The Parnassus plays are three satiric comedies, or full-length academic dramas each divided into five acts. They date from between 1598 and 1602. They were performed in London by students for an audience of students as part of the Christmas festivities of St John's College at Cambridge University. It is not known who wrote them.The titles of the three plays are
The Pilgrimage to Parnassus
The Return from Parnassus
The Return from Parnassus: Or the Scourge of SimonyThe second and third plays are sometimes referred to as Part One and Part Two of The Return from Parnassus.
For the most part, the plays follow the experiences of two students, Philomusus and Studioso. The first play tells the story of two pilgrims on a journey to Parnassus. The plot is an allegory understood to represent the story of two students progressing through the traditional course of education known as the trivium. The accomplishment of their education is represented by Mount Parnassus. The second play drops the allegory and describes the two graduates' unsuccessful attempts to make a living, as does the third play, which is the only one that was contemporaneously published. New in the third play is the serious treatment of issues regarding censorship.It has been said that this trilogy of plays "in originality and breadth of execution, and in complex relationship to the academic, literary, theatrical and social life of the period, ranks supreme among the extant memorials of the university stage", and that they are "among the most inexplicably neglected key documents of Shakespeare's age".
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