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Original sin as treason in Act 1 of the 'Mystere d'Adam.'

In 1939, Kenneth Urwin remarked on the "essentially feudal" attitudes expressed by God, Adam, and Eve in the twelfthcentury Anglo-Norman liturgical drama, the Mystere d'Adam.(1) Since then, such scholars as Calin, Hunt, Noomen, Odenkirchen, Payen, and Schoell have referred to this suggestion, but most have done so briefly, some reluctant to ascribe particular significance to the feudal terminology permeating the play.(2) Lynette Muir, writing in 1973, has in fact suggested that the importance of feudal language to the drama is limited, "since terms like seigneur, sire, serf, don, guerdon, are a normal part of medieval vocabulary, found in many a literary text of the period, without symbolic feudal associations being intended."(3) More recently, however, Wendy Morgan has contributed much toward correcting this perception. In her admirable 1982 article, Morgan argues that the Mystere author was quite aware that the twelfth-century system of social relationships and ideas, encapsulated in the feudal, courtly, and bourgeois codes, was impinging on the credal code inherited from scripture, liturgy and doctrine; and that by concentrating on revealing how those newer codes modify the old, he has appropriated for his own milieu the traditional narrative of the Fall and enhanced its timely significance.(4)

Pointing out among other things the importance of the feudal contract to the play's development, and focussing primarily on the segment concerned with the Fall (hereafter Act 1),(5) Morgan suggests that through "linguistic elaboration" of his text, the poet is "directing our attention to the feudal systematization of loyalty in a network of subservient relationships, involving both obedience to the lord who supports his retainers and the concomitant of keeping of faith with one's fellows in an orderly hierarchy."(6) Morgan discusses allusions to the conditionality of Adam and Eve's "tenure" in Paradise, their obligations and rights as "vassals" of God, and some of the legal implications of their failure to keep faith. Ultimately, however, Morgan's discussion centers on the Mystere poet's examination of the feudal bond vis a vis courtly love, concluding that the play points to the "failure of the feudal contract" and "explores the male feudal code and the female's threat to it under the influence of a subversive code which granted her dominance."(7)

The purpose of this essay is to shift the emphasis and examine an aspect of the play that has not yet been dealt with fully. By concentrating on the feudal contract, and by depicting the actions and reactions of God, Adam, and Eve always in relation to that contract, the Mystere author employed feudal vocabulary for a more specific reason than critics have heretofore suggested. It is entirely reasonable to assert that the poet's choice of language may have enhanced the drama's "timely significance" for a medieval audience, the social, linguistic, and historical "codes" in the play simultaneously serving to indict courtly love. But more significant is the poet's predilection for feudal legal terminology to underscore the criminality of Adam and Eve's sin in an effort to increase our understanding of the Genesis text itself. For perhaps more than any other issue raised in Act 1, it is treason, the most serious of criminal and civil offenses, that is emphasized in and that unifies thematically this version of the Fall.

Based on Genesis 1-3, the Mystere d'Adam opens with a reading and responsory from Genesis 1:1-27. Following this rather traditional liturgical introduction, however, the play swiftly departs from its source to depict the Fall in a specifically feudal context. Immediately after Figura (God) has called to Adam saying "Fourme te ai / De limo terre / ... Je te ai fourme a mun semblant,"(8) the poet introduces the legal issue on which his rendition of the Fall will be centered. Figura states, using an emphatic negative, "Ne moi devez ja mais mover guere" (6). Figura's explicit reference to "war" here is important, for it focusses attention immediately on the most crucial element of the feudal bond: it was the vassal's imperative duty to keep faith with his lord, and in no fashion to "betray" him through any of what Maitland has termed the "three main modes of treason": (1) imagining the king's death, i.e., forming an intention to kill the king and displaying this intention by some overt act, (2) levying war against the king, (3) adhering to the king's enemies.(9) That Figura indicates the basis of the contract even before it has been formally established serves not only to prepare the way for Adam and Eve to verbalize their oaths of fealty in the ensuing passage, but foreshadows the conclusion of Act 1. Treason is the very crime with which Adam and Eve will be charged and found guilty, and which will necessitate the dissolution of the feudal bond, thus revoking both their legal rights as vassals and their claim on Paradise. Indeed, it is only through Christ, the Divine Compurgator, that this literal breach of faith can be remedied.

