Literary, religious and manuscript cultures of the  German-speaking lands:  a  symposium  in memory of Nigel F. Palmer (1946-2022) 

Friday 19 – Saturday 20 May 2023

Venue: Taylor Institution and Weston Library

Admission:  Free for symposium and reception; dinner to be charged. Please register to attend by 30 April 2023.

To celebrate the life and scholarship of Nigel F. Palmer, Professor of  German  Medieval Literary and Linguistic  Studies at the University of Oxford, Faculty, College and academic community will honour his memory with a symposium, to be held at the Taylorian and the Weston Library on 19-20 May 2023.

The symposium brings together colleagues from around the world. Their presentations speak 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. On Saturday, there will be a reception at St Edmund Hall as well as a dinner.

The event is supported by the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, the Meister-Eckhart-Gesellschaft, SSMLL, and St Edmund Hall. Here a link to the call of papers, below the draft programme.

Late-Medieval German Love Songs. Concert and Talk

Tuesday week 8, 7 March 2023

5:30pm Pre-concert talk in the Old Dining Hall at St Edmund Hall: music editor and viol player David Hatcher, Professor of German Literature & Linguistics Henrike Lähnemann, and singer James Gilchrist in conversation, discussing music, literature and culture in early 16th century Germany. The pre-concert talk includes tea at 17:30 with the discussion from 17:55 to 18:45

7:30pm Concert in the Hollywell Music Room with the Linarol Consort of viols and James Gilchrist (tenor); free entry for students, £20 for everybody else

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/linarolconsort

In 1524 the Augsburg organist Bernhart Rem started writing the part books Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Ms. 18 810 from which the songs for the concert are taken. The pre-concert talk will explore the writing and music-making of late medieval Germany. The early 16th-century soundscape was varied and colourful, ranging from street cries, via religious songs in processions and meetings of the Meistersinger, to instrumental music performed by “town waits”, groups of instrumentalists playing for festive occasions. The songs of Ms. 18 810 retain features of this exclusive aristocratic song culture. They might look like pop music with run-of-the-mill lyrics but in fact these are cutting-edge text-musical combinations. Singing about love’s woes and (occasionally) joys, and of how the poet, assuming the persona of a male lover, constantly runs into and (occasionally) overcomes the obstacles society throws in his way, is as noble a pastime as falconry or commissioning costly manuscripts.

The authors were members of the same courtly circles or, in cases such as Ludwig Senfl’s autobiographical song ‘Lust hab ich ghabt’, even writing texts themselves as singer-songwriters of the period. In line with the poetic habits of the period, they pay more attention to stanza form than to originality of content. Maximilian’s court was an international meeting point: not only would all forms of German dialects have been spoken, but Latin, French, and even English as well; Ludwig Senfl’s teacher Heinrich Isaac was Dutch. It is appropriate that with James Gilchrist this repertoire is interpreted by a non-native speaker. Coming to the repertoire not from within the system gives performers the advantage over a German singer to be aware of temporal and regional varieties of the language of song. I was delighted when James contacted me via Claire Horacek – alumna of my own College St Edmund Hall – to check out historical pronunciation. It was exciting to go through this repertoire which can only be grasped when spoken out aloud; this is not a text for silent reading!

The pre-concert talk will concentrate on the autobiographical song Lust hab ich gehabt zur musica, a song in praise of music education which spells in the verse initials the name of its author and composer, LUDWIG SENNFL, and charts his musical training.

1 Lust hab ich ghabt zur Musica
von Jugend auff wie noch bisher,
von erst ut re mi fa sol la
geübt darnach durch weytter leer;
kam es darzu,
das ich kain ruw
mer haben mocht, dann nur im gsangk
stund mein begir;
da halff nicht für;
aus dem ervolgt der erst anfang.

