What could be more worthy of a Christmas episode than a ghost story? Answer: twelve ghost stories! This week Mike and Will find plenty of seasonal cheer in the scribblings of a 15th century monk from Yorkshire, whose collected tales of wandering spirits Monty transcribed in 1922. Expect lashings of purgatorial terrors, a stocking-full of redemption and a whole load of bad wassailing, ghostly and otherwise*, as we explore Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories.
The Byland Abbey Project has all the stories, plus translation notes and commentary on each story. Invaluable!
Ghosts in Medieval Yorkshire, by Jacqueline Simpson, is a fantastic article, not least for Jacqueline’s analysis of the different roots of James’ ghost stories and these medieval tales.
Mark Gatiss talks about medieval manuscripts with a curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in his 2013 documentary Ghostwriter (contains images some listeners will hopefully find disturbing).
Death and the Afterlife – a British Library article with examples of medieval Books of Hours and other context for understanding the 15th century view of mortality, purgatory and salvation.
Underrated BBC Radio 4 discussion show Beyond Belief (it’s great, even for atheists!) ran an episode on purgatory, which may not be available to listeners outside of the UK.
This episode Mike and Will dust off their acting chops and take to the stage as they cover Auditor and Impresario, M.R. James’s little-know comic play! Expect diabolism, drama, demons and dreadful sub-GCSE-level acting!
The image to the right is none other than M.R. James himself, playing they the part of Peithetairos in an 1883 student production of Aristophanes’ The Birds at Cambridge. The play was performed in the original Greek, naturally!
To our knowledge this play is currently only available in Ash Tree Press’s A Pleasing Terror. Currently only available in eBook form, but an essential purchase for any James fan in our opinion.
This play was not the only thing inspired by the 1906 student production of Dr Faustus. It inspired the formation of the Marlowe Dramatic Society, which is still going today.
In this episode we ruminate on the connections between this play and Rupert Brooke, who starred in the production of Dr Faustus which preceded the writing of this play.
One figure who looms large over this play is M.R. James’s very good friend J.W. Clarke. Clarke (or ‘J’ to his friends) was a prominent figure at Cambridge and a great supporter of the Amateur Dramatic Club.
Gyp, and a whole range of other mysterious terms are explained in this article on the slang and jargon of Cambridge University. For a chuckle we recommend checking out the references to ‘Great Court Run’, ‘Grad-bashing’, ‘Hill’, ‘Open scholarship’, ‘Punting’, ‘Sent down’, ‘Sex club’ and ‘Suicide sunday’.
More details on James’s involvement with drama at Cambridge can be found in James’s Eton and Kings.