Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mystery on the Quad

Earlier this week, a crowd of about 35 of us gathered on the quad behind the English Building to watch a dress rehearsal performance of the Shepherds play from the Chester Mystery Cycle that a group of U of I undergraduate students will be performing this weekend at an interesting conference in Toronto that is organized around performances of the full cycle over three days. These plays are short, medieval dramatic entertainments on Biblical themes originally meant to be performed as part of holiday festivity. The goal of the Toronto conference is to stage the entire cycle as well as to stimulate research and discussion about historical performance practices and the meaning of cycle pageantry. Our group was put together under the watchful eye of Rob Barrett (pictured above, explaining the event to the admiring throng), whose scholarly work focuses on medieval and early modern Chester, and the play itself was directed by Kimberly Koch with the help of several other English Department graduate students.

I gather that they will have a wagon as a stage for the Toronto performance as well as access to some other costumes and props. But as you can maybe deduce from the pictures below, they did have some fun with props here too. The two pictures below are of the scene in which the shepherds first hear an angel singing to herald the birth of Christ, and then the moment when the second shepherd makes his offering to the baby Jesus while Mary and heavily bearded Joseph look on. The actors did a great job, and I'm really looking forward to hearing about the Toronto performance, too.

Part of the fun of this performance was watching the looks on the faces of pedestrians on the quad trying to figure out what on earth was going on. For them, it was a different kind of mystery!

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