Wednesday, February 10, 2016


On this Ash Wednesday, I want to write about the medieval drama The Play of Adam. Scholars often cite this anonymous play as a half-way point between liturgical dramas performed inside the church (like the Quem Quaeritis Trope) and Mystery Plays performed in secular spaces throughout the city.

Why would they say that? Well, because Adam appears to have been performed just outside the church. While the text of the play is written mainly in Norman French, Latin stage directions refer to a church. One stage direction reads:

Then let the Figure go to the church, and let Adam and Eve walk about, innocently delighting themselves in Paradise. In the mean time, let the demons run to and fro through the square, making fitting gestures; and let them come, one after another, alongside of Paradise, showing Eve the forbidden fruit, as if entreating her to eat thereof.

After the Figure of God judges Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, another stage direction states:

And when this is ended, the Figure shall go back unto the church.

The story continues, with the Expulsion from the Garden and Cain's murder of Abel. After that, there is a procession of prophets foretelling the coming of Christ. The stage directions call for Habakkuk to "lift up his hands toward the church, manifesting wonder and fear."

Unfortunately, the manuscript breaks off after a speech by King Nebuchadnezzar, but the piece looks forward not just to the coming of the Messiah, but to the coming of a new type of drama.