Marginalia -- The Journal of the Medieval Reading Group at Cambridge



Irony as illumination: didactic communication in the verbal texture of the Mystery Cycles


et dicebat eis vobis datum est mysterium regni Dei illis autem qui foris sunt in parabolis omnia fiunt ut videntes videant et non videant et audientes audiant et non intellegant nequando convertantur et dimittantur eis peccata

[and he said ‘to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; so that “seeing they may see but not perceive, and hearing, hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and that their sins may be forgiven.”’] 1

In the sculptures and rose windows of Laon Cathedral, Emile Mâle observes that ‘the truths of the Scriptures are everywhere imaged in their most mysterious form, the verities of the New Testament disguised in the symbols of the Old.’ 2 We can extrapolate that such ‘verities’ are only available to believers, just as ‘the secret of the kingdom of God’ is denied to ‘those outside’ in Jesus’ discussion of parables in Mark’s gospel. While this understanding of the role of a parable diverges from that suggested in other gospels, it nonetheless provides a template for our reading of medieval drama. An imaginative space existed for the artists, sculptors, and writers of the medieval period in the contrast between those outside who may not perceive and a Christian audience. The dramatists of the Mystery cycles use this disparity to create a dialogic space: the audience and dramatist share recognition of the limited understanding of the play’s characters, and thus the audience moves beyond mere ‘seeing’ to full perception.

The most obvious example of unwittingly ironical articulation of the satisfaction Christ makes for human sin comes straight from the Bible.3 In St John’s gospel, Caiaphas sees that it will be expedient for one man to die for the people: expedit nobis ut unus moriatur homo pro populo et non tota gens pereat [it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and not for the whole people to perish] (John 11: 49-50). With Christian perspective, the Biblical exegetes might explain the significance of Caiaphas’ words to their congregations: it is expedient that one man should die for the people, since his death is the means of grace according to Christian belief. However Caiaphas’ understanding is limited to his own political and religious subjugation to the occupying Romans. He sees only that Jesus should become a scapegoat for the tensions between Romans and Jews in Jerusalem and cannot perceive the deeper truth of his words.

When the Biblical account of Caiaphas’ articulation of Christian truth is transferred to the dramatic arena in the N-Town cycle, the words act as a sub-textual dialogue between the audience and dramatist:

Attende now, serys, to þat I xal seye
Onto us all it is most expedyent
þat o man for þe pepyl xuld deye
þan all þe pepyl xuld perysch and be shent.4

The apostrophe ‘attende now’ calls the listeners to attention and ‘xuld’ follows ‘þe pepyl’ on each occasion, emphasising the dire consequences of Cayphas’ words with the dual message that the people ‘xuld deye’ and ‘xuld perysch’, whether in the immediate context of Roman occupation or in the wider context of salvation. ‘Shent’ similarly reverberates with soteriological connotations. In the MED, we find various glosses for the verb in addition to the most obvious meaning for this line: ‘kill’.5 Another possibility, ‘to bring to destruction, ruin, destroy’ (1(b)), fits both Cayphas’ concern for the position of the priests in the politically sensitive situation of Roman occupation and the subtext of the necessity of Jesus’ death for salvation. Even more significant in the context of the Last Judgment are two other glosses: ‘to put to shame, disgrace’ (3(a)) and ‘to punish’ (2(d)). With the first person plural pronoun phrase ‘us all’, Cayphas’ words simultaneously come from his legitimate dramatic position to include his colleagues in the Biblical story and from the dramatist’s didactic position to include himself and every member of the audience. The irony of the words thus offers illumination specifically to the Christian audience in the same way as the parables offer understanding only to those given ‘mysterium regni Dei’ (Mark 4.11 ‘the secret of the kingdom of God’).