2 Und bald ich das ergriffen hett,
das ich kund von mir selber wol
den gsang verstenn, darnach ich thett
mer fragen, wie dann ainer sol,
dem sollichs liebt,
und sich selbst yebt,
das er erlanng den rechten grund;
hueb mich darzu,
spat und auch fru
zu dienen wol, wie ich nur kund,

3 Dem Herren mein mit ganczem vleys,
daran er dann ein Gfallen trug.
Es schicket sich mit solcher weys,
das er mir gab zu schreiben gnug.
Was von im gmacht,
ward wol betracht,
darnach ich mich auch richten solt;
das gfiel mir seer,
weyl er steets mer
mir zaigen thett, was ich nur wollt.

4 Wie er mit seinem namen gnandt,
das thu ich nachher melden schon.
Er ist in aller welt bekanndt,
lieblich in kunst, frölich Im thon.
Sein Melodey
was gstellt gar frey,
darab man sich verwundern thett.
Es was gut ding,
zu singen ring,
künstlich darzu die gnad es hett.

5 Izac das war der name sein;
halt wol, es werd vergessen nit,
wie er sein Composicz so fein
und clar hat gsetzt, darzu auch mit
Mensur geziert,
dardurch probiert
noch heuttigs tags sein lob und kunst
verhanden ist;
herr Jhesu crist,
tail im dort mit götlichen gunst.

6 Gern wolt ich gott drumb dankpar sein,
wann ich nur das verbringen kundt
wie yeder soll. Es steet gar fein,
das man ihn lob, weil er aym gundt
zu lernen hie.
Was er vor nye
hett mugen von im selb verstan,
des mir erzaigt
und zugeaygt
mit gnaden ward durch diesen Mann.

7 Sein vleyß der ward an mir erkennt,
deßhalb trug mir der kayser huld;
dann weyl man mich sein schüler nent
Must ich erfüllen on mein schuld
den Chorgsang sein,
wie wol da mein
erlernte kunst was vil zu schwach.
Noch thett ichs pest,
so vil ich west
mit arbait groß, die ich noch mach.

8 Erkenn erst yecz, was mir gebricht
und sich, daß als auss gnaden kombt
von oben rhab; drumb wann ainer spricht
Er künd so vil, wie wenig frumbt
Im soliches lob;
thut er ain prob
empfind sein unvolkomenhait.
Erst wirt er ynn
sein hohen synn,
darzu Im all sein kunst erlaydt.

9 Nach dem ich dann derselben kunst
Ergeben bin, das ich verricht
Mein dienst, damit so wers umbsonst,
wo ich nit hielt, es würd für nicht
geachtet hie
alls, was ich ye
hett gmacht, gleichwol mit höchstem vleys,
Wann ich darinn
nit hett den synn
das ich gut geb den höchsten breyss.

10 Nun danck ich got umb das ich hir
dermassen bin versehen wol,
dann wer in pit, den liess er nie,
das selb ain yeder mercken sol
und dancken offt;
wer in In hofft,
der wirt nymer in schand gestellt;
soll haben acht,
das er betracht
allain zu thun, was Im gefelt.

11 Fürstliche gnad mir bschehen ist,
dieweyl ich mich darein ergab
Zu dienen undertänigist
dem herren mein und lass nit ab,
vorauss so ich
sich, das man mich
zu gottes eer noch prauchen mag
mit Chorgesanng,
das ich yetz lanng
getriben hab unnd thus alltag.

12 Liebt mir auch seer für ander ding,
das man yecz treybt in dieser welt;
dann wers versteht, der achts nit ring
wie wol es nit ain yeden gfelt;
ligt mir nit an;
Weyl ich nur han
die gnad und gunst des herren mein
so acht ichs nit
und bhilff mich mit,
will got mein tag drumb danckpar sein.

1) I have had a passion for Music ever since my youth, at first trained with solfeggio (do re mi fa sol la) and then through further instruction; it recached a stage when I could find no rest, only in song; it could not be helped; that was how it first began.

2) As soon as I had grasped as much of song as I was able to achieve on my own, then I began to ask more questions, which is what somebody ought to do who loves such things and wants to train themselves to achieve the proper foundation; I applied myself at all times, as best I could, to serve

3) my master well, sparing no effort. In this he in turn took pleasure which led to him giving me plenty to copy out. Whatever he produced I carefully studied and used as a guide also for myself; I greatly enjoyed it when he kept showing me more and more of exactly what I wanted.

