Saturday, August 19, 2006

Medieval drama links and stuff

This one is for the fans of medieval drama out there. And I just know there are millions of you.

So one of the things that got me all excited about The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period, the anthology I keep mentioning but not yet writing about, is its medieval drama section, which is simply awesome. Yes, I always judge an anthology by its medieval drama section (where appropriate, that is), because it's easiest to tell if an anthology is carefully and thoroughly done, up-to-date, interesting and innovative by seeing what they do with medieval drama. As I've written before, too often editors have let that section fester with out-of-date misinformation, like saying that drama started in the church, moved to the church steps, and finally moved to the city streets. So wrong -- and so stinking out of date -- in so many ways.

Anywho, what initially got me really excited about this anthology was not only that it was absolutely up-to-date on current knowledge of drama (it doesn't even make the now questionable assumption that all medieval plays were written by clergy) but also that it made really cool text selections. It has the Jeu d'Adam!! The Jeu d'Adam, people! That's so exciting! It means, among other things, one more 12th century text, one more Anglo-Norman text, one more opportunity to remind students that literature in the Middle Ages was multi-lingual, and one more way to talk about different communities and audiences for texts, dramatic or otherwise. And if you're doing a Med-Ren survey, it would make a nice pairing with Milton's Paradise Lost, as a study in the cultural uses and interpretations of this supposedly traditional, sacred and 'fixed' story. The only other place you can get the Jeu d'Adam in an anthology is in Bevington's Medieval Drama (that's the translation they use, btw.) And the other exciting bit is the edition of Mankind they've used -- they've modernized the spelling and punctuation especially for this edition. I love teaching Mankind in my medieval lit. courses and have done so many times, but my students do get lost in the language. The simple matter of changing a medieval 'y' to a modern 'i' -- and other such changes that don't effect prosody -- makes all the difference to student learning. Yay for Broadview doing this! It also includes Everyman as well as Mankind, so students can see the variety of allegorical drama. Oh, and Flavia, you'll be happy to hear that it has the Chester Noah's Flood, too, which I recall you were missing in the new Norton. (I think it was you, wasn't it?)

I have other things to say about the anthology, but I'll save them for another post, one that isn't dedicated to all things dramatic.

So now, on to the links. Back when I was talking up the revised Norton -- which, to its credit, updated its medieval drama section; but alas, no Jeu d'Adam -- I kind of picked on poor Everyman and a lot of you concurred. And it is true that it has been misused critically and pedagogically as a kind of fall-guy for the dullness of the 15th century and the flatness of medieval drama. Plus, there is still much critical debate about just how English, medieval, and dramatic it is -- thus one can question its use in the Norton and other anthologies as an exemplar of medieval allegorical drama. And I have to say, I just personally prefer the raucous Mankind or the spectacular and comprehensive Castle of Perseverance. But we were later taken to task, perhaps rightly so, for underestimating the dramatic power of Everyman. You probably didn't see this comment because its writer came by long after the freshness of that post had expired. Its author, Douglas Morse, is making a film version of Everyman, and I wanted to alert you all to it and to the director's web page, so that you might put yourselves on the mailing list and consider using a DVD of it when teaching Everyman, or at least check out the stills and clips. It's a film and not a filmed version of a stage production, so it won't give students a sense of Everyman as a play, per se, but it might still be pedagogically useful.

Meanwhile, in other Everyman news...I blogged about this before, but it was in a quicky post that got lost between other posts way back when, so I'm going to blog about it again. So there! The "it," btw, is a blog called Tuco's Lament, about one man's creative process of re-envisioning The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly through the lens of Everyman, and doing the whole thing with puppets. Don't laugh -- puppetry is a beautiful art. Just look at his Everyman/Tuco puppet or this gorgeous backdrop. I suppose I've loved puppetry all my life -- Sesame Street and I are the same age, and I grew up on the muppets -- but I got into really artful puppetry and marionettes when my 5th grade social studies teacher, whom I thought was the coolest of the cool, told me she was a puppeteer and invited me to a show. Until then, I never realized how real and beautiful live marionettes could seem. Exquisite. And yes, I love Being John Malkovich, especially the Heloise and Abelard puppet show. So add Tuco's Lament to your list of post-modern puppet reinventions of medieval narratives! It appeals to me, anyway.


Tommy said...

Here's what Jack Handey has to say about Mankind (and I'm paraphrasing here...)

To understand mankind, you have to look at the word itself. It's composed of two root words, "mank" and "ind." What do these words mean? Nobody knows. It's a mystery. And so is mankind.

Dr. Virago said...

That's hiilarious, Tommy. I have that same exact, er, quote on my office door at school! :)

The play Mankind is even funny than that, I swear!

Btw, did you see me refer to my summer as a "governess" in 69 facts post?

Dr. Virago said...

Er, I'm assuming you're my Real Life friend Tommy, but if you're not, ignore that last bit about being a governess.