As Pamela King notes, our response to the texts today can provide only a limited picture of the variety of responses from the people who watched the plays in medieval towns.6 Our reading of the plays necessarily diverges from the aural and visual experience of medieval audiences during a cycle performance. Yet we need not assume that the medieval audiences were incapable of perceiving aurally the theological references that we may derive from contemplation of a printed text. The various social backgrounds and educational opportunities of a medieval population, would enable the audience to grasp, to different degrees, the soteriological and doctrinal implications of words spoken by characters who ‘see […] but [do] not perceive’. Furthermore, the annual performance of each cycle would mean that townspeople would grow familiar with the work and thus could see new aspects to the plays with each production. Richard Beadle’s suggestion that an audience might respond to the metrical intricacy of the lines is just as apposite to the possibility of theological understanding: we should not underestimate these people, ‘[d]escended from generations who were more accustomed to hearing their literature than to reading it’.7 So the deeper significance ‘disguised’ in the meaning intended by a character can resonate with an irony, understanding of which is both predicated on, and conducive to, an understanding of doctrine. The words of the dramatists thus become a complement to the Word of God as set down in scripture and to the message of salvation it contains.

The verbal texture of the plays has, though, largely been ignored by critics, due to what Beadle terms the ‘critical uncertainty as to its status and purpose in writings of this period.’8 There is thus a scarcity of critical material dealing specifically with the intricacies of the language of the cycles. However the irony employed by the playwrights illuminates complex doctrinal issues for their audiences. The power of drama is exploited to engage with the intellect of the audience to lead them to the personal recognition of the theology underpinning the plays that is necessary to achieve salvation in the medieval concept of redemption: according to the Augustinian theology at the cornerstone of the medieval church, only believers will be saved. 9 Augustine states that an individual’s free will is granted by God so that each person determines their own soteriological state: they ‘might, that is, relinquish their blessedness and received misery as the immediate consequence.’10 As the Devil says in Piers Plowman, Christ can ‘save men from synne if hemself wolde.’11 So how does the irony of drama enact this recognition?

There is, as John W. Velz notes, an ‘inherent irony’ to Corpus Christi drama: an audience ‘easily and naturally familiar with the Scriptural stories’ knows the ending of each play but the characters are ‘in at least partial ignorance of the teleologies they are involved in’.12 He sees a further level of irony which relates specifically to my argument in this study, since a ‘Christian audience can be expected to see the action at any given moment sub specie aeternitatis – in the perspective of a grander plan – while the participants are confined sub specie temporis by their finite vision.’13 This disparity between the aeternitas of the audience and the tempus of the characters is crucial to the experience of watching the plays; as Donna Smith Vinter observes, ‘all time is post-Easter’.14 So the soteriological truths spoken by characters, even if articulated unwittingly, incorporate the historical moments of the action of their particular play and, simultaneously, of the Old Testament plays and medieval England.

The doctrinal significance of the plays has been amply demonstrated by V.A. Kolve, who delineates the typological relationships between the plays selected for performance.15 The dramatisation of Christ’s life relates backwards to the episodes from the Old Testament and forwards to the Last Judgement.16 Therefore, we must understand the Old Testament plays in the context of Augustine’s threefold understanding of figura. Erich Auerbach explains this understanding in his seminal essay on this topic: we must read the Old Testament ‘as a prophetic figura for the appearance of Christ; the incarnation as fulfillment of this figura and […] as a new promise of the end of the world and the Last Judgment; and finally, the future occurrence of these events as ultimate fulfillment.’17 The influence of this thought can be seen in the relationship between plays, which transcends the chronological sequence of performance. In the York Fall of Man, Satan tempts Eve: To gretter state ye may be broughte /And ye will do as I schall saye.18. Although he is dissembling purely to achieve disruption in Paradise (And harde to her I wol me hye […] / That purpose proue to putte it by, / And fande to pike fro hym þat pray. 15-19), his words suggest the beginning of the typological sequence of Redemption. Only through the Fall and its answer in the Passion can man be brought to Heaven, so the full implications of Satan’s words are allowed to emerge fully through the presentation of the full cycle. We will see Jesus pray to his father in The Crucifixion:

þou badde þat I schulde buxome be
For Adam plyght for to be pyned.
Here to dede I obblisshe me
Fro þat synne for to saue mankynde, (XXXV,51-54).