4) What his name was, I will reveal shortly. He is known throughout the world, pleasing in his art, joyful in his music. His melodies were arranged very freely which was a surprise to everyone. These were excellent works, very singable as well as artfully, that was its special grace.

5) His name was Isaac; I am sure it will not forgotten how expertly and clearly he put his compositions together, as well as embellishing them rhythmically, and ensured that his renown and his art continue to this day; Lord Jesus Christ, bestow on him your divine mercy.

6) I would be very thankful to God if the only thing I managed to do was what anyone ought to do. It is entirely fitting to praise Him while He allowed one to advance here in learning. What one would never previously have been able to understand by oneself was revealed and granted to me by this man through grace.

7) His efforts were recognised in me, so that the emperor showed me favour; then, while I was called his pupil I was – not by my own doing – made to fill a post in the choir even though the skill I had acquired was then far too feeble. Still, I did my best and worked as hard as I could, as I still do.

8) I only now realise what is lacking in me, and I see that everything comes through grace, from above; so when somebody claims to be able, how little benefit comes from this praise; as soon as these people have to prove themselves, they sense their deficiency. They will only then realise his (Isaac’s) high intellect which will then make all their own art loathsome.

9) Since I am devoted to this art and to doing my duty, it would all be for nothing if I did not uphold the principle that everything which I have ever done, albeit done with the greatest effort, would count for nothing here, if in doing so I were not minded to set the greatest store by what is good.

10) Now I thank God for the fact that I am so well equipped here, for whoever prays to Him, He would never abandon, which is something everybody should note and often thank Him; whoever trusts in Him will never be put to shame (quotation from the Bible / proverbial saying: wer auf Gott traut / hat wohl gebaut); everybody should take care to think of doing only what pleases Him.

11) Princely grace was bestowed on me when I gave myself up to serving my lord in all humility, and I continue to do so, as I foresee that, to honour God, I may still be needed to sing in the choir, as I have long done and keep doing daily.

12) This is also my pleasure above other things which are now practised in this world; for whoever understands it does not consider it trivial even though it is not to everyone’s taste; this does not bother me; as long as I have the grace and favour of my lord, I do not pay attention to this; I am content, and will be thankful to God as long as I live.

Seminar in Manuscript Studies and Palaeography

All seminars will take place in the Weston Library, Horton Room, 2.15 – 3.45. For further information contact matthew.holford@bodleian.ox.ac.uk or andrew.dunning@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

16 Jan. (week 1): Laure Miolo (University of Oxford), “Astronomy and astrology in fourteenth-century Oxford: MS. Digby 176 in context”

30 Jan. (week 3): Laura Saetveit Miles (University of Bergen), “The Influence of St. Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelationes in Late-Medieval England” 

13 Feb (week 5): Sonja Drimmer (University of Massachusetts Amherst): “The ‘Genealogy Industry’: Codicological Diversity in England, c.1400–c.1500.”

27 Feb. (week 7): Laura Light (Les Enluminures), “Latin Bibles in England c. 1200-c. 1230”

Astronomy and astrology in fourteenth-century Oxford: MS. Digby 176 in context

The manuscript Oxford, Bodleian, Digby 176 is a key witness for better understanding the astronomical and astrological practices and innovations of a group of practitioners trained in Oxford around mid-fourteenthcentury. This group of scholars sharing a same background and interest in the ‘science of the stars’ (scientia stellarum) was closely linked to Merton College. Modern historiography mainly tended to focus on the so-called calculatores, eclipsing the scientific activities of this circle of astronomers and astrologers. In this group, Simon Bredon (d. 1372) or William Reed (d. 1385) played the role of patrons, providing subsidies, books and doubtless a scientific expertise. The codex Oxford, Bodleian, Digby 176 is representative of these activities and intellectual exchanges. It also allows to better understand the earliest phase of reception of Alfonsine astronomy in England and the role played by William Reed in this circle. This composite volume assembled by William Reed displays highly sophisticated and cutting-edge scientific innovations fostered by a rapid flow of information and technical data within this ‘community of learning’. Finally, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Digby 176 also raises the problem of the complementary practices between astronomy and astrology, and the growing specialisation of scholars in one or the other of these disciplines.

