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Re-membering the Jews: theatrical violence in the N-Town Marian plays.

It has become almost a critical commonplace that the miracles of the Virgin Mary common to later medieval sermons, exempla, and dramatic texts are marked by the occasional but regular appearance of Jews as a group, functioning as a convenient if overdetermined scapegoat upon whom the vices of avarice, malice, stubbornness, infidelity, and disbelief can be projected. These works are generally agreed to be anti-Semitic in the sense that their response to Jews derives from and depends upon a constellation of myths about Jews and Judaism rather than reflecting either historical or theological reality. (1) Less attention, however, has been paid to the concomitant role of Jews as the recipients of Mary's embodied and indeed, one might say, Old Testament wrath, effected dramatically upon the non-Christian flesh of the offender. The didactically theatrical nature of the punishment can be illustrated by the fact that the motif is particularly clear in medieval dramatic texts, and perhaps especially so in the N-Town Cycle, with its unique focus on the Virgin Mary. The popularity of this motif in cycle drama written and performed in England, from which Jews had been collectively expelled centuries earlier, suggests that this violence is not really about an external Jewish threat to Christianity, but iterates the ambiguity of Mary's own paradoxical body, and its vexed and highly symbolic position in medieval Christendom. The cultural work of these dramas is only further complicated by the peculiarly embodied nature of theatrical performance, wherein nothing is truly what it appears to be.

The somatic nature of divine vengeance has been explored by Ann Nichols, who coined the term "hierosphthitic" to refer to accounts of physical withering or crippling as divine punishment for touching a holy object with sacrilegious hands. (2) Punishment for such desecration is swift and often mortal. Although Nichols does not pursue the issue of anti-Semitism at this point, she is interested in occurrences of the topos that involve the Virgin, and, not surprisingly, the doubter in each of her Marian examples is Jewish. Nichols goes on to point out that, unlike other occasions of the hierosphthitic topos, those involving the Virgin are "typically corrective" rather than vengeful--in other words, the offender usually repents and is restored, rather than suffering permanently or being stricken dead. (3) While she may be correct in terms of raw numbers, as I shall show later, there are certainly many cases of Marian miracles in which the offender's punishment is both nasty and permanent. Furthermore, even in those cases where punishment is followed either by healing and baptism of the offender or the communal baptism of his or her co-religionists, these "corrective" punishments function to eliminate Jews--as St. Vincent Ferrer is said to have declared, "Christians must not kill Jews with knives, but with words." (4) The corrective nature of such tales, then, should not be interpreted as showing them to be significantly less anti-Semitic than their more bloodthirsty counterparts.

Those anti-Semitic Marian miracles that feature in the cycles of mystery plays relaying salvation history to late medieval audiences are conversionary in nature--the offender is healed upon repentance and acceptance of the truth of Christianity. These events are depicted as occurring during Mary's life and around her dormition, and they refer almost exclusively to doubters laying unholy hands or words upon the inviolate body and reputation of the Virgin. Several such stories feature in the N-Town Cycle, with an invariable outcome in which the offender, a Jew who prefers evidence to faith, is first stricken in the member that is the source of the offense and then repents, accepting Mary's claim to be a virgin and consequently the validity of Christianity, and is healed as a result, becoming a conversionary force in his or her community.

One such miracle is in the N-Town "Nativity," and features the two Jewish midwives, Salome and Zelomy, who arrive too late to attend the birth of Jesus. The drama is based on the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James, itself a text very much dedicated to demonstrating the purity of the Virgin Mary and the divinity of Jesus, and furthermore, a text with more than one anti-Semitic element. (5) In this play, Mary has achieved the birth in Joseph's absence and without either pain or blood, but the first midwife is concerned about Mary's health even after both of them have witnessed and been afraid of the divine light emanating from the cave:
 Zelomye: With honde lete me now towch and fele
 Yf ze haue nede of medycyn.
 I xal zow comforte and helpe ryght wele
 As other women yf ze haue pyn. (6)

Zelomye feels Mary's womb to check her condition, and discovers her intactness. Amazed, she calls on her colleague to witness the miracle, which is also testified to by Mary's lactating breasts and the absence of the normal blood and fluids of birth:
 Zelomye: Coom nere, gode systyr Salome.
 Beholde be brestys of bis clene mayd,
 Ful of fayr mylke how bat bei be,
 And hyre chylde clene, as I fyrst sayd.
 As other ben nowth fowle arayd,
 But clene and pure bothe modyr and chylde.
 Of bis matyr I am dysmayd,
 To se them both thus vndefyled!


Salome, however, following the Pauline stereotype of the Jew as stubbornly blind to the truth, prefers to place her faith in her own common sense and experience of the world. (7) Since she knows that virgins neither give birth nor lactate, and that no woman gives birth without pain and fluid loss, she refuses to believe that Mary still has an intact hymen unless she can feel and touch it:
 Salome: It is not trewe, it may nevyr be!
 Pat bothe be clene I cannot beleve!
 A mayd mylke haue nevyr man dyde se,
 Ne woman bere chylde withowte grett greve.
 I xal nevyr trowe it but I it preve!
 With hand towchynge but I assay,
 In my conscience it may nevyr cleue
 Pat sche hath chylde and is a may.


Confident in her purity, Mary invites Salome to "asay" and "trye" her virginity, but when she does, the midwife is immediately punished for her "fals vntrost," her hand withering and becoming useless:
 Salome: Alas, alas, and weleawaye!
 For my grett dowth and fals beleve
 Myne hand is ded and drye as claye--
 My fals vntrost hath wrought myscheve!


In a departure from the Infancy Gospel, then, both women touch Mary's genitals in the N-Town "Nativity" but in entirely different spirits: Zelomye because of concern for Mary, Salome, as she immediately recognizes, because of her desire to "tempte" Mary--to prove through experience what should have been believed through faith:
 Alas pe tyme pat I was born,
 Thus to offende azens Goddys myght!
 Myn handys power is now all lorn,
 Styff as a stykke, and may nowth plyght.
 For I dede tempte lois mayde so bryght
 And helde azens here pure clennes,
 In grett myscheff now am I pyght.
 Alas, alas for my lewdnes!

 Alas, pat evyr I here assayde!


In the Infancy Gospel, she expresses her sorrow and pleads for forgiveness by explicit reference to her Jewishness, both in terms of genealogy and of her possible role as a witness to her people in the lesson of her crippling: "And she bowed her knees unto the Lord, saying: 'O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob: make me not a public example unto the children of Israel, but restore me unto the poor, for thou knowest, Lord, that in thy name did I perform my cures, and did receive my hire of thee'" (James 20: 2). In both texts, an angel facilitates her cure, recommending an appeal to the infant, whose touch heals her, and the whole experience effectively converts her to an evangelical belief in Jesus' divinity: in N-Town, she promises to tell everyone what she has seen and learned, whereas lames includes the angel's caveat that her evangelism should be muted until a later date: "And lo, a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell none of the marvels which thou hast seen, until the child enter into Jerusalem" (James 20:3).

