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Gender and Medieval Drama

Gender and Medieval Drama

Katie Normington
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Gender and Medieval Drama
    Book Description:

    The focus of this study is upon the Corpus Christi plays, supplemented by other performance practices such as festive and social entertainments, civic parades, funeral processions and public punishments. The main argument relates to the traditional approaches to women's non-performance in the Corpus Christi dramas, but other factors are considered and analysed, including the semiotics of the cross-dressed actor and the significance of the visual and spatial language of the processional stage to gender debates. In conclusion, there is a series of readings which reassess the dramatic portrayal of a selection of holy and vulgar women - the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mrs Noah and Dame Procula. The emphasis throughout the book is upon a performance-based analysis. Evidence from Records of Early English Drama, social, literary and cultural sources are drawn together in order to investigate how performances within the late Middle Ages were both shaped by, and shaped, the public image of women. KATIE NORMINGTON is Lecturer in Drama, Royal Holloway, London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-470-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-20)

    The breadth of dramatic activity within the Middle Ages is one of the most astonishing of any period of time. The records of performance that survive, through both extant texts and documentation of dramatic events, indicate that a huge number of theatrical events took place during the medieval year. The nature and purpose of medieval drama were far-reaching. Medieval drama included religious and liturgical plays, miracle plays, saints’ plays, folk plays, mummers’ plays, and interludes as well as more diverse performance events such as chivalric displays and love games. But there were many other ways in which performances took place....

  6. Chapter 1 WOMEN AND HISTORY
    (pp. 21-32)

    There are a number of issues to be raised when approaching medieval women’s history. One major problem that has to be encountered is the paucity of large-scale records. The 1427 Tuscany tax surveys have been a very useful tool for researchers, but in Britain such comprehensive records do not exist. Scholars have been resourceful in basing their studies on parish records, though the scale of these hardly offers a convincing sample. Beyond the lack of documentary evidence (which would arguably affect the study of both genders) there exists the particular difficulty of women’s absence. Since women were rarely the head...

  7. Part I: Performing Gender

      (pp. 35-54)

      Gayle Austin draws attention to many of the factors that are involved in assessing the place of women within any period of dramatic production. Her strategies have evolved in order to combat several methodological problems that exist when studying women’s place in dramatic history. The largest of these is of course that theatre is a temporal form. Although surviving texts make mention of female characters, it is difficult to ascertain how active women were within medieval culture. Fragments of records show that they were present on the medieval ‘stage’, though these appearances are commonly in folk plays, local festive customs,...

      (pp. 55-70)

      Simone de Beauvoir famously stated that one was not born a woman but became one. In privileging the importance of social and cultural influences over biological ones, de Beauvoir highlights issues which are pertinent to the stage representation of gender. One might argue, and Judith Butler is one of the most notable proponents of this idea, that any performance by women is merely the portrayal of a set of learned gestures: a fictitious act. In other words, women are never present upon the stage, instead the spectator views a representation of womanhood. Other contemporary feminist theory has complicated the study...

    • Chapter 4 SIGNIFYING WOMEN
      (pp. 71-88)

      The Norwich Grocers’ inventory from their 1563 production of The Fall of Man lists ‘A Rybbe colleryd Red’.¹ This record reveals something of the significance of the semiotics of medieval drama. On the most simplistic level the bone indicates Eve’s construction from Adam’s ‘spare rib’. However, it is possible that the red rib served a number of complex symbolic functions. This piece of bone prefigures the fragmented body of Christ at the crucifixion. Salvation history is emphasised through reminding the audience of the resurrection. There are also a number of gender-specific signs embedded within this red rib. Eve’s creation from...

  8. Part II: Representing Gender

    • Chapter 5 HOLY WOMEN
      (pp. 91-118)

      In the Chester Cappers’ Corpus Christi pageant Balaack, fearing resurgence by the Israelites, orders that the townswomen be placed in front of their enemy to provide a distraction. Balaack instructs that these sirens be selected from the most beautiful women available:

      Spare thou neyther ryche ne poore,

      wyddowe, mayde, ne ylke whoore;

      yf shee bee fresh of coloure,

      bringe her with thee, I saye.¹

      The Doctor interrupts the action and, in a direct narration to the ‘Lordes and ladyes’ in the audience, explains that the women successfully tempted their enemies and, by later rejecting their love, confused God’s people.² Such...

    • Chapter 6 VULGAR WOMEN
      (pp. 119-141)

      The previous chapter spent much time analysing the impact of the ‘holy’ women of medieval drama. But as Coletti observes, many of the women within the cycle dramas are ‘vulgar’, they are the worldly helpers and servers. Coletti’s observation on the role that women play raises the difficulty of how to interpret these women as their roles barely seem more than secondary. I have discussed some of the reasons that women characters seem so resistant to a ‘feminist’ reading: namely that they are frequently influenced by their biblical antecedents. In order to counter this tradition I want to foreground various...

    (pp. 142-154)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 155-158)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 159-159)