Call for Papers: Memorial Symposium for Nigel F. Palmer

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

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

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) will be in Oxford as Visiting Lecturer in German Historical Linguistics at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and will deliver a lecture series on Middle High German. This is mainly designed as an introductory course for students of the German Paper IV ‘Historical Linguistics’ but will be open to a general audience interested in medieval languages. The first two lectures will take place on Friday 4-5pm in the Taylor Institution Library, Room 2, the following lectures will be online.

Friday 14 Oct., 4pm I. Middle High German: time, space, language

Friday 21 Oct., 4pm II. Early Middle High German (1050-1170)

III.        ‘Classical’ Middle High German (1170-1250)

IV.        Late Middle High German (1250-1350)

V.         Developments in the Language System 1: Graphemics and Phonology

VI.        Developments in the Language System 2: Morphology

VII.       Developments in the language system 3: Word formation

VIII.      Developments in the Language System 4: Morphosyntax and Syntax

Lectures will be recorded and added to the playlist “German Historical Linguistics”

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 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

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:

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.

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.


09.00-09.30 Arrival with coffee and tea

09.30-09.45 Opening words


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


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


If you want to register, either to attend the conference in person or to follow the two online presentations, please send an email to and

Poster for the workshop

Dag Nikolaus Hasse (Würzburg University): What is European? Medieval, Colonial and Postcolonial Perspectives

Friday, 10 June 2022, 5pm, in St Edmund Hall, Old Library

We often talk about Europe, but our traditional ideas about European culture are questionable. This is because we carry views from the colonial and romantic periods that distort our image of history and geography and may prove a burden for future coexistence on the continent. I would like to encourage us to think more openly about Europe, about its broad cultural roots and its intensive relations with its continental neighbours. 
This includes reflecting on medieval clichés: medieval Europe was not a “Christian land” as the Romantics Novalis and Chateaubriand dreamed it. It was much more than that.

If you would like to participate remotely, please contact Henrike Lähnemann to be added to a teams call.

Storyteller (meddah) at a coffeehouse in the Ottoman Empire. The first coffeehouses appeared in the Islamic world in the 15th century. Source: Wikimedia

OMS Small Grants TT 2022

The TORCH Oxford Medieval Studies Programme invites applications for small grants to support conferences, workshops, and other forms of collaborative research activity organised by researchers at postgraduate (whether MSt or DPhil) or early-career level from across the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford.

The activity should take place between June 2022 and January 2023. The closing date for applications is Friday of Week 5 of Trinity Term (27 May 2022).

Grants are normally in the region of £100–250. Recipients will be required to supply a report after the event for the TORCH Medieval Studies blog. Recipients of awards will also be invited to present on their events at the next Medieval Roadshow.

Applicants will be responsible for all administrative aspects of the activity, including formulating the theme and intellectual rationale, devising the format, and, depending on the type of event, inviting speakers and/or issuing a Call for Papers, organising the schedule, and managing the budget, promotion and advertising. Some administrative and organisational support may be available through TORCH subject to availability.

Applications should be submitted to  using the grant application form. Applications submitted in other formats or after the deadline will not be considered.

Informal enquiries may be directed to

The Oxford Medieval Studies Programme is sponsored by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).

For more medieval matters from Oxford, have a look at the website of the Oxford Medieval Studies TORCH Programme and the OMS blog!

Image: OMS Small grant being given to John (or: Bamberg Apocalypse, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Bibl.140)

Reflections on directing a mystery play in French

by Prof. David Wiles

The French play was part of the Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle performed on 23 April 2022 in St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford. The Playgroup: Les Soeurs de Sainte-Hilde (avec la participation de quelques paysans d’Iffleï) had been formed for the occasion by director: David Wiles The play is part of a cycle, ‘Le mystère de la passion’, written in the mid C15th by Arnoul Gréban, organist at Notre Dame cathedral, and doubtless also choirmaster. Full text available open access.

People ask me: “Why did you decide to do a play in French?”  Implication: it’s an English-speaking audience, and they won’t understand – middle-English bad enough.  Three responses to this one. 1. Political:  not good to live in a monoglot culture, and unlike modern scholarship the medieval world did not view life through the lens of the nation-state. 2. Theatrical:  to communicate through action and the body is a challenge which forces actors to engage with language on a different level, and reach out to their audience. 3. Intellectual:  venturing into Gréban’s text was a journey of discovery, as impenetrable hieroglyphs yielded slowly through rehearsal into recognisable speech patterns, with every phrase having its theatrical work to do. What looks like literary doggerel turns out to be theatrical gold.

