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.
, cultural, and political – within the late medieval and the early modern period were negotiated in and through drama.
Our collection is firmly set in this trajectory and seeks to broaden the horizon of the existing scholarship. The structure of this collection is chronological: we move from the medieval mystery and cycle plays, to earlymoderndrama and baroque influences. This arrangement, though somewhat conventional, is but the framework within which we distinguish three primary dimensions: the first two involve the
here”: A Looking Glass for London and England , Hosea and the Destruction of Jerusalem’, in Adrian Streete (ed.), EarlyModernDrama and the Bible (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 139–55, at p. 151.
Sherwood, Biblical Text , pp. 1–48.
Jerome, In Ionam , cited in Sherwood, A
biblical citation thereby echoes the prophetic words, found also in the warning in the Book of Esther addressed to Haman by his advisers and his wife Zeresh (6:13): ‘If Mordecai is of the seed of the Jews, before whom you have begun to fall, you shall not prevail over him but you shall surely fall before him.’
In this manner, the Fool intensifies the proverb's function in earlymoderndrama, as it ‘serves to impart moral advice in a simple and effective fashion’
I address this matter in Paul Whitfield White, Drama and Religion in English Provincial Society, 1485 – 1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 5; see also Hannibal Hamlin, ‘Afterword’, in Adrian Streete (ed.), EarlyModernDrama and the Bible (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 223–4.
See E. K. Chambers's immensely influential Elizabethan Stage , 4 vols
, paralleling Chapter 7 above, on John Heywood's The Pardoner and the Friar . My focus will be martyrdom in earlymoderndrama in England. Not only is the tradition of representing martyrdom clearly based on Christ's Passion; moreover, as Alice Dailey has reminded us, the Bible also includes the episode of the Jews martyred under Antiochus in Maccabees 2.6–7.
In fact, Dailey sees two traditions of martyrdom affecting Elizabethan controversialist hagiography, namely that of the imitatio Christi (based on the Bible and
The role of Noah’s wife in the Chester play of Noah’s
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.
Jonathan Stavsky analyses the representation of Jewish–Christian relations in
the N-Town ‘Trial of Mary and Joseph’. He situates this play within a wide
intertextual context, including the apocryphal source and its Middle English
retelling. Considered in this way, Stavsky proposes that the play offers a
nuanced vision of Christianity’s roots, as it translates salvation history
to fifteenth-century East Anglia in order to forge a just community capable
of resisting scandalmongers.
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
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.