Academic journal article Ludus

"Laisser l'Istoire ... et Moralisier Ung Petit": Aspects of Allegory in the Mystères

Academic journal article Ludus

"Laisser l'Istoire ... et Moralisier Ung Petit": Aspects of Allegory in the Mystères

Article excerpt

When he outlines his intention to suspend the narrative and 'moralize a little', the Prologue to the great Mystère de la Passion of Arnoul Gréban signals that his play will be more than just a dramatized commemoration of Biblical events but also an interpretation of those events in terms of God's interventions through the entire Christian narrative, from the origins of the world to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Indeed the Prologue will soon hand over to the Deity who, in the dramatized Prologues that follow, will situate the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection in the context of Adam's sin and the process of mankind's redemption.1 The doctrine of salvation through Christ's sacrifice in the New Testament will be explained initially, the Prologue further explains (11. 1671- 81), by a debate involving five female figures: Peace, Mercy, Justice, Truth and Wisdom, in a presentation by means of allegory of the theological arguments behind God's decision to act upon his redemptive promise. What Gréban seems to be saying here is that mankind's sin and the consequent need for atonement ('Apres celle transgression || Voyez la reparación') will be expounded through an interaction between the story of fallen humanity and a commentary on that story - a commentary provided in part by extraterrestrial characters and allegorical figures whose expositions at certain points in the narrative will assist the spectators in a better understanding of their faith.

The dramatic form of itself offered a tried and tested means of expounding theological questions. As the Angers Mystère de la Résurrection (1456) puts it, ordinary Christians need their faith to be presented in a visible, concrete manner, since: 'Simples gens, s'ilz ne les voient, Il Jamais concevoir ne entendre || Les fins a quoy ce jeu veult tendre'.2 (Simple folk will be unable to appreciate or understand the aims of our play unless they actually see them.) If sermons interpolated at certain points in the action provided one means of expounding the theological message,3 then the use of allegorical discourse offered a further didactic device that the fatistes could exploit. Such a technique, expressed in Gréban's text by the verb 'moralisier' (1. 1669, meaning 'to present by means of allegory'), would have been familiar to his public from a variety of sources; not so much a genre, as a mode of expression, a rhetorical device almost, belonging 'to the form of poetry, more than to its content.'4 Inherited from the ancient world, the allegorical method came to be enthusiastically embraced by Biblical exegetes and also featured in moralizing texts from Raoul de Houdenc to the Grands Rhétoriqueurs, reaching its zenith in the Roman de la Rose.5 This large body of material must have provided a ready-made model for playwrights, who drew upon the allegorical tradition in a range of their productions, both serious and comic. Indeed there seems to have been established from the later fourteenth century a tradition of allegorical drama that persisted well into the sixteenth, most notably in the morality plays, where the variety and dynamism of allegorical expression is beginning to be better understood. Whilst the moralités are not our prime concern here, they do represent an important reference point in any study of dramatic allegory and can provide valuable insights into its function in the mystères. Allegory is especially evident in the Passion dramas, where it is employed to bring out the redemptive significance of the crucifixion, often providing a mechanism for finessing God's relationship with sinful mankind. The allegorical figures, accompanied by angels, who by the fifteenth century become associated with God the Father in his paradis,6 enabled dramatists to present different aspects of the divine, in a sense bringing God to life, not as a dramatic character as such, but rather what he stands for in terms of the relationship between mankind below and God the Son, whose redemptive passion is the centre-piece of the drama. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.