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Dramatic Troubles of Ecclesia: Gendered Performances of the Divided Church


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2017

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski
University of Pittsburgh
Cynthia J. Brown
Professor of French, Department of French and Italian, University of California, Santa Barbara
Ardis Butterfield
Professor of English, UCL
Mark Cruse
Assistant Professor of French, School of International Letters and Cultures, Arizona State University (possibly Associate Professor by publication date)
Kathryn A. Duys
Associate Professor, Department of English and Foreign Languages, University of St. Francis
Sylvia Huot
Reader in Medieval French Literature and Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge University
Marilyn Lawrence
Marilyn Lawrence is a Visiting Scholar of the French Department at New York University, USA.
E. Jane Burns
Curriculum in Women's Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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The relationship between the Church and medieval theater was fruitful and complex but it was also contested. Was the medieval Church a facilitator of, or an impediment to, the development of the theatrical form? How, for example, can one define the relationship between the dramatic elements of the liturgy and religious theater? Long ago Karl Young studied the drama of the medieval Church and its relation to the liturgy and posited rather rigid boundaries between the two. For him, any text that does not clearly indicate that human actors impersonate or perform specific characters is not a play. But as Carol Symes has shown in an important study of early medieval theater in France, our modern notions of what constitutes a text meant for performance are inadequate when it comes to the actual written documents and their manuscript context. The “arbiters of genre” Symes skewers want to see watertight categories of plays and non-plays in medieval culture; Symes, by contrast, sees fluid boundaries between a variety of performative texts. Indeed the drama of the medieval Church does not necessarily play itself out on a stage. Symes's study encourages us to rethink definitions of medieval theatricality and the different ways in which the medieval period approached the idea of performance.

For medieval writers there were many ways to stage performances without any explicitly theatrical accoutrements: allegorical psychomachias or interactive dream visions are just two examples of dramas that lose none of their vividness by not being actually performed by human actors. In this essay I propose to look at the notion of performance and its relationship to the medieval Church from a slightly different angle. Here the spotlight will not shine on the question of how the Church influenced the development of medieval theater but on the Church as “actress”: the star performer of my contribution to this volume is Ecclesia herself. My focus will be on the Church shown as suffering from one particular ill: one of the many schisms that again and again tore up her holy body over many centuries. We will see that Ecclesia's troubles are staged in a variety of texts and contexts: sacred and secular poetry, dream visions, and complaints cast in judicial language. In each case we witness a dramatization of a political crisis, a kind of allegorical drama, starring the Church as a complex female personification.

Cultural Performances in Medieval France
Essays in Honor of Nancy Freeman Regalado
, pp. 181 - 194
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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