The Civic Cycles: Artisan Identity in Premodern York and Chester

Collaborative Group

Professor Nicole R. Rice, Dr. Margaret A. Pappano


English Literature and Language


The civic religious drama of late medieval England, financed, produced and performed by craftspeople, offers one of the earliest forms of written literature by a non-elite group in Europe. “The Civic Cycles” is the first study of this dramatic tradition to understand these plays as the creative work of artisans themselves. The study traces an artisanal perspective on medieval and early modern civic relations, analyzing selected plays from the cities of York and Chester individually and from a comparative perspective, in dialogue with civic records. Positing a complex view of relations among merchants, established artisans, unenfranchised workers, and women, our research shows how artisans used the cycle plays to not only represent but also perform their interests, suggesting that the plays are the major means by which the artisans participate in civic polity. The project combines Rice’s expertise in English devotional culture with Pappano’s background in social and economic history. Other collaborative work includes a co-authored article and conference presentation, and a co-edited special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Fall 2013) on premodern artisan culture. The collaborative research will culminate in a co-authored book, with sections written independently and then revised jointly. Award period: September 1, 2011 - August 31, 2012