As the growing quantity of records in the Records of Early English Drama series attests, medieval moralities and cycle plays were not only the occasion for many different kinds of play but were also economically significant enterprises. Morality plays often required large place and scaffold structures, costuming, and sometimes large casts while, most notably, town guilds and other civic and religious bodies created elaborate wagons, sets, props, and costumes for the enormous cycles staged in the streets of cities and villages. The majority of the records that survive concerning medieval drama are accounts for expenses and income generated from the more formal annual plays and the sporadic performances of indoor and street theater of many kinds. Many are guild ordinances (see “Guilds,” p. 155).
In York the municipal authorities and the guilds collaborated for the prestige of the city and the individual crafts and trades involved. The plays were quite a financial burden for guilds, and negotiations and adjustments of costs between the town council and the guilds, and among the guilds themselves, are a prominent part of the records.
1399 To the honourable men, the mayor, and aldermen of the city of York, the commons of the same city beg that, inasmuch as they incur great expense and costs in connection with the pageants and plays of Corpus Christi day,1 the which cannot be played or performed on the same day as they ought to be because the aforesaid pageants are played in so many places at considerable hardship and deprivation to the said commons and strangers who have travelled to the said city on the same day for the same purpose, that it please you to consider that the said pageants are maintained and supported by the commons and the craftsmen of the same city in honour and reverence of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the glory and benefit of the same city, that you decree that the aforesaid pageants be played in the places to which they were limited and assigned by you and by the aforesaid commons previously, the which places are annexed to this bill in a schedule, or in other places from year to year, according to the disposition and will of the mayor and the council of the chamber, and that anyone who acts in contravention of the aforesaid ordinances and regulations shall incur a fine of forty shillings to be paid to the council chamber of the said city, and that if any of the aforesaid pageants be delayed or held back through fault or negligence on the part of the players, that they shall incur a penalty of six shillings, eight pence to the same chamber. And they (the commons) beg that these aforesaid matters be performed, or otherwise the said play shall not be played by the aforesaid commons. And they (the commons) ask these things for the sake of God and as a work of charity for the benefit of the said commons and of the strangers who have travelled to the said city for the honour [of] God and the promotion of charity among the same commons. Places where the play of Corpus Christi will have been played: first at the gates of Holy Trinity in Micklegate; second at Robert Harpham’s door; third at John de Gyseburne’s door; fourth at Skeldergate and North Street; fifth at the end of Coney Street opposite the Castlegate; sixth at the end of Jubbergate; seventh [at] Henry Wyman’s door in Coney Street; eighth at the end of Coney Street next to the Common Hall; ninth at Adam del Brigg’s door; tenth at the gates of the Minster of Blessed Peter; eleventh at the end of Girdlergate in Petergate; twelfth on the Pavement. And it has been ordained that the banners of the play with the arms of the city be delivered by the mayor on the eve of Corpus Christi to be set in the places where the play of the pageants will be, and that each year on the day after Corpus Christi, the banners be returned to the chamber to the hands of the mayor and chamberlains of the city and kept there for the entire year following, under penalty of six shillings, eight pence to be paid to the needs of the commons by anyone who shall have kept the banners beyond the next day and shall not have given them up in the manner which is stated.June 7, 1417 [T]he mayor, the honourable men, and the whole said commons, by their unanimous consent and assent, order [that] all those who receive money for scaffolds, which they may build in the aforesaid places before their doors on public property at the aforesaid sites, from those sitting on them shall pay the third penny of the money so received to the chamberlains of the city to be applied to the use of the same commons. And if they have refused to pay or agree upon a third penny of this kind or other monies with the chamber decently, that then the play be transferred to other places at the will and disposition of the mayor holding office at the time and of the council of the chamber of the city. No one spoke against this kind of ordinance except only a few holders of scaffolds in Micklegate . . .
And, indeed, because of the closeness of the said feast of Corpus Christi and the shortness of time, the said matter was not able to be committed to the aforesaid execution fully. Therefore, those assembled in the chamber of the council on the twelfth day of June in the abovesaid year of the lord and the king, considering that it would be improper and not to the profit of the commons that the said play be performed in the same certain places and in no other yearly, since everyone bear his charge towards the upholding of this play according to his estate, it was therefore unanimously ordained that for the benefit of the commons the places for the performance of the aforesaid play would be changed unless those before whose places the play used to be performed have paid whatever was enjoined yearly to the commons for having this, his individual profit, thus. And it was ordained that in all the years following while this play is played, it must be played before the doors and holdings of those who have paid better and more generously to the chamber and who have been willing to do more for the benefit of the whole commons for having this play there, not giving favour to anyone for his individual benefit but rather that the public utility of the whole of the commons of York ought to be considered. And the abovesaid reverend gentleman John Moreton, in the matter of his buildings, submitted himself completely to the disposition and ruling of the mayor and the council of the chamber as to how much he should pay towards the abovesaid play for having the play before the gate of his house in the quarter of Micklegate and at other buildings of his in the city.1417–1418 There follows the agreement of the saucemakers and sellers of Paris candles.
