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Dietrich Schernberg's Ein schbn spiel von fraw Jutten : H o w was it staged? There was a time—not so very long ago—when medieval religious drama was looked upon as just another literary genre, and when all plays were judged on their textual merits or demerits alone. But in recent decades we have moved more and more to a position where we consider the dramatic potential, a play's effectiveness on the stage, as an egually important—if not more important—criterion. This applies of course to drama guite generally, but it has probably affected our appreciation of medieval drama more radically than that of any other age. Anyone who has witnessed the mis-enscene of a medieval religious play, or who has been personally involved in such a production, knows how wide the gap is between the written words and the life action, and how pale a reflection of the stage reality the average text manages to convey. Important though the text is for the play as a whole, it was never intended as an end in itself, and the overall structure and religious significance of the presentation was clearly considered to be of greater importance than the actual wording or the choice of rhymes. These were made to fit the demands of the scene. If their choice was felicitous, all the more credit to the often anonymous author, if not, the play could still be a great show and achieve the desired didactic impact. All this may sound very much like an apology for the play and the author I am about to discuss, and in a way it is. Dietrich Schernberg, a cleric and notary in the Imperial city of Muhlhausen during the last guarter of the fifteenth-century, was certainly not a great poet. His vocabulary is limited, his rhymes are often awkward, and he has a tendency to borrow whole speeches or parts of scenes from other plays with related themes. He is, in fact no better or worse than other authors of plays of his age. But he was evidently very well versed in contemporary stage-craft, and he did have an excellent grasp of what makes effective theatre. His plot, apparently his own creation, in as much as it transcends the framework of the Pope Joan legend, on which it was based, has great dramatic potential and was ideally suited to the medieval stage: Jutta, a young and ambitious Englishwoman is tempted by the devils to disguise herself as a man and run away to study in Paris with her companion (and lover?) Clericus. Having attained the doctorate they move on to Rome, where they enter the service of Pope Basilius. They become Cardinals, and on Pope Basilius' death Jutta, alias Johannes von Engellandt, succeeds him on the pontifical throne. Unfortunately she falls pregnant and is exposed publicly by the devil Unversun whom she has been called upon to exorcise in the performance of her pontifical duties. Meanwhile, in Heaven, Christ-God has determined that she must die and go to Hell, but the Virgin Mary intercedes for Jutta, and obtains a conditional pardon, that she may yet be saved if she agrees to submit to worldly dishonour. The Angel Gabriel delivers the ultimatum, she submits to the divine will and dies giving birth 114 E. van der Helder coram populo, with Death acting as her executioner and Maria appearing to her at the moment of her death to promise her continued help. Jutta's soul is then carried off to Hell by the devils, who subject her to all kinds of tortures, but she remains steadfast in her prayers to Mary and to St. Nicolaus. Meanwhile, on Earth, the other Cardinals stage a procession to avert God's punishment from the city of Rome, while in Heaven Mary and Nicolaus plead with Christ to release Jutta's soul from her tormentors. He finally accedes to their joint prayers, and Jutta is fetched from Hell by the angel Michael—not without some resistance from the cheated devils—and is admitted to God's presence. The play ends with her prayers of thanksgiving and an exhortation to the audience to pray to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 113-131
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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