In Michaelmas 2023, Dr Nikolaus Ruge (Universität Trier) returned to Oxford as Visiting Lecturer in German Historical Linguistics at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and delivered an updated lecture series on Middle High German. This was mainly designed as an introductory course for students of the German Paper IV ‘Historical Linguistics’ but the recordings are available to a general audience interested in medieval languages. The first two lectures were recorded by Dr Ruge in person in the Taylor Institution Library, Room 2, lectures 3, 4, and 7 were recorded by him, lectures 5, 6 and 8 from his script on his behalf by the Oxford tutors for Paper IV. The first lecture also saw the launch of the 11th edition of the popular study guide ‘Old and Middle High German’ (utb Sept 2023).
The textbook for this lecture course is The Oxford Guide to Middle High German. The set text for Middle High German is Helmbrecht in the edition by Karl-Heinz Göttert (2015). Oxford students can access further resources such as reading lists and essay topics via the Canvas page.
A re-enactment of a forgotten liturgy for St Thomas Becket
When: Tuesday 6 June at 9 pm Where: New College Chapel
Free entry. All welcome!
The service has been prepared specially by Dr Henry Parkes (University of Nottingham), currently Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian Library. His research project ‘Music in the Shadows: Staging the Medieval Night Office’ explores the cultural history of Christian night worship through a mixture of archival, performance-led and ethnographic research.
Many Oxford colleges preserve the late evening office of Compline, once sung daily. But in medieval times there was a much more substantial service to follow, known as Nocturns, Vigils, or the Night Office.
New College Choir will enact a short-form Night Office as it might have been known in 15th-century Oxford, to explore how this now- forgotten liturgy worked in performance. In southern England from the late 14th century on, Tuesdays were commonly given over to the veneration of St Thomas Becket. This service recreates a ‘commemorative’ Tuesday Becket office, as precribed in late medieval books of the Sarum Use—many of which survive in Oxford libraries.
Andrew Parrott will be in conversation with Henrike Lähnemann on musical life in medieval and early modern Europe. This is a celebration of 50 years of the Taverner Consort and Andrew Parrott’s The Pursuit of Musick: Musical Life in Original Writings & Art c1200–1770, a uniquely colourful compendium of almost everything to do with pre-modern musical life. The lecture will take as its starting point how the examples on music in the everyday life of medieval and early modern Germany can be used as a teaching tool and will also discuss questions of translation of premodern sources. All original source material is open access available on the publication website, e.g. https://www.taverner.org/everyday-life.
With over 60 albums under its wing, the Consort is internationally renowned not only for Parrott’s insights into early music like Taverner, Tallis and Josquin des Prez, but also for award-winning recordings of composers including Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Bach, and unexpected carols. To announce the 50-year milestone, the Consort has made a special two-track recording involving Fretwork and boys from New College choir with a total of some 30 assorted instrumentalists. The tracks are being released on June 16th via Avie Records: J. S. Bach, ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’ (BWV 118, version I), c1736/37 Giaches de Wert, ‘Egressus Jesus’ (a7) / Michael Praetorius Commercial pre-save link for Apple, Spotify, etc. Previous recordings have clocked up over 1,000,000 listens (for his 2018 Bach Magnificat alone).
Followed at 7pm by a reception hosted by Merton College and Benjamin Nicholas on the cherry tree lawn outside the chapel after evensong for informal drinks and chats. Buy the book: £35.00, 560 pages, ISBN: 978-1-915229-54-0
To celebrate the life and scholarship of Nigel F. Palmer, Professor of German Medieval Literary and Linguistic Studies at the University of Oxford, the academic community honoured his memory with a symposium, which brought together colleagues from around the world. Their presentations spoke to the wide spectrum of Nigel’s intellectual interests, which ranged extensively within the broad scope of the literary and religious history of the German- and Dutch-speaking lands, treating Latin alongside the vernaculars, the early printed book alongside the manuscript, and the court and the city alongside the monastery and the convent.
Friday, 19 May 2023
10:30-11:30 Weston Library, Visiting Scholars Centre
Presentation of incunables and blockbooks linked with Nigel F. Palmer in the Bodleian Library by Alan Coates.
16:00-17:30 Weston Library: Chair: Martin Kauffmann
Andrew Honey, ‘‘I believe they were fixed in some low places in the Church, Chapell or House’: further investigations into the glue stains of Douce 248, a blockbook Biblia pauperum of c.1465-1470’. Recording.
Geert Warnar, ‘The Roman van Limborch in a European framework’. Recording.
