Introduction
What God was doing before he created the world
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This book opens by providing an alternative answer to the question addressed by St Augustine in his Confessions: ‘what was God doing before he created the world?’ It argues that the saint’s visceral longing to physically resurrect a figure from the Hebrew past, to have Moses before him, to ‘clasp him and . . . beg him to explain to me the creation’, holds much in common with lay performances of religious plays in England’s civic centres between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Examining the York Fall of the Angels Barker’s pageant, the chapter demonstrates how, like Augustine, medieval dramatists needed to negotiate various models of time and eternity. Noting that contesting figurations of time are drawn into relief at moments of transition and in extra-Biblical episodes of conflict between men and women, the introduction grounds this reading within recent research into gender and Jewish studies. This analysis introduces the three questions which inform this study’s central theme of conflict: first, what happens when moments in time are not universally experienced in the same way; second, what tensions emerge when Bible times are introduced to a medieval present; third, how do subjective experiences of time shape the conflicts the plays stage between Bible figures?

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Gender, anti-Semitism and temporality in medieval biblical drama

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