at other towns, the borough authorities felt a vested interest in the performance of the pageants and did not wish to leave the matter entirely to the craft gilds.



"town council"
The original does not talk about a "town council" per se but uses the term "common hall", which means in essence 'a gathering of community representatives in the town hall'. The "community" which gave advice to the decision taken at the meeting may have meant whichever burgesses were in attendance – a common hall being open to all freemen – or perhaps already a group of representatives foreshadowing the formal lower council of 48 whose constitutional existence was confirmed in 1489.

It is not clear from the document whether the debts that were the subject of the actors' petition were owed to or by the actors; Mary Bateson thought the latter. Either possibility could have encouraged the actors to try to have responsibility for the play transferred to others.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 27, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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