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Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ?: Games in the Coliphizacio Barry Sanders By the time the Wakefield Master came to write the Coliphizacio the association of the buffeting of Christ with certain children’s games was already a commonplace of the medieval pulpit. The preacher’s account of the flagellation of Christ was typically associated, as it is in the Coliphizacio, with the game of Hot-Cockles, a game in which one person kneels, covers his eyes, lays his head on someone else’s lap, and tries to guess who strikes him.l There are differences, however, between the preacher’s use of the game in his sermons and the Wake­ field Master’s adaptation of it in his play. The preacher, utilizing Hot-Cockles or, occasionally, Blindman’s Buff, suggested that man was still capable of torturing Christ; indeed, man re-enacts the Passion, preachers insisted, every time he participates in his seemingly innocent but hostile games. In short, the pulpit tried to make the buffeting of Christ contemporary. For instance, John Bromyard, the master of sermon rhetoric in the fourteenth century, talks first about “ the manner of the Jews who buffeted Christ when blindfolded . . .” and then about “ the manner of those who, in still playing the game, smite someone on the head smartly while his face is hidden, but laugh at him, when he raises his head to see, as though they had done nothing to him.” 2 The same point is made in an anonymous sermon of the fifteenth century: “A common game in use nowadays is that which the soldiers played with Christ at his Passion: it is called the bobbid game. In this game, one of the com­ pany will be blindfolded and set in a prone position; then those stand­ ing by will hit him on the head . . .” 3 In the Townely play, however, games are no longer used merely to transport the buffeting of Christ into contemporary England. As in any drama, events are made contemporary by acting them out at the moment. Christ was bom, for medieval audiences, every time the Second Shepherd’s Play was performed. The Wakefield Master artis­ tically reaches beyond his sermonic sources; he is concerned with saying more about games in his play than the preachers were on their pulpits. The Coliphizacio begins where the sermon leaves off. The Wakefield Master’s concern with games in the Coliphizacio is, I think, curiously modern. He first establishes the fact that everyone 94 Barry Sanders 95 in the play is afraid of Christ. Because they are afraid, they cannot function with him on a straightforward level but must resort to forms of ritualized behavior which, by its nature, stylizes, and thus renders impotent any human conflict. The ritualized behavior that appealed artistically to the Wakefield playwright was the game. Like any great artist in the Middle Ages, the Wakefield genius does not simply borrow. Instead, he adapts and revitalizes; he innovates and re-creates. As the play opens, two torturers are leading Christ before Anna and Caiphas. Christ has threatened Civil Law; and the torturers want him condemned by someone in authority. They feel that if Anna and Caiphas condemn the Lord, he will be condemned forever. Although they drive Christ to the two “judges,” they seem, themselves, to be driven to the court out of fear: Bot wold ye two, as ye sytt, make it ferme and stabyll Togeder? For ye two, as I traw, May defende all oure law; That mayde vs to you draw, And bryng this losell heder.4 Caiphas too is frightened. His initial reaction is to ask a series of self-revealing questions of the two torturers: Say, were ye oght adred? Were ye oght wrang led, Or in any strate sted? Syrs, who was myscaryd? (51-54) His accomplice, Anna, reacts in the same nervous way: “ Say, were ye oght in dowte for fawte of light,/ As ye wached therowte?” (55-56). Caiphas reveals his fear even more clearly when, toward the middle of the play, he instructs the torturers in the proper method of Christ’s punishment: Yei, syrs, and for my sake Gyf hym good payment. For if I myght...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 94-99
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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