Back to the Future? look North - It's Positively Medieval!

  • Gillian Redfern

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores how and why medieval religious dramas respond in particular ways to lived meteorological and environmental phenomena – specifically, bad weather in the form of floods and geological features such as coal – and interrogates how these responses produce particularly situated dramas of resilience, refuge, salvation, reform, and rehabilitation. Examining first the medieval religious plays of the Flood found in the York Corpus Christi Cycle, the Chester Mystery Cycle, and the Towneley manuscript, it argues that local place affects re-workings of biblical narratives in specific ways that are shaped by historic, lived experiences of floods. I then focus on the rural settings of the pastoral plays by the Wakefield Master – partly in order to redress what some scholars identify as an imbalance in scholarship on medieval religious drama that continues to favour urban spaces, and also in order to foreground particularly locally situated ecocritical and ethical, ecomaterialist relationships between the human and natural worlds. I contend that each drama relies upon the determinative power of the local in order to interrogate local identity formations, local allegiances and tensions. Situating the thesis at the intersection of environmental humanities and the ‘spatial turn’ in literary studies, it argues that medieval religious drama offers a compelling framework through which to explore how the ‘local’ brings human and non-human spheres of influence together, differently, in each place. In doing so, each play site lays claim to an ecologically theorized divine favour that joins people in multitemporal and even imaginary spaces in a special, shared, sacred environment. The thesis’ later focus on the pastoral plays by the Wakefield Master extends the claims for sacred ground in a local environment, but I argue here for a multitemporal ethical ecomaterialism that has currency and relevance to our current climate crisis. The thesis then reaches beyond an anthropocentric, Christian worldview, to explore how the shepherd plays by the Wakefield Master offer brief glimpses of inter-faith harmony.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAnke Bernau (Supervisor) & David Matthews (Supervisor)


  • Ethics
  • Ecomaterialism
  • Medieval Religious Drama
  • Ecocriticism
  • Ecophenomena
  • Spatial Studies
  • Human/Animal Crossovers

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