The inclusion in the N-Town sequence of plays of this particular apocryphal narrative is not in itself especially significant, but it is paralleled in the same cycle by an equally apocryphal version of the end of Mary's sojourn on earth, marked by her funeral procession and her assumption into heaven. In "The Assumption" Mary tells John that she is afraid of the Jews, both what they say about her: "I haue herde the Jewys meche of me spelle" (224) and, in particular, how they plan to abuse her body after her soul has left it:
 Maria: Secretly they ordeyne in here conseytis felle
 When my sowle is paste, where Godis liste is,
 To brenne my body and schamly it quelle,
 For Jesu was of me born, that they slew wyth here fistis.


John promises to protect her, but she is right to have been concerned: three Jewish high priests or princes conspire to attack the bier during her procession. Thanks to divine intervention, two of the priests find themselves helpless to act, but their leader is less easily dissuaded:
 Primus Princeps: A, cowardis, vpon you now fy!
 Are ye ferd of a ded body?
 I schal sterte therto manly;
 Alle that company fere I ryth nouth!


Here the first priest rashly attacks the bier in an attempt to upset it, only to find his hands firmly affixed to it, and, in a visual though comic reminder of the painful death of Jesus, the rest of his body hangs agonizingly from them:
 Allas, my body is ful of peyne!
 I am fastened sore to this bere!
 Myn handys are ser bothe tweyne.
 O, Peter, now prey thy God for me here.


Peter tells him to believe in Jesus and Mary. He says that he does believe in Jesus, but obstinately elides the topic of Mary, and Peter tells him sternly that he must honor Mary's body. When he agrees to this, his hands are released, and he is sent to heal and convert other Jews: "Ye Jewys that langour in this gret infyrmyte / Belevyth in Crist Jesu and ye schal haue helthe" (464-65).

There are a number of apocryphal sources for this tale, the most influential being the fifth century Transitus Maria, attributed by the N-Town "Assumption" to St. John of Patmos: "That Seynt Jhon the Euangelist wrot and tauht, as I lere, / In a book clepid apocriphum" (3-4), but generally attributed to Melito of Sardis c.120-185 C.E. (8) Pseudo-Melito also references another doubting Jew; the Apostle Thomas is the only witness to Mary's corporeal assumption into heaven, and despite her gift of a girdle, the other apostles do not believe his story until they discover that her tomb is empty. Here the tables are not only satisfyingly turned on the doubting disciple, but his role as witness is particularly convincing in the light of his personal history of skepticism.

In several versions of the dormition, the offending Jew, most often named Jephonias, but sometimes Athonios or Reuben, has the rest of his body cut away from his immovable hands by an angel, but is made whole on his conversion. Medieval English versions are less likely than their counterparts to include the avenging angel, but the withering of the desecrator's hands appears in the Blickling Homily, the Cursor Mundi, the South English Legendary, and the Golden Legend, in addition to the N-Town Cycle. One of the two versions in the Golden Legend is particularly explicit in attributing the doubter's suffering to his failure to believe in Mary's virginity: after Peter insists on a statement of Christian faith, the Jew responds:
 "I believe that the Lord Jesus is truly the Son of God, and that
 this is His most holy mother!" At once his hands were loosed from
 the litter, but his arms were still shrivelled and the stark pain
 did not abate. Then said Peter, "Kiss the bier and say: I believe
 in Jesus Christ true God, whom this woman bore in her womb,
 remaining a virgin after she brought him forth." And when he
 had done this, he was at once made whole. (9)

A version of this tale seems also to have been a part of the York cycle at one time, although the play itself, "Fergus," does not survive. Records do survive, however, of a 1431 petition by the masons' guild to be relieved of the responsibility for Fergus, since, among other reasons, it "excites laughter and sometimes blows." (10) The motif appears to have resonated in the popular imagination, although perhaps not for the most spiritual of reasons.

In the context of the N-Town Cycle, moreover, there is a third occurrence of physical punishment for the Jews in response to their doubting of the virginity of Mary, although this one is mediated and therefore easily overlooked. It occurs in "The Trial of Mary and Joseph" which is set into motion by the mutterings of two semi-allegorical but nevertheless identifiably Jewish detractors, Bakbytere and Reysesclaundyr, who have been offended by the unwed Mary's swollen belly and the sexual license to which it seems to testify. (11) The judge, who is Mary's cousin, prescribes that the holy couple drinks from "pe botel of Goddys vengeauns" (234), perhaps a reference to the purity test involving holy water and temple dust described in Numbers 5. (12) Since Mary is without "maculacion" the potion has no effect on her, but her accuser accuses the judge of switching potions, and, to prove this, agrees to drink from the bottle himself. On doing so, he is immediately struck by severe pains in the head:
 Primus Detractor: Out, out! Alas, what heylith my soulle?
 A, myn heed with fyre methynkyth is brent!
 Mercy, good Mary, I do me repent
 Of my cursyd and fals langage!


Again, this time in a drama peculiar to N-Town, a Jew doubts Mary's purity and is stricken by an embodied divine vengeance. Notice here that, as in the case of Salome, the offense is again identified as being "fals," though the organ of offense and hence punishment is not the trespassing hand but the seat of thought and the root of speech. His dangerous doubts are not simply personal indictments of Mary, but refusals to believe that a virgin could conceive and give birth to a child, a necessary precondition for acceptance of Jesus's divinity and a rejection of Judaism.

The doubting and stricken Jews of the N-Town Marian plays are not alone. The role of reluctant witness for Mary's power in miracles and exempla intended for a medieval Christian audience frequently falls to Jews, even, or perhaps especially, in England, where no Jew lived openly after the expulsion of 1290. Certainly devotion to the Virgin was peculiarly characteristic of English spirituality; half a century ago, Richard Southern made an excellent case for the Englishness of the origins of Marian miracle collections, and England, which was known as "the dower of the Virgin" had the most important pilgrimage center in northern Europe. This was the sacred house of the Virgin at Little Walsingham in northwest Norfolk, the revenues of which at times exceeded those of the tomb of the murdered Thomas Becket at Canterbury. (13)

The saturation of English spirituality with Marian devotion does not necessarily point to anti-Semitism, as certainly not all Marian miracles are anti-Semitic. However, Robert Worth Frank has estimated that some 7.5 percent fit this category; given the large number and wide-ranging scope of the tales in each anthology, so few of the collections escape the taint of anti-Semitism altogether that it is fair to state, with Frank, that anti-Semitism is "a standard constituent element"(177). (14) England, dower of the Virgin, was also the home of the first accusation of Jews ritually crucifying a Christian child, and in many ways remained the spiritual home of the medieval ritual murder accusation. Robert Stacey has made the case for a precocious English anti-Semitism marked by ritual murder accusations, the stigmatization of an entire community, and the 1290 expulsion, an expulsion that did not prevent the development in English literature and iconography of the symbol of the Jew, even more richly charged with wickedness than before. (15)