A small exhibition of medieval German manuscripts used by Nigel Palmer for teaching Palaeography and History of the Book was on display in the Voltaire Room of the Taylor Institution Library, including the two manuscripts from Erfurt Charterhouse Taylor Institution Library MS. 8° Germ. 1 and MS. 8° Germ. 2 (comment by Balázs Nemes).
10:00-11:30 Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Annette Volfing
Elke Brüggen, ‘Parzival-Lektüren im komplexen Zusammenspiel von Edition, Übersetzung und Kommentierung’
Daniela Mairhofer, ‘Almost lost in transmission: the peculiar case of a Staufer song’
Nikolaus Henkel, ‘Liturgie im Schulunterricht um 1500. Der Osterhymnus ‚Salve festa dies‘ des Venantius Fortunatus und seine deutsche Reimpaarübersetzung’
10:00-11:30 Taylorian Room 2: Chair: Stephen Mossman
Adam Poznański and Reima Välimäki, ‘Petrus Zwicker’s Cum dormirent homines: transmission history and prospects for a critical edition of a popular anti-heretical treatise’
Linus Ubl, ‘Palm(er)ing material culture – medieval German manuscripts in the National State Library of Israel’
Astrid Breith, ‘Locked away for love – the Vita Wilbirgis inclusae and the manuscript holdings of St. Florian (Upper Austria)’
13:00-14:30 Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Sarah Bowden
Jonas Hermann, ‘What gives? Marquard von Lindau and the ›Buch von geistlicher Armut‹’
Anne Winston-Allen, ‘Sibilla von Bondorf’s art of reform’
Edmund Wareham Wanitzek, ‘Soror in Christo dilectissima: Learning and exchange in the correspondence of Nikolaus Ellenbog and his sister Barbara’
13:00-14:30 Taylorian Room 2: Chair: Elizabeth Andersen
Peter Rückert, ‘Bücher zwischen Kloster und Hof. Neues zur literarischen Topographie in Württemberg’
Monica Brinzei and Giacomo Signore, ‘The rise of ars moriendi at the University of Vienna before the printing press’
Nigel Harris, ‘“Nach dem text und etwen nach dem sin”. Heinrich Haller und das Cordiale de quattuor novissimis des Gerard van Vliederhoven’
15:00-16:30 Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Christine Putzo
Ralph Hanna, ‘On exempla: “Hoc contra malos religiosos”‘
Peter Tóth, ‘The early history of the Meditationes Vitae Christi: quotations and references’
Hans-Jochen Schiewer, ‘Kollektive Autorschaft und Baukastenprinzip. Geistliche Literatur dominikanischer Provenienz um 1300’
Report by Elisabeth Dutton, Université de Fribourg, on the staging of the Comédie des Innocents, by Marguerite de Navarre. Presented by les perles innocentes as part of the Medieval Mystery Cycle 2023 at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford (see there for a synopsis of the play and the cast list).
The play at first reading seemed to me a fairly conventional dramatization of the story, not so different from the story as told in the English mystery plays, for example– the idea that Herod kills his own son is found in the Golden Legend and thus well established in European tradition. But Marguerite gives particular force to female characters, not just the feisty mothers and Nurse who care for the slaughtered babies, but also most importantly Rachel, whose lengthy lament, a rhetorical tour de force, is really the climax of Marguerite’s script. In a play which shows mothers and Herod violently deprived of their children, and which foreshadows God’s loss of his own Son, the Old Testament matriarch Rachel powerfully gives voice to the grief of women, King, and ultimately God. She also raises a protest against tyranny and abuse that feels all too contemporary.
I knew that I needed an actress for Rachel who could be at once strong and feminine, and utterly absorbing to the audience, and I was delighted that Elisa Pagliaro agreed to play the role. I wanted the speech to be supported by some haunting music, and am grateful that Lucy Matheson found a medieval French setting of the Vox in Rama, and agreed to sing it for us for the performance in Oxford. The effect of Marguerite’s verse, delivered by Elisa directly to the audience, with Lucy’s haunting song underneath, was very powerful indeed, and quite unlike anything I had experienced in other dramatisations of the Innocents. Its power took us all a little by surprise. There was a completely different reading and understanding of the Comédie des Innocents – in particular of Rachel’s lament – from the very first time I independently read it, and the way I felt and understood it on the day of the performance in Oxford.
