Academic journal article Ludus

Michel Adapts Gréban: Some Aspects of the Passion Sequence

Academic journal article Ludus

Michel Adapts Gréban: Some Aspects of the Passion Sequence

Article excerpt

Comparison between the Passion of Arnoul Gréban which was written c. 1450 and the revision or "correction" of it by Jean Michel for the performance at Angers in 1486 remains one of the most intriguing aspects of the history of the mystères. The process by which Days 2 and 3 of Gréban' s four-day play were altered and enlarged to make a new version lasting four days provides a valuable example of how two plays may interrelate, especially as Michel was extremely respectful of Gréban' s version, taking over much of it verbatim but developing it by often minute changes of detail. As the culture of presenting large-scale Passions grew in the fifteenth century in France, it became more and more common for dramatists preparing a performance to draw upon the work of others, often incorporating large sections but developing the whole to meet local needs and interests.1 Graham A. Runnalls has pointed out in his study of the process of adaptation in certain provinces that those who staged Passion plays were not necessarily concerned with originality so much as developing a version which met local requirements and which in the aspiration of the creators enhanced the work of those who had gone before.2 As A. J. Minnis has shown, this process of imitation and development is characteristic of the medieval concept of authorship and it is not confined to drama texts.3 A good deal of comparative work upon Michel's adaptation of Gréban's Passion has been done by Omer Jodogne and Maurice Accarie, the former being primarily concerned with the establishment of the texts and their interaction and the latter with the description of an overall strategy informing individual changes.4 Both Passions present textual problems which are yet to be resolved in as much as the multiplicity of manuscripts of Gréban's cycle and the frequency of early printed editions of Michel still leave some doubts as to which text to choose in order to interpret what has come down to us. To an extent one has to choose between viable alternatives in each case as there do not seem to be definitive versions. Nevertheless the editions of the two cycles by Jodogne are taken as the basis for the discussion here.

Accarie's interpretative presentation of Michel's play concentrates upon what he identifies as the humanistic emphasis present in the text: the process by which the life of Christ as an individual man is developed, and the adaptation of soteriological strategies towards the salvation of the individual watcher or reader. He suggests that Gréban's Mystère de la Passion becomes in Michel's hands the 'Mystère de la vie du Christ'.5 In his view such a change is largely promoted by the reduction of Gréban's emphasis upon myth and the privileging of discourse in its place. His moral preoccupation and his concern with the salvation of the individual Christian led to a different focus. This helps to explain why he did not retain the episodes about the Nativity and the Resurrection which by the fifteenth century had become popular. Such a proliferation of historical detail, Accarie suggests, runs counter to Michel's desire to insist upon the teaching derived from Christ.6 As we shall consider at the end of this investigation, some of Michel's preoccupation with rational discourse is revealed in the Prologue Capital which takes the form of exegeses upon the each of the four words Verbum caro factum est.7 As a further part of the humanising of the text Accarie pays close attention to episodes presenting and expanding the mondanité of certain characters. He identifies four different ways of portraying attachment to the world - in the characters of Mary Magdalene, the Adulteress, Lazarus, and Judas. He finds that in doing so Michel's revisions acquire a unity from diversity as these characters all act differently and yet they all reflect purposefully and consistently responses to the world and worldliness.8 To these considerations we also notice that even if Michel makes changes in intellectual or theological approaches to the Passion narrative, his changes also evidence a keen sense of theatrical effects which matches but also adjusts that embodied in Gréban's version. …

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