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

184 Comparative Drama triptych. On the whole, however, one can only commend and recommend Sym bolic A ction in the Plays of the W akefield M aster. In Professor Helterman’s balanced perspective, in his attention to verbal detail, and in his perceptive character analysis, he has made a valuable contribution to medieval drama criticism. BARBARA D. PALMER Chatham College Clifford Davidson, ed. A M iddle English Treatise on the Playing of Miracles. Washington, D. C.: University Press of America, 1981. Pp. vi + 87. $14.75; paperback, $6.75. History has not been kind to scholars intent on formulating an aes­ thetic theory for medieval religious drama, for it has left little hard data that might tell us what playmakers and viewers thought they were doing when they produced or witnessed religious dramatic spectacles. Further­ more, contemporary notices stating this drama’s ostensible purpose and effect tend to be brief and formulaic in character, and they hardly reveal an ideological commitment to a drama whose importance is otherwise attested by evidence of the dedication, care, and regularity with which it was produced. It is for this reason that the most extended surviving commentary on the religious drama in England, the Wycliffite Tretise of M iraclis Pleyinge, in British Library MS. Add. 24,202 (c.1400), emerges as such an important document in the history of the medieval theater. Highly critical of religious drama, the Tretise enumerates and responds to a series of succinct arguments evidently offered in support of the religious stage and, in the very manner and terms of its discussion, tacitly points to some basic assumptions about the function and purpose of dramatic spectacle. Not surprisingly, over the last fifteen years the increased atten­ tion to every facet of medieval dramatic spectacle has sparked a lively interest in the Tretise as well. But scholars have had to base their inves­ tigations of this unique work on the sometimes inaccurate and relatively inaccessible nineteenth-century editions of Halliwell and Matzner. As recently as 1978 the noted Wycliffite scholar Anne Hudson re-edited the Tretise for her Selections from English Wycliffite W ritings (Cambridge, 1978), but she unfortunately presented there only a portion of the text. We can thus welcome the publication of Clifford Davidson’s A M iddle English Treatise on the Playing of M iracles, the first complete edition of the Tretise to appear in over a century. In the introduction to this edition Davidson addresses the Tretise’s place in “the pattern of religious hostility to the theater which culminated in the closing of the playhouses in England in 1642,” and its presentation of “a view of drama that quite simply makes sense of much other avail­ able evidence concerning the religious stage” (p. 1). Here Davidson summarizes early Christian and medieval attitudes toward the stage, locating the Tretise well within the tradition of antitheatrical prejudice that, as Jonas Barish’s recent book has shown, is as ancient as the the­ ater itself (The Antitheatrical Prejudice, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981). Reviews 185 This antitheatrical polemic attacked drama because it provided occasions for lascivious and rowdy behavior and because its very nature depended upon the counterfeiting and falsification of reality (two criticisms that the author of the Tretise heartily embraced). But, as Davidson demon­ strates, the available evidence suggests that voices protesting the religious stage in the Middle Ages expressed a minority opinion; over the tradition of antitheatrical prejudice prevailed a more widespread view that saw religious drama as an effective means of inspiring devotion. Davidson relates the development of this view to the heightened emotionalism of late medieval piety and traces its origins in the affective theology that encouraged identification of the individual with the suffered Christ. A key element of this theology was its emphasis on the concrete details of the Christian story, an emphasis that largely accounts for the movement toward verisimilitude in late medieval religious art. If, in their bountiful and moving particularity, the images of religious art could elicit in their viewers the sought-after affective response, then the “staging of lively depictions of the same in drama must be valued even more highly” (p. 14), for, states the Tretise, the one...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 184-188
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.