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Robert Stanton

The Exeter Book riddles present a symphony of acoustic effects, deploying a multitude of linguistic resources to reflect aesthetically on the metaphysical relationship, long examined by philosophers and grammarians, between sounds, speech, concepts, and subjects and objects both animate and inanimate. This chapter discusses the different ways that sounds signify in these riddles, especially the sensory, cognitive, and culturally formed categories through which sound effects evoke the rhythms and textures of natural phenomena, human artefacts, and human and animal experience. Like all Old English poetry but especially vividly, the riddles pleasurably combine received fields of knowledge and familiar poetic forms with the surprising, sometimes unsettling aural effects produced by specific lines. The chapter teases out connections between the concepts of sound, noise, and voice as early English writers inherited them from the classical and early medieval philosophical and grammatical traditions, and the achievable performative effects of sound via the techniques of English enigmatic poetry. Finally, following the lead of Maurizio Bettini, the chapter gestures toward the possibilities of a ‘sound anthropology’ of early medieval England.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Conceptual blending in Anhaga (R.5) and Wæpnum Awyrged (R.20)
Karin Olsen

The chapter examines the crucial role that conceptual blending plays in Anhaga (R.5) and Wæpnum Awyrged (R.20). In both riddles, the weapon or piece of armour is (partly) visualised as a warrior who serves his lord and fights in battle, yet the precise cognitive processes that underlie this visualisation and that lead to the ‘proper’ solutions are different. Wæpnum Awyrged forms an asymmetrical double-scope network in which culture-sensitive metaphorical and metonymic connections between the conceptual fields ‘warrior’ (input 1 or source domain) and ‘sword’ (input 2 or target domain) are activated. Anhaga, on the other hand, suggests the presence of multi-scope conceptual blending, as its vague textual details allow multiple target domains and thus multiple solutions. This chapter demonstrates that such a multiplicity of solutions ultimately stems from the diversity of ways in which humans think and process information.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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The anatomy of wonder in the sex riddles
Sharon E. Rhodes

Riddles alter their audiences’ perceptions of familiar objects and phenomena through precisely true yet entirely foreign descriptions. Riddles can be accused of a topsy-turvy inversion of high and low subject matter or of falsely raising the low to the level of the high through so-called inappropriate diction. However, riddles can also be read as meditations, albeit often humorous ones. These short poems force readers to meditate on the wonders of the natural and constructed worlds. This chapter explores how the obfuscation inherent in the genre of the riddle and its poetic diction allows a shift in perspectives so that the wondrous nature of what appears quotidian becomes suddenly, if laughably, visible. Following a discussion of the cultural work of wonder, the chapter focuses on the ‘obscene’ riddles Womb wæs on Hindan (R.37), Wrætlic Hongað (R.44), Banleas (R.45), and In Wincsele (R.54), solved as ‘bellows’, ‘key’, ‘bread dough’, and ‘butter churn’. By insistently resisting the reader’s expectations of what merits poetic description, these riddles create space in which to appreciate the mundane and see past simple ubiquity to these things’, and their makers’, deep and foundational worth to society as a whole.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Cathy Shrank

Cathy Shrank’s essay considers the impact of citing scripture in fifteenth-century English morality drama. She studies its evolution from a genre that focuses on the psychomachia of the individual human soul to one that maps a struggle for the soul of the nation. Shrank explores what happens to biblical quotations – and the language in which they are cited – and how they are used to establish the ethos of characters in performance after the Reformation.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
Monika Fludernik

Monika Fludernik concentrates on William Rowley’s A Shoemaker, A Gentleman, comprising one of the few existing treatments of martyrdom in early modern dramatic literature. She studies this play within the context of earlier Elizabethan depictions of martyrdom, as well as with reference to the medieval tradition of saints’ legends. Fludernik also brings this play into dialogue with other contemporaneous plays about issues of martyrdom and religious identity: The Virgin Martyr, written collaboratively by Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger; and Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chess.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
Paul Whitfield White

Paul Whitfield White challenges the accepted scholarship concerning the decline of biblical drama in early modern England. He argues that during the latter half of Elizabeth’s reign, and continuing into the seventeenth century, all of the major patronised companies operating both within London and beyond, including those travelling to the continent, staged biblical plays. White proposes that these plays were characterised by diversity in dramaturgy, ideological purpose and reception.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
An enactive reading of the Middle English cycle plays
Eva von Contzen

Eva von Contzen discusses the enactment of the Creation, the Fall, and the Nativity. She focuses on the concept of ‘joint attention’ through which characters not only act out – literally embody – the events from the Bible, but also invite the audience to imagine the actions in an active, experiential way. By means of this strategy, the plays interpret the shared humanity of Christ in a very literal, experiential sense for the audience and believer.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama

This collection of essays offers new perspectives that foster our understanding of the crucial role the Bible played in medieval culture as well as in the wake of the Reformation across Europe. The thirteen essays open up new horizons for the study of biblical drama by putting special emphasis on periodisation, the intersections of biblical narrative and performance, and the strategies employed by playwrights to rework and adapt the biblical source material. Special emphasis is placed on multitemporality, transnationality, and the modalities of performance and form in relation to the uses of the Bible in medieval and early modern drama. The three aspects are intertwined: particular modalities of performance evolve, adapt and are re-created as they intersect with different historical times and circumstances. These intersections pertain to aspects such as dramatic traditions, confessional and religious rites, dogmas and debates, conceptualisations of performance and form, and audience response – whenever the Bible is evoked for performative purposes. The collection thus stresses the co-presence of biblical and contemporary concerns in the periods under discussion, conceiving of biblical drama as a central participant in the dynamic struggle to both interpret and translate the Bible.

Silvia Bigliazzi

Silvia Bigliazzi traces the development of lamentation scenes through different patterns of chorality. She first devotes special attention to the laments of the three Marys in the York and Towneley cycles before she discusses George Peele’s early modern play, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe, in which the two formal Choruses comprise a religious device subservient to a political design of male power. This play ultimately demonstrates how female pathos is no longer part of the tragic ritual.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
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Chanita Goodblatt and Eva von Contzen
in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama