A History of ‘The Mysteries’

  • Emma Maggie Solberg Bowdoin College
Keywords: early English drama studies, terminology, taxonomy, critical history


This study explores the history of the term ‘mystery’ in its theatrical sense. Victorian scholar (and forger) J.P. Collier was the first to question the term’s legitimacy, accusing the eighteenth-century publisher Robert Dodsley of having invented it. Collier’s condemnation has held sway ever since; ‘mystery’ is nearly bankrupt in the field of early English drama studies. I reconsider the authenticity, utility, etymology, and history of ‘mystery’, fact-checking the arguments made for and against it by Collier, E.K. Chambers, J.M. Salter, and Meg Twycross (amongst others) to show that reports of the term’s illegitimacy have been greatly exaggerated.


Author Biography

Emma Maggie Solberg, Bowdoin College

Emma Maggie Solberg (esolberg@bowdoin.edu) is an assistant professor in the English department at Bowdoin College. Her research focuses on the role of the Virgin Mary in early English drama.