The old man and the pregnant virgin
Linear time and Jewish conversion in the N-Town plays
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Chapter 1 foregrounds the key issues of this study through a close examination of an event frequently treated in medieval and modern chronologies as a point of transition. Christ’s virgin conception formed the basis of medieval dramatisations of Joseph’s doubts about Mary. The N-Town manuscript plays amplify these doubts further than the other surviving pageants, confronting Mary with a string of sceptical characters who demand she repeatedly prove her purity. This chapter, however, draws attention to the play’s emphasis on Joseph’s elderly, decrepit body, arguing that it casts him as representative of a law which offers little scope for comprehending the virgin pregnancy. While Mary reconciles her virgin, pregnant state through her typological (mis)reading of the book of Isaiah, Joseph, as the first Jew to encounter this ‘new’ law, inhabits a different time-frame. Interrogating how the Holy Couple’s conflict is embodied in the N-Town Joseph’s Doubt, the chapter examines the play’s utilisation of medieval anti-Semitic tropes to navigate typological models which re-fashioned the past through appropriating it. It finds that medieval scholarly questions about when ‘Christian’ time began also posed a practical problem for those representing biblical texts in drama.

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Gender, anti-Semitism and temporality in medieval biblical drama

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