Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Jews in the Fleury Playbook

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Jews in the Fleury Playbook

Article excerpt

If the Saracens are to be detested ... how much more are the Jews to be execrated and hated who, utterly insensible to Christ and the Christian faith, reject, blaspheme, and ridicule that Virgin Birth and all the sacraments of human redemption? Nor do I say this to incite royal or Christian sword to slay their wickedness.... God wishes them not to be killed, but to be preserved in a life worse than death, like Cain the fratricide, for greater torment and greater ignominy.... I ... exhort that they be punished in a way suitable to their wickedness.

--Peter the Venerable (1)

... the quality of hostility against Jews cannot be determined by premises about Jews, for it is a characteristic of the mentality of non-Jews, not of Jews, and it is determined, not by the objective reality of Jews, but by what the symbol "Jews" has signified to non-Jews.

--Gavin I. Langmuir (2)

The Fleury Playbook, a manuscript collection of ten Latin plays, includes a surprisingly broad range of medieval dramatic types: four miracles of Saint Nicholas, five episodes from Christ's life, and a conversion of Saint Paul. The Playbook covers a broad range of subjects, includes both liturgical and nonliturgical plays, suggests diverse performance conventions (both monastic and nonmonastic), and employs several musical styles. The collection's heterogeneity arguably points to multiple authors and multiple points of origin (I in fact assume that there were multiple authors, though my argument does not depend on this point). After scrutinizing these aspects of the Playbooks diversity, C. Clifford Flanigan persuasively concludes that the only unifying principle is the redactor's interest in drama for its own sake, regardless of its subject matter or connection to the liturgy. In other words, the Fleury collection demonstrates one redactor's "horizon of expectations" about drama as a genre. (3) Flanigan's conclusions are persuasive, his theoretical approach compelling. In fact, his argument has broader implications than he explicitly recognizes, for the "horizon of expectations" refers to the entire literary experience of readers, encompassing genres, styles, themes, and historical events. (4) This and complementary theoretical models would encourage us to look at historically specific reader expectations other than genre in relation to the Playbook. (5)

Historical specificity is, of course, a relative goal, particularly with medieval manuscripts. This manuscript was most likely copied in northern France in the thirteenth century; we know that it resided in the library of the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (Abbaye Saint Benoit de Fleury, at Saint Benoit-sur-Loire) in the thirteenth century. (6) Fleury was the preeminent Benedictine abbey of the Orleanais, esteemed for its learning and literary innovations, its possession of Saint Benedict's relics, and its royal privileges. (7) Scholars usually suppose the collection was composed at the monastery (some countertheories notwithstanding), though a definitive provenance cannot be established on existing evidence. (8) Still, the Playbook obviously contributes to the literary and dramatic culture of thirteenth-century northern Europe, and we may assume the Fleury monks read it as we assume they read other works in their library. We cannot assume they witnessed performances of the plays: the Playbook is not connected to any service books or performative context, and there is no evidence of performances at Fleury or elsewhere. Still, the manuscript clearly presents drama as enacted mimesis. The texts sometimes detail performance conventions (costumes, processional routes, gestures, and the like); they certainly encode meaning through such conventions. The manuscript thus offers historical evidence of drama presented both as a performative text and as a genre appropriate for reading, and the Playbook is best approached with both performances and readers in mind. In what follows, I aim at this ideal, though my theoretical perspective leads me to emphasize the verbal works, and to consider rubrics for performance primarily as they suggest meanings to a learned reader. …

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