MS. Digby 176, fol. 71v Almanak Solis 1342

The Seven Sages of Rome as a Global Narrative Tradition

Oxford-Berlin Workshop 11-12 November 2022, organised by Ida Toth (Oxford) and Jutta Eming (Berlin)

The Seven Sages of Rome (SSR) is a title commonly used for one of the most widely distributed pre-modern collections of stories, which – remarkably – also happens to be barely known today, even among medievalists and early modernists. Several early versions of the SSR exist in Greek (Syntipas), Arabic (Seven Viziers), Hebrew (Mishle Sendebar), Latin (Dolopathos, Historia septem sapientum), Persian (Sindbād-nameh) and Syriac (Sindbād) as well as in the later translations into Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, German, English, French, Hungarian, Icelandic, Polish, Russian, Scottish, Serbian, Swedish, Spanish, Romanian, Turkish and Yiddish. The multilingual traditions of the SSR, with their many intercultural links, cannot be adequately understood within the current division of research disciplines into distinct medieval and modern linguistic areas. To mend this deficiency, the workshop has invited specialists in affiliated fields to address the problems of surveying the long history of creative adaptations associated with the SSR. The participants will consider the complexities of the philological, literary, and historical analysis of the SSR in many of its attested versions across the pre-modern and early modern periods. The workshop is envisaged as a forum for a robust discussion on possible ways of advancing the current scholarship of the SSR, and as an opportunity to strengthen the inter-institutional collaboration involving specialists based at the universities in Oxford and Berlin, and more broadly.

The workshop will start with a session in the Weston Library on Friday morning where the group will meet other Oxford medievalists at the Coffee Morning, followed by a view of special collections in the library. While this is for speakers only, their is limited capacity to attend the following talks at the Ioannou Centre. If interested, please contact the workshop co-ordinator Josh Hitt.

FRIDAY, 11 NOVEMBER 2022, THE IOANNOU CENTRE

  • 2 pm – 3 pm: Beatrice Gründler, Kalīla and Dimna – AnonymClassic: Methodology and Practical Implementations (via Zoom, 1st-fl Seminar Room)
  • 4 pm – 5 pm: Daniel Sawyer, Forgotten books: The application of Unseen Species Models to the Survival of Culture (In person, Outreach Room)

SATURDAY, 12 NOVEMBER 2022, THE IOANNOU CENTRE

10 am – 11.30 am

  • Jutta Eming, The Seven Sages of Rome in Literary History and Genre Theory
  • David Taylor, Re-examining the Evidence of the Syriac Book of Sindbād
  • Ida Toth, The Byzantine Book of Syntipas: Approaches and Directions
  • Emilie van Opstall, The Representation of Women in Byzantine Syntipas and Latin Dolopathos

12 pm – 1.30 pm

  • Bettina Bildhauer, Consent in the German Version of the Seven Sages of Rome
  • Rita Schlusemann, Genre, Dissemination and Multimodality of the Septem sapientum Romae, especially in Dutch and German
  • Niko Kunkel, Statistics and Interpretation: Annotating the German Sieben Weise Meister
  • Ruth von Bernuth, Yiddish Seven Masters

4.30 pm: Tea and a guided tour of St Edmund Hall with Henrike Lähnemann

5.45 pm: Evensong at New College

Appendix: List of manuscripts and early printed books in the Bodleian Library:

  • Arabic: Pococke 400
  • Greek: Barocc. 131 and Laud. 8
  • Armenian: MS. Arm. e. 33 and MS. Canonici Or. 131
  • Hebrew (Mishle Sendebar/Fables of Sendebar): MS. Heb. d. 11 (ff. 289-294) and MS. Bodl. Or. 135 (ff. 292-300r)
  • Yiddish: Opp. 8. 1115 Mayse fun Ludvig un Aleksander and Opp. 8. 1070 Zibn vayzn mansters fun Rom
  • Welsh Jesus College MS 111
  • Middle English: B. Balliol College MS. 354
  • English, early printed book: The History of the Seven Wise Masters of Rome. Now newly Corrected better Explained in many places and enlarged with many pretty Pictures etc. London, Printed for John Wright, next to the Globe in Little-Brittain, 1671

Image: British Library, Add. MS. 15685, f. 83r (XIV century, Venice)

Call for Papers: Memorial Symposium for Nigel F. Palmer

Update: Registration for the Memorial Event is now open! Please register by 23 April 2023.

