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The Face of Janus: Debatable Issues in Mariken van Nieumeghen Elsa Strietman On the threshold of the sixteenth century, old ideas were defended and new issues came to the fore in the jostling which took place in a period that we, for want of a better description, call the transition from late medieval to early Renaissance culture . The Dutch play Mariken van Nieumeghen is a product of this period since it is a defense of the old and at the same time shows an awareness of the new. This Janus-faced play is thus to be seen as a liminal drama that resourcefully defends orthodox ideas about salvation—and about the means by which it may be achieved by an individual—at the same time that it utilizes theatrically innovative means to achieve its purpose. It is my view that the author1 was very much attracted by some of the new issues which he felt himself compelled to oppose . The ideas involved seem even to have frightened him, and yet he could not set them aside. Hence the portrayal of salvation could not passively reflect the earlier orthodoxy, and herein lies an aspect of the play's originality. As previous criticism has observed , the cultural tension exists in the context of the early sixteenth-century conflict between a milieu dominated by (1) Dominican thinking and the traditional Rhetoricians' ideas about salvation and the importance of rhetoric and (2) humanist opinions about the function of art and learning.2 The play provides ample scope for interpreting the attitude of the author with regard to contemporary debates concerning the value of humanist learning, of art, and of a range of attendant ethical and moral issues. Furthermore, the author leaves no doubt where his political sympathies lie and has portrayed the evil genius of the play, Mariken's aunt, as backing the wrong political horse.3 But more importantly, we are challenged to interpret 64 Elsa Strietman65 his stance with regard to the road to salvation—a journey which he has described in the portrayal of Mariken through the use of a number of traditional analogues. The result is an extraordinarily effective and, for its time, unusual drama in which the author moves between clear ideological commitment and ideological uncertainty . It will be noted, however, that there are other Janus-faced aspects of the play as well. For example, the composition of the text itself with its mixture of prose and verse, of chapbook and play, though it still begs many questions, faces two ways— toward an audience that watches a play and a reader who reads a text. This too is a sign of the times, since at the time of the appearance of Mariken numerous texts were being adapted from play scripts for dissemination by the printing press and directed at new audiences among the reading public. The Mariken thus stands between different receptions of literature, between stage and page. This duality is likewise expressed in the relationship between the play-within-the-play and the drama in which it is embedded; the match in this instance is, in fact, perfectly apt from a theological standpoint4 and consistent with orthodox ideas about the means to salvation. The play-within-the-play is the turning point in Mariken's history, and it is also innovative in its portrayal of its effect on an individual wrestling to return to a state free of the burden of sin. Portrayal of the Characters. The portrayal of the characters and the interplay of emotion and reason provide a basis for the view of the play that will see it as a historically liminal drama. In form the play text5 is divided neatly into a Prologue and fifteen chapters in prose and dramatic verse, the prose linking the dialogues and monologues, sometimes providing essential information for understanding the context of the episodes. The main theme—Mariken's fall, repentance, redemption—appears to be divided into three sections, unequally distributed over the chapters: (1) an introduction which sets the scene, provides the causes of Mariken's despair, and prepares the ground in such a way that her subsequent readiness to submit to God or the devil will be...

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