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Title: Passionate Encounters: Emotion in Early English Biblical Drama
Author(s): Pfeiffer, Kerstin
Supervisor(s): Penn, Stephen
Evans, Ruth
Keywords: medieval drama
biblical plays
cognitive theory
Issue Date: Aug-2011
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis seeks to investigate the ways in which late medieval English drama produces and theorises emotions, in order to engage with the complex nexus of ideas about the links between sensation, emotion, and cognition in contemporary philosophical and theologial thought. It contributes to broader considerations of the cultural work that religious drama performed in fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century England in the context of the ongoing debates concerning its theological and social relevance. Drawing on recent research in the cognitive sciences and the history of emotion, this thesis conceives of dramatic performances as passionate encounters between actors and audiences – encounters which do not only re-create biblical history as a sensual reality, but in which emotion becomes attached to signs and bodies through theatrical means. It suggests that the attention paid to the processes through which audiences become emotionally invested in a play challenges assumptions about biblical drama of the English towns as a negligible contribution to philosophical and theological thinking in the vernacular. The analysis is conducted against the background of medieval and modern conceptions of emotions as ethically and morally relevant phenomena at the intersection between body and reason, which is outlined in chapter one. Each of the four main chapters presents a detailed examination of a series of pageants or plays drawn mainly from the Chester and York cycles and the Towneley and N-Town collections. These are supplemented, on occasion, with analysis of individual plays from fragmentary cycles and collections. The examinations undertaken are placed against the devotional and intellectual backdrop of late medieval England, in order to demonstrate how dramatic performances of biblical subject matter engage with some of the central issues in the wider debate about the human body, soul, and intellect. The second chapter focuses on the creation of living images on the stage, and specifically on didactically relevant stage images, in the Towneley Processus Prophetarum, the Chester Moses and the Law, and the N-Town Moses. The third chapter shifts the focus to the performance of the Passion in the N-Town second Passion play and the York Crucifixio Christi, concentrating on the potential effects of the perception of physical violence on audience response. The subject of chapter four is the emotional behaviours and expressions accorded to the Virgin Mary in the Towneley and N-Town Crucifixion scenes, and those of her precursors, the mothers of the innocents, in the Digby and Coventry plays of the Massacre of the Inncocents. In chapter five, the analysis finally turns to dramatisations of the Resurrection, examining its realisation on stage in the Chester Skinners’ play, as well as staged responses to the event by the apostles and the Marys in the N-Town The Announcement to the Three Marys; Peter and John at the Sepulchre and the Towneley Thomas of India. These four central chapters pave the way for a summary, in the conclusion, of the central problematic underpinning this thesis: how the evocation of emotion in an audience is linked to embodiment in theatrical performance, and tied to a certain awareness, on the part of playwrights, of the popular biblical drama’s potential as a locus of philosophical-theological debate.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Literature and Languages

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