Academic journal article Ludus

Mystère, Farce, Moralité: A Reflection upon the Poetics of Drama in the Middle Ages Based on Ms. BnF Fr. 904, Passion De Semur (Fifteenth Century), and Some Other Burgundian Manuscripts

Academic journal article Ludus

Mystère, Farce, Moralité: A Reflection upon the Poetics of Drama in the Middle Ages Based on Ms. BnF Fr. 904, Passion De Semur (Fifteenth Century), and Some Other Burgundian Manuscripts

Article excerpt

It is no wonder that the BnF fr. 904 manuscript received little attention from medieval drama studies: who would care about a damaged copy, whose last text was apparently incomplete? Nonetheless, three critics found it worth studying or even publishing: Emile Roy, Lynette Muir, and Graham Runnalls.1 However, these specialists concentrated on the Passion itself, and they did not publish or study the rest of the manuscript.2 In this article, our attention will be directed to the manuscript considered as a whole. To what extent can it be said to be an illustration of the poetics of fifteenth-century French medieval drama, which shaped an important amount of sixteenthcentury plays?

To begin with, we have to clarify what "poetics of medieval drama" may signify. Since they were re-discovered in the fifteenthcentury, medieval religious plays 'par personnages' used to be presented as an uncomfortable combination of tones, forms and purposes.3 But, as was pointed out by Graham Runnalls, we cannot be satisfied with the obsolete interpretation of this combination as a regrettable alternation oí joca I seria which would be the main cause of the mystères' disgrace and progressive extinction! And it is not surprising that when Runnalls formulated those remarks, and suggested considering the French medieval mystère as 'un drame romantique' (a Romantic drama), a 'mélange du grotesque et du sublime' (mixture of the grotesque and the sublime),4 the first example he gave was extracted from Semur, since not only this text but also the manuscript in which it was recorded perfectly illustrates this combination of tones, forms and purposes proper to religious drama at the end of the Middle Ages.

At the beginning of BnF fr. 904, from fols. Ir to 7v, two sermons are copied, which turn out to be the first and the second Journées ' Prologues of the Passion. Then comes the Passion itself, the first Journée from fols. 8r to 114v, the second Journée from fols. 115r to 269v, the latter being introduced by the note Sequitur Passio. And as its reads in the colophon on fol. 27Or, the BnF fr. 904 Passion texts were copied in 1488 by a certain Jehan Floichot.5 After them come two pieces, written in a different hand from the Passion, and with no apparent relation to it: from fols. 27 Ir to 272v a text bearing no title, but which was designated by Petit de Julleville as Farce du Vilain et son fils; then, from fols. 273r to 28 Iv, follows a text entitled Moralité novelle de la Croix Faubin a sept personnaiges.7

However, as suggested by documents about other texts and their performances,8 this plurality of titles, tones and forms in BnF fr. 904 must not mislead the reader. The different pieces were surely played together: but in which order ? How were BnF fr. 904's Passion, farce and morality combined during the performance? If the traditional narrative, common to Semur and to most Passion plays, enables us to reconstitute the correct order of Prologues and actions of the Journées, this is not the case with the farce and the morality. Moreover, even if it is collected with them, the Passion de Semur is first of all a Passion, highly determined by its ideological purpose. Sacred drama was primarily represented to the public or to the reader in order to re-enact the principal aspects of the Christian rite. But it did not prevent this religious aim being conveyed by the different forms of representation: stagecraft images, action plot, characters, which used to give to sacred drama its aesthetic form.

Do we have to imagine a hierarchy between Passion, farce and morality? Can we shed a light on their order during the performance - and how was it interpreted by the medieval audience? In other words, was the BnF fir. 904 manuscript understood as a whole, or as recording moments of a representation which were variable in tone and length as well as importance? In this essay I would like to consider these points, and see whether they can help to make clear the "combinatorial" poetics of medieval drama. …

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