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Mystery Play

Early medieval religious dramas based upon some part of the biblical narrative were called “mystery plays.” In England the term is often used synonymously with “miracle plays,” but the latter term should be restricted to drama based upon the life or miraculous deeds of Christian saints. Perhaps the term “mystery” is derived from the Latin ministerium, in the sense of service or function. The earliest record of medieval drama is a simple Easter playlet consisting of four characters-one priest symbolizing the angel at Christ's tomb while three other priests similarly symbolize the Marys-and the dialogue consists of four Latin lines. The popularity of the plays grew and their use in church services at special occasions was expanded until they assumed a form and existence of their own. The plays were banished from within the church in the thirteenth century. The laity immediately seized the opportunity and began organizing performances and presenting them in the vernacular. Eventually the