Verbal Texture and Wordplay in the <em>York Cycle</em>

  • Richard Beadle University of Cambridge


A preliminary overview of the verbal texture of the York Cycle is developed with reference to several broad contexts: the physical circumstances of processional production; the 'audiate' culture of the audience; the aural (as distinct from literate) nature of the script, and its close relationship to late 14th- and 15th-century northern homiletic verse, likewise designed for oral delivery. Use is made of the ranking-frequency listings in G.B. Kinneavy's Concordance to the York Plays in order to characterize their comparatively restricted lexical range, which is seen as a function of their essentialist and universalizing tendencies, and their preference for performative and deictic language that closely integrates word and action. The presence of wordplay in this environment is explored through a range of examples taken from across the cycle as a whole.