Anonymous said...

The Broadview Anthology is definitely a medieval drama specialist's dream come true. I do think that the decision to include the Towneley Herod alongside the Towneley Second Shepherds' Play and the Chester Noah's Flood is the wrong one: I would rather have a play from the York cycle or the N-Town manuscript than 2 from Towneley.

The only real flaw with the Broadview medieval volume is the almost total absence of William Langland's Piers Plowman: 2 brief excerpts do not suffice.

Bardiac said...

It takes a true medievalist to rave about the Jeu d'Adam.

One of my best memories from a grad school class came during a discussion of the N Town Annunciation. I still get chills.

Dr. Virago said...

Rob, yes, you're right -- I'd forgotten that they chose the Towneley Herod, which I also thought was odd. And it's a bit weird that there's no Crucifixion or other Passion-related play from *any* cycle. And I'm actually kind of sick of the whole "Wakefield Master" chestnut in general.

And yes, I too found the small selection of Piers odd -- and it's even relegated to the "contexts" sections. Then again, I tend to avoid PP in my classes because I find it so hard to teach to my students (though sometimes I pull in Christ jousting in Piers armor with other crucifixion texts).

I haven't gone to the website yet, which the introduction says has additional texts. That's one thing that was holding me back from writing about the whole thing. In general, though, I think they're striving hard to be "different" (literally and in the colloquial sense) and they've achieved that. Plus, I often assign two anthologies -- both to make use of a variety of texts and to show students how an anthology is a critical statement.

And Bardiac -- te-hee, are you saying I'm a nerd? ;)

Anonymous said...

I can see the desire not to use the York Crucifixion, amazing as it is: both Norton and Longman have it. But there are other plays from the York cycle that they could have chosen, and they could have really gotten ahead of Norton and Longman by choosing an N-Town play (since N-Town has never made any appearance in these anthologies).

You're right that Piers is hard to teach, esp. in a Brit. Lit. survey class (although I think that Passus 1 and the General Prologue would make a good week's worth of lectures and discussions). Remind me to tell you some time about my decision to make Piers Plowman the second text I ever taught (the first was Patience). It was in a freshman English seminar on allegory . . . ah, the stupid days of early grad school!

The dealbreaker for me on Broadview was the failure to include Parliament of Fowls (Longman has this text, and it's Longman that I use). I adamantly refuse to teach any of the Tales in the survey course: to do them justice, you need to teach the General Prologue and 1 other tale. Which means 2 weeks of class. Which means cutting out 1 other medieval author--something I will not do. Parliament gets around the entire issue by encapsulating the class dynamic of the Tales in 700 lines. :)

Where I would use Broadview in a heartbeat is in a medieval English lit. survey course. The Old English selections go a long way to demonstrating that OE lit. is more than just meadhalls and monsters. You've got an amazing selection of romances, and the wealth of drama selections we've already discussed. Couple this with a decent translation of Langland, and you're set.

Dr. Virago said...

Where I would use Broadview in a heartbeat is in a medieval English lit. survey course. The Old English selections go a long way to demonstrating that OE lit. is more than just meadhalls and monsters. You've got an amazing selection of romances, and the wealth of drama selections we've already discussed. Couple this with a decent translation of Langland, and you're set.

And that's exactly the kind of course I'm consdering it for. We don't have a survey (I thought I'd just throw that Jeu d'Adam-Milton match-up idea out there) and my Medieval Lit. course is "Excluding Chaucer" (just like the MLA divisions!) and I teach Chaucer separately, so I hadn't really thought about this anthology in terms of its Chaucer selections. Thanks for the comments for the sake of those who do teach surveys and need to think about the Chaucer selections!

And you're absolutely right about the OE selections. In fact, along with the drama section, that's what got me so excited about this anthology. Plus, I like that they arrange things by manuscript book, which is often how I teach.

And LOL re: teaching PP and Patience your first time out. Man, I tried to teach Patience for the first time last year and totally bombed it. I'm still a little shaken.

Dr. Virago said...

PS -- I'm a big fan of the Longman, too.

Anonymous said...

For those people who do teach the Tales, Broadview provides the best selection yet--you can actually teach the Knight-Miller transition without ruining the joke by explaining it to a group of students who've only read the Miller.

I also appreciated that the "Religious Contexts" section included the texts of the Credo, the Paternoster, and the Ave.

Cats & Dogma said...

I'm glad that this Broadview one is looking good. I use the other end of that spectrum--the 20th c.--and haven't really had time to check it out yet, but knowing they did your volume justice makes me excited to see what they'll do with mine. In the meantime, another semester of Longman...

Tommy said...

As a matter of fact, I did catch your summer as a governess mention. Takes me back a ways (and yes, I am indeed the real Tommy). Oh, btw, Pastry Pirate...great stuff. I've fantasized from time to time about going to culinary school myself, so it's interesting to get the play by play from someone who's actually doing it.