After Adam has promised to obey his Creator's first injunction (7-8), both he and Eve enter into the feudal contract with their lord. Turning first to Eve, Figura sets forth the conditions of her tenure in Paradise:

Si vos faire ma volente,

En ton cors garderas bonte.

Moi aim e honor ton creator,

E moi reconuis a Seignor.

A moi servir met ton porpens,

Tote ta force e tot tun sens.

Adam aime, e lui tien chier.

Il est marid, e tu sa mullier.

A lui soies tot tens encline,

Nen issir de sa discipline.

Lui serf e aim par bon coraje,

Car co est droiz de mariage.

Se tu le fais bon adjutoire,

Jo te mettrai od lui en gloire.

(27-40) Eve responds to the formula established by Figura, acknowledging her obligations and pledging fealty to her "seignor." Her vassalage, however, unlike Adam's, is two-fold: owing service first to God, it is to Him that she binds herself contractually; but simultaneous with this, Eve promises to give Adam, her temporal lord, "bon conseil," concilium being an integral part of the vassal's duty:

Jol frai, sire, a ton plaisir;

Ja n'en voldrai de rien issir.

Toi conustrai a seignor,

Lui a paraille e a forzor.

Jo lui serrai tot tens feel;

De moi avra bon conseil.

Le ton pleisir, le ton servise

Frai, sire, en tote guise.


Though Figura does not enfeoff Eve with Paradise, it is clear that she has a right to remain there so long as she upholds her part of the contract, so long as she renders God the "servise" due Him both in loyalty and in obedience to the "droiz de mariage." Of course, technically a woman in the twelfth century could not have been a vassal; as Morgan points out, Eve's "sex debars her from the obligations of such a contract."(10) Yet it is evident that the Mystere author depicts Eve as such, perhaps recalling a scripturally-based hierarchy that would deem male and female alike "vassals of God" by virtue of their mutual subservience to the Creator. And it is on this point that we must recognize the validity of Lynn's argument:

Dans le contexte medieval, Eve est consideree comme la vassale d'Adam, et Figura est leur suzerain. Cela n'implique nullement qu'Eve soit "tres inferieure" a Adam, mais simplement que, plus faible physiquement, elle a besoin de sa protection (c'est pour cette protection que I'Eglise, vassale du roi dans le domaine temporel, voulait un monarque fort).

Telle est Eve dans I'ordre prescrit par Figura ... Quand [Adam] accepte la pomme de sa main ... convaincu par ses arguments, il la considere comme son egale. Des qu'il se rend compte de I'etendue de sa faute envers Dieu, il accuse Eve de felonie ... Elle a failli a son role de vassale.(11) Thus, having surrendered herself to God by oath, Eve is given the fundamental responsibilities--and rights--of vassalage. When she later breaks faith, she is made subject to the same litigation as Adam; she is treated under the law in the same way as would be any man invested with a fief.

Having extracted the oath from Eve, Figura turns to Adam and once again sets down the conditions of the contract. Promising first immortality, health, and the comforts of Eden, Figura extends to Adam dominion over the earth and all of its inhabitants. Here the reciprocal nature of the feudal bond is clearly evinced, for Adam has only to serve his lord loyally in order to attain the benefits. Figura says:

Tut en balance ore pendiez par egal.

Creez conseil, que soiet vers mei leal!

Laisse le mal, e si te pren al bien;

Tun Seignor aime, e ovec lui te tien;

Por nul conseil ne gerpisez le mien.

(67-71) Becoming God's man voluntarily and swearing to do fealty and homage (73-80), Adam is then invested with Paradise, the poet following "the usual order of the feudal ceremony of investiture."(12)

Charging Adam to be His "amis" by remaining in the garden and keeping it ("maindre," "garder" 84-85), Figura then gives His new vassal the final condition of tenure. Showing Adam the forbidden tree, Figura commands Adam not to eat of it (102-4). Although the prohibition is entirely biblical, the phrasing here is feudal in its connotations. Adam and Eve will not only be denied immortality, they will lose the "amor" (technically, "amistiet") of their lord; that is, they will become felons guilty of treason for breaking faith, and as a result, will forfeit their rights to tenure, protection, and aid.

