Advertisement

“Strange and Exotic”: Representing the Other in Medieval and Renaissance Performance

  • Kathleen M. Ashley
Chapter

Abstract

The discourse of the other has become a recognizable mark of contemporary cultural theory, as C. Clifford Flanigan pointed out over a decade ago: “One of the most important aspects of late twentieth-century social theory and cultural history is the discovery of heterology, or the recognition of different and anti-structural elements in various forms of social and cultural production.”1 Drawing variously on Lacanian theory, Derridean deconstruction, Marxist poststructuralism, and anthropological models, the discourse of the other has been put to widespread use in cultural and postcolonial studies. Recent analyses of medieval and early modern performance, too, are marked by their recognition of otherness in the form of the Jew, the Moor, the “carnivalesque,” and so on. In this essay I will focus on the highly charged scenes of the strange or exotic played in medieval and early modern performance through characters and actions distanced in time and space, teasing out the effects of sensation and spectacle such scenes imply. I want to linger more than is usually permissible on the ways in which these performance moments offered an alternative, pleasurable experience of otherness to their audiences, and thus to explore the formidable powers of surprise and wonder.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    “Liminality, Carnival and Social Structure:The Case of Late Medieval Biblical Drama,” in Victor Turner and the Construction of Cultural Criticism: Between Literature and Anthropology, ed. Kathleen M. Ashley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 42.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This is the interpretation popularized by Edward Said in Orientalism (1978; reprint. New York: Random House, 1985).Google Scholar
  3. On “Orientalism,” “Other/other,” and “Othering, ” see Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies (London: Routledge, 1998), 167–173.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Peter Mason, Deconstructing America: Representations of the Other (London: Routledge, 1990), 43.Google Scholar
  5. For a similar argument—that the tragedians of ancient Greece used the “barberoi” to define their own Athenian culture—see Edith Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition Through Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    He cites P. Vandenbroeck’s study Beeld van de Andere, Vertoog over het Zelf (Antwerp: Royal Museum for Fine Arts, 1987).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 26.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Wlad Godzich, “Foreword: The Further Possibility of Knowledge,” in Michel de Certeau, Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), xiii.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Costume lists for the First Day of the 1583 performance, with additional entries from 1583 and 1597, are translated in The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ages: Texts and Documents in English Translation, ed. Peter Meredith and John E. Tailby, EDAM Monograph Series 4 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1983).Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    The originals are found in M. Blakemore Evans, The Passion Play at Lucerne (New York: MLA, 1943), 193.Google Scholar
  11. See also the discussion by Hansjürgen Linke, “Germany and German-speaking central Europe” in The Theatre of Medieval Europe: New Research in Early Drama, ed. Eckhard Simon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 207–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 17.
    Archisynagogus’ stage behavior may be found in Medieval Drama, ed. David Bevington (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), 183.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    Various costumes featuring exotic turbans, hats with feathers, and curved sabers may be found in Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti antichi, et modemi di tutto il Mondo (Venice: Giovanni Bernardo Sessa, 1598), reproduced as Renaissance Costume Book (New York: Dover Publications, 1977).Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    Stella Mary Newton, Renaissance Theater Costume and the Sense of the Historic Past (London: Rapp and Whiting, 1975), 70–71.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    See also Jacques Thibaut’s description of the staging of the Mystère des SS Actes des Apostres at Bourges in 1536, with many characters dressed “à la mode antique” (222–26).Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    The negative effect of Jewish costume was doubtless intended in the Passion of Donaueschingen, where a symbolic figure Judea, who is disputing with “Christiana,” is said to be “judaiquement vêtue”; from Gustave Cohen, Histoire de la Mise en Scène dans le Théâtre Religieux français du Moyen Age (Paris: Champion, 1951), 223.Google Scholar
  17. See, however, the fascinating discussion of the utility of racial difference for “exploring the dialectics of difference and sameness within an expanding series of contexts” of fered by Claire Sponsler and Robert L. A. Clark in “Othered Bodies: Racial Cross-Dress-ing in the Mistère de la Sainte Hostie and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 29 (1999): 61–87.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    Stephen William Foster, “The Exotic as a Symbolic System,” Dialectical Anthropology 7 (1982): 21–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 30.
    For a contemporary reading of the souvenir as exotic object that is appropriated to private space, see Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 132–166.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    On Turner’s theories of “liminality,” see Kathleen M. Ashley, ed., “Introduction,” Victor Turner and the Construction of Cultural Criticism: Between Literature and Anthropology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), xviii–xix.Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    See Andre Grabar, Early Christian Art: From the Rise of Christianity to the Death of The odosius (New York: Odyssey Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  22. 33.
    G. Mantese, “Congregation ad honorem sacratissimi,” in Rivista di storia della chiesa in Italia 15 (1961): 109–22.Google Scholar
  23. 36.
    Richard Trexler, Bearing Gifts :The Magi Cult and the Documentation of Social Processes (Binghamton: Fernand Braudel Center, 1980).Google Scholar
  24. 38.
    Renata R. Mautner Wasserman, Exotic Nations: Literature and Cultural Identity in the United States and Brazil, 1830–1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), esp. 13–33, 244–259.Google Scholar
  25. Another recent theoretically sophisticated rejoinder to Said’s “Orientalist juggernaut” is Lisa Lowe’s Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  26. 39.
    A delightful survey is Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998).Google Scholar
  27. A persuasive study of the philosophical backgrounds to Shakespearean plays like Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest may be found in Peter G. Platt, Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvelous (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  28. See also T. G. Bishop, Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 40.
    Hugh Honour, The New Golden Land: European Images of America from the Discoveries to the Present Time (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975), 53.Google Scholar
  30. 41.
    For puzzled scholarly reactions to representations of the Turk, see Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals 1450–1650 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: 1984), 135Google Scholar
  31. Clarence D. Rouillard, The Turk in French History, Thought and Literature (1520–1660) (Paris: Boivin, 1941).Google Scholar
  32. 42.
    See examples cited in Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 119, 122, 247.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Claire Sponsler and Xiaomei Chen 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen M. Ashley

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations