In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Dramatic Function of the Ministry Group in the Towneley Cycle Robert A. Brawer The group of pageants in each Corpus Christi play that may be collectively referred to as Christ’s ministry has received little critical attention, possibly because these pageants appear to be non-essential to the tri-partite structure said to frame the history of Christian salvation which the plays as a whole dramatize. Such a structure has its beginning in the creation, its climax in Christ’s passion, and its conclusion in the last judgment.1 The structural insignificance of the ministry relative to these momentous episodes is paralleled by its lack of intrinsic dramatic interest as compared, for example, to that found in the shepherds or passion episodes. In view of these considerations, critical neglect of the ministry group is understandable. Yet there is a special and more intricate prob­ lem with regard to this dramatization. Each of the episodes in Christ’s ministry is within each cycle distinctively different in its selection, number, and order. In Towneley, for example, there are only two episodes devoted to the ministry; in Chester, eight.2 In no two cycles, moreover, is the order of these episodes the same; and the only episode common to all four cycles, the raising of Lazarus, is not only jux­ taposed to different episodes in each cycle, but distinctively different in certain aspects of its representation in all four. By contrast, in the four dramatizations of the creation and fall, God’s opening soliloquy describing His nature and powers and His creation of the world, the Satanic rebellion and fall, and the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve occur in that order. This exceptional latitude in the choice and deployment of ministry episodes in each cycle has confounded efforts to formulate principles of selection and organization in the cycles on the basis of common features of aim or material. The figural scheme proposed by V. A. Kolve is inadequate for showing why any episode other than Lazarus, in any given cycle, is “obligatory.”3 The alleged importance of the ministry in furthering the doctrine of repentance or redemption or the theme of divine recognition in the cycle, on the other hand, is of little help in distinguishing the ministry episodes from others throughout the cycles, said to be bound together in their totality by the same doctrine or theme.4 Reference to the function of the ministry as essential to the dramatic action or “plot” of the cycle leading to the climactic page166 Robert A. Brawer 167 ants centered around the crucifixion provides such a distinction; but this approach still comes no nearer than the others to explaining why each playwright selected and ordered the incidents that he did rather than dozens of other ministry incidents in the Gospels which might be staged and shown to have corresponding figural, thematic, or sequential relevance.5 Finally, reference to the relative significance of events in the liturgical calendar only compounds this problem. For while this significance may account satisfactorily for the selection of ministry episodes in analogous representations of the cycle of Christian salvation in thirteenth-century cathedrals,6 it cannot explain the conspicuous diversity in selection among the cycle plays. Toward a solution of this problem, I propose, first, to offer as a working definition a more comprehensive and at the same time particu­ larized formulation of the ministry group’s dramatic function in the cycle play than any of the foregoing monistic approaches has provided; second, to examine an antecedent dramatization of Christ’s ministry that is related in its selection and function to the cycle play; and finally, to focus on a single vernacular ministry group, that of Towneley , in order to suggest some untested approaches to corresponding though equally individualized dramatizations of the ministry in the cycles. As a broad dramatic unit, the ministry group in the cycle play has a two-fold function: first, Christ’s identity as the promised redeemer is to be demonstrated to a diverse and representative selection of believers and unbelievers alike; second, the grounds underlying the subsequent formation of the conspiracy against Him must be made clear and so establish the probability of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 166-176
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.