Adam's response to Figura's commandment and warning is significant, for in it he not only iterates the pledge he made earlier, but underscores Figura's implicit equation of disobedience with treason. Adam is fully aware that should he prove disloyal in this one thing, it would be right ("droiz") for God to repossess Paradise and cast out His vassal, literally throw him to the wind (107-8). Adam further demonstrates his understanding of the consequences of bad faith by stating, in legal terms:

Por une pome, se jo gerpis t'amor,

Que ja en ma vie, par sens ne par folor,

Jugiez doit estre a loi de traitor

Que si parjure e traist son Seignor.


The first scene of the Mystere d'Adam now comes full circle thematically. Just as it opened with Figura's imperative against unlawful war, and then proceeded to examine dramatically the bond between God and man, so it concludes with Adam's explicit references to perjury and betrayal.(13) The concept of original sin is thus translated into feudal terms and becomes synonymous with treason. Adam and Eve have plighted their troth, have become vassals of God, and later, when they do break faith, the Mystere poet treats them as a twelfth-century court would have: as traitors.

In the following scenes, before Adam and Eve succumb to temptation and ultimately fall, there are several references to the theme established at the beginning of the play. Approached twice by Diabolus, Adam remains steadfast by recalling both his own pledge and the conditions under which Paradise was entrusted to his care. Suggesting first that Adam doesn't deserve to be better off because he doesn't know how to enjoy what he has (124-25), and speaking contemptuously of Adam's lack of intellectual curiosity, Diabolus asserts that God's vassal is simply fearful and foolish (134; 136). Rather than being incensed, however, Adam merely acknowledges his subservient position saying, "Mon creator pas ne offendrai" (133), and "Jo I'aim e criem" (135).

On the second attempt to incite Adam to treason, Diabolus greets him by asking, "Adam, que fais? Changeras tun sens? / Es tu encore en fol porpens?" (173-74). Appealing to Adam's ego (a tack he will later use successfully with Eve and that Eve will use successfully with Adam), Diabolus then asserts that Adam aspires to nothing higher than servitude; Adam is a mere "jardenier" upon whom God did not wish to bestow greater honor (180-86). But Adam is not persuaded to attend to the fiend's words, even though Diabolus insists "Jo te conseillerai en fei" (188). Quite possibly Adam has recognized in Diabolus' mention of "fol porpens" an unintentional allusion to malice prepense, the "evil aforethought" that accompanies the commission of crime. Although Diabolus was referring to Adam's refusal to transgress his lord's prohibition, that phrase coupled with Diabolus' promise, "Si tu manjues la pome / Tu regneras en majeste. / Od Deu poez partir poeste" (192-94), initiates a direct invitation to treason. Fully aware of his role as God's man, Adam realizes the danger in listening longer. His response to Diabolus is thus vehement and completely to the point, for he has finally recognized Diabolus' true nature and purpose.(14)

ADAM: Fui tei de ci! Tu es Sathan.

Mal conseil dones.

DIABOLUS: E jo coment?

ADAM: Tu me voels livrer a torment,

Mesler me vols o mun Seignor,

Tolir de joie, mettre en dolor.

Ne te crerrai. Fui te de ci!...

Tu es traitres, e sanz foi.

(196-201; 204) After being rebuffed by Adam, Diabolus attempts to undermine Eve's loyalty to God. Impressed by the flowery language and flattery straight from the romance tradition, and accepting Diabolus' assertion that he is concerned only with her "pru" and "honor," Eve agrees to eat the apple later on, after Adam has gone to sleep (205-76).

The dialogue ends abruptly here, Diabolus withdrawing to hell, Adam coming to Eve annoyed that she has been so attentive to "Li mal Satan" (278). Demanding to know what was discussed, Adam can extract from Eve only that "Il me parla de nostre honor" (279). Clearly suspecting more, Adam tries to impress upon his wife the peril in listening to Diabolus, exclaiming "Ne creire ja le traitor! / Il est traitre" (280-81).

