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“Blake and wyght, fowll and fayer”: Stage Picture in Wisdom Who Is Christ David Bevington Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection, written in English in Nottinghamshire before 1396, is a major source for the play of Wisdom Who Is Christ and in particular for lines 103-70 that form the opening dialogue between Wisdom or Christ as King and Anima, the soul of man. Hilton’s text describes the relation between these two figures in terms that bear important implica­ tions for a theater of visualized moral abstraction. What do the qualities of soul look like in the theater? How is the soul to be rendered in contrastive theatrical modes as it resembles both God and the devil? Hilton offers a visual vocabulary that repeatedly stresses the dual concept of image and likeness. Every soul “is the ymage of god,” says Hilton, quoting 1 Corin­ thians 11.7. The soul is “made to the ymage and to the lyknes of hym,” “wonderly fayre.” Conversely, however, through man’s fall in Adam, the “lyknes” of man has been “dysfygured.” As a result, the “soule of a cnylde that is borne and is uncrystenya by cause of orygynal synne” is “nought but an ymage of the fende & a bronde of helle.” This defacement can be remedied alone through Christ’s sacrifice and through the individual’s baptism, whereby the soul is “reformed & restored to the fyrst lyknes”; but man’s sensual nature is quick to undo this good. Sensuality, defined by Hilton as “flesshly felynge by the fyve outwarde wyttes”—that is, the part of the soul concerned with the physical senses—can readily become the means through which the soul loses and inverts its likeness to God. When man’s sensual nature “is unskylfully and unordynatly ruled,” it “is made the ymage of synne.” Reason accordingly has two parts: DAVID BEVINGTON has taught at the University of Chicago since 1967. His most recent book is Action Is Eloquence: Shakespeare’s Language of Gesture, pub­ lished by Harvard University Press in 1984. 136 David Bevìngton 137 the “over partye” or higher part which is “propyrly the ymage of god” and the “neyther” or lower part through which the soul understands the use of earthly things. “Fayr is mannes soule & fowle is a mannes soule,” Hilton summarizes, “foule without as it were a beest/ fayre within lyke to an angel.”1 This oxymoronic language of contrastive likeness is insis­ tently placed before us in the text of Wisdom. Anima introduces herself as “I hat represent here f»e sowll of man,” and wants to know from Wisdom what constitutes the soul. Wisdom answers: “Yt ys J>e ymage of Gode hat all began;/ And not only ymage, but hys lyknes ge are” (11. 101-04). This image took upon it “he fylthe of synne orygynall” at Adam’s fall (11. 109-11), and every soul since is transformed in likeness. “For ge be dysvyguryde be hys synne,” Wisdom explains to Anima (1. 117). The soul can be reformed “to hys fyrste lyght” only through Christ’s sacrifice and the seven sacraments, first through baptism that does “wasche awey” and “clensythe” original sin. This sacrament reformyt he sowll in feythe verray To he gloryus lyknes of Gode etemall Ande makyt yt as fayer and as celestyall As yt neuer dyffowlyde had be. (11. 127-30) Sensuality, defined as in Hilton as fleshly perception (“felynge”) attended on by the five wits or senses, “Ys made he ymage of synne then of hys foly,” and, though Reason is defined contrast­ ingly as “he ymage of Gode propyrly,” the “neyther” part of Reason must learn to agree with bodily appetite (11. 140-48). These “tweyn,” Reason and Sensuality, do thereby signify Yowr dysgysynge and yowr aray, Blake and wyght, fowll and fayer vereyly. (11. 150-51) Every soul is black “by sterynge of synne hat cummyth all-day,” and is also white “by knowenge of reson veray” (11. 153, 155). Thus a sowle ys bothe fowlle and fayer: Fowll as a best be felynge of synne, Fayer as a angell, of hewyn he ayer. (11. 157-59) The fifteenth-century morality play, I intend to argue here, derives...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 136-150
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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