Fire in the English Mystery Plays, 1906

The following comes from a 1906 master’s thesis by Allie V. Parks titled, “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays” (see part 1 here). These were religious pageants performed in England from the 10th to the 16th centuries. I’ve reformatted the text a bit to make it a little more readable, since it is already challenging trying to decipher the Middle English text:

In regard to the use of fire on the Mystery stage, Mr. L. W. Cushman in “The Devil And The Vice,” says on page 24, “None of the great Mystery-cycles contain, in the stage directions, any mention of the use of fire. Sharp found in the account books only one entry for fire in hell-mouth and that of a late date; 1557, “Item payd for keeping of fyre at hell mouth iiijd.

In the ‘York Plays,’ however, Lucifer complains at the time of his fall, of intollerable heat, “alyke hat,” 5/97 and again, he complains of the heat and smoke, which rolls up from below, “ye smore me in smoke, 5/117.” This statement may easily be disproved by the following stage directions, in the ‘Abraham and Isaac Play’ already quoted, p. 65, Heare Abraham taketh a sworde and fire, shows that fire was used on the stage.

On page 391 of Mediaeval Plays, Chambers gives stage directions of a very early play, at Cornwall, “Lucifer voydeth & goeth downe to hell apareled fowle with fyre about hem turning to hell and every degre of devylls of lether & spirytis on cordis runing into ye playne and so remayne ther.” In the stage directions of the Chester cycle by the Early English Text Society, p. 42, Then a flame shall Descende upon the sacrifice of abell.

Parks, Allie V. “Stage Properties, Costumes, Scenery and Music of the English Miracle Plays.” Thesis. University of Illinois, 1906. Internet Archive, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <>.

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