So the ‘gretter state’ to which Satan alludes in the York Fall becomes, in the heightened perception of a Christian audience, the salvation that will result from the sequence of events begun by Eve’s sin.19 William Langland’s alliterative verse is a particularly felicitous vehicle to articulate the familiar medieval concept of typological soteriology, since the connection of type and figure is replayed in the connection made by the alliterating initial:

That man shal man save| thorugh a maydenes helpe,
And that was tynt thorough tree,| tree shal it wynne,
And that Deeth down broughte,| deeth shal releve.20

The necessity of the Passion is enacted here in the pattern of ‘man’ following ‘man’ to maintain the alliterative stress. The two sections of line 140 are similarly inextricable: the epizeuxis ‘tree, tree’ is an emphatic reminder of the beautiful typological coherence of the Crucifixion within the soteriology, and ‘tynt’ is transformed by the caesura marked by the editorial comma into the rhyming yet triumphant word ‘wynne’. The drama presents this transformation through the dramatisation of the whole typological sequence. Therefore the audience might be expected to perceive soterial truths beyond the literal, immediate truth seen by the character speaking.

A glance at the Italian tradition reveals that Caiaphas’ role in John 11 is seen as grounds for damnation in the literature of this period. When Dante meets Caiaphas in the Inferno, his crime, as explained by Catalano, relates solely to the words from the Passion sequence I have discussed:

… Quel confitto che tu miri
consigliò i farisei che conveniva
porre un vom per lo popolo ai martiri.

Attraversato è, nudo, ne la via,
come tu vedi, ed è mestier ch’ei senta
qualunque passa come pesa, pria.

[The one you see nailed there /Advised the Pharisees it was expedient /That one man should be tortured for the people.
He lies across the path, naked, as you /See him, and so he is obliged to feel /The weight of everyone who has to pass.]21

Yet Caiaphas’ words seem to have privileged him with particular responsibility in the medieval church. His peculiar role as the vehicle for doctrinal exegesis is emphasised in the Chester version by the parenthesis ‘- this saye I – ’: Syr, yt is needful – this saye I – /that one man dye witterlye22 The first person pronoun suggests the importance of his opinion, creating a unique dialogic position, which can be seen further in other portrayals of Caiaphas in medieval England, including a Palm Sunday sermon, attributed to Wells Cathedral.23 In the voice of Caiaphas, the priest suggests that unwitting articulation can be the highest testimony to truth:

þe prophecie þt ich seyde þar
Ich hit seyde þo as a star
ich nuste what ich mende
Ich wende falslyche jangli þo
Of me þat wyt naddych no
bote as Ihesu sende (61-66)

Since he then spoke what he did not understand, seeing but not perceiving, Caiaphas now is placed, with divinely received hindsight, in the perfect position to help others to an understanding of the events of the Passion:

Lewede þt bereþ palm an honde
þat nuteþ what palm ys tonderstonde
Anon ichulle 3ou telle (133-35)

The example of Caiaphas is far from unique. While his explicit role as teacher in the Wells sermon is not duplicated in the drama, the idea that words spoken by adversaries of God unwittingly can articulate Christian truth informs the portrayal of tyrants in the four main cycles. In the Towneley Cesar Augustus, the buried allusion to the Eucharist contained within the stock oath ‘as ete I brede’ places Sirinius’ words in the context of Salvation through which bread becomes the body of the boy ‘done to dede’:

Now wote ye, lord, what that I reede;
I counsell you, as ete I brede,
What best therof may be:
Gar serche youre land in euery stede,
And byd that boy be done to dede
Who the fyrst may hym see.24

So when Sirinius suggests what ‘best therof may be’, the audience sees the resonance of his words both for Augustus and for all people: death of ‘that boy’ would decrease the political threat to the emperor in the temporal frame of the play and, in the eternal present enacted in the cycle, is essential for universal salvation. Furthermore, this irony coheres fully to the characterisation of these tyrants: Sirinius’ advice is as superbly inept as the oath that prompts the audience’s laughter.