Originally thought to have been performed in Coventry, the N-Town plays are now generally agreed to belong to fifteenth-century East Anglia, and it is perhaps a result of the proximity of Walsingham that the cycle should be so unusually focused on the Virgin Mary, featuring as it does a play of "Joachim and Anna," "The Presentation of Mary in the Temple," "The Salutation and Conception," "Joseph's Doubt," "The Visit to Elizabeth," "The Trial of Mary and Joseph," "The Nativity," "The Purification," "Christ and the Doctors," "The Crucifixion," "The Burial," "Christ's Appearance to Mary," and "The Assumption of Mary," in each of which the Virgin has an important role, leading Gail McMurray Gibson to conclude that the N-Town Cycle is unique in comprising "the play of salvation history heralded by the body of Mary." (16) East Angha, however, also has a particular place in the history of English Jews; it was home to several of the wealthiest Jewish communities outside London in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but also, perhaps not unrelatedly, saw what seems to have been an unusually high level of animosity between Jews and Christians. (17) This included two of the earliest cases of ritual murder accusations ever recorded, those of William of Norwich in 1144 and the infant Robert of Bury in 1181, as well as perhaps the most famous ritual murder case in England, that of Hugh of Lincoln in 1255. The outbreak of crusade-related violence in 1190 that culminated in the massacre at York seems to have begun at Lynn, and had the effect of leading to the abandonment of smaller Jewish communities in East Anglia. (18) Further, the East Anglian towns of Lincoln and Norwich were two of the only three English communities to be actually made subject to a much wider canonical food embargo directed toward Jews in 1222. (19) Given this context, it is especially interesting to explore the particular role ascribed to the doubting Jew in the fifteenth-century East Anglian Marian plays.

The traditional Augustinian role of the Jews as reluctant witnesses to the truth of Christianity through their devotion to their scriptures perhaps explains the frequency of Jewish doubters in Christian miracle tales in general. Like the Apostle Thomas, and for much the same reason, that is, because of their perceived stubbornness and skepticism, Jews were ultimately seen as excellent and trustworthy witnesses for Christian truth, with no personal investment in furthering a fictional Christianity, as more partisan Christian witnesses may have been accused of doing. In these miracles, Jewish opposition to precisely those church doctrines that must have been the most difficult for many Christians to comprehend, such as the Trinity and the real presence in the host, ultimately manifests itself in a divine confirmation and reiteration of those very doctrines. The perpetual virginity of Jesus' mother seems to have been another of the doctrines that both Jews and Christians alike found difficult to accept. Medieval Jewish anti-Christian polemics linger unapologetically on Jesus' natural birth from Mary as a significant sticking point in belief, not solely because of the logical impossibility of a virgin birth, but because of the inherently disgusting nature of parturition and the female body. In the course of outlining the foulness of the gestation and birth process, Mary's sacred body is often discussed in graphically sexual and scatological terms:
 I wonder about you that you are not embarrassed to worship he who
 dwelled in the oppression of the womb, close enough to hear his
 mother's flatuses when she moved her bowels like any other woman,
 remaining in deep darkness for nine months. How can you say that
 any aspect of divinity dwells in such an ugly place? If you say
 that there was no aspect of divinity in [that] place, then you are
 saying that [Jesus] was like any other child, and after he left her
 womb through the [organ] which received the penis and the semen,
 since this is the place from which he emerged with his mouth and
 nose pulling against the urethra, close to the place from which the
 stench of excrement exits, then he slept and nursed from his
 mother's breasts. (20)

Further, it is accusations of this sort and others against the Virgin that medieval Christians appeared to find most upsetting; when Nicholas Donin represented the Church against the Talmud in the disputation of Paris in 1240, the comment that drew spontaneous cries of anger from the judges was his allegation that the Talmud referred to Mary as an adulteress. In response, Rabbi Yehiel reminded his audience of Mary's own Jewishness, saying, "Mary was our flesh and bone and we have nothing to say against her, for the Talmud does not even mention her. The 'Miriam' mentioned in the passage quoted by Donin cannot be the same person as Mary." (21) His response is disingenuous, however; there was a long history of Jewish texts that told alternative stories about the conception of Jesus. In the most popular Jewish polemic of late antiquity, the Toledot Yeshu, Jesus is "mamzer" (bastard) and "ben niddah" (the child of menstruation), while Mary appears in a fairly positive light as the innocent dupe of a man who pretends to be her husband. Later versions, however, paint Mary as complicit in both her adultery and an elaborate scheme to cover it up. Thus the claim that Jews denied Mary's virginity is not Christian narrative invention, but an actual reflection of Talmudic and polemical teachings. (22) What is more interesting than the popular concept that Jews felt a particular enmity toward the Virgin Mary is the corollary: the Virgin Mary must equally have been thought of as feeling a particular enmity toward Jews--and, moreover, an enmity that manifests itself in visible physical violence. (23)

The rapid development of the cult of the Virgin in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries certainly parallels a number of interdependent political, religious, and economic trends that made life significantly more difficult for Jewish communities in Europe. These included the effects of the Crusades, which inflamed active hostility against non-Christians of all stripes but manifested themselves particularly in massacres of Jews in the Rhineland, the revival of anti-Jewish legislation in the form of the enforcement of laws against heretics like the Albigensians, and the increased safety and appeal for Christians in trading outside Europe, which made destabilizing perceived Jewish monopolies an attractive economic option. To these may be added the effects of the centralization and bureaucratization of government, and the pinched position of Jews as contested property, shown perhaps most clearly in the expulsion from England. (24) However, economic, social, and political trends not only reflected but also would have been much less effective without what Elisa Narin Van Court has called "an increasingly hostile theological environment," (25) an environment that included such diverse elements as the changing perception of the theological usefulness of Jews, the establishment of discriminatory legislation such as the wearing of the Jewish badge, the role of the newly established mendicant orders, a growing sense of apocalypticism with the church, and the rise of affective piety, with its interest in intimate identification with the bodily sufferings of the human Jesus. The latter particularly focused attention on the traditional role of the Jews as the torturers and executioners of Jesus, exacerbated by the frequent and bloody appearance of this scene in religious drama, a tremendously effective vehicle for the widespread conveyance of anti-Jewish sentiment. This period also, of course, marks the development and rapid proliferation of the ritual murder, blood libel, and host desecration allegations and has been said to mark the construction of the fantasized figure of the Jew that underlies modern anti-Semitism. (26) However, in many of the theological developments I have listed here, Mary plays a fundamental role. The development and growth of her cult is not merely a coincidence of chronology, but rather Marian piety is the unstated foundation of much of the theological environment that contributed to the development of anti-Semitism.

