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Christian Hercules--a new research method.


This article tries to give a new method for Jesuit drama research, which studies the dramas not only as literary, but as complex literary and pedagogical works. The author chose to study Christian Hercules, which is an allegoric drama and was performed in Pozsony (Bratislava) in 1729. The characters of the ancient mythology and the allegories convey first a Christian meaning in this drama, when Isvan Dobo becomes the allegory of Hercules, and Hercules becomes the allegory of Dobo later, when Christian characters become ancient heroes again. We have only the program of this drama, so the author studies only the dramatic structure and the emblems, examining how the national and European identity and religious education are in the drama.


Hungarian Jesuit school dramas are well known, as many important studies were written about them in Hungary. The data base and the texts of these plays were edited (1), but in the meantime, the play, as a work of art was often forgotten. We need a complex method to analyze the Jesuit school dramas, which are both of pedagogical and theatrical plays. One method can be to study the authors and their works. But we know that Jesuit education was universal, every teacher had to teach using the same methods; a Spanish or German teacher had to think and feel as a Hungarian or Italian one. On the other hand, many drama programs and texts were published anonymously, because the teacher--writer did not consider himself a playwright because of the rules of Ratio Studiorum (the famous Jesuit curriculum). That is why we can most often speak about collective authorship even if we know the life and works of a certain playwright.

Philology might be a better method than studying authors. We can study the sources of the dramas, we can study (in order to create parallelism) the links and relations between the dramas and their sources, we can study compilations, and we can use the method of close reading. But how close can we read a drama written not for reading, but to be seen on the stage. (2) This method can reveal connections hidden from the audience or a shallow reader. So it is possible, that the author compiled his drama from pre-texts. The new, dramatic function of a preach or a poem of the pre-text is still in question, and we know little of the role of symbols and types predominating the stage. When studying school dramas, there is one more question: how were the students impressed by the drama? If philology is subsidiary in drama research, the centre of the research must be the play. If we study drama as a complex literary and pedagogical product, the choruses, tableaus, and dance movements gain a new value: as pictures do not say anything without texts, for example, the box of Kypselos (3), the chorus, tableau, and interludes help to understand the dramatic situation on the Jesuit stage. So it is worth studying the dramas with choruses separated from those which have no choruses, because they use different symbolic systems, thus they require different forms of abstraction from the audience.

The pedagogical function of the dramas can come to the front only if we study the performance. If we study only the parts of the play (e.g. text, stage, scenic, etc.) the pedagogical function is not too important. We often quote Ratio Studiorum, i.e., Jesuit students could exercise acting, speaking, convicting, arguing on exams, disputations and Jesuit fathers could influence their audience by preaching; still the Jesuit curriculum ordered to produce school plays. We should understand the reasons: I try to explain the need for stage productions through studying Hungarian chronicle dramas. These dramas had a special function in teaching history as a subject. (4) Chronicle dramas were performed on Jesuit stage in an age when historical studies were in their infancy in Hungary. if we compare this corpus to the full corpus of the Jesuit school dramas, we can see that the number of chronicle dramas is rather small. On the other hand, there were popular historical themes and there were themes produced only once or twice, and usually there were more themes from European history than from Hungarian history.

This again proves the conclusion of Jean-Marie Valentin: Jesuit chronicle drama was shown only to illustrate the scheme of Providence, and Jesuits did not want to give a global historic philosophy on the stage. Due to their view of cyclical evolution; there is no contact between the thematic units. (5) Characters of the heroes, customs of countries are not important, all are reduced to stereotypes. Thus we can find stereotypes in the scenes, too, and we can make a similar model of the structures of the dramas as Propp did with the fairy tales. (6) If a literary historian gets to this point in global and structural study, he can find himself at a stand. Can we speak about chronicle dramas in Jesuit schools or only dramas using schemes and stereotypes? Not the characters themselves are important but the schemes they are involved. Let the figures be the Hungarian king and his brother: Laszlo and Salamon, or Talandus and Charles the Great, the scheme is the same: the internecine fight.

We must not forget that Jesuit drama was not only a literary product but also an educational work, and studying the school dramas from an educational and psychological point of view, we can draw different conclusions as literary historians. What is a dead end for the literary historian can be the starting point for the historian of education, and what is only a scheme for literature can be a very important component in education. I try to prove it with the analysis of Christian Hercules, a drama from 1729 about the 1552 siege of Eger. (7)

Christian Hercules (1729)

According to Alessandro Donati, the main characters of epics must have the same morality as Aristotle described as heroism. Jesuit playwrights chose their characters from this aspect: heroism is a superlative morality, and the most important aim is common good. (8) Elida Maria Szarota listed three groups of heroes in the Jesuit dramas. (9) Let us list the similar Hungarian characters:

1. Adulterous hero, who is against Christianity. The main type is Julian apostata. In the Hungarian corpus, we have only one hero like this: Ludovicus Grittus, a betrayer, who went to the Turks and beheaded the Hungarian bishop of Nagyvarad, but then in his dream, he saw the bishop's head and finally he lost his head, too.