Repentance and salvation are themes that emerge strongly when we analyse verbal texture in the Passion sequences. In contrast to Caiaphas’ words, which the dramatists were able to lift directly from John 11, other ironic speeches are not taken from the Bible; however, they at once contribute to and derive from the colloquial idiom common to the cycles, suggesting that the dramatists saw a role for words composed by men in contributing to the spiritual growth associated with the Word of God in scripture. In the Towneley Buffeting, 2 Tortor takes delight in his job, picturing himself and his colleagues as the heroes of the townspeople: Ther is none in this towne, I trow, be ill payde /Of his sorow, /Bot the fader that hym gate (21, 527-30). The soteriological truth that no one will be ‘ill payde’ by Jesus’ death because it will buy back man’s soul from the devil emerges from the invention of the Towneley dramatist. Furthermore, the specific reference to Jesus’ ‘fader that hym gate’ reinforces the strength of the soteriological pattern by reminding the audience that Christ’s ‘sorow’ is part of a divinely-determined plan. However, the audience knows that the torturer’s understanding is limited; he does not comprehend that, in paradoxical conjunction with the compassion of a father, God desires Jesus’ ‘sorow’ because this sorrow will bring about the salvation of mankind. The demonstrative adjective ‘this’ furthers the application of the soteriology to the audience in the particular town of performance: ‘this towne’ is simultaneously Jerusalem and Wakefield. The Towneley dramatist thus encapsulates the soteriological purpose of Jesus’ suffering with words that maintain the integrity of the character’s total ignorance of any meaning beyond his own literal delight in the torture.

The inappropriate joy that tyrants and torturers experience when Jesus is suffering can, through ironic disparity between words spoken and context, parallel a Christian’s joy at the satisfaction performed on his behalf. In the trial scene of the N-Town Passion plays, Herod’s words, taken out of context, could be the prayer of a devout medieval Christian: ‘My hert desyryth hym for to se’ (29,69). Herod’s desire is linked to the ‘woundrys’ of Christ which he mentions in the previous line, yet his phrasing brings to mind the writing of mystics such as Julian of Norwich. 25 The submerged meaning of Herod’s assertion can turn a ‘heathen’ into an exemplary Christian whose words might inspire similar devoutness in others. The dramatist’s use of language thus points to the recognition of a universal desire for the Saviour, even if that desire is unconscious.

Likewise, the words spoken by Judas in the N-Town Betrayal illustrate the creativity with which a dramatist could employ indirect didacticism and point to an unconscious desire for the Passion:

Welcome, Jesu, my maystyr dere
I haue þe sowth in many a place
I am ful glad I fynd þe here (28,103-03).

Judas’s words contain multi-layered irony. Judas himself speaks with duplicitous intent: he pretends to be a devoted disciple pleased to see his friend and master; in reality he has sought and is pleased to see Jesus because of his promise to Caiaphas and Annas. His own dual meaning adds a further didactic layer to the irony: his words articulate a Christian’s search for the sacrificial lord and his delight at finding him, and illustrate that these words can be spoken with a hard, equivocal heart. Implicitly, the dramatist suggests that outward piety can never lead to salvation while it hides antagonistic thoughts and motivation, and uses the audience’s recognition of the irony in Judas’ words to provoke them to consider this point and apply it to their own lives as Christians. Yet the irony stretches beyond the dual intention that the dramatist gives to Judas: his pretence at devotion to his lord actually represents the Christian believer’s vested interest in this moment. The Christian would be glad to see his or her master at the point of betrayal, since betrayal will lead to salvation. However that joy is tempered by the knowledge that it will first lead to Christ’s suffering, as Anselm elucidates in the eleventh-century text, Cur Deus homo:

Ut, cum videmus aliquem fortiter pati velle molestiam, ut perficiat, quod bene vult; quamvis fateamur nos velle, ut illam poenam sustineat, non tamen volumus aut anamus poenum eius, sed voluntatem [when we see a man who desires to endure pain with fortitude for the accomplishment of some good design; though we acknowledge that we wish to have him endure that pain, yet we do not choose, nor take pleasure in, his suffering, but in his choice].26

The experience of witnessing the enactment of these events, and of reaching individual understanding of the implications of Judas’s words, would make this painful debt clear to a member of the audience through a combination of the visual and aural aspects particular to drama.

Dramatic irony exists also in other forms of literature but its power is particularly effective in tragedy. We might think of Macbeth, where the audience can perceive the danger for the king in the witches’ prophecy that ‘none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth’ (4.1.95-96) yet only when Macduff reveals that he ‘was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripped’ (5.10.15-16) does Macbeth himself understand his vulnerability. The recognition of the irony acts as metanoia, which, as defined in rhetorical theory, ‘qualifies a statement by recalling it’ so that the reader might expand his belief or comprehension.27 It is a version of correctio or epanorthosis, which ‘stops a phrase in order to substitute one more fitting’. 28 This rhetorical meaning is distinct from the Christian gloss, which has remained closer to the Greek root metagnoia (repentance).29 When reading Biblical texts and stories, it is necessary to see meaning and truth oneself for the account to have any impact on one’s life. Metanoia offers this individual realisation.30 In the Mystery cycles, the concept of metanoia is made problematic by its emergence through the ironies discussed in this essay. The recall and qualification of a statement is offered in moment that the audience grasps the soteriological point but, since the character making the point does not himself grasp it, audience response is left open; they are given the chance to refute the soteriological implications, to ignore them or, crucially, to accept them and assimilate them into their own understanding of faith.