What: Literary, religious and manuscript cultures of the German-speaking lands: a symposium in memory of Nigel F. Palmer (1946-2022)

When: 19/20 May 2023

Where: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Taylor Institution Library, St Edmund Hall

To celebrate the life and scholarship of Nigel F. Palmer, Professor of German Medieval Literary and Linguistic Studies at the University of Oxford, we invite expressions of interest from those who wish to honour his memory with an academic contribution to speak at a symposium in Oxford that is to take place 19-20 May 2023. Presentations of twenty minutes’ length are sought. They should speak to an aspect of 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. His primary intellectual contributions were methodological rather than theoretical, and he brought together a study of the book as a material object with the philological and linguistic discipline of the Germanophone academic tradition.

The first session planned for the afternoon of Friday 19 May will take place consequently in the Weston Library, and will consider the manuscript cultures of the German-speaking lands; presentations may take a workshop format, and may – though need not – focus upon one or more manuscripts in the Bodleian collections. The second and third sessions will take place on Saturday 20 May in the Taylorian Library, and will consider the religious and literary history of the German-speaking lands in relation to the questions, issues and working methods central to Nigel’s published scholarship.

We would request expressions of interest, of not more than one full page, to be received by 11 November 2022, to be sent to Stephen Mossman. We ask in advance for the understanding of all who submit that we anticipate receiving many more expressions of interest than we can accommodate within the schedule. A reception will be held at St Edmund Hall on the Saturday afternoon, to which all are cordially invited and welcome, followed by a dinner in College. Those planning to attend are advised to reserve accommodation in good time, e.g. via universityrooms. We hope to secure funding to support early career researchers in attending the symposium, but anticipate that participants will need to cover their travel and accommodation expenses. Details of the symposium and registration will be available through the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages web-site in early 2023.

For the organising committee: Racha Kirakosian, Henrike Lähnemann, Stephen Mossman, Almut Suerbaum

Image: Nigel F. Palmer studying the facsimile of the Osterspiel von Muri on the gallery of the Taylor Institution Library. Photograph by Henrike Lähnemann

Oxford Medieval Mystery Plays 2023

Would you like to take part in a medieval dramatic experiment? Directors, actors, costume makers and musicians wanted! More information and apply at https://www.seh.ox.ac.uk/mystery-cycle

The next performance of the Medieval Mystery Plays is held on Saturday 22 April 2023 at St Edmund Hall.

These plays were a very popular form of drama in the Middle Ages – with different groups performing short plays telling stories from the Bible. To take part in the next performance, email Professor Henrike Lähnemann, Fellow at St Edmund Hall Fellow and Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics, and Professor Lesley Smith, Fellow and Tutor in Politics and Senior Tutor at Harris Manchester College, Co-Directors of the Oxford Medieval Studies Programme at TORCH, under the address medieval@torch.ox.ac.uk.

A multilingual medieval experience performed by a variety of groups with links to Oxford Medieval Studies. At 12 noon, the chapel bell will ring for Creation to commence in the Old Dining Hall. From there the story of mankind will unfold, with the Old Testament being acted out in the Front Quad and the New Testament in the churchyard around St Peter-in-the-East.

Middle High German Lecture Series

During Michaelmas 2022, Dr Nikolaus Ruge (Universität Trier) was in Oxford as Visiting Lecturer in German Historical Linguistics at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and delivered a 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 took place in week 1 and 2 in the Taylor Institution Library, Room 2, the following lectures are recorded online.

