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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
Its origins in religious drama
M. A. Katritzky

M. A. Katritzky studies the evolving changes to the ‘merchant scene’ in European (Romanish, Latin, German) plays. This scene specifically relates to the Holy Women’s Visitatio Sepulchri, developed from Gospel accounts of the Marys’ visit to the tomb of Christ. Katritzky considers this scene in juxtaposition to significant manuscript and stone images, thereby underlining how it intersects with evolving traditions of the biblical stage as it absorbs and reflects varied historical, political, religious, and transnational influences.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
The role of Noah’s wife in the Chester play of Noah’s Flood
Lawrence Besserman

This chapter focuses on the role of Noah’s wife as a radical, impious questioning of both patriarchal and divine authority in the Chester play of Noah’s Flood. Lawrence Besserman argues that in the performative foregrounding of this character, through her refusal to board the Ark, can be seen as coinciding with the emergence of outspoken female critics (e.g. Margery Kempe, Joan White, anonymous female Lollard ‘preachers’) of a male-dominated Church hierarchy.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
Elisabeth Dutton

Elisabeth Dutton focuses on how Reformation Protestant writers asserted the historicity of scriptural events. She asks a crucial question: How do the Protestant playwrights manage to create any form of ‘scene’ by which their audiences might be able to situate themselves in these events? Dutton argues that to encourage these audiences, these playwrights – specifically John Bale, John Foxe, and Nicholas Grimald – used the accessible, physical reality of props to thereby overcome the challenges of presenting a Protestant history.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
John Heywood’s The Pardoner and the Friar
Greg Walker

Greg Walker discusses John Heywood’s The Pardoner and the Friar, focusing on a confrontation between a seemingly evangelical friar and a corrupt pardoner. He argues that Heywood’s innovative dramatisation of a specific incident from the early English Reformation is a means of powerfully embodying the jarring nature of contemporary religious controversy. Walker also argues that beyond the linguistic and physical disorientation, the interlude pursues a deliberate affective strategy, cueing audience responses to shift several times through the evolving drama to powerful creative effect.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
Biblical plays between Czech drama and English comedy in early modern Central Europe
Pavel Drábek

Pavel Drábek discusses High Baroque dramaturgy as surviving in seventeenth-century scripts, arguing for a biblical teleology of the style. Among the plays he discusses are variants of the Esther play (English–German comedy and Czech puppet play), their variants in the Alcestis and Hercules myth (in Baroque opera, German plays and puppet plays), and in the popular Genevieve (or Jenovéfa) plays – all of which comprise multiple layers of early modern dramaturgies and performance practices within a biblical axiology.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
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A Looking Glasse for London and the Book of Jonah
Hannibal Hamlin

Hannibal Hamlin focuses on one significant play, A Looking Glasse for London, by Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene. Called the most popular biblical play of the Elizabethan stage, it is rich in spectacle and scandal – designed to succeed in the popular theatre. Yet Hamlin proposes that in both moralising and stagecraft it looks back to the mystery plays of the earlier fifteenth century. It thus offers a unique Elizabethan example of staging God himself, though done in such a peculiar way as to avoid censure.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
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The Book of Esther in early modern biblical drama
Chanita Goodblatt

In her chapter, Chanita Goodblatt discusses English, German and Yiddish dramatisations of the Book of Esther. She focuses specifically on the performative dimensions of the Fool, enacted through two different dramaturgical strategies: in comic interludes; or inserted directly into the narrative. Goodblatt discusses the Fool as an exemplar of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque, enacted through parodic language and embodying (in the material and corporeal aspects of its performance) his ultimate authority as incisive commentator on monarchy, family, and religious tradition.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama