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Source of Order or Sovereign Lord: God and the Pattern of Relationships in Two Middle English “Fall of Lucifer” Plays Jean Q. Seaton In The English Mystery Plays (1972), Rosemary Woolf, commenting on the “Fall of Lucifer” plays in the cycles, saw the York and Chester plays as at opposite extremes of compe­ tence, with the York as best, the Chester as weakest,l She criticized the Chester play as “diffuse” and as showing “an abrupt and unmotivated change of heart” in Lucifer (p. 108). Other scholars have assessed the Chester play more positively. Peter Travis, for example, sees the play as “an accomplished opening pageant,”2 and points out, in reply to Woolf’s criticism, that “Satan’s gradual shift toward evil is an important part of the play’s exploration of the phenomenon of free choice.” My own evaluation of the Chester “Fall of Lucifer” agrees with Travis’, but closer attention to the contrast between it and the York play implied in W oolfs treatment brings out a significant difference in the presentation of God that perhaps underlies the deficiencies some scholars have seen in the play. Comparison of the figure of God as presented in the two plays makes evident the pattern of relationships the Chester playwright uses to make his audience realize the significance of the free choice noted by Travis. God, as Creator, is the dominant “character” in the opening plays of the mystery cycles, and certainly in their portrayal of God the York and Chester plays are at opposite extremes. In the York play, the actor playing this role must be present throughout the play, stationary, probably on a throne higher than the level of the representative angels on the pageant stage. JEAN Q. SEATON is an associate professor of English at St. Thomas More College of the University of Saskatchewan. 203 204 Comparative Drama This God speaks, explaining himself and his creation, but does not engage in true dialogue. In the Chester play, on the other hand, the actor playing God moves about; he must first be seated on a throne, then withdraw, then return. This God enters into dialogue with the angels, as represented by Lucifer, ad­ monishing, chiding, commanding. Such contrasting representa­ tions suggest not only that the playwrights concerned have different dramatic methods, but also that they may have different doctrinal emphases behind their portrayals of the relation be­ tween God and creatures. Since these first plays in the cycles present God as Creator, they show omnipotence as his primary characteristic: what he wills, what he commands, comes to be. Comparison of the ways in which the York and Chester plays show his power, however, makes clear their difference.3 In the York play, this power is shown precisely in the fact that God can create: that he can bring into being what did not previously exist. In his opening speech, he twice calls himself “maker vnmade” (11. 2, 9), and the good angels repeatedly praise him as their maker. He also says that he will make all “of noghte” (1. 16), and this too is repeated when the First Seraph praises him “That vs thus mighty has made J>at nowe was right noghte” (1. 44). This emphasis means that God in this play is primarily the “I am who am” of Exodus 3.14, the source of being and of the order of being in which there is an unbridgeable gap between the Creator and the created. This disparity is of course traditional in Christian thought: for Augustine, God is “a nature that is not created, but creates”;4 for Anselm, “only the Creator has from himself whatever he has; and all other things have something only from him”;5 for Thomas Aquinas, “God is self-subsisting being itself . . . land! all beings other than God are not their own being, but are beings by participation.’^ This orthodox distinction between God and creatures in terms of being is shown in the York play not only verbally but visually, being dramatized by the absence of dialogue between God and the angels as well as by having the Creator, the unchanging source of being, remain stationary, while the angels, the contingent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 203-221
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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