This metanoia can illuminate even the most opaque doctrine. St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo explores ‘qua scilicet ratione vel necessitate deus homo factus sit, et morte sua, sicut credimus et conitemur, mundo vita reddiderit’ [‘why God became man, and by his own death, as we believe and affirm, restored life to the world’].31 The conclusion reached illustrates the centrality and vitality of this doctrine to medieval soteriology: ‘[q]uod debitum tantum erat, ut illud solvere, cum non deberet nisi homo, non posset nisi deus, ita, ut idem esset homo, qui deus’ [‘this debt was so great that, while none but man must solve the debt, none but God was able to do it; so that he who does it must be both God and man’].32 The complexity and necessity (to the soteriological pattern) of Christ’s dual nature perhaps explains why the dramatists frequently make it the subject of their irony. II Consolator in the York Slaughter of the Innocents articulates this doctrine unwittingly when he advises Herod about the child seen by the Magi: ‘þer schalle neuere a man haue myght/ Ne maystrie unto zou’ (XIX, 55-56). Initially we may laugh at his ignorance, but then we realise that he is right: ‘neuere a man’ will defeat Herod: Christ is not only man but also God and this dual nature is essential to his triumph over Herod. The dramatist here creates a particular didactic space: the audience’s laughter depends upon a recognition and use of knowledge of the Christian story, which thus can reawaken or extend an understanding of the complex doctrinal issue of the dual nature of Christ. Likewise, the words of Caiaphas suggest Christ’s dual nature in the N-Town Trial Before Pilate: ‘A3ens þis no man may answere’ (30,133). In the N-Town play of Christ and the Doctors, primus doctor responds to Jesus’ questions by saying that ‘all erthely clerkys þat telle can nought:/ It passyth oure wytt þat for to contryve’ (21,53-54). He asserts what he ‘knows’: these questions are beyond human understanding. In so doing, he allows us to see what he does not perceive: Christ is not an ‘erthely clerke’; his knowledge is, to use a medieval term, ‘kyndely’: it is integral to his nature, to his divinity. So in this moment of metanoia the dramatist presents an opportunity for the audience to comprehend the dual nature of Christ.

We find a similar metanoia in the York Temptation, which dramatises Satan’s unsuccessful attempt to determine whether Jesus is human or divine: ‘If he be man in bone and bloode/ Hym hungris ill’ (XXII,45-46). Diabolus is unable to overcome Christ based on this hunger, which Jesus does not deny since to realise fully the dual nature, he must ‘be man in bone and bloode’. Dramatic enactment of Christ adds a further level of interest to this point since the divine is personated in an ordinary man; the Word becomes undeniably human flesh in the form of a medieval actor or guildsman. In the words of Richard J. Collier: ‘Corpus Christi drama, in bringing man and God together, imitates the Incarnation it also celebrates.’33

Does analysis of these moments of irony enable us to claim that dramatists ‘load’ words with submerged meanings and thus enter a doctrinal dialogue with the audience? We see the effect at work when the Towneley Herod asserts that ‘If I this crowne may bere,/ That boy shall by for all’(16,163-64). He surely means that the baby will ‘pay (dearly) for’ everything,34 yet a glance at the MED reveals that ‘bien’ and ‘abien’ had many definitions in the medieval period. The audience will recognise the possibility that ‘by’ could mean ‘to suffer’, ‘to deliver or free’ or ‘to redeem or save’. Indeed, ‘by’ means ‘redeem’ at other points in the cycle, which supports my proposition that the dramatist employs the ambiguity consciously to create an irony which undercuts the figure of Herod and which thus allows Jesus’ persecutor to speak His truth: ‘That boy’ shall suffer, deliver and redeem ‘for all’. This may appear to be merely a clever trick by the playwright, yet during the trial scenes in the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus values the articulation of Christian truth by figures who are not believers: ‘Pilatus autem interrogavit eum dicens tu es rex Iudaeorum at ille respondens ait tu dicis.’ [Pilate asked him, saying ‘are you king of the Jews’ and he responded ‘it is as you say’] (Luke 23:3; my italics).