2. The felon hero. The main type, here, is Mauritius, who got his punishment in this world, but escaped damnation because of his penitence. In Hungarian Jesuit dramas this character was quite rare.

3. The Saint. These figures are to be the positive examples for every Christian. This type was extremely popular in Hungary, since the first Hungarian kings belong to this group, e.g. the dramas about Saint Laszlo, Saint Istvan.

Due to the Hungarian circumstances, in the 18th century, a new type of hero appeared on the Hungarian stage: the Christian hero who fights against the Turks for Christiandom. Symbolism often created analogies, where understanding worldly events helps to decode transcendental abstractions. (10) The Hungarian play written in 1729 about Dobo is based on analogous symbolism.

In the first scene, Hecate and Mercury unite against Peace, who waters olive trees on the three mounts of the Hungarian coat-of-arms. They change Cornucopia to the "pixis" of Pandora and give the horn to the Aggressive Forces. Peace asks Jupiter to help. It is a very complex scene because we can see allegories and ancient Gods in the same scene, on the other hand, these Gods represent both mythology and Christian allegories. Hercules is the most complex figure of this scene, mainly due to the fact that the audience knows only the title of the play at this time: Christian Hercules. Hercules himself, as the son of Jupiter, enters the stage; but in the next scene he becomes Istvan Dobo, while Aggressive Powers become Achomet, the Turkish Sultan. So the mythological and allegorical figures become the participants of 17th century Hungarian reality, but in the last act, they become ancient Gods and allegories again, thus the last scene will construct and reconstruct the whole drama.

After the first allegoric scene, both the characters and the scenery have a metamorphosis, when the three mounts of the Hungarian arms change into the fortress of Eger. We are in the scene of the Earth, which does not differ from the supernatural scene because Gods connect the two. So finally, when Dobo fights against the Turks, he fights not only for Eger, but for Hungary and Christiandom. It means that the supernatural scene gives a new meaning to the earthly scenes, but the Earthly scene comments the supernatural scene, too.

Dreams linking earthly and supernatural spheres are of extreme importance from the point of view of allegories. Before the dream-scene, after a desperate battle, Hungarians seems defeated. One of the best Hungarian soldiers betrays the weak points of the fortress to the Turks, and others are not reliable either. They have no food and water and the powder-magazine was blown up. In this situation, in the 12th scene, Dobo has a dream where the allegories of Constancy and Power give him their attributes. After this he sees seven camps with his own name written above them. When Dobo wakes up, defeats the Turks, and wins the region of Vajdasag (symbolized by the seven camps) as his award. Constancy and Power are Dobo's real and main attributes, but this scene is far from the opening allegoric scene I mentioned. On the one hand this personal symbol is independent from the whole drama, on the other hand it is the most important one leading to the victory over the Turks. The closing scene showed an allegoric tableau of the triumphal Hercules strengthening the position of Peace on the three mounts of Hungary. Then, finally, Pallas of Posoninm coming out of the Patron's house appeared on the stage and gave awards and prizes to the best pupils. At the very end, Pallas put an olive branch in the mouth of an eagle. This last minute is to be explained: the eagle was the armorial beast of the patron's family, which shows the close relationship between allegorical-historical drama topic and occasional plays.

What is the educational message of this drama? First it helps the expansion of fantasy. (11) But if we think of the fact that the pupils had to remain on the stage in poses fixed by their peers, and the costumes were sewn by the wives of the patrons, the ballets were choreographed by foreign teachers--where can one find place to expand fantasy? On the other hand, sometimes students had private acts, (12) during which they played without costumes, scenery and props, but that was not frequent on public stage. We know that drama helped to exercise acting, speaking, action, and memory, but did the Jesuits write dramas only for this purpose?

Researchers emphasize the spectacular scenes, the luxurious stage of the Jesuit dramas, but we cannot read about the educational background of these dramas; we must not forget about the fact that they are school dramas. No doubt, this drama taught patriotism, so let us examine the Dobo drama from this point of view. We can find two key--scenes in the drama: Dobo's dream and the example of Dobo's wife and son. Dobo's dream helps the Hungarians to victory, so it is the most important scene. It is a tableau in the centre of the drama with new characters, which is amazing after the earlier scenes with an interesting solution in dramaturgy. The message is: Be strong and constant and then you will win your award.

Before Dobo's dream, his wife, Rosinda, and their son go to Dobo to help him, and after the dream we see them again. With their heroism, the woman and the small boy set an example for adults, for both men and women. The Jesuit curriculum had a ban of females on the stage that is why this lady's heroic fight said more to the audience about faith in Hungary and Christianity than thousands of other characters have shown. Let's see this scene from the point of view of the acting pupils. Speaking about patriotism or faith by heart, is a special case. If one could hear the words of encouragement from his classmate on the stage, it could give much more than a sermon or a lesson in the school about the same values. In the Jesuit school, drama education begins not only on the stage, but when the playwright starts to write his play and chooses the theme, because his play must impress the pupils. While we studied school drama as a literary product or as a play only, the allegoric scenes were as important as the main situation and the spectacular scenery, costumes moved us--but these were only for the audience, they are not too important in education, because the moral message was the main value of all dramas from this point of view.

