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The First Perugian Passion Play: Aspects of Structure Kathleen Falvey One of the most valuable documents for studying the origins and development of vernacular drama in Italy and in all of western Europe is the fourteenth century laudario of the Con­ fraternity of St. Andrew in Perugia. The laude in this collec­ tion were sung by members of the lay society when they gathered in their oratory to meditate on the passion of Christ, administer their works of charity, and practice self-flagellation in common. Similar groups of lay men and women, called disciplinati be­ cause of the adoption of the disciplina, or small scourge, into their devotional ritual, sprang up all over Europe after the movement initiated by Raniero Fasani had spread out from Perugia in the spring of 1260 in a chain-reaction of peniten­ tial processions that reached as far as Poland.1 In marked con­ trast to the enthusiastic excesses of the movement’s origin, the numerous confraternities founded in its wake were notable for their conservatism and orthodoxy, especially in their early years. And, for reasons yet to be fully explained, within the circle of these lay confraternities vernacular drama began to flourish in late medieval Italy. The laudari that have survived well docu­ ment this theatrical tradition. A typical laudario might contain both lyric and dramatic laude, the former being, generally speaking, vernacular hymns of praise to God, the Virgin Mary, or a saint. A dramatic lauda, on the other hand, could be anything from a simple narrative in dialogue form sung during the private gatherings of the con­ fraternity, to a complex musical drama performed publicly. Such dramatic works were composed in either of two characteristic verse stanzas: the sestina semplice, whose verses numbered eight or nine syllables and rimed ababcc, was employed for penitential 127 128 Comparative Drama occurrences and sung ad modum passionalem; the ballata mag­ giore stanza of alternating septenaries and hendecasyllables rim­ ing aBaBbCcX was sung ad modum paschalem on Sundays and joyous feasts. The Latin phrases indicating passional or paschal mode are generally considered to refer to the melodies, perhaps of liturgical origin, to which the stanzas were sung. These melodies have not survived. The St. Andrew laudario contains the fullest, most authen­ tic selection of extant dramatic laude. In its present state it forms the second part of MS. 955 (già Giustizià 5) of the Biblioteca Augusta in Perugia, the first part consisting of the Confraternity’s statutes dated 1374. The laudario proper was transcribed around 1350,2 although some works give evidence of having been composed a good deal earlier.3 Its 76 parchment leaves contain 117 lyric and dramatic laude, five of which are repeated for a total of 122 texts. The first 109 compositions take their subject matter from and are arranged according to the occurrences of the liturgical year, beginning with Christmas Day and ending with the Vigil of Christmas. Usually, lyric laude are shorter than dramatic ones; a lyric work can have as few as 24 verses, a dramatic one as many as 468. The former are generally assigned to lesser occurrences, the latter to Sun­ days and important feasts. Every day of Lent has its own dra­ matic lauda which follows closely the gospel of the day; many of these are brief, but as Holy Week approaches they lengthen and become fully “theatricalized.” Laude 110-20, all lyric, are for the dead, and 121 seems to fit no category at all; it concerns the Perugians whose punishment seems imminent because of their sins. A fragment concludes the codex. The two Good Friday plays in this collection represent the first fully developed vernacular passion plays in Italy. The first of these deserves special attention, being the longest work in the St. Andrew laudario and among the most complex. It not only exhibits many interesting traits characteristic of this early drama, but also blends together scriptural, devotional, lyrical, and, perhaps, liturgical influences with conscious artistic pur­ pose. The anonymous author’s careful combination of literary modes and his use of a skillful and complex transitional passage contribute to the play’s structural and aesthetic unity. The first passion play is entitled Singnore scribe...


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