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Introduction: Devotional Modes of Becoming in Late Medieval York

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Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)

Abstract

I remember distinctly the experience that sparked my passion for theatre. I was ten years old and sat in the front row of the mezzanine at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. During the performance, I leaned forward, my forehead pressed to the balcony railing and eyes glued to the stage. In the weeks that followed, despite repeatedly recounting in vivid detail all that I had heard and seen onstage, I felt incapable of expressing in words the show’s powerful impact on me. Its narrative and main idea were not the source of pleasure; the spectacular set, make-up, and costumes were not the cause either. And although I am certain that I had seen other plays before this one, this is the production that stays with me even now. It was Cats.

Keywords

Cognitive Theory Performance Literacy Theatrical Event Visual Culture Parish Church 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Aleksandra Wolska, “Rabbits, Machines, and the Ontology of Performance,” Theatre Journal 57, no. 1 (2005): 85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Kathleen Ashley, “Sponsorship, Reflexivity and Resistance: Cultural Readings of the York Cycle Plays,” in The Performance of Middle English Cultures: Essays on Chaucer and Drama in Honor of Martin Stevens, eds. James J. Paxson, Lawrence M. Clopper, and Sylvia Tomasch, 9–24 (Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1998)Google Scholar
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  5. 4.
    There are certainly exceptions. Two recent publications that address this gap are: Theodore K. Lerud, Memory, Images, and the English Corpus Christi Drama (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    David Morgan, Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 1.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    The narrator in Piers Plowman recalls: “The ladies danced until the day dawned, / When the men rang bells to the resurrection—right then I woke, / And I called to Kytt my wife and Calote my daughter: / “Rise and go do honor to God’s resurrection, / And creep to the cross on knees, and kiss it as if it were a jewel!” William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, ed. A. V. C. Schmidt, 2nd ed. (London: J. M. Dent, 1995), 325.Google Scholar
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    Nicholas Love, The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Critical Edition Based on Cambridge University Library Additional MSS 6578 and 6686, ed. Michael G. Sargent (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992).Google Scholar
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    Sarah Stanbury argues, “One of the most striking and coercive features of both the Meditationes and of Love’s Mirror is the use of the vocative, the voice of an invisible authority that not only orchestrates the story and commentary but also tells us how to see it, coaxing us to ‘behold’ landmark events in Christ’s life.” The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 178.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    See particularly Emile Mâle, Religious Art in France, The Twelfth Century: A Study of the Origins of Medieval Iconography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)Google Scholar
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    York Art: A Subject List of Extant and Lost Art Including Items Relevant to Early Drama, ed. Clifford Davidson (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1978), iii.Google Scholar
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    For a critique of EDAM’s mission, see Martin Stevens, “The Intertextuality of Late Medieval Art and Drama,” New Literary History 22, no. 2 (Spring 1991): 318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    As I will argue in chapter one, materiality is a particularly important element to consider with respect to medieval art. As Herbert L. Kessler writes, “Overt materiality is a distinguishing characteristic of medieval art... The materials do not vanish from sight through the mimicking of the perception of other things; to the contrary, their very physicality asserts the essential artifice of the image or object.” Seeing Medieval Art (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004), 19.Google Scholar
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    Robert Scribner describes piety as a “way of seeing” in “Popular Piety and Modes of Visual Perception in Late Medieval and Reformation Germany,” Journal of Religious History 15 (1989): 456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Here are just a few texts published on this subject in the last decade: Madeline H. Caviness, Visualizing Women in the Middle Ages: Sight, Spectacle, and Scopic Economy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001)Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 143. See also Sponsler, Drama and Resistance, 50–74; and Felicity Riddy, “Mother Knows Best: Reading Social Change in a Courtesy Text,” Speculum 71, no. 1 (January 1996): 66–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Robert L. A. Clark, “Constructing the Female Subject in Devotion,” in Medieval Conduct, eds. Kathleen Ashley and Robert L. A. Clark (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 173–4.Google Scholar
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    See particularly Performance and Cognition, eds. Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart (New York: Routledge, 2006)Google Scholar
  31. Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy, eds. David Krasner and David Z. Saltz (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006)Google Scholar
  32. Anne L. Clark’s essay “Why All the Fuss About the Mind? A Medievalist’s Perspective on Cognitive Theory,” in History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, eds. Rachel Fulton and Bruce Holsinger (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 170–81.Google Scholar
