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Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002) 519-520
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Medieval Practices of Space
Medieval Practices of Space. Edited by Barbara A. Hanawalt and Michal Kobialka. Medieval Cultures, vol. 23. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000; pp. xviii + 260. $62.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.
This volume comprises a selection of papers from a 1997 conference, "The Medieval Practices of Space," held at the Center for Medieval Studies of the University of Minnesota and coordinated by the book's editors. Scholars working on the production and representation of space will be interested in the book as a whole, and the introduction includes a brief but well-chosen list of related works. The editors and contributing authors share a grounding in theories of space developed by Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, Michel de Certeau, and Pierre Bourdieu.
The collection includes three essays directly concerned with medieval theatre. Michal Kobialka brings a new perspective to the Quem quaeritis trope, arguably identified since the early twentieth century as the first medieval drama. In "Staging Place/Space in the Eleventh-Century Monastic Practices," Kobialka discusses the heretofore-overlooked differences between the late tenth-century text that first records the trope and a copy written in the second half of the eleventh century. The first version of this text, the Regularis concordia, helped to shape English monastic practices before the Norman conquest. The post-conquest version was re-shaped by Cluniac influences, coinciding with "theological changes which redefined not only the Eucharist, but also the function of a written text" (142). Kobialka argues that the transformation of the Easter trope from one manuscript to the other reveals "an epistemic break in the concept of representation in a monastic place, exposing for a brief moment a space of instability in a society based, at least theoretically, upon an ideological stability" (132).
Donnalee Dox's "Theatrical Space, Mutable Space, and the Space of Imagination: Three Readings of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament" is an inquiry into the various concepts of space governing medieval performances and modern interpretations of this play. First, reading through theatrical space produces a focus on "the arrangement of bodies and objects in space" in order to uncover the ways in which the play's imagery is linked to the material culture of East Anglia in the fifteenth century (168-70). Dox teases out the implications of two predominant conjectures about where and how the play was staged. Interestingly enough, viewing the theatrical event as a reflection of reality highlights the instability of the material world, which is "shown theatrically in the transformation of Host to flesh, of Jew to Christian, and of parody to ritual" (174). Next, considering the physical space of performance to be a mutable element—that is, "capable of affecting, rather than receiving, objects and bodies" (176)—facilitates Dox's analysis of the ways in which space and narrative work together in performance to "create a chaotic world in which transgression is possible, in contrast to the ordered space of the procession and church created by Christian salvation" (180). Finally, an inquiry into what Dox calls the space of imagination in late-medieval thought suggests to Dox that "what is 'real' about fifteenth-century dramatizations is not the realistic quality of their representation of horrific events, but the Christian imagination that accepted the possibility of such events" (190). This third reading is more difficult to follow than the first two, in part because its conceptual basis is more challenging. Dox uses late-medieval theology to examine the many ways in which The Croxton Play represents concepts of space different from our own.
Fifteenth-century France also produced a Host-desecration play, which has received less scholarly attention than its East-Anglian counterpart. In "Dramatic Memories and Tortured Spaces in the Mistere de la Sainte Hostie," Jody Enders analyzes the play's violent transformation of a "private, Jewish domestic space . . . into a public space of conversion and devotion" (199). This drama has been available in manuscript only, and Enders's analysis includes many extracts along with a plot summary and discussion of a 1513 production in Metz...