I. Middle High German: time, space, language (panopto recording, handout), live on 14 Oct 2022
II. Early Middle High German (1050-1170) (panopto recording, handout), live on 21 Oct 2022
III. ‘Classical’ Middle High German (1170-1250) (panopto recording, handout), recorded
IV. Late Middle High German (1250-1350) (panopto recording, handout), recorded together with William Thurlwell
V. Developments in the Language System 1: Graphemics and Phonology (panopto recording, handout), recorded together with William Thurlwell
VI. Developments in the Language System 2: Morphology (panopto recording, handout)
VII. Developments in the language system 3: Word formation (panopto recording, handout)
VIII.  Developments in the Language System 4: Morphosyntax and Syntax (panopto recording, handout)

Lectures recorded in Oxford are accessible once they are recorded via the Panopto folder Paper IV, all lectures are included in the playlist “German Historical Linguistics” https://tinyurl.com/PaperIVHistoricalLinguistics. Thanks for help with the English translation of the lectures to William Thurlwell, for technical and topical support to Henrike Lähnemann.

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.

Call to Action: Medieval Mystery Cycle 2023

Following the successful Medieval Mystery Cycle 2.0, plans are underway for the third iteration of what has fast become an Oxford tradition. Please reserve the date of 22 April 2023 (Saturday before Trinity Term) and spread the word! We are looking for actors, directors, musicians, prop makers, and above all a graduate convenor who will take on the mantle of Eleanor Baker in masterminding the operation. Have a look at seh.ox.ac.uk/mystery-cycle for getting a sense of the scope and watching the plays performed in 2019 and 2022.

Please send expressions of interest for the Graduate Convenor by 30 June 2022 to Co-Directors Henrike Lähnemann and Lesley Smith under medieval@torch.ox.ac.uk

Coffee Morning with Professor William Chester Jordan

The Faculty of History and Oxford Medieval Studies are pleased to invite you to an informal meet and greet coffee morning with William Chester Jordan (Professor of Medieval History,
Princeton University) on the occasion of his reception of an honorary degree of the University of Oxford.
When? Thursday 23rd June, 10.30am-12 noon
Where? The garden of Harris Manchester College (Mansfield Road), or in the Warrington
Room in the case of rain.
Coffee and croissants will be provided.
For catering purposes, please register your attendance if possible:
https://forms.gle/AkvPUsX2Ur1hbgTU7

Bill Jordan gave the 2021 Oxford Medieval Studies keynote lecture “A Thirteenth-Century Polymath Considers the Jews” – watch it here:

Oxford Medieval Studies lecture 2021

Biblical Drama in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present

For the full programme of the workshop with abstracts cf. https://translatin.nl/workshop-biblical-drama/

Organisers: Dr Dinah Wouters (Amsterdam), Sarah Fengler (Oxford)

Liturgical drama in the Middle Ages starts by adapting the most cherished texts of European culture: Scripture. Once introduced as a common practice of dramatising the Bible, European drama kept producing scriptural plays. While there was a strong German tradition of medieval mystery plays, the history of biblical drama is by no means limited to the German cultural sphere. New formats and modes of biblical drama developed through the centuries and in different language areas: from French mystery plays, humanist sacred comedies and tragedies, Jesuit Bible drama, and Spanish Golden Age autos sacramentalesthrough to neoclassical biblical tragedy, biblical Trauerspiele in the German Empfindsamkeit, and scriptural plays in English Romanticism. Furthermore, there was a rediscovery of the so-called cycle plays during the nineteenth century, and even today biblical narratives are still being staged, from modern and postmodern biblical plays through to Broadway and movies. A large number of writers from various eras debated the question of how Scripture can be dramatised, including Hugo Grotius, Jean Racine, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Voltaire, George Gordon Byron, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, to name but a few.

In this workshop, we want to explore the continuities, (in)consistencies, and break lines in the history of European biblical drama. Our objective is to come closer to a diachronic, transnational, and comparative perspective on biblical drama as a literary genre.