The dramatic rendering of these instances potentially affects each individual’s hope for salvation; the audience’s recognition of a doctrinal point through the dramatist’s use of wordplay may create an impetus to live a more ‘Godly’ life, as we see when the N-Town Herod swears: ‘be gracyous Mahound, more myrth nevyr I had/ Ne nevyr more joye was inne from tyme of my byrth!’ (20,209-10). The line indicates Herod’s repulsive character: he feels superlative joy on hearing his soldiers go out to kill children (‘With my spere sle hem I xall /And so cast down his pride’ 205-06). However, he simultaneously and unknowingly articulates Christian joy, particularly appropriate to the Nativity sequence, which is underlined in his colloquialism: ‘from tyme of my byrth’. This reminder of future joy through the lips of one to whom that joy will be denied (his oath to Mahound confirms his regenerate state) encapsulates salvation and damnation in speech and speaker so each member of the audience might consider their own sinful state. The dramatist does not need to resort to direct didacticism; the amusing irony engages the audience’s sense of humour and intellect to hint at a doctrinal position of undeniable importance to medieval Christianity.

Here we might consider the literal meaning of metanoia: ‘repentance’. Perhaps recognition and repentance are inextricable at this moment: the rhetorical gloss may lead to the Christian gloss in an individual believer. Eleanor Prosser argues that repentance is the unifying moral purpose which underlies the cycles.35 Full acceptance of Prosser’s argument would unnecessarily limit interpretation of the plays. However, a space for repentance is opened in the active thought process begun by recognition of these ironies. Indeed, in an interesting refutation of the importance of repentance in and of itself, Richard Holloway indicates the necessity of just such a space.

God’s acceptance of us, in spite of all we know against ourselves, is the cause, not the result of our repentance. This word “repentance” is interesting in this context. It means a real change of mind, not a calculated pretence of change, not the adoption of a form of words that might suggest change, but an actual event in the mind and heart that turns our view of reality around.36

Holloway’s interpretation suggests the importance of metanoia since it might promote this ‘real change of mind’. The thought process enacted in a moment of metanoia similarly coheres with the connection that Prosser notes between the Corpus Christi processions and the ‘campaign of education’ for the priesthood and, eventually, the laity, which resulted from the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.37

A single couplet articulating the Towneley Tortor’s fear of Christ’s power to destroy the Old Law seems to be a key to understanding the role of the plays: ‘He wold fayn downe bryng/ Oure lawes bi his steuen’ (21,133-34). The torturer sees the importance of Jesus’ ‘steuen’: his voice and his words. This is how the new law is established, which opens a way for the contribution of the words of the dramatists and the voices of the actors to the growth and continuation of the doctrine in their own time. Further study of the verbal texture of the plays is therefore required so that students of medieval drama can assess the ambiguities and ironies employed by the dramatists. In turn this might enable us not only to gain new understanding of the production process of the mystery cycles but also to see that the complexities of Christianity were recognised and articulated in the vernacular in the medieval period. Other popular performative genres such as lyric and carol are likely to offer opportunities for further work of the kind outlined above.

Linda R. Bates, U. of Cambridge




1. Mark 4 11-12; cf Isaiah 6:9; all Biblical quotations are taken from the Vulgate; translations are my own.

2. Emile Mâle, Religious Art: from the twelfth to the eighteenth century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949), (p.94).

3. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), pp.400-02.

4. The N-Town Play: Cotton MS Vespasian D.8, ed. by Stephen Spector, 2 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), (I, Play 27, 89-92); all future references will be to play- and line-numbers of this edition and will be given in the text.

5. MED, shenden (v); 4(a).

6. Pamela M. King, ‘Seeing and Hearing; Looking and Listening’, ET, 3 (2000), 155-66, (p.155).

7. Richard Beadle, ‘The York Cycle’ in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, ed. by Beadle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, repr 2003), pp.85-108, (p.100).

