The conclusion turns a critical lens on the academic periodisation of ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’ performance forms and the supersessionary models of theatre they produce. First, it extends discussions of subjective experiences of time to focus on a play’s spectators. It identifies in the York Fall of the Angels a contract of temporal double-think required from audience members who knew and anticipated a play’s plot, yet were simultaneously engaged with the ‘now’ of the performance. It also examines what happens to this God-like perspective if a play breaks this contract of narrative anticipation. Second, it discusses an episode from the 1611 manuscript of the Cornish Gwreans an bys, in which Seth makes a conscious effort to preserve historical knowledge for future generations by burying books. It argues that this apocryphal episode is not merely an act of pleasurable nostalgia: it operates as an act of resistance towards consigning the popular stories of the old faith to the past.
This chapter argues that the dramatisation of the Flood in the York and Chester plays complicates questions of supersession and typology further by demonstrating that the conflict between Noah and his wife lies in their opposing conceptions of time. Engaging with medieval theories concerning annihilation and renewal as well as more recent works on temporal collapse and explosiveness, it finds that, while Noah adheres to a supersessionary understanding of the Flood which demands a full erasure of the past in order to begin the world anew, his wife engages with models that command the explosive ability to recall the past into the present. Tracking the history of the rebellious wife figure to its earliest versions in European manuscript illumination as well as in Jewish and Muslim folklore, this chapter argues that, when placed on the medieval pageant, the disobedience legend moves beyond its frequent assignment within the problematic medieval trope of the ‘unruly woman’. Where Noah seeks to re-assert distance between past and present, Noah’s wife and her gossips collapse times into simultaneity.
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?
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.
This chapter asks what happens when dramatic personae recognise that they occupy a time of theological transition and take steps to prevent it. Engaging with Michel Serres’ model of folded, topological time, it examines how the Towneley Herod the Great amplifies the ways in which its bible source brings together multiple events from Hebrew and Christian scripture in processes of prophecy and validation. Evaluating how Herod and the Bethlehem mothers attempt to exert agency over time, the chapter finds in the play evidence of a complex medieval understanding of the ways in which religious and scriptural time works. This produces a new reading of the favourite tyrant of medieval drama. Terrified of both past and future (or, rather, what past Hebrew ‘prophecies’ tell him about the future), Herod enacts a devastating act of violence in an attempt to tear his own pages out of history. However, as this chapter shows, Herod’s temporal machinations, along with the mothers’ resistance, have the effect of binding moments in Christian and Hebrew history securely together.
This book produces an important re-theorisation of the ways gender, time and Judaism have been considered in late medieval biblical drama. It employs theories of gender, performance, antisemitism, queer theory and periodisation to complicate readings of early theatre’s biblical matriarchs and patriarchs. It argues that the conflicts staged by these plays provide crucial evidence of the ways late medieval lay producers, performers and audiences were themselves encouraged to question, experience, manipulate and understand time. Interrogating medieval models of supersession and typology alongside more contemporary models of ‘queer’ and topological time, this book charts the conflicts staged between dramatic personae in plays that represent theological transitions or ruptures, such as the Incarnation, Flood, Nativity and Bethlehem slaughter. While these plays reflect a Christian preoccupation with what it asserted was a ‘superseded’ Jewish past, this book asks how these models are subverted when placed in dialogue with characters who experience alternative readings of time.
This chapter examines what happens when the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play deliberately complicates the timeline of its biblical source and uses this play as a starting-point for a critical re-evaluation of current work on queer temporalities. Moving away from models of queer time which hinge on the presupposition of a normative, or homogenous, way of experiencing time, it suggests instead that a narrower idea of temporal queerness be deployed which constitutes the interruption of time directed towards (heterosexual) procreation. In so doing, it examines the Towneley Play’s delayed and inverted nativity in which a woman appears to give ‘birth’ to a sheep and in which the promised house full of children is curiously missing.