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
The new lecture series on unprovenanced manuscripts/inscriptions seeks to gather a wide range of voices from academics in different fields or disciplines about the methodological pros and cons of working with unprovenanced mss/inscriptions in academic contexts.
The lectures will cover matters such as the legal concerns, ethical concerns, and academic concerns by keeping a strict focus on methodology.
The aim of the lecture series is to work towards a general framework of good academic practice in the field of manuscript cultures.
Our first speaker is Alexander Herman, Director of the Institute of Art and Law. His most recent book is ‘Restitution — The Return of Cultural Artefacts’.
Time and place: 30 May, 5.15pm (UK time), Memorial Room, The Queen’s College, Oxford, UK
Researching and curating historical manuscripts is not without its risks, and these include legal risks. Questions arise in the context of dealing in unprovenanced manuscripts, such as when it is not clear when a manuscript left its country of origin nor under what circumstances. Also at issue are manuscripts that have a clear, but controversial provenance, such as those looted during periods of armed conflict or oppression. This talk will discuss the legal risks – if any – of dealing in such material, both from a national and international perspective. It will also raise the separate, but interlinked, question of morality of such activities.
Alexander Herman is the Director of the UK-based Institute of Art and Law. He has written, taught and presented on an array of topics in relation to art, law and cultural property. His writing appears regularly in The Art Newspaper and he has been quoted widely in the press on art law topics (including in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Telegraph, ArtNET, The Globe & Mail and Bloomberg). His work has also been cited in the UK House of Lords and before the US Supreme Court. He trained in both common law and civil law legal systems at McGill University and practised law in Canada. He is Programme Co-Director of the Art, Business and Law LLM which runs as a partnership between the Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Art and Law. His latest book is Restitution: The Return of Cultural Artefacts (Lund Humphries, 2021).
Online link will be provided later
…and keep an eye out for further announcements!
Image: Beinecke MS 408, also known as Voynich Manuscript, p.32
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 honours his memory with a symposium, which 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.
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.
1st and 3rd Conference – 25th-27th May 2023 St Cross College and Pusey House, Oxford
25th May Thursday
9h Registration and Coffee 9h30-10h Introduction and Problematique (Maximilian Lau Worcester College, University of Oxford and Gregory Lippiatt University of Exeter) 10h-10h30 Coffee 10h30–11h15 Political argumentation in the 1150s and 1160s: the example of the Saint-Victor Register (Alice Taylor) 11h15–12h The Maliks of Hindustan: A New Conquest Nobility? (Abhishek Kaicker UC Berkeley and Hasan Siddiqui University of British Columbia) 12h–12h30 Questions and Discussion 12h30–13h30 Lunch 13h30–14h15 Benevolent Elites? Shared Rulership and Privileges in Early Medieval Japan (Mickey Adolphson University of Cambridge) 14h15–15h The Kouroukan Fouga and Oral History: Further Reflections on African Narratives of Noblesse oblige (Adam Simmons Nottingham Trent University) 15h–15h30 Questions and Discussion 15h30–16h Tea 16h Optional Visit to Oriel College Archives (Magna Carta, Papal Bulls and More) 19h Speakers’ Dinner
26th May Friday
9h30–10h Coffee 10h–10h45 Minority Rule in Medieval Syria: The Establishment and Maintenance of the Burids in Damascus during the Reign of Tughtegin (1104-1128) (Alex Mallett Waseda University, Tokyo) 10h45–11h30 L’aristocratie, l’empereur et le bien commun dans l’empire romain d’Orient (Jean-Claude Cheynet l’Institut universitaire de France) 11h30–12h15 The common good and baronial rebellion in England, c. 1199-1327 (Sophie Ambler University of Lancaster) 12h15–12h45 Questions and Discussion (Alice Taylor King’s College London) 12h45–14h Lunch 12h–12h30 Questions and Discussion 14h–14h45 A Shatterzone on an Ecotone: Fortifying the Steppe-Sown Frontier and Contending for Authority in the Ordos Region of Asia, Circa 800- 1200 (Ruth Mostern University of Pittsburgh) 14h45–15h30 Defining Elite Alterity in the medieval Maghrib and al-Andalus, c. 1000-1300 (Amira Bennison Magdalene College, University of Cambridge) 15h30–16h Questions and Discussion 16h–16h30 Tea 19h Conference Dinner
27th May Saturday
9h30-10h Coffee 10h–10h45 The Limits of Leadership: Cities, Frontiers, and Incursion in the Narratives of North-Western Europe, 1100–1300 (Emily Winkler St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford) 10h45–11h30 Basqaqs, darughas or envoys? Transience, mobility and Mongol elites in Rus (Angus Russell Trinity College, Cambridge) 11h30–12h15 The Rich, The Poor, and The State: Ideas of Good Government in Song Dynasty China (Sukhee Lee Rutgers University) Questions and Discussion 12h30–13h30 Concluding Remarks, Round Table Discussion, Next Steps (Gregory Lippiatt University of Exeter and Maximilian Lau Worcester College, University of Oxford) 13h30-14h30 Lunch and Farewell