Mary may be the merciful mother and protector of little children, but she is also an ambivalent figure of power, particularly in the miracle tradition in which she is capricious, plays favorites, manipulates, and cheats in order to get what she wants; in short, with the notable exception of her perpetual chastity, she acts as a woman might have been expected to act according to the antifeminist rhetoric of the period. (27) Those who have spent their lives praising her are saved from even the most just of punishments; she tampers with the scales that weigh good deeds and bad; she protects the reputation of fallen women when their sole redeeming feature is devotion to her; she arranges for the eternal salvation of clerks who have denied God and Jesus, as long as they have remained faithful to her. In a particularly uncomfortable tale, a woman commits incest with her son and kills the child that results: after her appeal to Mary for help, when she is brought before the senate and accused by a fiend, the fiend fails to recognize her, seeing only a holy woman whom Mary is supporting and protecting. (28) However, she also threatens and punishes those who fall from her favor and people cross her at their peril; in the popular Hildefonsus story, which heads a number of miracle collections, the Virgin gives the archbishop of Toledo a ceremonial chasuble with the caveat that no one else should wear it; when his successor puts it on, it constricts and strangles him. (29) Another frequently occurring tale is the "Statue Bride," in which a young man places a ring on a statue of the Virgin for safekeeping; she curls her hand around it, thus claiming the young man as her own, and on his wedding night, he is visited by a furiously jealous Virgin, who demands to know why he has forsaken her for another woman. Wisely, he decides to leave his bride and become a monk. (30) In more local versions, she literally slaps sense into absconding nuns, has blasphemers stricken dead, and permanently disfigures dishonest priests. In fact, as Richard Burkard has pointed out, legends of the Virgin frequently stress her formidable nature: "to disregard the commands she gives is--by implication--to court a violent death" (255). (31)

Her hostility to unbelievers is not exclusively reserved for the Jews; she is clearly not very fond of Muslims or pagans either. (32) Nevertheless, in the model in which an unbeliever tests or insults the Virgin or her son and is either crippled and later healed, resulting in conversion and missionary activity, or comprehensively destroyed, resulting in the rapid conversion of others, the unbeliever is without exception Jewish. But more significantly, whenever a Jew tests or scorns Mary or her son, he or she is immediately physically struck by divine wrath that is always identified with the mother of God, and the individual either repents, is healed, and becomes a Christian and a conversionary force for other Jews or is killed outright, causing the immediate conversion of other Jews. The first type comprises most cases of Marian vengeance, which although painful and often grotesque, do not end in violent death but in the more symbolic elimination of Jews achieved by healing and conversion, thereby allowing the Christian community to whom the tales are directed to reflect on its own commitment to belief. However, there are certainly miracles in which the intervention of the postassumption Mary consists of the revelation of a crime or an offense to the Christian authorities, whose justice is swift and punitive, and Chaucer's "litel clergeon" is one of these. In this tale, of course, Mary's intervention is not to save the life of her tiny devotee, but to ensure his body is discovered and that justice is meted out, and as a result of this intervention, every Jew considered complicit in the murder of the Christian child--which is to say, every Jew--is pulled to pieces by wild horses. Another is the story of the Jew of Bourges, which is sometimes told with an emphasis on eucharistic power, but in most versions, including a fifteenth-century translation of the Alphabetum Narrationum, is a Marian miracle that results in the comprehensive destruction of the father and the mass conversion of much of the Jewish community. In a fury when his little boy takes Christian communion and is vouchsafed a vision of the Virgin, the Jewish father hurls his son into a glassblowing oven, causing his wife to run into the street crying "as sho war wude":
 And christen men had grete mervall & ran unto pe Iewis howse, and
 withdrew pe fyre oute of pe oven mouthe, and fand pe child in pe
 ovyn, syttand opon pe hate colis, right as had syttyn opon fayr
 flowris; and hym aylid no few sore. And pai tuke hym furth, & he
 told paim all pe cace. And onone pai tuke pis Iew, his fadur, &
 threste hym in-to pe oven; and onone pe fire had made a nend on
 hym, so pat pai cuthe nowder fynd of hym bone nor lith. And pan pe
 childe told paim how pat womman pat was in pe kurk per he had etyn
 bread with his felous, syttand in a chayr, pat had a little chylde
 syttand on hur kne wappid in a clothe, coverd hym with hur mantyll
 pat pe fyre shuld nott burn hym. And so pis childe and his moder,
 and many other Iewis, wet cristend enspeciall for pis fayr meracle
 of pe sacrament. (33)

The elimination of Jews in these cases is total, whether achieved by large-scale conversion or by the utter physical destruction of the Jewish father by the heat of the oven: when the ashes are examined, "pai cuthe nowder fynd of hym bone nor lith." Finally, a third manifestation of this type is the host desecration miracle in which the Virgin's voice is heard lamenting that her child is being tortured and abused. A search reveals a group of Jews torturing the host, or in some versions, an image of the crucified Jesus, and severe physical punishment is meted out. The Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X contains an example of this type, in which Jews in Toledo are caught striking, spitting upon, and preparing to hang a waxen image of Jesus. They are only prevented from doing so by the sound of a woman's voice during Mass, lamenting, "Oh, God, Oh, God, how great and manifest is the perfidy of the Jews, who killed my Son, though they were his own people, and even now they wish no peace with Him." The Christians hurry posthaste to the Jewish quarter, where they find the abomination in process: "For this deed they were all to die, and their pleasure was turned to grief." (34) Here Mary, frequently the representative of institutional power, is replaced by it, as she often is in the miracles that end with a purging of recalcitrant members rather than with their reincorporation into the social body. This type of tale, easily fabricated, is notable for its direct historical consequences, as in Deggendorf in 1337, and Passau in 1478, both of which resulted in tortures, deaths, forced conversions, and/or expulsions in the Jewish community. (35)

Obviously, the depth and virulence of the anti-Semitism in these tales vary, depending as much on the writer as on the cultural expectations of Mary. In one of the most widely known collections of Marian tales of the thirteenth century, that of Gautier de Coincy, the Jews are bestial and like "a reeking dog," and he adds, "God hates them and I hate them, and everyone should hate them." (36) However, de Coincy, while especially unpleasant, is not unrepresentative. Why, then, are Jews and Mary so incompatible in these texts, and why does Mary act out her anti-Semitism so corporeally, reinscribing her punishment for doubt on the offending Jewish body? I would like to posit a number of suggestions for this, but I should point out that each of the phenomena is interlinked; they feed off and strengthen one another. First of all, as a Jewish woman, Mary is in an untenable position in medieval Christendom. Women and Jews were linked in the popular medieval imagination, both thought of as shrewd, manipulative, disloyal deceivers, stubborn in their failure to adhere to the dominant values of Christian masculinity. (37) Mary's special quality of perpetual virginity, however, identifies her much more closely with masculine hegemony than with the other daughters of Eve. She is both female and not-female. Similarly, she is both Jew and not-Jew; her anti-Semitism separates her from the Jews she punishes, while the repeated presence of the Jews in the tale is a continual reminder of her own religious background. Stephanie Gaynor has suggested, in the context of the Prioress's tale, that speaking anti-Semitism, as the Prioress does, enables "the discourse of women" by "the serial generation of 'others'"--in other words, she invokes anti-Semitism to attract attention to her position as a Christian among other Christians, rather than to her position as a woman among men. (38) Similarly, Mary's disavowal of her fellow worshippers simultaneously recognizes and denies her own--and her son's--origin.

