L307 27009 MEDIEVAL DRAMA
Ellen MacKay

1:25p-2:15p MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

TOPIC: “Infanticide”

This course will examine a diverse sample of medieval drama, from its liturgical beginnings in the Easter mass to its extra- ecclesiastical flourishing in the forms of the Corpus Christi cycle, the morality play and the miracle or saint’s play. We will pay particular attention to the relation of the drama’s increasingly secularized performance conditions to its religious content. Our aim will be to illuminate the way Christian history and doctrine take on new and sometimes unanticipated meanings in performance.

By way of focusing our conversations about the theological and theatrical innovations of medieval drama, we will concentrate on the representation of infanticide—necessarily a central preoccupation in this corpus of plays. From the cycles, we will look at multiple dramatizations of Adam and Eve’s banishment from Eden, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, the ten plagues of Egypt, the massacre of the Innocents, the crucifixion, and the Wakefield Second Shepherd’s Play, which makes a Christmas comedy out of the drama of Easter. Among the miracle plays we will read the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, a farce that accuses the Jewish community of child- murder, in order to discuss the way anxieties attached to the rite of communion engender this manifestation of anti-Semitism. Finally, by way of considering the influence of medieval drama upon the later, more secular drama of early modern England, we will read Thomas Preston’s Cambises, King of Persia (1560), a tragedy that exploits child-sacrifice to further its Protestant agit-prop agenda. To set the stage for our discussion, we will read Barry Unsworth’s historical novel Morality Play, which recreates the conditions of medieval theatre performance in the compelling context of a fourteenth- century mystery.

In addition to this literature, we will undertake extensive critical readings on the plays, the conditions of their performance, their historical and religious milieu, and their theoretical implications. Each member of the class will complete at least two in-class presentations, one on a play and another on a critical essay, both of which involve a written component. The course will require two short essays and one longer, comparative paper.