Like Adam, Eve has some awareness of what a dangerous bargain she is about to make. Morgan has argued that: ... Eve is less likely than Adam to be persuaded to break the feudal nexus.... In a feudal society where utility and poer have necessarily derived from chivalric prowess, the woman, debarred from participating in that way, can only be--and must see herself as--weak and inferior. Indeed, she is external to that system, and must, like Eve, be a continuing threat to it unless she is enculturated by her subservience to her husband and her obedient assumption of his values.(15) But as Jonathan Beck has pointed out, the Eve in this version of the Fall is remarkably unlike her counterpart in traditional exegesis. In the Mystere, Eve's disobedience is not a result of feminine weakness, curiosity, or moral inferiority, but a "rational, deliberate choice. She knows exactly what she is doing. I really do not believe (she said to herself) that eating the fruit will destroy us; I don't believe it."(16) On some level, then, it would appear that Eve does associate her decision with the oath she swore earlier to God; she does see her intended behavior as going beyond the limits set for her as a vassal to both Adam and Figura. Indeed, she has told Diabolus, "Bien te pois creire a ma parole" (219)--an assurance that should have called her to recollect the occasion on which she asked Figura to trust her word (41-48)--and she now insists to Adam that she knows very well Diabolus' treacherous nature but will eat the apple as an experiment, a test of Diabolus' sincerity and truthfulness aobut the properties of the fruit (282-86).

His first attempt to warn Eve having had no effect, Adam tries again, this time defining "traitor" in concrete terms: Satan "... est mult de pute foi. / Il volst trair ja son Seignor / E soi poser al des halzor" (288-90). But this stronger exhortation also fails because Eve has determined her course of action. And unfortunately, the parallel between Satan's rebellion and what Eve has consented to do is lost even on the one who draws it, for Adam very soon falls prey to "le conseil de mal uxor" (322). Accusing Adam of cowardice (298) and cajoling him by promising that she will taste the apple first (301), Eve convinces Adam to transgress God's prohibition. Eve bites into the fruit and Adam takes the apple from her hand saying, "Jo t'en crerra. Tu es ma per" (313). Adam's use of the word "per" is particularly evocative because it suggests that the feudal bond between Adam and Eve has been broken as a result of Eve's flat refusal to obey her husband. After eating the forbidden fruit, Eve is no longer Adam's vassal but rather his "equal," an issue that the playwright returns to later when Figura asks ironically whether His vassals believed that they could become His "peers" through an act of treachery (415; 443).(17)

Both Adam and Eve thus break faith with their Lord, becoming, like Diabolus, vassals of "pute foi." In a sense, however, Adam and Eve betrayed God and broke faith as soon as they decided to eat of the forbidden fruit. As part of her oath, Eve had promised to give Adam "bon conseil" as well as to serve and obey God. She does neither. And as for Adam, his promise was never to forsake God's counsel for that of another, nor to disregard God's prohibition concerning the apple. He does both. Now lacking the feudal contract to ensure them of their lord's continued protection and care, Adam and Eve can only await judgment and condemnation for their crime.

The scenes after the Fall illustrate quite clearly the Mystere poet's interpretation of original sin as treason. Having tasted the apple, Adam recognizes his sin at once, and immediately begins his lamentation. Comprising some seventy lines, Adam's lament is highly allusive, the legal overtones unmistakable. Adam admits that he has "thrown over" his lord: "Jo ai guerpi mun Criator" (321); and he refers to his action not as "sin" but as "mesfait" or crime (339; 343; 348-49). Having failed to honor the feudal contract, Adam acknowledges his situation as hopeless. He cannot defend himself in God's court:

Vers mon Seignor sui si mesfait,

Nen puis contre lui entrer em plait,

Car jo ai tort, e il ad droit.

(343-45) Nor given the nature of his crime can he expect anyone to act on his behalf:

Senz nul rescus sui jo mort


Por quei vers mon Seignor mesfis?

Ne me deit estre nul amis.


Au roi del ciel sui si mesfait,

De raison n'ai vers lui un trait.

Nen ai ami ne nul veisin

Qui me trai del plait a fin.


Under feudal law, a defendant could enlist the aid of compurgators, men--usually friends and kinsmen--who would swear to the innocence of the accused in court. In cases of treason, however, because it was considered a "grand meffait," compurgators would have been difficult to retain. Unlike "pleges" in "petit meffaits" who could make an "amende" or relief payment after their testimony, pledges for one accused of treason were placed in prison until the trial date. Following this, were the defendant found guilty, his compurgators shared in his fate--invariably death.(19) Because of the dangers presented to pledges, the writer of Les Etablissements de Saint Louis advised against their use in cases of treason or murder.(20) In his notes to Etablissements, Paul Viollet writes: "En effet, primitivement le plege soumettait a la peine meme que l'accuse eut encourue ..."(21) Similarly, Marc Bloch points to the passage in the Chanson de Roland in which Ganelon's thirty compurgators are all hanged following their kinsman's conviction for treason. Remarking that this scene represents "[a] poet's exaggeration, beyond any doubt," Bloch nevertheless emphasizes that "[a]bout 1200, the seneschal of Normandy, a representative of a more advanced stage of legal development, had difficulty in preventing his agents from including in the punishment of a criminal all his kinsfolk as well."(22)

Beyond even this, of course, is the fact of Adam's peculiar situation: he quite literally has no friends or relatives to turn to for "aid" except Eve whose guilt is as great, and whom Adam has come to view as a traitor:

Qui preirai jo ja qui m'ait,

Quant ma femme m'a trait,

Qui Dex me dona por pareil?