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    Bruce McConachie, “Preface,” Performance and Cognition: Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn, eds. Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart (New York: Routledge, 2006), ix.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of the Mind (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 14.Google Scholar
  36. Mark Johnson’s recent work in this area, see The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  37. 35.
    Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi, The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), 5Google Scholar
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    Naomi Rokotnitz, “‘It is required/You do awake your faith’: Learning To Trust the Body Through Performing The Winter’s Tale,” in Performance and Cognition: Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn, eds. Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart (New York: Routledge, 2006), 140.Google Scholar
  39. 40.
    There has been a significant amount of research on the art and architecture of medieval York, including York Art, edited by Clifford Davidson, and the Royal Commission’s Inventories of Historical Monuments in York. I have used Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York. Volume Three: Southwest of the Ouse (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1972)Google Scholar
  40. 41.
    E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1903).Google Scholar
  41. 42.
    Harold C. Gardiner, Mysteries’ End (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946)Google Scholar
  42. V. A. Kolve, The Play Called Corpus Christi (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966)Google Scholar
  43. Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).Google Scholar
  44. 43.
    Martin Stevens, Four Middle English Mystery Cycles: Textual, Contextual, and Critical Interpretations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. R. M. Lumiansky and David Mills, The Chester Mystery Cycle: Essays and Documents (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1983)Google Scholar
  46. Peter W. Travis, Dramatic Design in the Chester Cycle (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1982)Google Scholar
  47. Patrick J. Collins, The N-Town Plays and Medieval Picture Cycles (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1979).Google Scholar
  48. 44.
    In Four Middle English Mystery Cycles, Martin Stevens identifies the York cycle as “more nearly a communal enterprise than any other extant English cycle” (17). Richard Beadle describes how York’s cycle “contrasts variously with the eclectic approach to the cycle structure adopted by the compiler of the N-town manuscript, or Chester’s self-conscious attempt to recreate the genre in a form appropriate to the changing times of the sixteenth century, or the radical experimentations with the individual components of the cycle found in the plays of the Wakefield Master.” See “The York Cycle,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, ed. Richard Beadle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 89.Google Scholar
  49. 45.
    Alexandra F. Johnston and Margaret Rogerson, eds., Records of Early English Drama: York, 2 vols (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), xix.Google Scholar
  50. Theresa Coletti’s “Reading REED: History and the Records of Early English Drama,” in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain 1380–1530, ed. Lee Patterson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 248–84Google Scholar
  51. Patricia Badir’s response, “Playing Space: History, the Body, and Records of Early English Drama,” Exemplaria 9, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 255–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 46.
    I am not suggesting that an exact reconstruction of the medieval performance could ever take place. However, York’s topography still provides the pageant route, with many medieval buildings and churches along its path. As Eileen White admits, “it is still possible to walk the streets of York that contained the procession of wagons and by their shape and size dictated the style of performance, and sense a link between the old and the new tradition” (75). “Places to Hear the Play: The Performance of the Corpus Christi Play at York,” Early Theatre 3 (2000): 49–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 51.
    Ibid., 3. Revisiting the A/Ywith a digital camera, Meg Twycross has identified previously unseen erasures and emendations that shed further light on the continually shifting life of the York cycle. In respect to this particular 1376 entry, she discovered that it “is written over an erasure in a different ink and different, later, hand, and that the accepted dating of the earliest record of the York cycle is therefore, to say the least, unsafe” (113). She suggests that, at this point, the hand looks like “one which appears later in the Memorandum Book, from the 1390s” (129). “The Ordo paginarum Revisited, with a Digital Camera,” in “Bring furth thepagants”: Essays in Early English Drama Presented to Alexandra F. Johnston, eds. David Klausner and Karen Sawyer Marsalek (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 105–31.Google Scholar
  54. 53.
    Alexandra F. Johnston argues that these plays were presented on wagons in the same processional format as the Corpus Christi cycle, and most scholars believe that both the Creed and Pater Noster plays were divided into smaller pageants that coincided with the petitions. See Johnston, “The Plays of the Religious Guilds of York: The Creed Play and The Pater Noster Play,” Speculum 50 (1975): 55–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sue Powell, “Pastoralia and the Lost York Plays of the Creed and Paternoster,” European Medieval Drama 8 (2004): 35–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 59.
    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, “Becoming and Unbecoming,” in Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, eds. Cohen and Wheeler (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1997), xviii.Google Scholar

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© Jill Stevenson 2010

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