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REVIEWS The Saint Gall Passion Play. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Larry E. West. Brookline, Mass., and Leyden: Classical Folia Editions, 1976. Pp. 126. $11.50. The last decade has seen a sudden surge of interest in medieval German drama both religious and secular. Hitherto this has been scarcely reflected at all in English language publications and one there­ fore welcomes almost any publication which attempts to fill this gap. In these circumstances it is particularly regrettable to report that the pre­ sent volume has little or nothing to recommend it. On first opening this book I was surprised; as I read through the Introduction my disquiet increased; and when I compared the translation with the Middle High German original my horror grew apace. Surprise came very soon, in the Preface when “German literature of the Middle Ages (1300-1550)” (p. 7) was separated from “the chivalric writers (1170-1230)” (p. 8): in normal usage the former term is far wider, including everything from the earliest surviving texts (circa 800) up to the Renaissance. This same sentence poses other equally funda­ mental problems when it refers to “The student of Middle High German working his way back to the more difficult works of the chivalric writers.” Are we to see here the only overt recognition in the whole book that it is West’s intention to provide a pons asinorum to aid the weaker student faced with the MHG text? The whole of the following Introduction (pp. 9-49) is characterized by this same ambiguity: it is presented to us here as the introduction to an English translation, i.e. for those who have no MHG and probably no Modern German either, yet it frequently presents untranslated quota­ tions in Modern German (e.g. five and a half lines at the foot of p. 36, or individual important words such as “Vorspiel,” “Volksglauben,” and “Weltleben.” If West’s aim is indeed to provide an aid to those com­ petent in Modern German but not in MHG, then his Introduction may be acceptable; yet the contrary impression is also present of an attempt to make the play accessible for comparative purposes to those with no German at all. The conclusion seems unavoidable that the target group for this book was never properly defined and that this has led to alter­ nation between the requirements of those with and those lacking Modern German. As the Preface explains (p. 7), there has been little written on the medieval German Passion play in recent decades, especially in English. West has chosen an unfortunate moment to publish his translation com­ bined with old and outdated views precisely when, as far as writing in German is concerned, this situation is changing rapidly. Though included 86 Reviews 87 in the Bibliography (pp. 123-26), it seems that David Brett-Evans’s Von Hrotsvit bis Folz und Gengenbach (2 vols., Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1975) appeared as West was completing his work and could not be used in the writing of the Introduction, where it is not mentioned. On the other hand W. F. Michael’s Das deutsche Drama des Mittelalters (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1971) is often mentioned ap­ provingly in footnotes. It is a measure of West’s scholarship that he resorts to even older sources such as Creizenach (2nd ed., 1911) for his information, while Brett-Evans has been castigated by German reviewers, notably Hansjurgen Linke (Anzeiger fiir deutsches Altertum, 88 [1977], 22-28) for failure to take heed of the most recent scholarship. It is also perturbing to find in what one hopes is a specialist work H. Kindermann’s Theatergeschichte Europeas being regarded as an authoritative source of valid opinions. Inexcusable is the omission from West’s bibliography of Rolf Steinbach, Die deutschen Oster- und Passionsspiele des Mittel­ alters (Cologne and Vienna, 1970), which is of inestimable value less for the opinions it contains than for the exhaustive bibliography on pp. 229-91. Besides a section on the St. Gall play (pp. 133-41), Stein­ bach also offers a section on the development of the German Passion plays as shown in the Frankfurt plays (cf. West, pp. 26ff, where what...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 86-90
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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