Pamela King is Professor of Medieval Studies in the University of Glasgow. She previously held chairs in the Universities of Bristol (2005-13) and what is now the University of Cumbria. She spent her early career in the University of London, first at Westfield College, then Queen Mary. Her doctorate from the University of York was on the transi tomb in late medieval England, about which she is now, belatedly, writing a book. Most of her mature work has, however, been on medieval drama and religious festivals. Her 2006 monograph, The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City won both the David Bevington prize for the best book on early drama in the year, and the Beatrice White prize of the English Association. A volume of her selected essays, Texts for Performance and Performance as Text, edited by Alexandra Johnston, is currently at press with Routledge. Now semi-retired, she lives in Edinburgh, where she did her first degree, and has a number of new research, writing and publishing projects in hand, including a new focus on medieval Scots poetry and performance.
Our corpus of medieval English religious drama survives against the odds. The great cycles of mystery plays were performed in honour of Corpus Christi, the annual celebration of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the elements of the Mass, the doctrine of transubstantiation. Other religious plays either celebrated the life of an individual saint, including the Virgin Mary, or presented a moral allegory of the process of penance, one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church. Perversely, however, it is a selection of these indissolubly Romish plays that form the largest corpus of surviving texts of medieval drama in this country. The story this lecture will tell is of how our manuscripts of medieval religious drama have come down to us in their afterlives, by means of collection and copying, as well as emulation, by post-Reformation efforts. It will thus connect to the larger exploration of how Renaissance English antiquarianism grew in response and reaction to censorship and iconoclasm.