Internet Shakespeare Editions

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A street play

Detail from the frontispiece to Paul Scarron's Roman Comique (1676).

This scene shows a street play in the sixteenth or early seventeenth century, rather than a mystery play, but it gives some idea of the atmosphere that would have accompanied the travelling platforms of the mysteries.

Shakespeare may have been old enough to have seen a mystery cycle acted before they were suppressed, for much the same reasons that the drama was suppressed by the early church: the new Church of England found the doctrine contained in the plays too redolent of the Church of Rome.

The York cycle was last performed in 1576, when Shakespeare was twelve years old, but the plays at Chester (rather closer to Stratford-upon-Avon) continued to be performed until 1600.