Four Levels of Meaning in the York Cycle of Mystery Plays

Author: Taylor, Jefferey H.
Explores the four levels of medieval allegory (literal, typological, tropological, and anagogical) in the York Cycle, arguing that these epistemological perceptions were not merely scholastic tools but an integral part of social cosmology. Analysis of the literal level demonstrates that these plays were culturally evocative, refuting their common description as didactic impositions. Analysis of the cycle as an extended anagoge explores the ritual level of medieval York’s self-defining discourse and the ritual compensation for the inability to directly possess God’s Eternity and the cultural past, the central sources of contemporary cultural meanings.


“ … the critical history of the York Cycle has been one of condescension and scorn, viewing them as artistically deficient because their episodic structure comprised of a series of discrete events is different from the structure of modern drama … Dr. Taylor has written a major study which argues that medieval allegory with its four levels of meaning (literal, typological, tropological, and anagogical) was part of the epistemology of all members of the audience ...” – (From the Foreword) Professor Alexandra H. Olsen, University of Denver

“ … Dr. Taylor’s volume will be welcomed by instructors and younger students of medieval drama who seek a reasoned survey in a single volume of the various approaches that have proved fruitful in research on the plays, and which is not limited in its focus to those earlier studies.” – Dr. Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr., Troy University

“Dr. Jefferey Taylor’s book makes a compelling argument in favor of shifting scholarly focus away from undecidable contests between those who credit clerics with authorship of the York Corpus Christi Cycle and those who see the plays as arising from a more plebian level of York society ... [he] then deploys a new understanding of the intellectual history of the English middle ages in his reading of this cycle of Christian dramas.” – Professor Cindy Carlson, Metropolitan State College

Table of Contents

Foreword by Alexandra Olsen
Introduction: Localizing and Generalizing in Cultural Discourse
1. The Audience and Culture of the York Cycle
2. Typology and Boethian Time in the Structure of the York Cycle
3. Fifteenth-Century Mystical Nominalism in the York Cycle
4. Ritual Compensations