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Soft Touch: On the Renaissance Staging and Meaning of the "Noli me tangere" Icon Cynthia Lewis In a briefarticle called"Viola's 'Do Not Embrace Me' as Icon,"published in the December 1988 issue oíNotesand Queries, I argue thatViola's admonition tohernewlyrecoveredtwinSebastian in act5.1.251 ofTwelfthNight alludes to the episode in John 20:11-17where MaryMagdalen, in search of thecrucifiedbodyofChrist,mistakesthe resurrectedChristfordiegardener.1 Duringashortcatechism,Jesus implies die inappropriateness ofMary's tears witiithe questionthat,justbefore,the angels attendingthetomb have posed to her: "Woman, why weepest thou?"When Christ calls her by name, she recognizeshimas"Rabboni"(Master),andhe immediatelywarnsher,"Touch me not" ("Nolime tangere") because,he says,"I am notyet ascended to my Father." He instructs her to find the disciples and inform them that she has seen Christ resurrected.Viola's words to Sebastian include several features ofthisbiblicalpassage.At first,ViolaandSebastian do not recognize one another . They catechize one another, almost absurdly, about parentage and birthmarks to establish who they are. Most telling, once Cesario has been identified asViola,she forbids Sebastian to touch heruntilherfemale identity has been fully restored: If nothing lets to make us happy both Than this my masculine usurp'd attire, Do not embrace me till each circumstance Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump That I am Viola—which to confirm, I'll bring you to a captain in this town, Where lie my maiden weeds; by whose gentle help I was preserv'd to serve this noble count. (5.1.249-56)2 53 54Comparative Drama In a subsequent essay,Yu Jin Ko, taking the allusion inViola's speech to Christ's"Noli me tangere"forgranted, refers toViola's"do not embrace me" as a "gesture of repulse" that qualifies as "an internal stage direction ."3 For Ko,Viola's delay ofSebastian's embrace works into the play's larger concern with longing, and Ko elaborates on many instances in the playwhen desire diesjustas itis achieved. Ko's readingultimatelyfocuses onViola's repulse ofSebastian's embrace but not on the two other parallels between the passages: the matter ofmistaken identity and the questioning between parties. The result is an engaging interpretation ofthe playbutan incomplete studyofan embedded stage direction that, I shall argue,is richlyinformedbyitsmedievaldramatichistoryandbycontemporaryNorthern Renaissance images ofthe"Nolimetangere"icon.Close examination ofthese associations also suggests that the icon lies embedded at the close of The Winter's Tale. The"Noli me tangere" icon appears in European liturgical drama as early as the twelfth century, where it is part of the Type III Visitatio sepulchri, in which the three Marys and the disciples Peter and John visit Christ's tomb, only to find it empty. The icon persists in the Towneley mystery cycle, where it is included as part of the Resurrection play, as well as in the Digby manuscript's Mary Magdalen, a saint play. It also forms part of the Resurrection play in two manuscripts ofthe Chester mystery cycle,4 appears in the N-Town cycle, and was likely a feature of the Coventry pageants, which the Cappers' took over from the Weavers' in 1531, although this and other probable inclusions are nowlost.5 Dramatic records from Coventry suggest that the hortulanus scene from John's Gospel remained part of the performance until 1579, when the plays were suppressed.6The records also list costumes,properties,wigs, andthelike throughoutmuch ofthe sixteenth centuryfor the three Marys and,inparticular,a costume identified in an inventoryas"marymaudlyns goune" remaining as late as 1591.7 That the icon provided a source of continuous cultural interest in sixteenth-centuryNorthern Europe—an interest that bridged the Reformation—is attested by the numerous Northern Renaissance popular prints of the subject, most of them by Protestant artists.8 The history of the icon in the religious drama seems largely determined by two gaps in the biblical narrative. One is the lack of explanation in John for MaryMagdalen's mistaking Christ for the gardener. The Cynthia Lewis55 other is the lack of a clear motive for Christ's command to Mary, "Do not touch me." Exploring both lacunae can inform an understanding of howthe icon was staged in a late-sixteenth-century Shakespearean play. The question of why Mary mistakes Christ for...


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