The Wakefield Pageants are a group mystery plays that form a part of the Towneley Cycle, named thus after the Towneley family of Towneley Hall, Lancashire, who owned the manuscript from the 14th to the 18th century.
The dialect of the plays and some headings, as well as references to localities suggest very strongly that this cycle belonged to the Yorkshire town of Wakefield. The manuscript probably had the function of a 'register', i.e. it contained the official text of the cycle, copied from 'originals' of the individual pageants belonging to the various craft-guilds, and could be used by the municipal authorities when the cycle was to be enacted.
The six Wakefield pageants (Mactatio Abel, Processus Noe cum filiis, Pagina pastorum, Alia eorundem, Magnus Herodes, and Coliphizacio) are most probably written by one dramatist, the so-called 'Wakefield Master'. Throughout all his plays he uses a very characteristic nine-line stanza which he most skillfully handles enriching the effect by the original and colloquial use of idioms. Other distinctive features of the group are a lively use of gesture and action, criticism of contemporary abuses, a bold rehandling of secular material for comic purposes and a highly developed skill in characterization.
Yet, the 'Wakefield Master' never loses sight of the sinful rebellion of man against God which is the underlying structural principle of all cycle plays.