Secondly, both Jews and women were associated with what Joan Young Gregg calls "all the negative sides of the salvation dichotomies": with "flesh against the spirit, darkness against light, muteness against the Word, falsehood against the truth, damnation in hell against eternal heavenly bliss, death against life and the beast against the human race." (39) They are particularly associated with the body, and with carnality, accused repeatedly of gross sexual appetite and license. The wearing of distinctive Jewish clothing enjoined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 was primarily intended to prevent sexual contact between Christians and Jews, since the latter were thought to physically entice Christians away from God. (40) This focus on the body rather than the spirit situates both Jews and women as appropriate vehicles to explore the issues of bodiliness and bodily integrity investigated in these tales.

In addition, there are certainly variants, like the Toledo image desecration discussed above, that make it clear that Mary's enmity against the Jews is to be attributed to their role in his death: "how great and manifest is the perfidy of the Jews, who killed my Son." The view of Jews as deicides was not new in the late Middle Ages, dating at least as far back as the Gospels of Matthew and of Peter, (41) but it did not feature as an important element of Latin or vernacular liturgical drama. However, developed at a time when the image of Christ ruling in glory had been replaced by one of Jesus suffering on Calvary, the later miracle cycles and passion plays tended to present the spectacle of scourging, buffeting, mockery, and eventual crucifixion in bloody and technicolor splendor, enthusiastically relating extra-biblical details of Jesus' torment and humiliation. The N-Town Cycle makes it clear that the blame for this treatment of the Savior is to be placed on the Jews: the First and Second Soldier early in the Passion are quickly replaced by First, Second, Third, and Fourth Jew, who "xal bete Jesus about pe hed and pe body, and spyttyn in his face, and pullyn hym down," before assaying the validity of his prophecy by establishing a "newe game" in which Jesus is repeatedly beaten about the head with a bat and asked to identify his assailant (181-92). At the N-Town crucifixion, it is Jews who nail Jesus to the Cross; incompetent, they make the holes too far apart, thus requiring them, gleefully, to stretch his body beyond endurance.
 Secundus Judeus: Fest on a rop and pulle hym long,
 And I xal drawe pe ageyn.
 Spare we not pese ropys strong,
 pow we brest both flesch and veyn.
 Tercius Judeus: Dryve in pe nayl anon, lete se,
 And loke and pe flesch and senues well last.
 Quartus Judeus: Pat I graunt, so mote I the!
 Lo, pis nayl is dreve ryth wel and fast.

 (65-72) (42)

It is the Jews, specifically, male Jews, who are to blame--a conviction that helps elide the ambiguous role opened for Mary by contemporary clerical teaching on the sacrifice of Jesus. Mary has traditionally been viewed as not just the bearer of Jesus, but as a priest offering his body for sacrifice. Thomas of Villanova pictured her arrival for the presentation at the Temple as follows:
 After the sacred virgin had arrived at the altar, having knelt
 down, inflamed by the Holy Spirit more than the seraphim, and
 holding her son in her hands, she offered him as a gift and
 acceptable sacrifice to God praying in this way: "Accept, almighty
 Father, accept the oblation which I offer you for the whole world,
 I your handmaid." (43)

A thirteenth-century German commentary on the Song of Songs is particularly graphic in this regard: "She also gives us her dear child's flesh to eat, in order to still our hunger; against thirst, she has poured us her child's lovely blood, which gives us the blessing of much comfort." (44) Those host and image desecration stories that feature a heavenly voice lamenting that Jews were again torturing her son make explicit the suggestion that Mary's hostility against the Jews is a result of their role in his suffering; this suggestion, however, proves disingenuous, failing to take account of the ambiguity of Mary's own role in her son's agony and death.

Finally, the Marian anti-Semitic miracles function, as noted earlier, to verify the fact of her virginity, crucial to the acceptance of Jesus as the son of God. Virginity is by definition fragile, defined only by the absence of its opposite, and continually threatened with loss. As Margaret Ferguson points out, "the virgin item's cultural value lies partly in the fact that it has not yet been used: the specter of an imminent or eventual use, consumption, or violation is indeed central to many cultural conceptions of virginity from the Middle Ages to the present." (45) Its existence, in fact, cannot be proven conclusively without destroying that which is tested, and, as medieval medical texts both explained and warned, even this event could be stage-managed with a little preparation. (46) Mary's virginity, established as doctrine as early as the Second Council of Constantinople of 381, very quickly became a cornerstone of medieval Christian belief, and, in several ways, represented a significant break between Christianity and Judaism. The doctrine undercut those orthodox and apocryphal Christian texts that went to elaborate lengths to emphasize the Jewish heritage of Jesus, such as the Gospel of Matthew, which traces the aristocratic lineage of Joseph back through David and to Abraham, thus identifying Jesus as the long-predicted branch of the tree of Jesse. Ironically, while under Second Temple law Jewish identity follows a line of matriarchal descent, Mary's virginity, implying the invalidation of Joseph's royal lineage, severs the historical connections between paternal Judaism and newly born Christianity.

It was also a tremendously popular doctrine, even before it became official. The Protoevangelium of James dates from the early second century and demonstrates that the backstory of Mary's virginal conception was already circulating barely half a century after the last of the four Gospels was produced. Her purity was particularly important for Irenaeus of Lyon (c.180 C.E.), who saw in Mary's virginity a pleasing parallelism with the virginity of Eve, writing, "as mankind was bound unto death through a virgin, it is saved through a virgin; by the obedience of a virgin the disobedience of a virgin is compensated." (47) Though there were early theologians who doubted the perpetual virginity of Mary, her virginity at and during her son's conception was almost unchallenged; in fact, so closely were her virginity and Jesus' divinity linked that only those who denied the divinity of Jesus denied his mother's purity. Early Christian heresy on the Virgin Mary was more likely to take the form of deifying her, as did the Collyridians, than denying her, and even by the time of the late Middle Ages, reformers as committed as John Wyclif denied neither Mary's importance nor her virginity, saying in a St. Matthew's Day sermon: "And wel she is clepid a virgyn so ofte in pis Gospel, for she was virgyne whanne she was weddid, and a virgyn after to her dep." (48) Even Muslims believed that Mary had conceived without benefit of sexual intercourse. (49) While there may have been individual dissenters, the only people who as a group denied the virginity of Mary were Jews.