We used the Dobo-drama as an example; all aspects of chronicle dramas are allegoric, the themes about actual problems were hidden in history, as they wanted to impress the audience and the children. It means, that not Hungarian historic theme is important, but the moral message, which is the same in Hungary and abroad. The age of the story is not important either but rather the same moral message and stereotype. It means that history is likely to loose its function. But if we think of the fact that the adults, who saw the drama of Dobo (in 1729), experienced Turkish oppression in their youth, these dramas get a new perspective again as a consequence of that, the dramas become Hungarian again. The acting students came from noble families, they grew up in palaces, among the portraits of their elders--so the historic figures on the stage were much closer to them. On the other hand, the future of these students were determined, too--on the stage, they had to advertise the values which must have been the directory in their future lives, when they became officers or statesmen, too. It means that European Jesuit chronicle drama is always national and European at the same time, their main purpose is to teach history and send other moral messages at the same time.


(1) Staud Geza: A magyarorszagi jezsuita iskolai szinj atekok forrasai 1561-1773. Budapest: MTA konyvtara. (A magyarorszagi iskolai szinjatekok forrasai es irodalma = Fontes Ludorum scenicorum in scholis S.J. Hungariae) I. Pars prima. 1984.; II. Pars secunda. 1986.; III. Pars tertia. 1988.; IV. Indexes / Ed. H. Takacs Marianna. 1994. 234 p.

(2) Williams, Arnold: A tipologia es a ciklikus dramak: Nehany kriterium [Typology and the circle dramas]. In: A tipologiai szimbolizmus: Tanulmanyok / Ed. Fabiny Tibor. Szeged: [JATEPress], 1998. (Ikonologia es Muertelmezes 4.). 213.

(3) Gombrich, Ernst: Icones Symbolicae. A szimbolikus kifejezes filozofiai es ezek hatasa a muveszetre. In: Az ikonologia elmelete / ed. Pal Jozsef. Szeged: [JATEPress], 1997. (Ikonologia es Muertelmezes 1.). 41-42.

(4) Balassa Bruno: A tortenettanitas multja hazankban [History of teaching history in Hungary]: Nevelestorteneti forrastanulmany. Pecs: Dunantul Egyetemi Nyomdaja, 1929. 91-92.

(5) Valentin, Jean-Marie: Le theatre des Jesuites dans les pays de langue allemande (1554-1680): Salut des ames et ordre des cites. Bern-Francfort / M.--Las Vegas: Peter Lang SA, 1978. 337-340.

(6) Propp, V. J.: A mese morfologiaja. 2. edition. Budapest: Osiris-Szazadveg, 1995. (Osiris Konyvtar). 123-139.

(7) see: Alszeghy Zsoltne--Berecz Agbes--Czibula Katalin--Keresztes Attila--Kiss Katalin--Knapp Eva--Varga Imre: Jezsuita iskoladramak [Jesuit school dramas. Text edition] II. Budapest: Argumentum, 1992.

(8) Szorenyi Laszlo: A barokk ideal a XVII. szazadi olasz, magyar es kozep-keleteuropai latin jezsuita eposzokban. In: Hunok es jezsuitak / Szorenyi Laszlo. [s. n.]: AmfipressZ, 1993.35.

(9) Szarota, Elida Maria: Das Jesuitendrama und die Manipulation des Publikums. In: Gesichte, politik und Gesellschaft im Drama des 17. Jahrhunderts / Elida Maria Szarota. BernMunchen: Francke Verlag, 1976.

(10) Gombrich, Ernst: Icones Symbolicae. A szimbolikus kifejezes filozofiai es ezek hatasa a muveszetre. In: Az ikonologia elmelete / szerk. Pal Jozsef. Szeged: [JATEPress], 1997. (Ikonologia es Muertelmezes 1.). 72.

(11) Hets J. Aurelian O. S. B.: A jezsuitak iskolai Magyarorszagon a 18. szazad kozepen. Pannonhalma, Budapest: Korda, 1938. (Publicationes ad historiam S. I. in Hungaria illustrandam. Lucubrationes; 5.) 73.

(12) Ratio Studiorum, 1599. Regulae Professoris Rhetoricae. 19. [section]. Privatae scenae.

* This paper was made with the sponsoring of the OTKA T031918 and OTKA T042967

Nagy Julia, Miskolc University, Hungary

Nagy is a member of the Research Group for Old Hungarian Dramas (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Literary scholarship).
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Author:Julia, Nagy
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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