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  • Liturgical Drama and the “School of Abelard”
  • David Wulstan (bio)

The realization that the Beauvais Play of Daniel is intimately associated with the “School of Abelard”1 has clarified many matters of doubt. We now know that there must have been a prototype play in the possession of the School, probably dating from Abelard’s days at Laon, and that this explains why the various attempts to “derive” Hilary’s Daniel play from the Beauvais version and vice versa were doomed to failure:2 there was a tertium, not so much quid as a quo upon which both relied for much of their materials. We can also guess that Berengar, pupil of, apologist for (and probably cousin to) Abelard, was the author of the skits on the Beauvais Play of Daniel found in the Carmina Burana (and probably of a few other—less than dignified—pieces therein).3

Helinand of Froidment says that “a disciple of Abelard was my teacher, who instructed me from my youth: Ralph, an Englishman, known as the grammar master of the Cathedral of Beauvais, a man well versed in both secular and sacred letters” (Huius etiam Petri Abaelardi discipulus fuit magister meus, qui me docuit a puero, Radulfus, natione Anglicus, cognomento grammaticus ecclesie Belvacensis, vir tam in divinis quam in saecularibus litteris eruditus). Giraldus Cambrensis also speaks warmly of him, both as grammarian and as “having been the pre-eminent literary figure in our times” (in literatura nostris diebus precipuus erat).4 Hilary, too, was one of Abelard’s pupils: he seems to have been at the Paraclete School at the time of its closure in about 1126, but was probably a disciple of Abelard both long before and after this date. Ralph was younger and may have known Abelard (†1142) only toward the end of the latter’s life.

This being so, the most likely point of contact was Paris, where Abelard returned in 1132 or so, and probably finally left only in 1140. Many of the [End Page 347] rhythms and literary devices seen in The Play of Daniel could plausibly be ascribed to Abelardian influence, but the presence in the conductus “Cum doctorum et magorum” of the striking phrase in vestitu deaurato (where it manifestly disturbs the cascaded rhyme-scheme) is a clinching factor: in Abelard’s Hymn 94, one of his Sponsus compositions, the Bride is described in this precise form of words (rhymes—or lack of them, here indicated in bold text).5 Abelard’s influence is probably to be identified in the rhythms of “Rex, tua nolo munera” and so on, and possibly in some of the decasyllabics (though this was a rhythm that was coming into fashion elsewhere at the time, including in many liturgical dramas). In several numbers, unique to the Beauvais version of The Play of Daniel, there is the cascade rhyme that Abelard had embraced in his early lyrics; but this feature may not necessarily have derived from him,6 for there is the possibility that “Gratuletur,” the model for “Cum doctorum,” might have had a technical influence upon Abelard himself. Cascade rhyme is also found, notably insistent, at “Ego mando” and the succeeding items, where it is echoed by the motivic musical technique. On the other hand, the rhyme-scheme of “Astra tenenti,” though hardly consistent, is more probably derived from an estampie that provided its tune.7

Later in the drama, the phrase Hujus rei non sum reus, when Daniel is about to be cast to the lions, is a typical Abelardian pun (the apparent incongruity of this number has puzzled more than one critic, unaware of the humorous aspect enshrined in this quotation). The related phrase ut reus traditus reis judicibus occurs in his Hymn 106, but the identical words are found in Hilary’s “Lingua mendax” in the Carmina Burana (CB 117—and he plays on the words in another line by reordering them non sum reus hujus rei); it is easy to imagine Abelard using them in an orotund strut around the lecture room, rhetorically defending himself against his opponents: this might have been a characteristic phrase that stuck in the minds of his pupils.8...


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pp. 347-357
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