Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"One Man at One Time May Be in Two Placys": Jack Juggler, Proverbial Wisdom, and Eucharistic Satire

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"One Man at One Time May Be in Two Placys": Jack Juggler, Proverbial Wisdom, and Eucharistic Satire

Article excerpt

THE Marian interlude Jack Juggler (c.1553) is based on Plautus's Amphitryon, in which Jupiter disguises himself as the master of the house and, while he enjoys conjugal relations with Alcmena, posts Mercury on the door in the person of Sosia, Amphitryon's servant. When the real servant returns he faces the existential crisis of apparently being in two places at once: "You'd try to tell me something no one's seen / Has happened, when it couldn't--that a man / Is here and somewhere else at the selfsame time?" (1) Amphitrvon revolves around doubles--two disguised gods, two master and servant pairs, and a woman pregnant with twins (by two fathers)--and Plautus wittily makes form mirror action by inventing the term "tragicomedy" (tragicomoe-dia) (1.61) for his hybrid play. (2) These binaries, however, are removed by the author of Jack Juggler who transmutes tragicomedy into pure farce. The figure of Jupiter and the topics of marital infidelity and sexual jealousy are removed, so that the interlude centers entirely on the encounter between the servant and his doppelganger and that servant's gradual acceptance "that one man at one time may be in two placys." (3)

It has long been suspected that Jack Juggler is a satire against Catholic eucharistic doctrine (which, according to Protestant opponents, claimed that Jesus could be in two places at once). As E S. Boas stated in The Cambridge History of English Literature (1918) "beneath its apparently jocular exterior, it veils an extraordinarily dextrous attack upon the doctrine of transubstantiation and the persecution by which it was enforced." (4) In an influential reading, however, this position was attacked by David Bevington who believed that the epilogue (that makes this reading explicit) was a non-authorial addition and read the prologue's disavowals of topical relevance as genuine: "The playwright [is] aware that his innocent fun may be forced into topical meaning and his disclaimers cynically ignored. ... The epilogue could not be the work of the playwright who so heatedly denied topical meaning, for it openly indulges in allegorical sleuthing." (5) Other critics have concurred and suspected that the epilogue may have been added for the Elizabethan printing "either to impose on the piece a humourless moral or to turn it into a veiled attack on the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, a voile face surely never intended by its original author." (6)

This article reasserts the traditional, polemical, reading of Jack Juggler and far from concurring that such a interpretation "impose[s] on the piece a humourless moral" intends to demonstrate that this reading increases the aesthetic pleasure of Jack Juggler through its identification of the creative tension inherent to the interlude's defiant playfulness. Recognition of Jack Juggler's satire not only enables a full appreciation of the play but also illuminates the critical fallacy that Reformed polemics and stylistic playfulness are antithetical.

The witty polemics of early Tudor evangelical dialogues were often dramatically presented (with fictional characters and dialogue) and Antoinina Zlatar has argued that they "may have been performed or read aloud by costumed readers." (7) In A Dycdogue or Disputacion bytwene a Gentylnwn and a Prest (1548), for example, the argument about eucharistic doctrine (and whether "Christes natural] bodye" can or cannot "be in two places at once" (8)) is presented as a conversation between a gentleman and a priest from the north of England who meet as both are riding to Westminster for the first parliament of Edward's reign. In works such as Luke Shepherd's verse satire John B011 and Mast Person (c. 1548) polemic could be both comic and dramatic: in this colloquial dialogue the voices of the interlocutors are entirely distinct and John Bon's witty facetiousness is an amusing veil for a ferocious attack on transubstantiation. Zlatar argues that for these writers "fictionality constitutes the 'delight' of the form and was consciously deployed to sugar the pill of edification and so mobilize the will to reform. …

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