In the stories of doubting Jews, then, the very people least likely to believe in Mary's virginity are forced to testify to it, not with their lips and tongues, but with their entire physical beings. Modern readers are not used to seeing inscription and erasure as acts of violence, but, perhaps because the scratching of medieval texts into the skin of animals naturalized the connection between body and text, a common late medieval trope is that of body and parchment, blood and ink, wound and voice. One popular manifestation of this is the Charter of Christ trope, in which Jesus declares that his crucified body is vellum, the thorns and scourges of his torture acting as pens that write the certainty of salvation in his blood, and sometimes, the spittle of Jews. (50) In the same way, the crippling of Jewish bodies in these Marian miracles inscribes orthodoxy upon the unbelieving flesh of the Jews. (51)

Mary's virginity is crucial for Christianity. The concept of Jesus' divinity--and consequently, the whole salvation narrative--hanging on something as slippery, frangible, open to simulation, and dependent upon the word of a woman as her virginity must have been enormously disturbing, perhaps most of all because if Mary is not a virgin, Mary is not a Christian; in fact, she reverts to being Jewish. It is no surprise, then, that Jews and Jewishness erupt into the stories that deal with internal and external doubts about Mary's purity. Unlike the host, that other powerful symbol of bodily seamlessness always whole, even when it is crumbled into pieces, Mary's intactness had to be continually questioned in order to be continually reaffirmed; the same is true of her role as Christian rather than Jew. Not only does the deformed and corrupted Jewish body function in opposition to the desired Christian integrity at the heart of the narrative, but the violence of Mary's opposition to that body is meant to assure her removal from contaminating membership within that body.

But the fact that these fragments of the salvation narrative are manifested in the spectacular, dramatic form of a medieval mystery cycle complicates this cultural work enormously. As Sarah Beckwith has pointed out in regard to the York plays, they are not simply "a sermon in drama," but rather "the constitutive, performative means by which meanings are made" (italics mine). (52) The nature of dramatic performance inevitably foregrounds the body of the actor--hence, perhaps, the effectiveness and even the inevitability of theatrical violence--and this is perhaps particularly true when such performance is staged on a day that is all about the body, both social and divine. (53) As a result, the N-Town Mary--or perhaps more accurately, Marys, since the part of the Virgin would have been played by a number of different performers throughout the day--has an additional and very corporeal valency. A character played by an actor is, by definition, not what she appears to be. How can Christians rely on the virginity of a Mary who is in reality not a teenaged Jewish virgin, but in all likelihood a succession of adolescent English boys?

That Mary must, by medieval convention, be played by a cross-dressed male cannot help but problematize the Marian plays. In a dramatic cycle performed at least in part to reinforce categories of binary and oppositional difference on a day that, it has been argued, was about reinscribing social and communal hierarchy, (54) the notion of a series of cross-dressers, male but female, singular but plural, rehearsing a woman who is Christian but Jew, mother but virgin, is potentially subversive in the extreme. (55) This is, of course, one of the dangers of the staging of what is considered to be Truth: drama creates its own meanings, critiquing authority at the same time as it appears to valorize it, and drawing the spectators into a powerful participatory identification that is subject to dangerous slippage. We do know that performances of passion plays were sometimes followed by physical attacks on Jews. But at the same time, an audience watching the N-Town cycle might enjoy vicarious participation in not just the withering and crippling of the Jews, but also in the sadistic infliction of pain on the body of Christ. Alternatively, if one reads the spectacularly broken body as a site of both potential resistance to punitive authority and of the production of empathic bonds, this may be as true for the crippled Jews in the Marian plays as it is for the tortured Jew on the cross. (56) While each anti-Semitic Marian miracle reminds us by its very nature that religious and social identity are located in the body, whether Jewish or Christian, the corporeal nature of dramatic staging cannot help but trouble any easy reading of these vexed and contested theatrical moments.

Oklahoma State University


(1) Gavin Langmuir usefully defines anti-Semitism, as distinguished from anti-Judaism, as "all instances in which people, because they are labeled Jews, are feared as symbols of subhumanity and hated for threatening characteristics they do not in fact possess" (Toward a Definition of Antisemitism [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990], 302). Langmuir's work is a crucial starting point for study of medieval anti-Semitism, but see also Jeremy Cohen, Living Letters of the Law: Ideas of the Jew in Medieval Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); Miri Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); Louise O. Fradenburg, "Criticism, Anti-Semitism, and the Prioress's Tale," Exemplaria 1 (1989): 69-115; and Steven Kruger, The Spectral Jew: Conversion and Embodiment in Medieval Europe (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

(2) Ann Eljenholm Nichols, "The Hierosphthitic Topos: Or, The Fate of Fergus: Notes on the N-Town Assumption," Comparative Drama 25, no. 1 (1991): 29-41. Deliberate irreverence is not necessary to invoke divine anger, as in the case of the hierosphthitic smiting of Uzzah in 2 Samuel, who innocently lays hands on the art of the covenant to prevent it from toppling: "And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth [his hand] to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook [it]. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God" (6:6-7).

(3) Nichols does, however, also cite "a well-known medieval case [in which] a soldier is struck dead when he throws a stone at a statue of the Virgin" (30). She is not specific about this, but seems to be referencing the motif known as "the impious gameplayer"; Michael P. Carroll calls this "one of the most popular of all religious folktales in Italy," adding that it is found in "virtually all regions of the peninsula" (Madonnas That Maim: Popular Catholicism in Italy Since the Fifteenth Century [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992], 46). Several tales in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, for instance, describe the violent death of gamblers who, in their frustration, throw stones at a statue of the Virgin, such as numbers 38, 136, and 294, although none particularly refers to a soldier (Songs of Holy Mary of Alfonso X, The Wise: A Translation of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, trans. Kathleen Kulp-Hill, MRTS 173 [Tempe: Arizona State University, 2000]).

(4) Cited without source in Leon Poliakov, The History of Anti-Semitism, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Schocken, 1964), 145. Steven Kruger notes that Vincent Ferrer's personal conversion count was extraordinarily high, cited as between twenty-five thousand and one hundred thousand, but goes on to add that, while Vincent spoke out against violent conversion strategies, his preaching was strongly associated with anti-Jewish violence (The Spectral Jew, 187).

(5) M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924).

(6) The N-Town Play: Cotton MS. Vespasian D.8, ed. Stephen Spector, 2 vols. EETS, s.s. 11-12 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), vol. 1, ll. 218-21; hereafter cited parenthetically by line number.

