Academic journal article Ludus

Sermons in the Passions of Mercadé, Gréban and Jehan Michel

Academic journal article Ludus

Sermons in the Passions of Mercadé, Gréban and Jehan Michel

Article excerpt

The links between the activity of preaching and theatrical activity are well established, and in two senses: preachers, who took the opportunity of staging mystères or tableaux vivants to illustrate their sermons,1 were inspired strongly by customs, procedures and techniques borrowed from actors and the theatre.2 For their part the authors of the great mystères concerning the Passion, centring on the mission of Jesus, did not hesitate to insert sermons, inspired by the codes of this genre for which the artes predicandi had laid down the rules from the twelfth century.3 The three great Passions of Eustache Mercadé, Arnould Gréban and Jehan Michel give scope for sermons, and, more and more important, seeing that as well, as JeanPierre Bordier recalls, the public life of Jesus consists largely of instructing and thus of preaching.4

I should like to examine this theatrical preaching, in its form and its technique, in its insertion into the drama so as to separate the tone, and the distinctive manner of each of the three playwrights whose theme is essentially the same. But first it will be appropriate to give an idea of the corpus.5

To enumerate the sermons contained in our mystères is not very easy for the boundary between the form of a sermon and a simple conversation, an instruction from Jesus to his disciples or to a larger audience of Jews remains somewhat uncertain.

With Mercadé, the first character to appear is specifically the Prêcheur (Preacher) who intervenes four times in the mystère: the opening of Days 1 and 3 and the opening and closing of Day 4. This Presenter, given the responsibility of calming the 'devotes gens' (devout persons; 1. 13252) among the listeners, of presenting 'no jeu' (our play; 1. 55) to them, of introducing the action of a day, and of revealing the meaning, achieves his objective by committing himself to a sermon which takes for its theme (theume) the topic relevant to each day: A summo celo egressio ejus (He came down from the height of heaven) for the first; Circumdederunt me gemitu mortis, Dolores inferni circumdederunt me (The groans of death have surrounded me, the griefs of hell have surrounded me) for the second; Surrexit Dominus vere (The Lord is truly risen) to open Day 4, which closes with a short sermon whose theme recalls the initial one and completes it: A summo celo egressio ejus et occursus ejus usque ad summum ejus (He came down from the height of heaven and he has returned to the highest). Very consciously - he says it in the prologue of Day 1 and repeats it at the end of the mystère - the Prêcheur encompasses the whole narrative of the mystère in the net of his preaching. For Day 2 he gives way to John the Baptist who preaches on the following theme: Penitentiam agite, appropinquabit enim regnum celorum (Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand).

One should add to this two contributions from Jesus. The first (Day 2) is a sermon short in form on the same theme as that of the Baptist - Penitentiam agite, appropinquabit enim regnum celorum - thus creating some redundance. A little later in the same day, Jesus prêche en Sydon auxjuys (preaches in Sidon to the Jews; stage direction before 1. 8269); but this is teaching expressed in a passionate speech of some sixty-five lines rather than in a structured sermon. In all, then, six definite sermons of which four are put into the mouth of the only Prêcheur.

With Gréban the Prêcheur has disappeared, preaching being carried out by characters involved in the sacred history, John the Baptist and Jesus. John the Baptist is not directly thrust on to the stage. Instead the Presenter who pronounces the prologue of Day 2 introduces him, in a way, bringing forward the actor given the role: 'Jehan, venez vous advancer || de vostre sermon commancer' (John, come forward and begin your sermon; 11. 10008-09). John admonishes the people directing them to penitence, depending upon Isaiah, as in the Synoptic Gospels (11. …

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