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Emblems in Scotland

Motifs and Meanings

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Michael Bath

Emblems in the visual arts use motifs which have meanings, and in Emblems in Scotland Michael Bath, leading authority on Renaissance emblem books, shows how such symbolic motifs address major historical issues of Anglo-Scottish relations, the Reformation of the Church and the Union of the Crowns. Emblems are enigmas, and successive chapters ask for instance: Why does a late-medieval rood-screen show a jester at the Crucifixion? Why did Elizabeth I send Mary Queen of Scots tapestries showing the power of women to build a feminist City of God? Why did a presbyterian minister of Stirling decorate his manse with hieroglyphics? And why in the twentieth-century did Ian Hamilton Finlay publish a collection of Heroic Emblems?

Staging Scripture

Biblical Drama, 1350-1600

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Edited by Peter Happé and Wim Hüsken

Against a background which included revolutionary changes in religious belief, extensive enlargement of dramatic styles and the technological innovation of printing, this collection of essays about biblical drama offers innovative approaches to text and performance, while reviewing some well-established critical issues. The Bible in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries appears in a complex of roles in relation to the drama: as an authority and centre of belief, a place of controversy, an emotional experience and, at times, a weapon. This collection brings into focus the new biblical learning, including the re-editing of biblical texts, as well as classical influences, and it gives a unique view of the relationship between the Bible and the drama at a critical time for both.

Contributors are: Stephanie Allen, David Bevington, Philip Butterworth, Sarah Carpenter, Philip Crispin, Clifford Davidson, Elisabeth Dutton, Garrett P. J. Epp, Bob Godfrey, Peter Happé, James McBain, Roberta Mullini, Katie Normington, Margaret Rogerson, Charlotte Steenbrugge, Greg Walker, and Diana Wyatt.

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David Bevington

Abstract

The present essay asks why this unusual play was written when it was written, and how its remarkable staging devices, including an oven that is riven asunder to reveal the speaking image of Christ, are deployed to convey its homiletic idea. The essay argues that theatre and liturgy coalesce in a way that, while characteristic of other medieval religious plays, is here given a sharpness of focus that may owe its sense of urgency to then-current debate over the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass. We encounter in this play a striking ambiguity as to whether the audience is witnessing a theatrical fiction or a liturgical celebration of the ‘truth’ of the Real Presence. Although liturgy and theatrical mimesis are theoretically incompatible with each other, since liturgy insists on the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass rather than a metaphorical or historical remembrance, The Play of the Sacrament erases the distinction between liturgy and imitatio. The action may conclude in an actual church with a Bishop presiding over a ceremony of conversion and baptism of the Jews.


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Bob Godfrey

Abstract

From the story of the Epiphany in Matthew’s Gospel this chapter offers a brief account of the evolution of Christian attitudes to Herod the Great and how the slaughtered Innocents became subjects of devotional attention, the first martyrs for Christ. Taking then a variety of examples of how the story of the Epiphany captured the imagination of Christian poets and liturgical and religious playmakers the discussion proceeds to an examination of two plays from the Towneley collection, The Offering of the Magi and Magnus Herodes. Focussing on the character of Herod as presented there it is shown how his character can be interpreted as both violently threatening and yet obviously absurd. This ambivalence is brought out most strongly in Magnus Herodes where the Wakefield Master skilfully manages audience reception to see Herod as a character in a play, an entertainment in his own right, as much as a target for Christian vindictiveness. Herod’s envoi in the Towneley play is cheeky since it foregrounds the character’s humanity as against his culpability. In comparison with other examples this playwright seems to have been reluctant to join the almost universal moralising and condemnation of Herod in favour of a perfectly theatrical outcome.


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Philip Crispin

Abstract

In March 2013, I directed two Passion Pageants from the York Mysteries – The Conspiracy and Christ before Annas and Caiaphas (hereafter Conspiracy and Annas and Caiaphas). Each of them is both sacred and profane, devotional and political, providing an arena for social contestation. I analyse the two pageants through the prism of festive drama and play: the ludic interrogation of society, power and violence in both word and ritual. My interdisciplinary approach ranges from the carnivalesque and anthropology to Christian hermeneutics and art history; and I examine key discourses, rituals and plot developments nourished by both religious and secular sources. I proceed to apply the performance theories of Jerzy Grotowski and Jacques Lecoq, two twentieth-century theatre-makers, to the pageants; their thoughts and observations (alongside Walter Benjamin’s theory of history and anachronism) complement medieval theatre scholarship and further inform how to approach the performance of this drama, in terms of theatricality, performance practice and acting styles. Informed by all the above, I discuss how I approached my own production in terms of staging, performance and interpretation.


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James McBain

Abstract

Critics have often noted the inclusion of Marian lament in medieval biblical drama and how playwrights draw upon the affective conventions of Planctus Mariae lyric poetry to develop a compelling narrative from bare scriptural sources. Whilst demonstrating an influential relationship with an affective tradition, most notably developed from a study of elements of Nicholas Love’s The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, this essay argues that the portrayal of Mary in the N-Town Crucifixion play both performs affective piety and also importantly considers, challenges, and refines its use. In addition to providing a close study of the play and a comparison of N-Town with similar extant examples, the essay seeks to engage with Mary’s complex theological and literary reception, within which she has been described as demonstrating the impossible synthesis of both ‘perfection’ and ‘realism’.


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Clifford Davidson

Abstract

The York Corpus Christi play cycle was a remarkably long-lived civic event requiring concerted and enthusiastic local effort. The plays dramatized sacred history from Creation to Doomsday. Sponsored by the city Corporation rather than the Church, they were designated as a work of charity for the benefit of the spectators. Their object was not didactic but rather a representation of salvation history that would be held in the memory of participants and spectators for their spiritual benefit. Designed to make the past present, they were expected to reinforce cultural memory of the Christian narrative, especially the events at the centre of history (the time of Jesus the Saviour). A goal was the formation of civic identity as catholic Christians. The plays, using canonical and other sources available to the authors of the texts, provided a view of the past from biblical history that would make the central events of past salvation history to be present for spectators. In conclusion, the Doomsday play brought to mind that which was expected to come at the end of history.