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Garrett P.J. Epp

Abstract

While the Wycliffite Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge famously condemns religious theatre as sinful idleness and ‘signs without deed,’ biblical drama has the potential to be highly productive, as a form of performative theology. Much like the meditative mode of affective piety, likewise common in the later Middle Ages, when undertaken seriously by or for those who believe in what it represents, the performance of biblical drama can create rather than merely represent theological meaning. This paper examines a variety of texts and performances, medieval and modern, in order to demonstrate how religious belief and theatrical make-believe can intertwine.


Staging Scripture

Biblical Drama, 1350-1600

Series:

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.

Series:

Peter Happé

Abstract

This essay is a comparison between ways of dramatizing the Resurrection in England and France. It establishes a core of items which are incorporated in many versions, short and long, as well as non-biblical elements which are frequently attached to the scriptural details. The experience of possible audiences who must have drawn upon existing recollected items is considered as well as the inclusion of musical and visual referents. The dramatic structure and development of the chosen plays are reviewed in order to illustrate the variety of the theatrical elements. Attention is paid to the reasons for including the Resurrection, which for some plays was a matter of defining, rehearsing or sustaining belief. Such material is relevant to the central item in Resurrection sequences, the moment when Christ rises from the tomb, and the way this is presented in the dramatic texts. The reticence with which this is treated is found to be one of the essential aspects of the dramatizations, which are largely influenced by versions in the Scriptures but are not entirely determined by them. This aspect of the plays is shown to be performed in ways which sustain the mystery inherent in it, and this is seen against a background of belief in what was familiar though it had a sustained spiritual reference.