An interesting research question follows – what are the cultural continuities that make Gréban’s mighty four-day passion play recognisably French, when set alongside the familiar English cycles?  Centralisation is one feature – responsibility not subdivided to autonomous guilds, but a single integrated work for an urban community to mount.  Another is the French ability to listen and maintain concentration upon the word.  In the English texts, action typically takes place between stanzas, but in the French text couplets conjoin speeches, so each new speaker has a rhyme to echo in order to come in on cue, a feature we found invaluable.  The sustained rhythmic flow ratchets up the tension, with enough variety of register and poetic form to hold the spectator’s attention. Like the alexandrines of Racine, the eight-syllable medieval line has a lilt that asks to be animated by the arms, so different from English metres which asked to be stamped with the feet.

After seeing the performance, a friend asked me: “What lesson was the play is supposed to impart?”  Implication: medieval theatre was didactic, a case of the church telling the peasants what to think. There is no simple moral to the John the Baptist sequence.  In the artistic structure John’s martyrdom is there because it foreshadows Christ’s.  People didn’t need telling that tyrants are venal, rather, it’s the recognisable social reality upon which a drama is built. Herod has his reasons for acting, and he washes his hands like Pilate. The medieval Salome is an enigma – we are free to draw our own conclusions, not told what to think. The urge to create theatre or art is a human constant, responding to the sensation of life as a cosmic mystery.  The idea that medieval theatre is ‘didactic’ is a handy modernist cliché, serving the narrative of progress, and all the cultural arrogance which that narrative commonly instils.  My preferred picture of the longue durée is one of progressive fragmentation, and I find in medieval theatre a holistic model of how theatre used to embrace and address a complete community in all its diversity, along with the gamut of human experience – comic and tragic, bestial and sublime – before dedicated theatre buildings and professionalism in acting and penmanship locked theatre into its lonely compartment.

David Wiles is Emeritus Professor of Drama at the University of Exeter, and lives in Iffley. He is a theatre historian whose main specialisms have been Greek and Shakespearean drama. He wrote the entry on medieval theatre for the Oxford Illustrated History of the Theatre. His medieval CV includes a student production of the plays of the Wakefield Master in the gardens of Westminster Abbey, Mankynde in the Burton Taylor rooms, a crucifixion on a farmer’s trailer in Buckingham marketplace, staging three plays by the C10th nun Roswitha, and a community production of the N-Town Creation/Fall and York Noah in Iffley.

Repeat performance of the play at Iffley Church on 24 April 2022. Cast: John the Baptist – Laurence Nagy Manasses (disciple) – Alice Hawkins Sophonias (disciple) – Laura Laube Herod – Alex Marshall Herodias – Irina Boeru Salome – Alice Hawkins Groignart A (servant) – Kate Bunn Groignart B (servant) – Andrew Stilborn Amphiarus (noble) – David Wiles Radigon (noble) – Laura Laube God – Henrike Lähnemann Crew: Director: David Wiles Consultant: Sebastian Dows-Miller Head Creator: Andrew Stilborn Filmed by Isabel Reichenbach

The Oxford Medieval Mystery Cycle 2022

23 April 2022, 12noon to 5pm. A cycle of medieval mystery plays performed by various groups around St Edmund Hall. A multilingual medieval experience not to be missed! All welcome (free of charge)! Performed by a variety of groups with links to Oxford Medieval Studies. Full information
Directors: Henrike Lähnemann & Lesley Smith, Manager: Eleanor Baker


The cycle will be streamed via the St Edmund Hall Youtube Channel. Just tune in any time to follow the unfolding drama!

At 12 noon, the chapel bell will ring for the prologue, followed by Creation 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.

Front Quad –
11:45-12:00 midday Musical Entertainment
12:00-12:05 Introduction
12:10-12:40 1. Creation and the Fall of Adam (Faculty of English)
12:45- 12:55 2. The Killing of Abel (Holloway Mystery Players)
1:00 – 1:25 3. Noah (Medieval Studies Students)

Churchyard –
1:30 – 1:50 4. The Visitation (Jasmine and the Kilnsians)
1:55- 2:20 5. The Shepherds’ Play (The Pastoral Players)
2:25- 2:40 6. The Magi (The Wise Women)
2:45 – 2:55 7. Herod the Great (The 5th Week Blues)
3:10 – 3:30 8. John the Baptist (Les Soeurs de Sainte-Hilde avec la participation de quelques paysans d’Iffleï)
3:35 – 3:55 9. Lazarus (Medieval Masters)
4:00 – 4:15 10. The Crucifixion (The Manic Medievalists)
4:20-5:00 11. The Resurrection (The Mercantile Minstrels)