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Marriage in Late-Medieval German Easter and Shrovetide Plays Albrecht Classen The topics oflove,marriage,sexuality,and the familyin thelate Middle Ages and the Renaissance have attracted tremendous interest for some time now because we have realized how much the relationship between genders proves important for the well-being of any society.1 By the same token, these topics have almost always been the object of intense debates in theology, law, the arts, and especially in literature.2 In fact, one of the key functions of fictional texts has been to serve as a public medium to negotiate the most critical issues affecting practically every member ofa community, especially in matters difficult to solve by means of laws and governmental rulings, the teachings of the Church, and other authorities. This function finds powerful expression in numerous late-medieval plays, which present marriage either as an object ofsatire or as a model of ideal behavior relevant for their urban audiences. Ofcourse,the emotional aspect ofthese matters,particularlyas they affect the lives ofmen and women, requires constant re-examination, an enterprise for which literary discourse appears to be the ideal forum.3 After all, love is a most elusive phenomenon, affecting most people at some point in their lives more or less intensively, and marriage adds an additional level of complexity to this issue, as poets and others through the ages have confirmed. But who would dare to offer a precise,generally acceptable definition, unless we foolishly trust medieval satirists such as Andreas Capellanus (c.1190), Matfre Ermengaud (c.1288), or Juan Ruiz (c.1340) in their claims mostlyformulated tongue-in-cheekto have dealt with the topic exhaustively.4 The critical studies on marriage and the gender relationships in past and present are legion.5 Considering the relevance ofmarriage in the historyofmentality, we can trace this broad 99 100Comparative Drama discourse as far back as the Middle Ages (and even earlier) when poets, theologians, artists,philosophers, andjurists began to engage in a public debate at least since the twelfth century, though among theologians, the debate on various approaches,values, ideals, problems, and concerns involving love and marriage goes back much further.6 Some of the most popular genres that lent themselves particularly well to this discourse were sermons,prose novels, secular song books,marriage treatises,verse novellas,and exempla.7As to be expected,manyofthesehavebeen studied in great detail and need not be revisited here, especially ifwe think of Elisabeth Waghäll Nivre's impressive Women and Family Life in Early Modern German Literature (2004). She correctly emphasizes that "all texts investigated move within at least three different discursive fields inherent in alargergenderdiscourse: sexuality,marriage,andfamilylife."8 But to probe the discourse on marriage even further, I would like to focus here on late-medieval plays, both religious and secular. Such an approach is possible and makes perfect sense paritcularly in relation to Easterplays andShrovetideplayswhich tendedtoincludehighlyhumorous scenes for comic release, drawing their essential material from everyday experiences and the basic conditions ofhuman emotions.9 Surprisingly, neither drama specialists nor social historians have adequately examined late-medieval plays as ideal objects to study how marriage was presented, evaluated, and discussed in public during that time, although stage performances essentially thrive on the intricate interaction with their audiences, either on a reflective or on a prescriptive level,which Manfred Pfister has called the"multimediality"oftheater.10 Many scholars of medieval plays have convincingly demonstrated that "the medieval theatre was above all a collective undertaking through which urban social groups and the urban élites in particular gave expression to what may properly be termed a bourgeois ideology''11 But the performance itselfis not an isolated event and does not exclude subsequent discussions and explorations ofthe issues presented on the stage, especiallynot within the framework oflate-medieval urban communities. Christmas and Easter plays, Passion and Morality plays, Shrovetide and Reformation plays experienced a tremendous proliferation during the fifteenth century and often included several hundred actors who performed for days, ifnot weeks. The genre itselfhas been studied for a Albrecht Classen101 long time, which makes it unnecessary to offer another general introduction . As Thomas Cramer informs us in his history of late-medieval German literature (1990), we know...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 99-124
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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