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Reviews Theresa Coletti. Mary Magdalene and the Drama of Saints: Theater, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,2004). Pp. 360+15 illustrations. $47.96. In some ways it is rather difficultto decide exactlywhatthis bookis about. One can readily see that there is a focus upon the Digby Mary Magdalene and at times the play is seen as a lens for looking at cultural and religious aspects of spirituality in East Anglia. But the play is also seen as a "locus of contending forces" (11), where the outcome of the contention is uncertain and its nature Protean. It is also made clear that no single interpretation of the play is advocated here. Besides these aspects there is also a polemic that seeks to draw attention to the feminine, indeed feminist aspects ofthe play, and to explore how far links with other forms of religious writing can support or elaborate this project. These rather crude reductions of its purposes do not entirely do the bookjustice: but they can indicate the extraordinarily broad scope ofthe work and the ambitious nature of its trajectory. It draws upon a very wide range of material besides the most obvious context oflater medieval dramatic texts surrounding the play under discussion. Much ofits substance deals with different varieties ofspiritual writing and there is a special attention to the work and the lives of holy women and their possible relationships with the material present in the play. This is predicated upon a discerning and scholarly approach to dramatic and nondramatic religious writing,including the workofmystics, male and female. Perhaps because there is a distinctly polemical dimension to this work, there is a persistent concern with the methodology adopted. This includes attention to a number of critical disciplines and to what may well be termed the poetics oflate medieval drama in the vernacular.To facilitate this approach,the author draws particularly upon the work ofGail McMurray Gibson and Victor I. Scherb dealing with religious culture and dramatic performance in East 447 448Comparative Drama Anglia.1 These works do not necessarily distinguish East Anglia culture as different in essence from that ofthe rest ofEngland, but they do seek to locate the drama into a nexus of local contexts and to draw into a discourse about drama many aspects ofspiritual and dramatic life that are palpably present in local circumstances. There is no doubt that the present work has extended the study ofthese matters to a considerable degree. In this respect the work is well supported by a good deal oflocal observation and by an examination ofsome surviving medieval artefacts from the region. It should be added that the explorations of the material and the theoretical approaches which are undertaken are often interesting and stimulating, not least because the author has been able to bring together ideas and information from a range of topics. The extensive consideration ofMary Magdalene as a religious figure quite apart from her presence in the play under discussion produces a good deal of illuminating detail. Such an extended account ofthis important and very complex iconic figure is to be much welcomed and the book is certainly going to remain for some time a useful resource for scholars interested in her and in the ways she was constructed and perceived in English medieval culture. There is a persistent preoccupation with contexts that makes it possible for the author to adopt abroad approach to the play and to locate it in a diversity ofcultural and spiritual perspectives.The book's structure centers on a studyofthe Digbyplay illuminated by these approaches. It begins with an account ofthe relationship ofthe play to other dramatic texts and the methodology involved in some wellestablished critical thinking about religious experience as embodied in the plays of the period and also some more radical current approaches with particular reference to East Anglia. There follows a description of the devotion to Mary Magdalene in the region and the nature of feminine religious culture there. Three chapters discuss the relationship between the play and significant aspectsofmedieval religious culture.The goals andpolitics ofvisionarycontemplation are brought into question.This is followedbysustained attention to the traditions that informed the use and treatment ofgendered features...


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pp. 447-450
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