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1 COMPARATIVE drama Volume 18 Summer 1984 Number 2 The Staging of Twelfth-Century Liturgical Drama in the Fleury Playbook David Bevington In what sense do the ten plays of the so-called Fleury Playbook employ a common theatrical tradition of staging and presentation? Do they share, among themselves and with other twelfth-century church dramas at Beauvais and elsewhere, cer­ tain assumptions about the architectural church interior as stage space, or is their approach to staging the haphazard result of varying sources and redactions?1 Did the Benedictine brethren who mounted these plays have in mind a common method of dramaturgy for their productions? What conventions of pre­ sentation can be adduced from regarding the Fleury play texts collectively as scripts indicative of theatrical performance? Through what sort of figurative language do gesture and stage movement convey meaning? These are the questions I should like to pursue here, much as Bernard Beckerman, John Styan, Ann Slater, and others have recently looked at Shakespeare’s DAVID BEVINGTON, Professor of English at the University of Chicago, has published extensively on both the medieval theater and Renaissance drama. He is the editor of Homo, Memento Finis, a collection of essays on the Last Judgment in drama and art to be published by Medieval Institute Publications. 97 98 Comparative Drama play texts as primary indications of how the plays were per­ formed.2 The method of analysis is a fairly recent one, even for Elizabethan and Jacobean drama,3 and has been applied only seldom to medieval church drama.4 The clear advantage of doing so is that play texts and their stage directions or rubrics in any age both explicitly and implicitly contain vital informa­ tion about staging not always reliably available through iconographical or other external sources. To move from the now-familiar terrain of stage-oriented analysis of Shakespeare’s plays into twelfth-century church drama, on the other hand, is to encounter immense differences in the very concept of stage “action” and the symbolic meaning of gesture. Medieval religious drama began with no clearly recognized view of itself as dramatic spectacle. The earliest tropes and dramatic ceremonials celebrated as part of the order of worship for Easter, in various monastic communities of the tenth and eleventh centuries, derived their language from the liturgy and their visual images from ritual practice. From a theatrical point of view, the language is repetitive, characteriza­ tion is often inadequately motivated, and gesture is ceremonial. Even though some rubrics encourage the participants to use affective gesture, as in the Regularis Concordia at Winchester where three brethren dressed as the three Marys are to move haltingly to the sepulcher “in the manner of seeking for some­ thing” as though in imitation (ad similitudinem) of the women coming to anoint the body of Jesus,5 the event remains liturgical rather than theatrically mimetic. In such a liturgical milieu, we need to be cautious about assuming that “performance” could aim at expressive use of gesture or arrangement of theatrical space in any consciously theatrical sense. The concept of an “audience” was essentially foreign to the conditions under which the early ceremonials were performed: monastic brethren chanted an office among themselves, even when tropes of a dramatic character were added. In the choir where they assembled, they had little occa­ sion to worry about “sight lines.” The structures and properties they employed were by and large liturgically determined. Be­ cause the story being presented was so well known and the occasion it celebrated so close at hand, their very texts need not concern themselves with consistency of characterization or motivation.6 The lines of sung dialogue in Easter dramatic ceremonials were to be found in the liturgy, and were ultimately David Bevington 99 based on scriptural account. Bearing such sanction, they did not require further elucidation. Nonetheless, as liturgical drama began to achieve self-aware­ ness of its potential for theatrical performance, it inevitably needed to deal with such considerations of dramaturgy as audience, stage movement, employment of properties and struc­ tures, and the like. This essay proposes that the Fleury Playbook gives evidence of such increased theatrical awareness. The Fleury Playbook holds a key position among collections...


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