Elisa Pagliaro on performing Rachel’s lament
The original play is 1075 lines long: in order to fit into our allotted 20 minutes, Aurélie Blanc cut more than half of its lines, while expertly maintaining a sense of the versification. Aurélie was also essential to my vision of the play from the start, as I needed her exceptional talents for the roles both of Herod and of God. As a travelling troupe, we had to keep our costs down through maximal doubling – and the structure of the various scenes required that God be doubled with the royal tyrant, as well as one of the mothers. This doubling was in fact rather pointed, as Aurélie writes:
The main challenge when participating in this play was to take on three roles: I played God, then Herod, and then one of the women whose child is killed by the soldiers. During the play, I did not have much time to go from one character to another. I struggled with those transitional moments because God, Herod, and Woman 1 seemed so different from each other. I tried to find what their main characteristics were so I could focus on these while changing roles. God and Herod are both rulers, both authoritative and confident (at least at times in the case of Herod). However, Herod is more frantic, chaotic, and changeable than God. Surprisingly perhaps, I found the character of God harder to play. It was much easier to relate to Herod with his mood swings and emotional outbursts! As for the Woman, she seemed completely unlike the other two characters. Her tender love for her child is her main concern throughout her scenes. Thinking about these characters helped me understand them, but I felt that things truly came together when I realized that all three were parents and all three lost their child. God’s worry for his son is what prompts him to send an angel to Joseph and Mary, it is the reason motivating his first speech. Understanding this helped me relate to God: when playing him, I did not have to try to pretend to be all powerful and all knowing, I had to focus instead on thinking about saving a person that I loved. Herod’s motivations are more selfish, but he also acts with his son in mind: he wants his son rather than Jesus to rule over his kingdom after him. Once I saw this, I found it much easier to play his shock and grief when his dead son is presented to him. And Woman 1, of course, was always a character focused on her child. Understanding these connections between my three characters was really helpful to me. These people no longer seemed entirely different from each other but were united by the same love and the same grief. This love and grief could stay with me throughout the play as I moved between God, Herod, and Woman 1.
Aurélie Blanc on playing God, Herod and a grieving mother
Aurélie’s performance of all three roles was extraordinary. And the requirements of the doubling also lay behind the blocking of the piece, which came to me very early on in rehearsals. I wanted to find a way to use the whole of Teddy Hall’s front quad: early drama, I believe, always exploited its venues to the full, and it’s good to make actors do hard physical work. Then, the actors would have no ‘offstage’ space for changing, and in any case they wouldn’t have time to do anything other than change ‘onstage’; but the audience needed to recognize clearly their changes of role, so we associated role with place (an idea most clearly demonstrated in medieval drama by the extant stage plan of the Castle of Perseverance, with its ‘skaffolds’ for the God, the World, the Flesh and the Devil.)
I enjoyed the sense of empowerment that came from filling the front quad with our voices and bodies.
Helene Wigginton on performing in a medieval venue
God begins the play in a scene of heavenly harmony, commanding his angels. We established him standing on the well in the centre of the quad (scriptural associations of wells are a pleasing coincidence). In each of the four corners of the quad we placed a black storage stool, containing costume changes, and Mary and Joseph began sitting on the stools to God’s right, while Herod was to occupy the stool on God’s left. The effect was formal and stylized, which matches the verse. The angels could move freely between ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’, delivering messages and also distributing chocolates to the audience (we are a Swiss troupe, after all); when the angel actors had to become soldier-tyrants, they went to the other ‘left’ stool to swap their wings for helmets.
As the scene shifted from heaven to Herod’s court, Aurélie left her golden cape on the well and donned regal robes on Herod’s ‘throne’: since Herod then issues quick-fire commands to doctors and soldiers, frantic activity ensued as all the other actors rushed backwards and forwards across the playing area to obey his orders. The pace contrasted with the calm order of heaven, and the audience had a disconcerting sense that the focus was pulled ‘off-centre’ with Herod’s power. Tyranny pulls all things out of joint.
The babies (dolls with soft torsos) were slaughtered using a sword and two spears, mainly because I am haunted by the image of ‘naked infants spitted upon pikes’. We used this device once before, in a staging of the Middle English Digby Killing of the Children, and it provoked horrified laughter in the audience. I was fascinated that the effect in Marguerite’s play was completely different: there was no laughter, but there was genuine horror. I think this is partly because, whereas the Digby play includes a Fool character among Soldiers, who all seem rather dim, Marguerite writes her killers concisely and explicitly as Tyrants.
Carmen Vigneswaren-Smith on her role as soldier: ‘the audience flinched back from my spear, gasped and covered their mouths in surprise at the murder of the babies, and I was suddenly reminded of what the familiarity of rehearsal can make you forget — that it was in fact a brutal massacre that we were acting out.’ One woman in the audience clutched her own baby to her. Audience members commented that their stomachs were knotted.