About the Noblesse Oblige? Project
This project and its conference is a forum for the re-evaluation of ‘baronial’ government and the common good between the tenth and fourteenth centuries across Afro-Eurasian polities. By bringing together emerging and established international scholars, it challenges the traditionally Eurocentric approach to this problem and uses new methodologies to reassess our framework for studying the medieval period, leading to a fundamental reappraisal of the teleological narrative that has previously explained the rise of modern states. The story of the medieval barons is commonly a negative one. Because aristocracies have been almost universally eclipsed by centralised states in the modern world, they are often cast as regressive forces whose self-interest held back ‘progress’. Nor is this exclusively a European narrative: the historiographical attention paid to the ‘rise of the State’ has privileged the Latin Christian experience of political formation and shaped the way in which non-royal élites are seen in other historical contexts. As a result, ‘private’ rulers such as lords, amirs, jun and kshatriya are often assumed to have been at odds with the needs of the wider society. This network is challenging this understanding of the role of ‘barons’ in their relation to public good in two important and complementary ways. First, we are exploring case studies of how these non-royal élites conceived and implemented responsible government, whether for themselves or for others. Second, we are comparing these case studies in a bold transnational framework, reaching from western Europe to China, that spans the collapse of major centralised imperial projects in the ninth century to the destabilising experience of the Great Death in the fourteenth.
We would like to thank the following organisations for their support of this project and the organisation of this conference:
Supervisory Board Nandini Chatterjee – University of Exeter Bernard Gowers – Keble College, University of Oxford Catherine Holmes – University College, University of Oxford Yasuhiro Otsuki – Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo Nicholas Vincent – University of East Anglia
Associate Members Fernando Arias – University of Valladolid Susannah Bain – Jesus College, University of Oxford James Cogbill – Worcester College, University of Oxford Lars Kjaer – Northeastern University London Mario Lafuentee – University of Zaragoza Carlos Laliena – University of Zaragoza
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.
A fantastic day was had by all at the third Medieval Mystery Cycle held on Saturday, 22 April that took place across the Front Quad and St Peter-in-the-East churchyard of St Edmund Hall. Actors, directors, singers and designers staged six plays dating from between the 12th and 16th centuries. Retelling Biblical stories from the Nativity to the Last Judgement, the cast expertly performed in medieval and modern languages, including Latin, Middle English and Middle High German.
Master of Ceremonies Jim Harris (left) and the Choir of St Edmund Hall (right)
Master of Ceremonies Jim Harris (Teaching Curator, Ashmolean Museum) delighted everyone as audience guide and play narrator with linking verse composed by David Maskell, and we were treated to Peter Abelard’s ‘O quanta qualia’ sung by the Choir of St Edmund Hall led by College Chaplain the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano.
Piers Plowman with tackling the seven deadly sins (left) and the Virgin and Christ Child of the Nativity scene (right)
Group ‘Swonken ful harde’ performed first with extracts from Piers Plowman in Middle English, that saw Piers taking on the seven deadly sins through the visions of Will the Dreamer. Following in Middle English, The English Faculty wonderfully performed the Chester Nativity and Salutation with a humorous interpretation of Roman Emperor Octavyan as King Charles III in time for the Coronation!
Scheming Herod delights in news of the Slaughter of the Innocents (left) and Mary Magdalene steals a member of the audience (right)
Marguerite de Navarre’s 16th-century French play of the Comédie des Innocents was performed by group ‘Les perles innocentes’ with singing by Lucy Matheson (read a report by director Elisabeth Dutton), with the dark scenes of the Slaughter of the Innocents countered by a comically scheming Herod and angels supplying chocolates to the audience. We were then treated to a charity coffee and cake stall in the break by the Oxford German Society in support of the German Red Cross. This was followed by a fantastic adaptation of the Carmina Burana Bavarian Passion play by the ‘Sorores Sancte Hildae’ group in Latin and German, with audience participation!
