Academic journal article Ludus

The Theatricality of Pre- and Post-Performance French Mystery Play Texts

Academic journal article Ludus

The Theatricality of Pre- and Post-Performance French Mystery Play Texts

Article excerpt

Two separate typologies, the first by Graham Runnalls and the second by the team of Elisabeth Lalou and Darwin Smith, have catalogued the various utilizations that French mystery play manuscripts might exemplify. In both typologies distinctions are drawn between what may be termed pre- and post-performance types.1 Pre-performance texts include what has traditionally been called the "original" or fair copy. Reproducing the spoken text in its entirety, this was the written version of the play around which the theatrical production itself would have been built. From that copy or copies other pre-performance guides were likely produced: (1) an 'abrégé', or abbreviated text, to be used by the play's supervisor(s);2 (2) the actors' 'rolets' (rolled individual scripts); (3) any identifying 'panneaux' (placards) that might have been required for the staging; (4) any manuals that listed characters and actors; (5) and, perhaps, a 'livre de secrets' (special effects manual) outlining mechanical or technical requirements. A prototypical performance venue would have produced some or all of these written guides for the participants who were preparing and/or performing the play. However, very few preperformance guides have survived, in large part because their functionality did not extend beyond the event itself. Of more than twohundred mystery play venues that have been documented between the late fourteenth and the mid-sixteenth centuries in France, a single 'abrégé' (intended for the Mons' Passion play in 1501) has been rediscovered, as Smith notes.3 Likewise, for the same period, only a handful of 'rolets' and 'livres de secrets' has been recovered, generally in fragmentary and fragile condition.4 Lists of characters and actors do exist in a number of instances, but most often as part of a production's post-performance record.5 On the other hand, the integral or fair copies of many play texts were safeguarded by the sponsoring community in the wake of its collective participation in a commemorative or restorative event. They are the textual remnants of performances that have often survived to the present day in private or public collections.

Runnalls's typology describes the physical characteristics of an integral mystery play text as follows: well-written on both sides of each folio in a single column of text, this manuscript is generally without ornamentation or line ruling. Stage directions and other staging signs may be found in the manuscript's margins, but it contains no signatures.6 To these features Smith adds the vertical creases in the folios that set apart the spoken text from its marginal commentary, as well as the possible division of the manuscript into performance sessions (Journée, matinee, apres-disner).7 In his examination of sixty-two mystery play texts, Runnalls lists seventeen as fair copies with either no modifications or only minor modifications.8 For Smith, this type of integral, but un-annotated, copy tends to survive because it was not the one that was used by the author/supervisor to flesh out the theatrical production.9 Both typologies acknowledge, however, that other integral or fair copies do include additions or deletions that were made in the transformation of the text into a theatrical event, perhaps, for example, during rehearsals.10 On the other hand, revised fair copies, another fairly common group according to Runnalls' s typology, are instead those that have been significantly rewritten by one or numerous hands, as well as those that have been neatly recopied but bear the linguistic features of a compilation.11 Unlike an "original" to which some modifications have been made before an initial performance of that particular text, a revised fair copy has been modified in view of a different performance venue. As such, a revised "original" is at once a pre- as well as a post-performance manuscript, as the present study will hopefully demonstrate for some of the plays that Runnalls classifies simply as originata. …

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