Programme

09.00-09.30 Arrival with coffee and tea

09.30-09.45 Opening words

09.45-10.45

Keynote by Daisy Black (University of Wolverhampton)
Hole-y Bodies: Exploring gender in the textual gaps of medieval and modern biblical drama

One of the key challenges with the diverse texts collected into the asynchronous structure we call ‘the Bible’, is that these scriptures are fundamentally ‘holey’ as well as holy.  By nature of their compilation, form and function, they present us with holes in the text, holes in the narrative, and holes in characterisation.  Such holes seem to frustrate the process of dramatization, in which divine stories and beings must be given body, direction and story.  Meanwhile, the mere act of staging scripture entails its own issues of embodiment, threatening to expose the aching gap between venerated or divine figures and the bodies representing them.  Yet for generations of those seeking to dramatize scripture, both scriptural and physical ‘holes’ have also presented opportunities: gaps through which contemporary concerns might be expressed, explored, rationalised and raised in protest.  This is particularly the case in the staging of narratives involving women, whose scriptural origins tend to be even more ‘holey’ than those of male figures.  Using English-language case studies from the medieval, early modern and modern periods, this paper examines how playmakers across time have grappled with gaps, and used them to give voice and body to ideas about gender and how we choose whose stories are told.

10.45-12.15 Panel 1

Tovi Bibring (Bar-Ilan University and University of Oxford)
Disciplining Emotions in The Mystery Play, Le mistere du Viel Testament as a Case Study

Written by several authors, the 45 mysteries that were compiled in the fifteenth century in an opus referred to as Le mistere du Viel Testament are not merely an “encyclopedia of sacred knowledge, traditions and legends,” as labeled by their modern editors. They are also an important source for understanding the history of emotions in medieval and early modern times. Yet, despite the fact that literary research on the subject has developed greatly over the past years, influenced by the discipline of history of emotions, biblical adaptations in general, and biblical drama in particular, remain quite neglected. Scriptural narratives left enormous lacunas regarding the psychological outcomes of the events experienced by the biblical protagonists. Like any genre of biblical literary adaptation, the different mysteries contained in Le mistere thus provided fertile soil for speculative amplifications about such emotional states. Authors and dramaturges alike could “recontextualize” the psychological implications of any biblical episode in their contemporary setting, and, quite judgmentally, direct the audience toward a supervised formation of their emotions. Such texts thus played a double role, simultaneously constructing the emotional discourse and evaluating it, instructing the audience whether to accept or reject it. In my presentation, I would like to demonstrate the means by which such biblical adaptations acted as an agent to disciplining emotions, according to this double role. Aspiring particularly towards the theorization of the specific contribution of the biblical mystery play to the emotive discourses, I will show the similarities and differences between the mysteries and other genres that perform this literalization of the imagined emotional consequences of the biblical material, such as devotional and didactic texts and parodies.

Cecily Fasham (University of Oxford)
Teaching Faith: Performing Pedagogy in the Jeu d’Adam

The Jeu d’Adam represents the earliest extant script for a drama in French or a vernacular language of England. Although the single extant manuscript, MS Tours 927, dates from the late 12th century and was copied in the Loire valley, it is written in Anglo-Norman dialect, and orthographic evidence suggests that its Occitan-speaking scribe struggled with his earlier copytext’s unfamiliar language.

The play has an episodic structure, dramatizing Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden, followed by Cain’s murder of Abel, and a procession of prophets largely adapted from the Pseudo-Augustinian Sermo contra Judeos, Paganos, et Arianos, which includes a debate between Isaiah and a Jew. The Jeu d’Adam has traditionally been viewed as a ritual drama, emerging from liturgy and the performative ceremonies of church services; my paper explores interconnections between the play and contemporary pedagogical practices, building on Christophe Chaguinian’s study of the manuscript in MS Tours 927 and the Provenance of the Play, which locates the play in the context of a large secular institution, such as a Cathedral school.

I examine the Jeu in relation to Peter Cantor’s tripartite educational schema of lectiodisputatio, and predicatio. This reveals that the play employs lectio and disputatio (which pertain to the building of faith), but avoids resolving learning into predicatio (preaching good conduct). I argue that through this, the playwright opens up to his vernacular audience the behind-the-scenes methods of learning faith usually reserved for Latinate students, teaching his audience how to discover divine truth for themselves, through the figural reading of Scripture. He uses debate-scenes to test these truth-claims, and to problematise ideas of textual authority and literary production. The playwright takes on the role of interpres: translator, mediator, prophet, and teacher, modelling a way of engaging with and discovering truth in Scripture drawn from the twelfth-century classroom.

