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Reviews RainerWarning. TheAmbivalences ofMedievalReligiousDrama. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. Pp. rvii + 310. $60.00 Victor I. Scherb. StagingFaith:EastAnglian Drama in theLater MiddleAges. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UniversityPress. London: Associated University Presses, 2001. Pp. 273. $45.00. RainerWarning's study ofmedieval religious drama is a remarkable undertaking. The present work is a translation from the original German edition of 1974, and as such it is an enterprise that inevitably raises questions about its relevance today: the publisher may well be complimented upon his trust in a work of such longevity unknown to most scholars in the field. There are naturally some disadvantages in such delayed delivery to which we shall return later, but it is clear that the contents of this book do provide many useful ideas about the chosen field of drama, even if one might have some reservations about the entire thesis embodied in it. The"ambivalence" ofthe title is the central tenet ofthe book. Concentrating upon tenth-century Easter plays, the twelfth-century French Adam play, and fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Passion plays from France, Germany, and England, the author points to the difference between the official theology embodied in them and the underlying assumptions and motivations which, the author proposes, reveal that these plays reflect rituals, ideas, emotions, and attitudes from pre-Christian anthropology. The intellectual structures or models adopted for this study constitute perhaps one ofthe most questionable aspects of the book looked at from today's standpoint. These include hermeneutics, social anthropology, structuralism, systems theory, and the theory ofplay. Even if these are still viable disciplines today, such specialist areas and modes of enquiry are likely to be open to question considering the advances, or at least 105 106ComparativeDrama changes that might have been made in them during the past thirty years. One may also have some concern about how they can be related to one another, and whether such disciplines are accessible to nonspecialists, most particularly in the key relationship between anthropology and the drama. It is clear from his discussion that Warning is aware of these difficulties, and he does make a sustained attempt to reflect upon the work of his predecessors in several of his chosen fields, though to impose updates would have certainly been impracticable . We may note, however, that, although the relationship between anthropology and the drama is in itself by no means a new area of controversy, it is a substantial achievement that the overall effect of the book·is to encourage a close scrutiny ofthis interaction. It is a particularly important part ofthe thesis that the relationship was not a simple one because ofthe many oblique ways by which pre-Christian rituals and folk practices were incorporated and sustained in the liturgy and the liturgical drama.Although the results ofthe study do not offer an entirely newset ofconclusions,the exploration is certainly stimulating. The work is conducted by a process of vigorous argument, and there are many propositions about how the essential, perceived dichotomy is to be described and its development traced. It is not easy to reduce such a complex proceeding to a simple outline, but it is perhaps sufficient to say that the implicit tension between official theology and the unconscious and indirect assumptions of pre-Christian origin embodied in these texts is undoubtedly illuminating in helping us to discriminate between them. In spite of the problems relating to shifts in scholarly preoccupations since the workwas originally conceived,there is no doubt that the scrutiny ofthe chosen plays is helpful.The author has an eye for detail and even though his selection is determined by a thesis, the material he adduces is welcome because it does match a contemporary need. This constitutes, I believe, the necessity of looking much more frequently across those boundaries between cultures and languages that have been such an inhibiting feature of the scholarship of medieval drama. Working within his chosen models, Warning puts considerable emphasis upon two aspects ofmedieval drama: its abilityto make visible things that could not be reported or that could only be obliquely alluded to, and, closely related , its tendency to include things which, on purely theological grounds, ought to have been excluded. Among the former he cites...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 105-109
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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