Ele me dona mal conseil.

(353-56) Let alone able to find a number of kinsmen to come to his defense, Adam has not yet even fathered a son who might stand by him. And while it is true that Adam cannot rely on any "ami" or "veisin" to rescue him from the accusation, it is equally apparent that he cannot turn to his lord for aid in this situation. As part of the feudal contract, it was the lord's obligation to provide such a service for his vassal. But it is obvious that a lord would harldy have felt obliged to provide aid against himself, particularly by extending his authority to protect the very one who had threatened to usurp power and fracture the foundation upon which such feudal services rested. It is clear that Adam recognizes this when he says of God, "Il me aidera? Coroce l'ai" (380).

When Figura confronts Adam and Eve with their disobedience, once more the dialogue turns to legal diction. Speaking to Adam, Figura reminds him of the bond that was between them: "Tu es mon serf, e jo ton Sire" (405), and then accuses Adam of having deliberately transgressed the prohibition (411-12). Adam tries to excuse himself, laying the blame on Eve and indirectly imparting the fault to God Himself for having given Adam the woman as a gift in the first place (417-22). Figura, however, rejects this line of defense on the grounds that Adam, no matter how he was tricked, is still guilty: Adam trusted his wife more than God and ate the fruit without God's permission (423-24). It is possible that here the poet is alluding to a form of treason not hitherto considered. Under feudal law, Adam would have been guilty of treason in any event, for in taking the apple, he stole from his lord. According to Etablissements: " ... homme qui emble a son seigneur, puix qu'il est de son pain et vin, est pendable, car c'est traison ...".(23)

For Adam's treachery, his lack of "servise" promised earlier, Figura pronounces the first portion of his judgment, rendering Adam recompense ("guerdon" 425) in kind. Adam will have to till the earth if he is to survive because Figura will no longer take responsibility for the sustenance of His vassals; in fact, the ground itself will be cursed, making Adam's labor all the more difficult and painful (426-38). There is both judicial and poetic justice here, of course. When the feudal contract is sundered, the lord quite literally has no further obligation toward his vassals; but this sentence is also grimly ironic in that it was Adam's taking it upon himself to eat forbidden food that caused his lord's anger.

Turning to Eve, Figura accuses her of treason as well, recalling the prohibition with which the play began: "Tost me comencas de guerreer" (440). Like her husband, Eve tries to escape punishment by placing the blame elsewhere, claiming, "Ja m'engingna li mal serpenz" (442). But echoing His earlier rhetorical question of Adam, Figura asks, "Par lui [Diabolus] quidas estre mon per?" (443). Berating Eve for having lost all and gained nothing as a result of her wicked disobedience, Figura tells her that He will now render her her just "deserte" (450).

At this point in the drama, the poet follows Genesis in only the most superficial way. In the biblical account, the serpent is punished first, then the woman, and finally the man. But to emphasize treason as the cause of the Fall, the Mystere author changes the order and greatly embroiders his text. Figura tells Eve that for her "servise"--the "servise" that she had promised "en tote guise" (47-48)--she will be afflicted with misfortune "en tote guise"; her children will be born in sorrow and will live their lives in pain; and all who issue from Eve will deplore her sin (452-60). The emphasis on lineage is striking. Eve twice acknowledges that she has brought shame to all of her descendants (461-63; 583-84); and Adam, reproaching Eve saying, "Oi male femme, plaine de traison" (535) declares,

Tuz cels que istront, de nostre lignee,

Del toen forfait sentiront la hascee.

Tu forfis; a toz ceals est jugee.