(7) For the metaphor of Jewish blindness, see Jeremy Cohen, "The Jews as the Killers of Christ in the Latin Tradition, from Augustine to the Friars," Traditio 39 (1983): 3-27.

(8) Peter Schafer, Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). For a version of Pseudo-Melito itself, see Monika Haibach-Reinisch, Ein Neuer Transitus Mariae de Pseudo-Melito (Rome: Pontifica Academia Mariae Internationalis, 1962).

(9) Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 453.

(10) Anna J. Mill, "The York Plays of the Dying, Assumption and Coronation of Our Lady," PMLA 65 (1950): 866-76.

(11) They are Jewish not simply because they are neighbors of Joseph and Mary, but because they are specifically so marked by the text: Reysesclaundyr informs the audience that "Bakbytere is my brother of blood" (41), and the characters mutually and frequently remind each other of their siblinghood. At one point the two detractors gesture toward the future for Jews should Mary's story of miraculous impregnation turn out to be the truth: "For, be trowth, ryght mekyl hate, / If it be wyst, perof wyl growe" (70-71). Further, in visual depictions such as the Holkham Bible Picture Book, the detractors are clearly represented as Jewish.

(12) Numbers 5:18-27: "And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which [is] the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse: And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness [with another] instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside [to another] instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make [thy] belly to swell, and [thy] thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot [them] out with the bitter water: And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, [and become] bitter. Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar: And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, [even] the memorial thereof, and burn [it] upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, [that], if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, [and become] bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people" (King James version).

(13) Richard W. Southern, "The English Origins of the Miracles of the Virgin," Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1958): 176-216. For a useful discussion of Walsingham and English Marian devotion, see Gail McMurray Gibson, The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989). See also Hilda Graef Waterton, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963).

(14) Robert Worth Frank, Jr., "Miracles of the Virgin, Medieval Anti-Semitism, and the 'Prioress's Tale,'" in The Wisdom of Poetry: Essays in Early English Literature in Honor of Morton W. Bloomfield, ed. Larry Dean Benson and Siegfried Wenzel (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1982), 177-188.

(15) Robert C. Stacey, "Anti-Semitism and the Medieval English State," in The Medieval English State: Essays Presented to James Campbell, ed. J. R. Maddicott and D. M. Palliser (London: Hambledon Press, 2000): 163-77. See also Colin Richmond, "Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry," in The Jewish Heritage in British History: Englishness and Jewishness (London: Frank Cass, 1992).

(16) Gibson, 168.

(17) V. D. Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich (London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1967), 4.

(18) Ibid., 57.

(19) "The fact that only in Norwich (apart from Lincoln and Oxford) were such measures attempted suggests bad relations between Jews and Christians in the town" (ibid., 59).

(20) Daniel J. Lasker and Sarah Stroumsa, The Polemic of Nestor the Priest: Qissat Mujadalat al-Usquf and Sefer Nestor Ha-Komer, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute, 1996), 2:115. One might want to compare here the German sculpture of the Visitation c. 1410, described by Gibson in The Theater of Devotion, in which the fetal John the Baptist kneels among the "sculptured bowels of his mother" while the fetal Jesus "waits not among detailed intestines but within a mandorla of glory on which traces of gold paint are still visible" (8). Here, the reality of Mary's anatomy is passed over in favor of less troubling metaphor.

(21) Hyam Maccoby, Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982), 157.

(22) See also Stephen J. Shoemaker, "'Let Us Go and Burn Her Body': The Image of the Jews in the Early Dormition Traditions," Church History 68, no. 4 (1999): 775-823.

(23) Allyson F. Creasman, "The Virgin Mary Against the Jews: Anti-Jewish Polemic in the Pilgrimage to the Schone Maria of Regensburg, 1519-25," Sixteenth Century Journal 33, no. 4 (2002): 963-80.

(24) Frank, passim. See also, among many others, Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Robert Chazan, ed. Church, State & Jews in the Middle Ages (New York: Behrman House, 1980); Jeremy Cohen, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982); Mark Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); Lester K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (London: Paul Elek, 1978); R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987); R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (London: Penguin 1970); and R. C. Stacey, "The English Jews under Henry III," in The Jews in Medieval Britain: Historical Literary and Archaeological Perspectives, ed. Patricia Skinner (Rochester: Boydell, 2003), 41-54.

(25) Elisa Narin Van Court, "Socially Marginal, Culturally Central: Representing Jews in Late Medieval English Literature," Exemplaria 12, no. 2 (October 2000): 293-326 (307).

(26) Gavin Langmuir and Robert Stacey, while generally in agreement about this, have arrived at slightly different dates at which it is safe to say that anti-Semitism is well established, Langmuir pointing to "by 1350" and Stacey preferring "by 1300" (Langmuir, 302; Stacey, "Anti-Semitism and the Medieval English State," 164).

(27) See, for instance, Three Medieval Views of Women: La Contenance des Fames, Le Bien des Fames, Le Blasme des Fames, ed. and trans. Gloria K. Fiero, Wendy Pfeffer, and Mathe Allain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

(28) An Alphabet of Tales: An English 15th-century Translation of the "Alphabetum Narrationum" of Etienne de Besancon, ed. Mary Macleod Banks, EETS, o.s. 126-27, 2 pts. in 1 vol. (London: Kegan Paul, 1904-5), CCCXX, 220-22.

(29) For distribution of the Hildefonsus legend, see Evelyn Faye Wilson, The Stella Maris of John of Garland; Edited, Together with a Study of Certain Collections of Mary Legends made in Northern France in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Cambridge, Mass.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1946).

(30) The version of the statue bride tale in Gautier de Coincy's collection Les Miracles de Nostre Dame portrays this manifestation of Mary as a particularly furious and terrifying figure: "She appeared very proud to him, frightening, fierce, and disdainful. It seemed to the clerk that she did not deign to turn her face in his direction; rather, it seemed that she hated him, she insulted and threatened him and told him all sorts of shameful and insulting things. Several times she called him false perjurer, faithless, and a traitor. 'The demons possessed and blinded you; said Our Lady, 'when for your miserable wife you renounced and repudiated me. If you fill yourself with the stinking stink of this stinking woman you will find yourself stinking at the bottom of Hell'" ("Gautier de Coincy: Miracles of the Virgin Mary," trans. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, in Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, ed. Thomas Head [New York: Garland, 1999], 637-8).

(31) Richard Burkard, "Revenge of a Saint or Revenge of the Deity? Ambiguousness in Five of Berceo's Mary Legends," Romanistisches Jahrbuch 37 (1986): 251-63.

