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Saints and the Audience in Middle English Biblical Drama

Saints and the Audience in Middle English Biblical Drama

Chester N. Scoville
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 280
  • Book Info
    Saints and the Audience in Middle English Biblical Drama
    Book Description:

    The study of saints in medieval biblical drama has often been neglected in favour of the study of sinners ? the villains and the rogues. InSaints and the Audience in Middle English Biblical Drama, Chester N. Scoville takes a different tack, examining the language and rhetoric of saintly characters in Middle English biblical plays. Scoville contends that the plays focus attention on the interaction between the divine realm and the human realm, that the saintly characters are key to seeing this interaction, and that the overall function of the plays is to instill in the audience a shared point of view defined both by doctrine and by experience.

    By placing the rhetoric of the plays at the centre of his study, Scoville incorporates performative practices and historical contexts into the argument. Language, text, and persuasion are central in the rhetorical experience, as are non-verbal elements such as costume, movement, gesture, and scenery.Saints and the Audience in Middle English Biblical Dramafully and assiduously explains how biblical drama functioned in the society that experienced it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7954-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. 1 Medieval Drama and Community Identity
    (pp. 3-9)

    In the York Cycle′s play ′The Temptation,′ the audience is shown a difference not only between good and evil but also between two different views of themselves. The Devil, Diabolus, holds the audience in contempt, with little regard for either their individuality or their community, muscling them out of the way as he enters, dismissively calling them ′all þis þrang′ and wishing, ′high myght 3ou hang/Right with a rope' (York 22/2-4).¹ He sees the audience as his victims, unable either to do good or to be secure:

    And I haue ordayned so pam forne

    None may þame fende,

    þat fro...

  5. 2 Thomas and the Limits of Rhetoric
    (pp. 10-29)

    'Doubting Thomas' has become a byword for the rational, sceptical, individual seeker of truth. Refusing to be cowed by his peers, refusing to accept emotional outbursts of faith as evidence, Thomas is possibly the most sympathetic of the apostles from a modern standpoint. Of course, truth is revealed to him in the end; but the question remains, is that revelation a result of his doubts or in spite of his doubts? This is one of the issues that the plays of Thomas explore; their answer, nearly uniformly, comes in their revelation of their own inadequacy aslogos. The plays of...

  6. 3 Mary Magdalene and Ethical Decorum
    (pp. 30-54)

    The plays of Thomas not only show the limitations of argumentative rhetoric but also indicate a kind of sacramental rhetoric, one based onpathosand to some degree dependent on the person orethosof the saint. They suggest that such a rhetoric can be an effective tool in reinforcing the audience's sense of itself as part of the sacred community of the Church - of those who believe in Christ and act accordingly. Yet at the same time, they also question the usefulness ofethosas a means of persuasion.

    Of all the characters whoseethosis questioned in...

  7. 4 Joseph, Pathos, and the Audience
    (pp. 55-80)

    Theethosof Mary Magdalene and the power of her rhetoric, as we have seen, are effective tools in realigning both language and the sympathies of the audience to a position of faith and community. Just as the East Anglian audience of the Digby plays is asked to take the final step in imagining and effecting the process of salvation in themselves, so also the audience of the York Cycle must enter into the world of the play and of salvation history; they are asked to do so through sympathy, and the York Cycle helps them to do so in...

  8. 5 Paul and the Rhetoric of Sainthood
    (pp. 81-105)

    Unsurprisingly, Paul of Tarsus, the first major Christian rhetorician, has lurked behind many of the texts discussed in this book. It is he, after all, who provided Christianity with the gentile emphasis that allowed it to become the religion of medieval Europe in the first place. It is also his writing in the New Testament that provides the locus of Augustine's analysis in the first Christian rhetorical guidebook,De doctrina Christiana. Because of his epistles, Paul would have been more clearly known to medieval playwrights than any other New Testament figure, including, arguably, Jesus himself. But his personality, and the...

  9. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 106-108)

    T.S. Eliot′s Magus reports that when he found the Christ child in Bethlehem, ′it was (you may say) satisfactory′ (31).¹ Eliot′s Magus and his companions find it easier, even after their long, hard journey, to remain in unbelief than to move into a position of faith. They find it easier to remain ′in the old dispensation,/With an alien people clutching their gods′ (41-2) than to embrace a new dispensation, even though they know they are ′no longer at ease′ (41) and never again can be. Furthermore, the Magus′s apostrophe to the readers indicates that he expects at least some of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 109-124)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 125-136)
  12. Index
    (pp. 137-140)