M.A. Katritzky (The Open University)
Female religious leaders and the medieval spice-merchant scene

Female religious communities contributed significantly to the highly efficient transnational cultural networks of the medieval Catholic Church; in terms of circulating images, vernacular texts, and above all Latin texts. Drawing on visual as well as textual medieval documents, some previously unknown to specialists, my current researches explore the decisive, previously under-recognized role of their contributions to the development of the so-called merchant scene of biblical drama, representing Easter Holy Women purchasing spices from one or more generally itinerant healers. Encouraged by highly educated female religious leaders in France, Austria, the central Czech and German-speaking lands and elsewhere, theatrical representations of spice-purchasing Holy Women circulated between religious communities right across Europe. As they did so, they moved ever closer to legitimating women on the religious stage, and to providing it with a deeply moving female counterpart—at the end of Christ’s life—to the male-dominated visit of the spice-bearing Kings who herald its beginning. 

Through their creativity and patronage, female religious leaders were the first to recognize the great significance of the merchant scene for Easter ceremonies. Their influential repurposing and secularization of this brief biblical episode achieved a substantial, popular, dramatic vehicle for explicating the origins of the Easter Holy Womens’ spice containers, and for extending and emphasizing the impact and importance of the Easter story’s Holy Women in biblical drama. Making full use of the powerful transnational cultural networks of the Catholic Church to communicate between their mostly Benedictine communities, the female religious leaders who contributed most significantly towards establishing the merchant scene as a popular, even dominant, element in Easter performances, instrumentally influenced the development of the European religious stage.

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-14.30 

Keynote by Jan Bloemendal (Huygens Institute, Amsterdam)
The Bible on the Early Modern Stage: A Transnational Approach

In the Early Modern period, several Biblical stories were popular themes for dramatic productions. The playwrights were Christians themselves and their audiences were similarly Christian, be it in the course of the sixteenth century more confessionalized. Protestant humanists and Jesuit fathers wrote Biblical plays for the educational situation, and chose, for instance, the story of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Joseph, Esther, Jephthah, stories from the Books of Kings, and parables of the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the poor Lazarus and the Rich man, and the Prodigal Son. Also the life and death of Jesus was the subject of some plays. We can deal with these plays as individual dramas, but also as nodes in a network. Authors were inspired by each others’ plays. In this paper, I will explore ways of researching them in  transnational ways. 

14.30-15.30 Panel 2 (chair: Rasmus Vangshardt)

Wim François (KU Leuven)
Biblical Drama and Politically Incorrect Ideas in the Early Modern Netherlands

Francisca Stangel (University of Kent)
Sapientia Solomonis: Transcending national, cultural, and socio-economic borders

15.30-16.00 Break

16.00-17.00 Panel 3

Rasmus Vangshardt (University of Southern Denmark)
Beauty and the Bible in Two Old Testament Plays by Lope de Vega

Sarah Fengler (University of Oxford)
German and Swiss Old Testament Plays in the Eighteenth Century. Klopstock, Lavater, Bodmer

17.00-18.30 Panel 4

Alina Kornienko (Université Paris-VIII-Vincennes-Saint-Denis)
Le paradigme du “fil prodigue” dans l’œuvre de Jean-Luc Lagarce / “Retracing your own footsteps”: the paradigm of the “prodigal son” in the dramatic creation of Jean-Luc Lagarce

(ONLINE) Jean-François Poisson-Gueffier (Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris 3)
Create or recreate? Paul Claudel and the Medieval French Biblical Drama

(ONLINE) Giampaolo Molisina (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Pasolini’s Vangelo and the Loss of the Sacred Dimension in Contemporary Man

Register

If you want to register, either to attend the conference in person or to follow the two online presentations, please send an email to sarah.fengler@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk and dinah.wouters@huygens.knaw.nl.

Poster for the workshop