European Medieval Drama

Fifteenth Century Studies, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

European Medieval Drama


European Medieval Drama 10. General Editor: Jelle Koopmans. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006. Pp. 247.

Jacques E. Merceron initiates this volume with "Le couple ludica-seria et son codage scénologique dans le théâtre religieux de la fin du Moyen Âge: l'exemple du messager 'paien.'" This lengthy article addresses the double mission of late-medieval theater: to entertain the clerical elite and to solicit the participation and satisfy the taste of the menu peuple. Frequent messengers on stage may be ludicrous, comical, and obscene, especially when Christians (on and off the stage) become exposed to the dispatchers' abject paganism, in deliberate contrast to the spirituality of non-pagans. The message bearers are unreliable, given to drinking, and can be aggressive. In counterpoint, serious persons dispatched may strengthen a Christian message or, as pseudo-devils, threaten the very existence of any religious denomination by detailing past or projected tortures of Christians. In any case, messengers "help" fatistes to solve spatial and temporal stage problems. Merceron's essay is thorough and furnishes plenty of examples.

In "Claiming Pagan Origins for Carnival: Bacchanalia, Saturnalia, and Kalends" Max Harris does not prove pagan origins for shrovetide from the January Kalends of the early Christian Middle Ages, but suggests (in a long development) that the roots of European and American carnival events remain multiple and that the Kalends must at least be considered one of these sources.

Paulino Rodriguez Barrai investigates the retributive mechanism of the beyond in Catalan and Aragonese medieval drama and the latter's relationship with the plastic arts (iconography) . It is well known now that evidence of represented medieval plays is sparse in Spain; in fact, Barrai cites paradramatic events, such as Corpus Christi processions, princely entries, and coronations, activities described by chroniclers. Textual sources (manuscripts) are missing here, and some of Barral's references are outdated or controversial (such as Emile Male's stance on the primary role of iconography, 1922). Also, well-known evidence from other countries appears in this article (France, England, and Germany [there, Weltgerichtsspiele 'with explicit staging of Heaven and Hell are a genre by itself - but Barrai is easily satisfied with citing an outdated source by Moshe Lazar, instead of referencing German scholarship]). The Bible of Bipoli (cl 000) shows the prudent and foolish virgins and their respective destinations decided in the Lastjudgment (a miniature). Note references are incomplete, and the spelling of the few German sources is faulty - while the illustrations are very rewarding. Incidentally, the National Library of France (although in Paris) has not been referenced as "B. N. de Paris" for the last two decades.

"Carnaval/Carême - le combat entre le gras et le maigre dans la Farce des Physiciens de Gil Vicente" (c.1524) is the topic of Maria José Palla, who studies the symbolics of alimentation in literature and the plastic arts. The farce is in Portuguese and Castilian language and was represented on a Mardi gras at the Portuguese court (720 verses). On stage appears the priest Jean Ie Muet [!], his valet Pierre, a go-between (sorceress) Brásia Dias, and four doctors. The priest is in love with a woman, we are told, but he is unhappy and becomes melancholic, in spite of medical help extended by the four physicians (and the palliative efforts of the sorceress). The play's development is supported by Palla's discussion of the (well-known) four-humor theory, as embodied and explained by the doctors.

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