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Nine Medieval Latin Plays.

Peter Dronke begins the Introduction to this volume with a brief survey of previous textual scholarship on medieval Latin drama. He concludes his opening paragraphs with a call for a fresh and thorough scholarly edition of the entire surviving corpus. His present intention, he goes on to say, is not to take up this larger project, but rather to offer 'a small sample of bilingual texts, in a way that I hope will be both adequate to the needs of specialists and attractive to non-specialists' (p. xvii). Whether the former of these aims is satisfactorily fulfilled I cannot judge, since I lay no claim to special expertise in the history of Latin drama. As a convenient anthology for the use of medieval Latinists, as well as for those interested in medieval theatre's earliest roots, the collection provides a convenient introduction to a range of eleventh- and twelfth-century texts, informed by Dronke's creatively imaginative enthusiasm for their literary merits and performative possibilities. Four eleventh-century plays open the volume; then come two short Easter interludes of the twelfth century. Despite Dronke's advocacy of these first six pieces' quality and interest, the volume's centre of gravity remains with the final three plays he presents: the Beauvais Danielis ludus, Hildegard of Bingen's innovative and ambitious morality play, the Ordo virtutum, and the Ludus de passione from the Codex Buranus (a manuscript which, despite its primary reputation as the repository of the Carmina Burana, also constitutes one of our fullest sources for medieval Latin drama). The plays are all religious, and indeed ecclesiastical, if not unequivocally liturgical: the volume makes no attempt to represent the secular Terentian comedy tradition of such works as the Geta and Babio.

All the plays have been previously edited, and four previously translated. Some of Dronke's texts depart significantly from earlier editions. In other cases, his emendations are less substantial. The critical apparatus of the present volume is serviceable, although, in the absence of any explicit statement of layout conventions, I occasionally found its presentation confusingly laconic, for example in the notes on p. 38 to lines in the Officium stelle. Now and then, it is unclear why an essentially textual note has been included among the explanatory endnotes, or conversely, an interpretative matter placed in the critical apparatus.

Dronke's strong commitment to the imaginative recreation of original performances informs his translations, but the English versions are not always entirely idiomatic: Dronke sometimes renders participial and adjectival phrases with a syntactic literalism some readers will find grating. In other instances, one might object to the implications of interpretative recastings, for example in Hildegard's Ordo virtutum, where the English of ll. 30, 32, 50-8, 108, 169, 172, 179, and 203-4 takes particular, and debatable, liberty with the Latin.

Dronke, moreover, renders the rubrics of Hildegard's play as affective stage directions and so presents them in a form which bolsters his assertion that the Ordo was performed in Hildegard's cloister. He thus opposes Eckehard Simon's recent denial of such possibilities. Dronke's debate with Simon implicitly engages, among other issues, modern scholarly delimitations of the cultural possibilities open to medieval women. But whatever the merits of Dronke's larger argument for Hildegard's dramatic intentions and their realization, 'felix anima' and 'infelix anima' are just as plausibly rendered 'a happy soul', and 'an unhappy soul' as they are (in Dronke's translation) 'Anima (happily)' and 'Anima (unhappily)'. A whole chorus of souls is present. There may be much attraction in the possibility that the rubrics represent something like 'modern' stage directions, and that, attendant on this, the characterization of a single allegorical 'Anima' may show a depth and internal complexity foreshadowing later developments of the morality as a genre. Nothing in Hildegard's text, however, argues substantially for such a translation, and the consistent use of the demonstrative 'ilia', in rubrics where 'anima' is not accompanied by an adjective, might well suggest that a distinction is being made between one soul - that which has spoken most recently - and the rest in a group.

Such caveats aside, this volume is likely to prove useful for a range of students. At those points where the straightforwardness of interpretative claims may raise a desire for qualification, it will provide a stimulus to further discussion of the corpus, thus fulfilling one of the editor's declared intentions.

DAVID TOWNSEND Centre for Medieval Studies University of Toronto
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Author:Townsend, David
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1996
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