And because a serious complaint had been made here in the council chamber by the saucemakers, craftsmen of the city, namely, by those whom we commonly call salsemakers, that although by the hitherto usual custom the members of the saucemakers’ craft as well as all candlemakers outside the flesh shambles who used to sell Paris candles in their houses and windows, have sustained that pageant in the feast and play of Corpus Christi in this city, both in its costs and its expenses, in which it is shown that Judas Iscariot hung himself and cried out in the midst; further, although the skinners and other craftsmen of this city of York in great number, who are not saucemakers, make and presume to sell, through themselves and their wives, Paris candles in their homes and windows; nevertheless, they, having been asked, refuse to be contributors to the support of the said pageant. And unless a remedy be quite speedily imposed so that from now on they be contributors of this kind with the saucemakers, the saucemakers themselves will be unable to support that pageant any longer. Wherefore, in the year of our Lord 1417 and in the fifth year of the reign of King Henry the sixth after the conquest of England, it was decided by the mayor, William Bowes,2 and the council of the chamber, that each and every craftsman of the city, of whatever kind they be, who are not butchers or wives of butchers and who, through themselves or through their wives, sell Paris candles by retail within the city of York and the suburbs of the same, shall from now on contribute every third penny along with the saucemakers of this city to maintaining the aforesaid pageant in the feast and play of Corpus Christi. Afterwards, when John Moreton was mayor,3 the aforesaid ordinance notwithstanding, it was agreed between the Saucemakers and makers of Paris candles that anyone making or selling such Paris candles would pay two pence per annum for the presentations of the aforesaid play and no more, with the exception of butchers or their wives, as mentioned previously.January 31, 1422 He who is ignorant of nothing knows, and the whole people lament, that the play on the day of Corpus Christi in this city, the institution of which was made of old for the important cause of devotion and for the extirpation of vice and the reformation of customs, alas, is impeded more than usual because of the multitude of pageants, and unless a better and more speedy device be provided, it is to be feared that it will be impeded much further in a very brief passage of time. And the craftsmen of the painters, stainers, pinners, and latteners4 of the aforesaid city, formerly appointed separately to two pageants which must be performed in the aforesaid play, viz., one on the stretching out and nailing of Christ on the cross, and the other, indeed, on the raising up of the crucified upon the mount, knowing that the matter of both pageants could be shown together in one pageant for the shortening of the play rather profitably for the people hearing the holy words of the players, consented for themselves and their other colleagues in the future that one of their pageants should be left out from now on and the other maintained, following what the mayor and the council of the chamber wished to arrange. And upon this business the searchers and craftsmen of the aforesaid crafts came before Richard Russell, the mayor of York,5 the aldermen, and other honourable men in the council chamber situated here on Ouse Bridge on the last day of January in the ninth year of the reign of King Henry the fifth after the conquest of England and presented to them their desire and intention as stated above . . .
Wherefore, the aforesaid mayor, aldermen, and honourable men, receiving this kindly and commending the aforesaid craftsmen for their laudable proposal, ordered and ordained, on their own counsel and that of all the aforesaid craftsmen, that from this day forward the pageant of the painters and stainers should be thoroughly removed from the aforesaid play, and that the craftsmen of the pinners and latteners should take upon themselves the burden of performing in their pageant the matter of the speeches, which were previously performed in their pageant and in the pageant of the painters and stainers, and that the painters and stainers each year should collect among themselves from the men of their craft five shillings sterling yearly and pay them yearly to those who are the masters of the pageant of the pinners and latteners [at the time], yearly on the eve of Corpus Christi. And if at any time they default in this payment, then they wish and agree that they and all their successors be distrained and strictly compelled in their homes and places of habitation or elsewhere, where they can be better and [more easily] distrained by the mayor and those who are chamberlains of this city at the time, to pay forty shillings of good English money to those who were masters of the pageant of the pinners and latteners at the time, on the next Sunday following the said feast without further delay.
And that the punishments levied in this case shall remain in their power until satisfaction has been made fully to the aforesaid pageant masters concerning the aforesaid forty shillings together with the costs and expenses borne in their recovery, thus always, so that he who is mayor at the time may receive and have one half of the aforesaid forty shillings for the use of the commons, and those who shall have been pageant masters of the pinners and latteners at the time shall have the other half for the use and maintenance of their said pageant. For making which payments well and faithfully, indeed, in the manner and form written above, and for holding to and fulfilling the present ordinance in everything, the aforesaid . . . [guildsmen] for their part pledge themselves and their successors of their crafts, provided only that the said craftsmen of the painters and stainers do not meddle in the pageant of the pinners or in their accounts hereafter in any way.