English | Medieval and Tudor Drama
L307 | 26251 | Ellen MacKay

Ellen MacKay

10:10a-11:00a 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.