Given the gravity of the offense, according to feudal law the descendants of a traitor were considered guilty as well, their particular share in the original crime having passed through the bloodline. Because of this, they were subject to the same penalties their kinsman received. Commenting on twelfth-century Norman theories of disherison and sanctions against realty, Goebel writes: [T]he ultimate sanction in a law [against bargain breach] is the loss of the land, the consideration for the performance of services.... In other words, if a man loses his fief it is for broken promise, established by his act, desertion in battle or the like ... [W]hen a man committed acts sufficient to terminate the feudal bargain, to lose his fief, in some way the claim of his heirs to succession was wiped out.(24) And in discussing the legal idea of infamy, Goebel adds: [T]o attribute to a man's heirs the infamy of the parent was a step considerably greater than the Roman law had taken except in the case of treason.... The purpose of the feudal tie, however, was such that for very practical reasons it was necessary that the person who entered the forfeited fee should be beyond reproach. With this end in view it was essential that if the individual should become unworthy in law his heirs should suffer the like penalty.(25) Unless "grace de la vie" or "royal clemency" was conferred on them by the king, the traitor's descendants--like those who may have stood surety for him--were also subject to the death penalty. According to Glanvill in the Tractatus de Legibus, "the goods and chattels of a convicted traitor were to be confiscated [confiscandis] and his heirs disinherited for ever"; but Bracton added to this provision, writing that the convict "was to suffer the last punishment with an aggravation of corporeal pain," and further arguing that "it was scarcely permissible for the heirs to live."(26) As in England, in France, [p]unishment did not necessarily cease with the traitor's death and the forfeiture of his possessions. His children might also lose their lives. The argument was that the crime of treason was so horrible that the traitor's offspring were contaminated by his misdeed and ought to be destroyed with him. If in fact the lives of the children were spared they might still suffer civil death.(27) Thus, even when the king allowed them to live, the descendants of the traitor were prohibited from acquiring or transferring lands by succession.(28)

The metaphor constructed by the Mystere poet can surely be no accident. According to the Christian doctrine of tainted blood, all of mankind--the descendants of Adam and Eve--are stained with original sin, the guilt of our first parents having been transmitted from one generation to the next. As a result of the Fall, all men have become traitors in the eyes of God, and vassals of the earthly lord, Satan. As Figura points out to Adam and Eve, using a specifically feudal term, "Satan vus avra en baillie" (509); that is, Satan now has Adam, Eve, and all of mankind in his custody.(29) For their culpability, all men, like Adam and Eve, must pay the penalties for treason: (1) disherison and loss of the fief of Paradise (491-98); (2) outlawry--without salvation man is denied the "amistiet" of his Lord and becomes "faidis" (514), "... a legally declared foe, one who has forfeited his lord's protection and so, in effect, become outlawed or banished";(30) and (3) ultimately, death. It is important to note that although Adam and Eve do not immediately die, as would normally have been the result of conviction for treason, death is nevertheless a part of the sentence. Speaking of the forbidden fruit, Figura had warned, "S'en tu en manjues, sempres sentiras mort" (103); and in Genesis, God said to Adam, "For in what day soever thou shalt eat it, thou shalt die the death" (2:17). In both the biblical and dramatic versions of the Fall, immortality was among the gifts bestowed upon Adam by God. But in the Mystere, the poet translates the conditionality of this gift into feudal terms: had Adam and Eve remained faithful vassals, they would never have had to experience death.

Act 1 of the Mystere d'Adam does not, however, end on a note of despair. Departing again from the Genesis narrative, the poet incorporates various allusions to Christ as the one who will eventually come to clear Adam and Eve of their offense. The contexts in which these references appear are legal, and serve again to underscore the theme of original sin as treason. Even before facing God's judgment, Adam, realizing that he can enter no "plait" in God's court, recognizing that compurgation, at least for the moment, is impossible, and acknowledging that protection and aid are no longer his right, declares:

N'en serrai trait por home ne,

Si Deu nen est de majeste.

Que di jo, las? Por quoi le nomai?

Il me aidera? Coroce l'ai.

Ne me ferat ja nul aie,

For le Filz que istra de Marie.

(377-82) And later, when Adam is reviling "chaitive" Eve for the situation she has created, he points out that "Mult tarzera por qui el iert changee" (558). Figura emphasizes too that Adam and Eve have no legal right to appeal (494-97) and cannot expect to be pardoned without divine assistance:

N'est hom que vus en face aie:

Par cui soiez vus ja rescos,

Se moi nen prenge pite de vus?

(5110-12) And, at the end of Act 1, during her lament and confession of guilt, Eve iterates the hopelessness of the situation from a mortal point of view:

Nen a raison que vers Deu me defende,

Que peccheriz culpable ne me rende.

