Literature and Theatre
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This chapter considers the fall of the angels in Old English saints’ lives, wherein holy men and women articulate the narrative as though it were a charm, a verbal defence mechanism offering spatial, geographical, and bodily protections. Just as Anglo-Saxon charms master something threatening by defining and reciting its name, properties, and origins, so too in Elene and Juliana do Cynewulf’s saintly protagonists Judas Cyriacus and Juliana master their demonic tempters by identifying them and recounting their originary sin. While in these poems the origin narrative is itself apotropaic, in Andreas the fall of the angels narrative is linked to the protective power of the baptismal seal (or sphragis) that safeguards Christians against the devil. Similarly, Guthlac A relates how Guthlac disarms his demonic tormentors by recounting the story of their fall and by expressing his faithful expectation that he will be one of their replacements in heaven.
This chapter argues that the poet of Genesis B imagines Satan’s crime as a failure to accept sovereign checks on his power and limits upon his territorial ambitions. Irish vernacular adaptations similarly depict how Satan views humankind as rival-inheritors of lands to which he feels entitled. These accounts, found in texts such as Saltair na Rann and Lebor Gabála, derive from the apocryphal ‘Life of Adam and Eve’. We see how both Anglo-Saxon and Irish authors adapt apocryphal traditions for a powerful socio-political effect, imagining features of their own ecclesiastical and secular administrations as mimetic representations of divine structures.
Chapter 5 considers how the poet of Christ and Satan portrays Satan’s attempts to disrupt Christ’s authority in both heavenly and earthly territories. I approach the poem through the liturgical traditions of the Rogationtide festival, when Anglo-Saxons participated in three days of ‘perambulations’ meant to demarcate communal boundaries. The poem’s eccentric chronology and bizarre conclusion – in which Christ forces Satan to measure the ymbhwyrft (‘circuit’) of hell with his hands – can be understood as an inversion of Rogation rituals whereby Satan parodies his own condition of lordlessness as he circuits the spaces of hell. By situating his poem within the framework of liturgical and localised practice, the poet appeals to an audience readily familiar with the primary goals of Rogationtide, namely, the purification of earthly boundaries in the interest of making oneself a suitable heir to otherworldly geographies.