Professor Henrike Lähnemann and trumpet leading the angels (left) and a gleeful Lucifer capturing lost souls for Hell (right)
The unofficial award for best costume design went to the Medieval Germanists who performed the Harrowing of Hell in Middle High German with English narration, that saw a troupe of winged angels and Lucifer herd an imaginative array of lost souls to the Crypt’s Hellmouth. The day closed with Past and Present Teddy Students delivering a high-energy staging of a modern English version of the Last Judgment with St John of Patmos being guided by an exacerbated angel through comic visions of the battle between Christ and Satan for souls.
St John of Patmos and his visions of Heaven and Hell in the Last Judgement
We are particularly grateful to Professor Lesley Smith and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, co-directors of Oxford Medieval Studies, the driving force behind the Mystery Cycle, Michael Angerer, Graduate Convenor for the Mystery Cycle, and to the Fellows and Principal of St Edmund Hall, for once again agreeing to host our medieval madness!
26 APRIL (Wednesday week 1 of Trinity Term), 5.15pm UK time
In celebration of the release of vol. 2 of the Journal of Manuscript and Text Cultures (MTC), which takes an explicitly experimental approach of involving digital tools for the presentation of research in manuscript cultures, the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures (CMTC) is holding a round table 26 APRIL (Wednesday week 1 of Trinity Term), 5.15pm UK time at the Memorial Room of The Queen’s College, Oxford. The topic of the round table will be digital publishing and future research in manuscript studies.
The round table will be chaired and moderated by Richard Ovenden, OBE, Professorial Fellow and Bodley’s Librarian.
Members of the round table are Yegor Grebnev, Lesley Smith, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, and Simon Aldridge.
Máire Ní Mhaonaigh is professor of Celtic and medieval studies at the University of Cambridge and Fellow at St John’s College. Her research stands at the interface of history and literature and focuses on connections between Ireland, England and Scandinavia and the wider western world. Máire is currently working on a complex multi-manuscript corpus of medieval Irish landscape literature, as part of a Leverhulme project which she leads, and she co-directs ongoing research on the electronic dictionary of medieval Irish (www.dil.ie) funded by the AHRC.
Lesley Smith is professor of medieval intellectual history at Oxford and Fellow of Harris Manchester College. Her research centres on the medieval Bible as both an intellectual and a material object, as it was studied in the schools and proto-university of medieval Paris. Lesley is the co-editor of vol. 2 of MTC and a member of the board of CMTC.
Yegor Grebnev is Distinguished Associate Research Fellow at Beijing Normal University (Zhuhai) and an assistant professor at BNU-HKBU United International College. Trained as a specialist on early China, he has initiated multiple collaborative projects with scholars of history, texts, and manuscripts from various regions of pre-modern world. Yegor is the co-editor of vol. 2 of MTC and a member of the board of CMTC.
Simon Aldridge is professor of Main Group Chemistry at Oxford and Fellow of The Queen’s College. He is the Director of the OxICMF CDT and will bring the perspective of the exact sciences to the table.
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
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, seeing all the secrets of the human heart, knows that while the three kings have welcomed his Son, the infant Christ, Herod plots against him. He sends His Angels to warn Joseph that he and his family should flee. Mary prays, recognizing that her Son will redeem the sins of Adam, and enjoining all creation to praise God: then she and Joseph, with the baby Jesus, flee to Egypt. Herod, advised by his scholars, sends soldiers (here ‘Tyrants’) to kill all the babies of Bethlehem. Against the protests of mothers, the soldiers fulfil their orders, but in the process also kill Herod’s own son. The child’s Nurse informs Herod, who laments that, in trying to protect his legacy for his son, he has in fact destroyed him. The laments of all the bereaved are placed in the mouth of Old Testament matriarch Rachel, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel, weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.’ God tells his Angels that the slaughtered children were martyrs, killed because of his Son: he welcomes their souls into heaven and vows vengeance on all tyrants. The Souls of the Innocents sing in praise of God.
The original play is 1075 lines long: we have cut more than half of its lines for today’s performance, while trying to maintain a sense of its versification. Marguerite emphasizes the female characters in the play, giving Rachel the huge climactic speech. The chant that accompanies her lament is a medieval French setting of the Vox in Rama: the final song is 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”: we have here 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. Her songbook is now British Library MS Harley 5242.
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. Our performance can be seen again in Iffley churchyard at 12.00 on Sunday, 23 April, and at the Oxford Festival of the Arts on 16 July.
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.