Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Language and Stage in Medieval and Renaissance England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Language and Stage in Medieval and Renaissance England

Article excerpt

Janette Dillon, Language and Stage in Medieval and Renaissance England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). xiii + 272 pp. ISBN 0-- 521-59334-4. L40.00.

From Mankind to Marlowe (and slightly beyond), Janette Dillon follows the trajectory of Bevington's study of morality plays and their Tudor heirs, but with a lens widened to take in mystery cycles and then focused on how plays stage variously the relations between English and other languages in response to cultural change, especially in religious practices. Generated by questions about the insistent presence of other languages in sixteenth-century drama, Language and Stage allots only three short chapters to linguistic practices in late medieval England and to its plays. They construct much of the whole complex relations between English and Latin: Alford on Piers Plowman, Minnis, Pearsall, and Yeager on Confessio Amantis, and Wenzel on macaronic sermons.

Dillon's first chapter draws on the burgeoning scholarhip on the Lollards to argue that resistance to Latin as the language of sacred texts increased as more people saw it as a 'linguistic barrier' to the laity which made the Church's authority 'unassailable' and legitimized clerical control of religious practice. Against Latin and the ornamented English it was thought to foster was set the plain seeker/speaker of truth later canonized by the Reformers. When Dillon pairs the N-town cycle with the Wakefield, she does not allow these cultural oppositions to straitjacket her reading, just as she rejects the conventional scholarly binarism of Latin for learned audiences and English for 'lewed' ones. In the N-town cycle, Latin works didactically in tandem with English not only to gesture toward a divine reality transcending the 'vetnacular material of the cycle' and to mark collective wisdom, but also to mock the inadequacies of learning and to unmask diabolical appropriation of the holy. …

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