Despite his many appellations, N-Town’s Contemplacio has never been called a preacher, nor have the revisions at the heart of the compilation been considered from the perspective of medieval sermon theory. I argue in this paper that Contemplacio’s several, strategic appearances in N-Town’s Mary Play are as a meta-preacher and provide the connective tissue of a sermon’s form to enable Mary to function as both a character and a preaching exemplum (moral tale). Made material doubly, Mary is both physical body and textual body. N-Town therefore explores the materiality of embedding one performance within another, using the play form to make material the performance of the sermon, all while interrogating the performance of gender: as preaching exemplum, Mary’s body and erudition are texts firmly within the presentational control of the male preacher Contemplacio. In other words, N-Town’s display of Mary ultimately is a display of the preacher who conveys knowledge through the recognizable, masculine discourse of the sermon. N-Town therefore affords the opportunity to consider how repurposing the medieval sermon’s rhetorical toolbox as drama refashions the materiality of performance.
Connections between the York Cycle and the Wakefield-Towneley Plays are well known but structural and staging parallels have gone unnoticed. The latest edition of Wakefield-Towneley maintains the manuscript is a compilation for devotional reading, never intended for staging as a cycle. Earlier scholars believed the Wakefield Plays were structured for a static wagon-wheel setting, in contrast to the wagon-train production at York. Recent research from a materialist approach suggests the collections in the York Register and the Towneley Manuscript may have more in common than anyone knew. Fresh comparisons open exciting possibilities for a better understanding of all the Cycles.
Cross-gendered casting is a major discussion point today for female actors, but it was also an issue for Shakespeare and colleagues. It was not enough for the boy player to have a pretty face, a high voice, and acting skills for an experienced and informed audience to truly suspend disbelief. The fact that Shakespeare’s stage women are so credible and generate so much discussion on gender today, is because he used a system of visual and verbal coding through often seemingly trivial details embedded in the dialogue or stage presence, such as age, complexion, body image, gait, temperament, costume and colour, and diet. By recuperating these stage clues we can more fully appreciate the dramatic techniques employed in representing the female body on the early modern stage.