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460Comparative Drama Chester N. Scoville. Saints and theAudience in Middle English Biblical Drama. Toronto:University ofToronto Press,2004. Pp.l40.$50.00/£32.00. Chester Scoville is developing a reputation for thorough, insightful, and disciplined inquiries into early modern English drama, and this offering is no different . Focusing on saintly characters as theatrical exemplars ofthe connection between man and God, Saints and the Audience closely queries the dramatic action ofbiblical playtexts within the context ofmedieval theology. At its heart a study of Christian rhetoric, Scoville's work shines best when demonstrating howthe authors ofthese plays made use oftheatrical practice to addgravitasto their ministry. Persuasion and emotional speech was one theatrical element among many, Scoville demonstrates; the underserved subjects of movement, costume,scenery,and gesture in medievalplaymaking also fall under close scrutiny in this work. Of the many threads this study takes up, however, the most interesting is the question ofaudience hermeneutics, and ofhow the drama, as an act of imitatio Christi, formed a devotional anchor for the community that witnessed it. Indeed, Scoville argues, theatrical practice functioned as a central act ofcommunity affirmation. He writes: The assumptions of the medieval Christian religion can be said to have constituted a normative system of beliefs, through which people quite naturally interpreted their lives. But such a system must be maintained to function, and people must be persuaded to act on their beliefs. This is where the aesthetic and rhetorical devices ofthe medieval plays become of interest, because it is through these persuasive devices that the medieval playwrights attempted to strengthen and activate the matrix ofcompassion and devotion that defined their culture's highest ideals. (6) Opening, as many early modern playwrights did, with the Devil, Scoville begins to shape the saint's plays as embodied agoni concerning the utility and limitations of performance in the Christian mission to unify humanity. Old Scratch in these plays destroys meaning, Scoville argues,by interfering with the transmission ofimportant information, robbing humans ofthe ability to speak sense,to argue, and to learn. Christ and the saints, on the other hand, present an optimistic rhetorical world view, one in which humans ofgood will can settle differences and reveal truth through discourse. Having thus defeated the problems ofsatanic heuristics, Scoville is free to focus on four saints (Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph, and Paul) who occupy the liminal (and by extension theatrical ) spaces between the fallen and the saved, and who in the best and most ancient traditions of the drama can act as intermediaries between the human and the divine when their stories are rendered corporeal in performance. Reviews461 Scoville's first chapter examines Thomas, known as the Doubter, who elegantly but compassionately demonstrates the limits of temporal wisdom by excoriating the hearsay reports of the Resurrection from his fellow with his "non credam" credo. The plays which re-enact the risen Christ's invitation to Thomas to feel his wound, Scoville argues, demonstrate at once the dangers of blind faith (embodied in the emotional, unscholarly outbursts of the true believers) as well as that spiritual blindness, occasioned by reason, which obscures a truth that is ineluctable because, saythe authors ofthe Thomas plays, it transcends language (and therefore rhetoric and argument). Thomas's faith, supported by sensory evidence, ultimately becomes an informed, intelligent piety, deeper than those of his fellows. Scoville traces Thomas through many dramatic incarnations and ties them to contemporary theological writings, providing a compelling "deep read" that shows the strategies that linked the Thomas plays to the larger Christian project; the construction and maintenance of a medieval Christian identity. This is Scoville's pattern. Methodically, as he uses Thomas to explore the limits oflogos, he next executes a discussion oí ethosusing the character ofthe redeemed Mary Magdalene as a moral role model. There is less new information here, as Mary's story appears to have been less theologically controversial, but Scoville's examination reveals how slight changes in presentation, such as regards Mary's costume, could bring profound alterations in the reading ofher character by a medieval audience. The third chapter, focusing on the dramatic element oípathos,is more compelling,as we are invited to watch how the cranky, suspicious Joseph of the earlier...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 460-462
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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