Pardonez le moi, kar ne puis faire amende!

Si jo poeie, jo frai par offrende.

(567-70) But the sentiment of these lines is quickly tempered, for it becomes clear that God will not forever condemn and exile Adam and Eve. Acknowledging that "De nostre mal, long en est la mescine" (582), Eve nevertheless avers that "en Deu est ma sperance" (587). Christ is viewed as the one who will stand in the place of the traitors:

D'icest mesfait char tot iert acordance:

Deus me rendra sa grace e sa mustrance;

Gieter nus voldra d'emfer par pussance.


Adam and Eve are thus to find "aid" in a Son yet to be born. "Por poi de froit moi covient perdre la vie," says Eve (472), but as the Son of Man, Jesus will share our first parents' sin and death; Jesus will become the heir who, unstained and beyond reproach, will reclaim the forfeited fee. As the Son of God, it is Christ who will serve as Divine Compurgator, eventually procuring the pardon for Adam, Eve, and their descendants, and who will pay the "amende" for treason. As the Royal Prince, Christ will extend to Adam, to His own manhood, and to all of mankind, "grace de la vie."

Thus the Mystere d'Adam poet concludes Act 1 as it began, his theme having come to its logical culmination. Accused and found guilty of treason, Adam and Eve are placed in iron fetters and dragged by devils to hell, there to await the day when, through His death and resurrection, Christ renews the feudal bond, granting to them, theirs, and all generations, a new tenure in heaven.

Grand Valley State University


(1)Kenneth Urwin, "The Mystere d'Adam: Two Problems," MLR 34 (1939): 71.

(2)See William C. Calin, "Structural and Doctrinal Unity in the Jeu d'Adam," Neophilologus 46 (1962): 249-54; Tony Hunt, "The Unity of the Play of Adam (Ordo Representacionis Ade), I," Romania 96 (1975): 368-88, 497-527; Willem Noomen, "Le Jeu d'Adam. Etude descriptive et analytique," Romania 89 (1968): 145-93; J. Ch. Payen, "Ideologie et Theatricalite dans l'Ordo representationis Adae," Etudes Anglaises 25 (1972): 19-29; and Konrad Schoell, "L'Amour, le Vasselage et la Solidarite dans le Mystere d'Adam," Treteaux 3 (1981): 29-34.

(3)Lynette Muir, Liturgy and Drama in the Anglo-Norman Adam (Medium Aevum Monographs, New Series 3, Oxford, 1973), p. 113. Muir's comment is curious since she otherwise finds the Mystere poet to be an "inspired thinker," particularly as concerns his manipulation of traditional typological schemes and parallels (p. 53). But cf. Robert Levine, "Unoriginality in the Ordo Repraesentatio Adae," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 86 (1985): 576-78.

(4)Wendy Morgan, "'Who was Then the Gentleman?': Social, Historical, and Linguistic Codes in the Mystere d'Adam," SP 79 (1982): 103.

(5)Though considered a unified whole, the Mystere d'Adam is often discussed in terms of its three "acts": 1 The Fall; 2 Cain and Abel; 3 Ordo Prophetarum.

(6)Morgan, "'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" p. 104

(7)Ibid., pp. 115-16, 121.

(8)The Service for Representing Adam (Ordo Repraesentationis Adae), ed. David Bevington, in Medieval Drama (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), pp. 78-121, lines 1-3. Hereafter, quotations from the play will be cited parenthetically by line number according to Bevington's edition.

(9)F. W. Maitland, The Constitutional History of England (Cambridge U. Press, 1908; rpt. 1963), p. 227. See also R. Howard Bloch, Medieval French Literature and Law (U. of California Press, 1977), pp. 40ff.

(10)Morgan, "'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" p. 112, n. 13.

(11)Therese B. Lynn, "Pour une rehabilitation d'Eve," French Review 48 (1975): 873-74.

(12)Morgan, "'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" p. 107, referring to F. L. Ganshof, Feudalism, trans. Philip Grierson, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 125.

(13)See also Morgan who comments on the "dominant feudal connotation" of the terminology used here ("'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" p. 106).