The sense of horror was not entirely dispelled by the final song, which was a Christmas song, since the play would originally have been performed on the feast of the Innocents, December 28th. The script states that it should be sung to “Si j’ayme mon amy”: for our performance, Sandy Maillard, founder of the all-female choir Fa Mi Cantar, adapted a tune of that name found in the songbook of Françoise de Foix, Countess of Châteaubriant, 1495-1537, celebrated beauty and lover of King Francis I (the songbook is now British Library MS Harley 5242.) It is a strangely unnerving ending to a powerfully disconcerting play.
The sixteenth-century French seemed to present no obstacle to the audience’s engagement, and we are grateful to have had such an opportunity to explore its quality. Our production was probably different in many ways from any performance Marguerite might have seen or even envisaged, but we hope that our all-female production, delivered with precise attention to the words she wrote, may have captured something of their spirit, which seems that of an almost feminist protest against tyranny.
0:00:34 Prologue 0:02:50 O quanta qualia (St Edmund Hall Choir) Latin 0:06:18 Extracts from Piers Plowman (Swonken ful harde) Middle English 0:35:40 The Nativity and Salutation (English Faculty) Middle English 1:07:13 The Innocents (Les perles innocentes) 16th-century French 1:30:19 The Passion (Sorores Sanctae Hildae) Latin and German 1:54:03 The Harrowing of Hell (Medieval Germanists) Middle High German 2:08:08 The Last Judgement (Past and Present Teddy Students) Modern English
Welcome to the third incarnation of the Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle! As in 2019 and 2022, this highlight of the Oxford medieval calendar offers a variety of plays in different medieval and modern languages, staged at several stations in the beautiful grounds of St Edmund Hall. Cycles of plays retelling stories from the Bible were a popular form of entertainment in the Middle Ages, which we are only too happy to revive for modern audiences. Admission is free and you are welcome to turn up at any time.
Join us, then, on this merry multilingual journey featuring plays dating from between the 12th and the 16th century! When the chapel bell rings at midday, the choir of St Edmund Hall will open the Cycle with a performance in front of the Old Dining Hall. We then start with an allegorical vision of Piers the Plowman before running through episodes of the New Testament, with the Christmas cycle unfolding in the Front Quad, followed by the Easter cycle in the churchyard around St Peter-in-the-East and – last but not least – the Last Judgement closing with the sound of the trumpet from the tower of St-Peter-in-the-East.
A special thank you goes to all the actors, directors, singers and other enthusiasts who have made these performances possible, to Professor Lesley Smith and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, co-directors of Oxford Medieval Studies, the driving force behind the Mystery Cycle, and to the Fellows and Principal of St Edmund Hall, for once again agreeing to host our medieval madness!
Jim Harris is Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum, a career he came to having trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked for over a decade in theatre, television and radio before deciding there was more to life than castings for shower gel commercials. “Some people would describe this as the role of a lifetime. Me, I’m just glad I don’t have to actually learn the lines.”
David Maskell specialises in both the academic and practical aspects of theatre in Classical and Modern Languages. He is an experienced creative writer, and he also created the verses linking the plays for last year’s Mystery Cycle.
The Mystery Cycle will be opened by a performance of Peter Abelard’s ‘O quanta qualia’ by the Choir of St Edmund Hall. Afterwards, our plays will be accompanied by the heavenly choir of the Turba Angelorum, composed of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ angels.
The Mystery Cycle is managed by Henrike Lähnemann, Co-Director of Oxford Medieval Studies and Professorial Fellow at St Edmund Hall, and Michael Angerer, Graduate Convenor for the Medieval Mystery Cycle and a DPhil student in medieval English.
While our complete play follows a man named Will, who falls asleep beside a stream on a May morning in Malvern Hills with a succession of dreams, we begin with the deadly sins. We then find Piers Plowman, taking only momentary repose from his plough to guide the field of folk towards Truth, although his directions are very confusing. He agrees to take the folk himself as long as they assist him in ploughing the half-acre. However, he finds many of the folk, including pickpockets, knights, common women, wafer-sellers, pardoners, to be wasters! Piers calls Hunger to encourage them to work however, after the acre has been ploughed, Hunger refuses to leave until he has consumed the best food and wine! Truth intercedes and sends Piers a pardon however it is discovered to not be a true pardon at all so Piers, in scandalous fashion, tears it asunder! Watch a full performance of Piers Plowman on the OMS Youtube channel.
Group: English Faculty. Language: Middle English. Director: Rachel Burns
In this play from the 15th-century Chester Mystery Cycle, witness the wonder of Jesus’ birth, the prophecy of the Sybil, the magnificent humility of Emperor Octavian, and the discomfiture of the midwives!
Group: Les perles innocentes. Language: 16th-century French. Director: Elisabeth Dutton. Read a report on the play.
Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549) was wife of King Henry II of Navarre, sister to Francis I, King of France, and ancestress of the Bourbon kings of France. With her brother she made the French court a celebrated intellectual and cultural centre; having received an excellent classical education, she became an author and patron of humanists and reformers. Her salon was internationally famous as the ‘New Parnassus’. She wrote poems, a collection of short stories called the Heptameron,and the intense mystical poem Miroir de l’âme pécheresse. She also wrote a number of plays: today we present her dramatization of the narrative of King Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents.
God/Herod/1st Woman: Aurélie Blanc
1st Angel/1st Tyrant: Coraline Vuarnoz
2nd Angel/Captain: Helene Wigginton
3rd Angel/2nd Tyrant: Carmen Vigneswaren-Smith
Mary/1st Doctor of the Law/Nurse of Herod’s Son/1st Soul: Felicitas Harris
Joseph/2nd Doctor of the Law/2nd Woman, Rachel/2nd Soul: Elisa Pagliaro
Group: Sorores Sanctae Hildae (unter Beteiligung einiger Bauern aus Iftelei). Language: Latin and slightly modernized Middle High German. Director: David Wiles. Stage manager: Isabel Schwörer
Mary Magdalene is a courtesan who repents her life of sin and pleasure. When she anoints Christ’s feet with expensive ointment, Judas is outraged, and betrays his master for thirty pieces of silver. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begs for the cup to be taken from him, before accepting God’s will. Mary his mother suffers at the foot of the cross, and takes John as a replacement for the son she is losing. The juxtaposition of the two Maries is a striking feature of the play from which our extract is taken. The text originates in 12th-century Bavaria. The performance was repeated in Iffley churchyard on the following day.
Group: Medieval Germanists. Language: Middle High German. Director: Luise Morawetz.
In the Harrowing of Hell you can follow the battle between Christ and Lucifer – good and evil – from Lucifer’s perspective. Imagine how Lucifer feels when Christ and his retinue of angels storm hell without difficulty and rush off with his most precious captured souls, Adam and Eve! No wonder he overreacts and tries to make up for quality with quantity by sending his faithful servant Satanas on the hunt for as many lost souls as possible. Watch out, or they might get you too!
The script is based on the ‘Innsbruck Easterplay’ edition by Nigel F. Palmer & Henrike Lähnemann, with modern English narration by Haley Flower.
Lucifer: Montgomery Powell
Satan: Freya Hoult
Jesus: Timothy Powell
Adam: Alyssa Steiner
Eve: Nicholas Champness
Narrator: Evgeny Gurin
Lost souls: Lena Vosding, Godelinde Perk, Anja Peters, Justin Vyvyan-Jones, Julia Brusa, Felix Clayton McClure, Elizabeth Hogermeer, Georgia Macfarlane
Angels: Andrew Dunning, Travis Fuchs, Cosima Gillhammer, Nicole Jedrzejko, Henrike Lähnemann, Oliver Riordan
Group: Past and Present Teddy Students (and Friends). Director: Amy Hemsworth. Assistant Director: Aili Channer
Language: Modern English
A modern take on the final play of the Towneley Cycle by Amy Hemsworth and Alex Gunn, featuring a very confused John of Patmos, an exasperated Angel, and their best attempts to make sense of the Book of Revelation. For a full account of the story behind the script, read the blog post on the 2019 Medieval Mystery Play website.
Aletta Leipold: rûna, rîzan, scrîban – A Cultural History of Writing from the Old High German dictionary
The lecture will examine the evidence of transmission and usage of two Old High German termini technici for writing, rîzan and scrîban. The indigenous Germanic verb *wrîtan, which has remained the general term for the writing process in English, is displaced in German by the Latin loanword scrîbere. I will examine whether there is evidence of this process in Old High German, and where there are overlaps. The third part will focus on the Old High German noun rûna, which is frequently attested in North Germanic as the object of *wrîtan. Unlike in New High German, OHG rûna does not mean ‘rune, Germanic character’ but is predominantly associated with the oral realm. I will discuss whether the designation of the Germanic characters was transmitted into West Germanic or whether it perished with the runes themselves on the continent. Can we see traces of rûna being used in Old High German as a general term for a ‘written character’?
Philip Durkin (Oxford English Dictionary): Lexical Borrowing – Fremdwörter, Lehnwörter and German words in English
How can we survey borrowings from German into (modern) English? How does borrowing from German compare with borrowing from other languages, in scale and nature? What issues are there in identifying loanwords, and various types of loan formations? Are concepts such as Fremdwort and Lehnwort of practical use, and what issues do they raise? Link to the OED.