8.Richard Beadle, ‘Verbal Texture and Wordplay in the York Cycle’, ET, 3 (2000) 167-84, (p.167).

9.McGrath, pp.418-19.

10.Augustine, City of God Against the Pagans, trans. by R.W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), (XXII, p.1107).

11.William Langland, Piers Plowman: a complete edition of the B-text, ed. by A.V.C. Schmidt, rev. edn (London: Everyman, 1987), (Passus XVIII.305).

12.John W. Velz, ‘Cosmic Irony in Medieval Tragicomedy and Renaissance Tragedy’, Cahiers Elisabethains, 18 (Oct 1980), 3-10 (p.3).

13.Velz, p.4.

14.Donna Smith Vinter, ‘Didactic Characterization: The Towneley Abraham’, CD, 14.2 (Summer 1980), 117-36 (p.122).

15.V.A. Kolve, The Play called Corpus Christi (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), Fig.I, p.85.

16.Kolve, pp.42-43.

17.Erich Auerbach, “Figure”, trans. by Ralph Manheim, in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature: Six Essays by Erich Auerbach (New York: Meridian, 1959), pp.11-76, (p.41).

18. The York Plays, ed. by Richard Beadle (London, 1982), V,61-62; all future references will be to play- and line-numbers of this edition and will be given in the text.

19.The term ‘gretter state’ is slightly problematic since Satan uses it to a prelapsarian Eve in the garden. However, this ‘gretter state’ applies to the members of the audience who hear the lines after the Fall.

20.Langland, XVIII.139-41

21.Dante, The Divine Comedy, text with trans. by Geoffrey L. Bickersteth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972), Inferno 23.115-120. The translation cited is from C.H. Sisson’s paperback edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

22.The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. by R.M. Lumiansky and David Mills, 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), (I, Play XVI, 16-20); all future references will be to play- and line-numbers of this edition and will be given in the text.

23.Palm Sunday sermon cited in full by Carleton Brown, ‘Caiphas [sic] as a Palm-Sunday Prophet,’ in Anniversary Papers by colleagues and pupils of George Lyman Kittredge presented on the completion of his twenty-fifth year of teaching in Harvard University June, MCMXIII (Boston and London: Ginn, 1913), pp.105-117.

24.The Towneley Plays, ed. by Martin Stevens and A.C. Cawley, 2 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), (I, Play 9, 181-86); all future references will be to play- and line-numbers of this edition and will be given in the text.

25.Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love, ed. by Marion Glasscoe, revised edn (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993, repr.2003); see for example Chapter 16, viiith revelation: ‘Blodeleshede and peyne dryden within and blowyng of wynde and cold comyng fro withouten metten togeder in the swete body of Criste’, p.24.

26.Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, ed. by Franciscus Schmitt, in Florilegium Patristicum tam veteris quam medii aevi auctores complectens XVIII, ed. by Bernhard Geyer and Johannes Zellinger (Bonn: Hanstein, 1929), I.X, pp.16-17; translation from St. Anselm: Basic Writings, trans. by S.N.Deane, 2nd edn (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1962, repr. 1994), pp.191-302, (p.213).

27.A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices, ed. by Robert A. Harris (; VersionDate: April 6, 2005; accessed 28th April 2006.

28.Brian Vickers, In Defence of Rhetoric (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.422.

29.Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, ed. by James Morwood, John Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

30.I am indebted to Dr. Jessica Martin for discussing Biblical metanoia with me.

31.Anselm, I.i p.5; trans. pp.192-93.

32.Anselm, II.XVIII p.60; trans. p.293.

33. Richard J. Collier, Poetry and Drama in the York Corpus Christi Play (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon, 1977), p.18.

34. Towneley, II, 659.

35. Eleanor Prosser, Drama and Religion in the English Mystery Plays: a re-evaluation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961).

36. Richard Holloway, Dancing on the Edge (London: Harper Collins, 1997), p.35.

37. Prosser, pp.19-21; c.f. A.C. Cawley, ‘Medieval Drama and Didacticism’ in The Drama of Medieval Europe: proceedings of the colloquium held at the University of Leeds, 10-13 September 1974, Leeds Medieval Studies 1 (Leeds, 1977), 3-21 (p.10).


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