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The Theater of Scholastic Erudition Jody Enders For centuries now, the suspense created by the anticipation of a verdict coaxed from arguments pro and contra has kept audiences spellbound as readers and/or spectators awaited that most crucial of dénouements: the rendering of judgment. It should not be surprising, then, that during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a similar disputational spectacle was drawing numerous and varied observers to the Parisian rue du Fouarre. Twice a year at Advent and Lent, all classes were canceled at the University of Paris so that the maximum number of university personnel might attend one of the most intriguing shows of the Middle Ages: the quodlibet.' Students and teachers, civil and religious authorities all flocked to the streets surrounding the Sorbonne as other university activities ground to a halt to allow them to witness and participate in this academic rite of passage for students of theology.2 If, however, the quodlibet did indeed inspire the public to turn out in droves, then the operative question is why: what was the appeal? I argue here that the quodlibet continues the dramatic declamatory tradition canonized and transmitted by Greco-Roman rhetorical practice. Characterized by such crucial theatrical components as theatrical space, costume, gesture, conflict, and audience participation, the quodlibet offered to medieval spectators a ritual spectacle that was as much a protodrama as the Christian liturgy.3 Still, it has yet to be properly acknowledged as what the late O. B. Hardison dubbed one of many unexpected places where we discover new origins of medieval drama. In 1925 in a "first orientational study," Palemón Glorieux made an eloquent plea for the scholarly rehabilitation of the quodlibet as a "literary genre" whose history had yet to be written (LQ, I, 6-11). Even within the framework of his avowedly modest goal of furnishing helpful background information about the "fifty years following the death of Saint Thomas" (I, 6), 341 342Comparative Drama Glorieux speculated that the quodlibet had literary repercussions so extraordinary (II, 7-8) that its participants were "actors" (I, 21) in a two-act play (I, 17). While his penchant for the theatrical register derived more from a dramatic writing style than from any systematic generic analysis, Glorieux 's intuition was correct: the quodlibet was in fact a form in which there was a crucial commingling of academic ritual and dramatic representation that has remained virtually unexplored in studies of the theater. However, where Glorieux theorized that the literary emphasis in the medieval theology curriculum might have encouraged a literary style of redaction of the quodlibet (I, 51-55), the converse is equally plausible: namely, that the performance of the quodlibet might have encouraged a scholastic style of dramatic conception.4 For example, in the striking case of Arnoul Gréban, we find a fifteenth-century dramatist distilling the entire Mystère de la Passion into the answer to a series of scholastic quaestiones. Apparently influenced by two specific quodlibeta of Thomas Aquinas ("utrum voluntas daemonum sit obstinata in malo" ["whether the will of demons is fixed on evil"] and "utrum fuerit magis conveniens quod persona Filii assumeret humanam naturam quam alia persona divina" ["whether it was more appropriate for the person of the Son to assume a human nature rather than a different person of the Trinity"]), Gréban is reported to have composed the play "seulement pour monstrer la difference du peché du deable et de l'omme et pourquoy le peché de l'homme ha esté reparé et non pas celluy du deable" ("only to show the difference between the sin of the Devil and that of Man and why the sin of Man was redeemed while that of the Devil was not").5 The introduction to his mystère might just have easily have announced a quodlibetal disputation: S'argurons que sy et que non comme saint Thomas l'a traictié soubtillement en son traictié sur le tiers livre des Sentences. Si ourrez arguz et deffenses pourquoy le mal pechié dampnable du deable fust irreparable, condempné a l'éternel feu; et pourquoy l'omme alegié fust, non obstant son pechié tres grief. (11. 1692-1701) Thus we will argue sic et...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 341-363
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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