(14)Ibid., p. 109. Morgan remarks that Diabolus' suggestion to overthrow his lord "provokes Adam to blunt refusal and recognition of the devil as 'traitres et sanz foi' for emphasizing thus the invidiousness of subservient vassalage and its potential for power." Since Morgan is primarily concerned with examining the nature of the feudal hierarchy, she does not pursue the issue on technical, legal grounds. Further, she does not make the connection between "fol porpens" and malice prepense.

(15)Ibid., p. 112.

(16)Jonathan Beck, "Genesis, Sexual Antagonism, and the Defective Couple of the Twelfth-Century Jeu d'Adam," Representations 29 (1990): 130.

(17)As noted earlier, Eve's position in the feudal hierarchy has generated critical debate. Referring to line 313, Lynn argues that Adam considers Eve to be his "egale"; and "Quand il accuse Eve, pour se justifier devant Figura ... il lui accorde une grande influence, elle a reussi, en fait, a supplanter son suzerain ..." ("Pour une rehabilitation d'Eve," p. 874). Schoell appears to agree, but provides the following distinction: "Il y aurait ... quatre degres differents dans la hierarchie: le Seigneur, Adam, Eve, les creatures. Mais il est bien evident que les distances sont differentes: Vus de la hauteur du Seigneur, l'homme et la femme representent le meme degre, ils sont pareils ... Adam dans notre texte accepte l'action d'Eve et s'y accorde finalement par esprit de solidarite: 'Jo t'en crerra. Tu es ma per' (313). Bien sur, son autorite male a ete defiee.... Mais a cote de la realite psychologique, il ne faut pas ignorer la realite sociale du contrat mutuel qui lie les deux pairs" ("L'Amour, le Vasselage et la Solidarite," pp. 31-32). Morgan dismisses the notion of Eve's vassalage and argues, with reference to line 313, that "the French poet dramatizes the evil in the characteristic courtly position of lover and mistress where the 'proper' relationship is reversed, and where the lover, conventionally subservient to the woman, must flatter to gain her consent" ("'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" p. 115).

(18)Morgan remarks briefly on the legal ramifications of Adam and Eve's situation as well. Agreeing with Odenkirchen, she notes but does not develop the idea that these lines "evoke the legal procedure of compurgation," nor does she explore the idea raised in this essay that Christ will serve as compurgator for Adam and Eve and their descendants. See "'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" pp. 115-17, and Carl J. Odenkirchen, ed., The Play of Adam (Ordo Representacionis Ade) (Brookline, Mass.: Classical Folia Editions, 1976), p. 28.

(19)See, for example, J. G. Bellamy, The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge U. Press, 1970), Index, p. 261. Among the punishments meted out for treason, Bellamy lists beheading, burning, disembowelling, quartering, drawing to the gallows, flaying alive, hanging, and impaling.

(20)Les Etablissements de Saint Louis, ed. Paul Viollet, 4 vols. (Paris: Renouard, 1881-86), 2:189-90.

(21)Ibid., 4:86.

(22)Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, trans. L. A. Manyon (U. of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 125.

(23)Les Etablissements de Saint Louis, 3:219, "Regles Coutumieres"; cf. 3:14, "Coutume de Touraine-Anjou" and 3:178, "Abrege Champenois."

(24)Julius Goebel, Jr., Felony and Misdemeanor: A Study in the History of English Criminal Procedure, Vol. 1 (The Commonwealth Fund, 1937); rpt. as Felony and Misdemeanor: A Study in the History of Criminal Law (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), pp. 249-50, 254.

(25)Ibid., p. 257.

(26)Bellamy, The Law of Treason in England, p. 9.

(27)Ibid., p. 13.

(28)See also E. Glasson, Precis elementaire de l'histoire du droit francais (Paris: F. Pichon, 1904), pp. 302-3.

(29)Comparing Adam's lament in the Mystere d'Adam and Theophile's in Rutebeuf's Miracle de Theophile, Edelgard DuBruck points out that both characters fear asking mercy of God because they have become vassals of the devil ("The Theme of Self-Accusation in Early French Literature: Adam and Theophile," Romania 94 (1973): 410-18). For the significance of such terms as "vassal," "serf," "homage," and "baillie" in Romance poetry, see also Arthur B. Myrick who discusses feudal concepts as they apply to the relationship between God and man ("Feudal Terminology in Mediaeval Religious Poetry," Romanic Review 11 (1920): 1-25).

(30)Morgan, "'Who was Then the Gentleman?'" pp. 116-17.
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Author:Blumreich-Moore, Kathleen
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Date:Mar 22, 1993
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