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IMC 2015: Sessions

Session 332: Renewal in Medieval Spanish and English Theatre

Monday 6 July 2015, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Lenke Kovács, Departament de Filologia Catalana, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona
Paper 332-aThe Budding Rod: Renewing the Old Husband in the York Joseph's Trouble about Mary
(Language: English)
Joe Ricke, Department of English, Taylor University, Indiana
Paper 332-bReligious Renewal in Medieval Shepherds' Plays from England and Castile
(Language: English)
Vicente Chacón Carmona, Departmento de Literatura Inglesa y Norteamericana, Universidad de Sevilla
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Language and Literature - Spanish or Portuguese, Performance Arts - Drama
Paper 332-cRenewal and Its Discourses in the N-Town Nativity Play
(Language: English)
Sarah Star, Department of English, University of Toronto, Downtown
Index terms: Medicine, Performance Arts - Drama, Religious Life

Paper -a:
My paper will examine the ironic but ultimately redemptive story of an old, henpecked husband, not Chaucer's January, but the York Cycle's Joseph. By turns comic, grotesque, and absurd, old Joseph complains to the audience not only about his apparent cuckolding at the hands of his young wife Mary, but laments his ironic treatment at the hands of God (or nature or fate). He was, after all, chosen to be Mary's husband because his 'dry wand [which he] on high held in hand' miraculously blossomed, 'flourished fair, and flowers on spread.' He carps, though, that despite his apparent victory in the legendary story, he 'ne wist what it meant.' Especially given his present physical and emotional state.

The Joseph who addresses us directly and who, later, interacts with his unrepentant young wife and her two saucy handmaidens, is anything but vigorous, however much his rod sprouted that day in the temple. Not only does he exist in a sort of permanent state of dithering, but he complains over and over again to Mary that all she has to do is look at him to know that he could never have been the father of a child. He couldn't have done because he couldn't do it. After his frustrating, drawn-out verbal sparring with the three women, Joseph retires to take a nap when he is visited by an angel. We know the story. He is convinced and reconciles with Mary.

Although many have rightly pointed out the poignant ending of the play, with Joseph's humble prayer for forgiveness and Mary's refusal to consider that he even needs to ask her (a sort of conduct book for young wives of foolish husbands, if you will), what is often overlooked is the renewal of old Joseph, both spiritually and physically. The play's final scene depicts the obvious message of renewal through submission and humility (albeit somewhat surprisingly with a husband submitting to his wife). But the abundant recompense for old Joseph is a kind of physical renewal clearly marked in his language and actions, in stark contrast with his mumbling and grumbling and dithering earlier. So much so that he insists she pack all their gear immediately so he can carry it all the way to Bethlehem, a journey not even previously mentioned in the play by Joseph, Mary, or the angel of the Lord. His final words insisting that he will have to carry the load since 'little thing will women dere,' suggest that he is recharged, if not supercharged, and ready to go. We know from doctrine that his renewal did not extend to doing it with the mother of God, but the ending of the play more than suggests, especially given the doubly ironic transformation of the comic impotent old cock that he would have and he could have if the old old story had allowed.

One of the characteristic features that reveal the new spiritual state of the shepherds in medieval Nativity plays is that they are able to envisage the coming of Christ in the light of the Old Testament prophecies. A contemporary reader or spectator must have found such prophetic announcements rather surprising, particularly because they are spoken by rustic characters. In addition, the plays reflect the characters’ new spiritual state by means of music and song, which is usually polyphonic. This paper analyzes this religious renewal in a series of English and Castilian plays in the light of the liturgical texts set aside for Advent and Christmastide. Special attention is paid to The Towneley First Shepherds' Play, since it includes the most comprehensive account of messianic prophecies among the English dramas; on the Castilian side, Égloga de la Natividad by López de Yanguas (ca. 1487-?) is also considered, as it lays special emphasis on prophecy and typology.

Paper -c:
This paper analyzes the vocabulary of blood and bodily integrity shared by medieval medical discourse and the N-Town Nativity Play to examine the relationship the play constructs between the bodily and spiritual renewal of two, seemingly opposing, female characters and two, seemingly separate, medieval discourses. Through close analysis of the medical language evoked in the play, I argue that Salome's spiritual renewal is enabled, first, by her own bodily renewal and, second, by her realization that Mary's holy body cannot be penetrated and thus transcends renewal's bodily and spiritual potential. In establishing a direct relationship between Salome's renewal and Mary's transcendence of it, this paper simultaneously explores the social significance of displaying a convergence of two medieval discourses of renewal: medical and religious.