(32) A thirteenth-century French miracle has Mary demanding that a convert from paganism blind first one eye and then the other before being allowed a glimpse of her beauty (Yvette Marie Fallandy, "A Reexamination of the Blessed Virgin in the Miracles de Nostre Dame par Personnages," Philological Quarterly 43 [1964]: 20-26). In the Cantigas, a king asks the Virgin for help in financing the holy fight against the Moors. She tells him where to find great treasure buried by the Jews. This is discussed in Albert I. Bagby, Jr., "The Jew in the Cantigas of Alfonso X, El Sabio," Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 46, no. 4 (1971): 670-88. In other materials, she takes to the battlefield against the infidels, accompanying armies on Crusades and showing a particular talent for siege warfare, at least once physically defending Byzantium against the Muslims, where she is seen standing at the walls with a host of attendant virgins, "catching the weapons in the folds of her cloak and hurling them back against the infidel" (Johannes Herolt, Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ed. C. C. Swinton Bland [Routledge: London, 1928], 94).

(33) Alphabet of Tales, CCCVIII, 211.

(34) Songs of Holy Mary of Alfonso X, the Wise, nos. 12 and 19 (see note 3, above).

(35) On Deggendorf and Passau, see Rubin, Gentile Tales, 173-75.

(36) V. Frederic Koenig, Gautier de Coinci: Les Miracles de Nostre Dame (Geneva: Dros, 1955-70): "li chien puant" (1. 431); "Diex les her et je les has / Et toz li mons les dolt hair" (ll. 209-10).

(37) Joan Young Gregg, Devils, Women and Jews: Reflections of the Other in Medieval Sermon Stories (Albany: State University of New York Press), 1997. For the feminization of Jewish males implicit in the myth of menstruating men, see D. S. Katz, "Shylocks Gender: Jewish Male Menstruation in Early Modern England," Review of English Studies, 50 (1999): 440-62, but compare Irven M. Resnick, "Medieval Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menses," Harvard Theological Review, 93, no. 3 (2000): 241-63.

(38) Stephanie Gaynor, "He Says, She Says: Subjectivity and the Discourse of the Other in the Prioress's Portrait and Tale," Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue, 5, no. 3 (1999), 375-90 (378). For Jewishness and femaleness, see Shaye J. D. Cohen, Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised? Gender and Covenant in Judaism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

(39) Gregg, 178.

(40) "In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37-41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them" (H. J. Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation and Commentary [St. Louis: Herder, 1937]).

(41) In the Gospel of Peter, Pilate washes his hands, but Herod and the Jewish judges explicitly refuse to do the same. "This fragmentary gospel is far more virulently anti-Jewish than any of those that made it into the New Testament" (Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], 18). For the tradition of Jews as deicides, see also Jeremy Cohen, "The Jews and the Killers of Christ."

(42) The Towneley Cycle is perhaps even more forceful on this point; in "The Scourging" the Jews get great personal gratification from their torment of Jesus. They are disappointed by Pilate's instructions not to beat him to death (151), and the third torturer says, "My hartt wold all tobryst / bot I myght tyll hym glyde" (The Towneley Plays, ed. Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, EETS, s.s. 13, 2 vols. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994], ll. 270-87).

(43) Thomas of Villanova, "Concio. I in Purificatione Beatae Mariae Virginis," in Opera Omnia, 6 vols. (Manila: Amigos del Pals, 1881-97), 4:394-403: "Postquam igitur ad altare venture est, Virgo sacra, genibus flexis, divino inflammata Spiritu plusquam seraphim, Filium manibus tenens, ipsum offert Domino munus et oblationem Deo, in hunc modum orans. Suscipe, Pater omnipotens, suscipe oblationem hanc, quam tibi offero pro toto orbe, ancilla tua" (397).

(44) "Si git uns ouch vor hunger sat / eres liben kindes vleisch ezzen / vor den dorst hat si uns gemezzen / eris kindes minniclichez blut / daz uns git riches trostes sput" (Brun yon Schonebeck, Das Hohe Lied, ed. Arwed Fischer [Tubingen: Litterarischer Verein Stuttgart, 1893], 80). Discussed and translated in Bettina Bildhauer, Medieval Blood (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006), 130-31.

(45) "Foreword" in Menacing Virgins: Representing Virginity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Marina Leslie (Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1999), 7.

(46) Kelly points out that, "In some medieval medical texts, most notably in the thirteenth-century gynecological treatise known as The Secrets of Women, at the very moment it is asserted that virginity can be tested, it is recognized that virginity can be faked. A dove's bladder filled with blood, inserted into the vagina, and designed to break at the climactic moment, is one such circumvention of proof of virginity. Taking a warm bath infused with certain herbs (to tighten the muscles of the vagina) on the wedding night is another. There are no virginity tests or prescriptions for faking virginity for men in these medical treatises (Kathleen Coyme Kelly, "Menaced Masculinity and Imperiled Virginity in Malory's Morte D'Arthur," in Menacing Virgins, 104).

(47) Five Books of S. Irenaeus Against Heresies: With the Fragments that Remain of His Other Works, trans. John Keble (Oxford: James Parker, 1872), Adversus Haereses, V, 494.

(48) Selected English Works of John Wyclif, ed. Thomas Arnold, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1869), vol 1., sermon CI, 354.

(49) "If the Saracens must be detested, who acknowledge (as we do) that Christ was born of a virgin and they share many beliefs about him with us ... how much more must we curse and hate the Jews who, believing nothing concerning Christ or the Christian faith and denying the virgin birth and all the sacraments of human salvation, blaspheme and insult him!" (Peter the Venerable of Cluny, letter 130: Latin text in The Letters of Peter the Venerable, ed. Giles Constable, trans. Jeremy Cohen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967),1:328.

(50) Laura Ashe, "The 'Short Charter of Christ': An Unpublished Longer Version, from Cambridge University Library, MS ADD. 6686," Medium AEvum, 72, no. 1 (2003): 32-48 (32). See also M. C. Spalding, The Middle English Charters of Christ (Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College Press, 1914); Rosemary Woolf, The English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 213-14; and Miri Rubin, "The Body, Whole and Vulnerable, in Fifteenth-Century England," in Bodies and Disciplines: Intersections of Literature and History in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt and David Wallace (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 21-23.

(51) As Steven Kruger has pointed out in regard to the role of Jews in Christian exempla, "Corruption of body attends disbelief, attacking those who presume to attack the fabric of Christianity; wholeness of body, on the other hand, comes with true belief" (317) ("The Bodies of Jews in the Late Middle Ages," in The Idea of Medieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer and Medieval Culture in Honor of Donald R. Howard, ed. James M. Dean and Christian K. Zacher [Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1992], 301-23).

(52) Sarah Beckwith, "Making the World in York and the York Cycle," in Framing Medieval Bodies, ed. Sarah Kay and Miri Rubin (Manchester: Manchester University Press 1994), 255.

(53) On violence in medieval drama, see Jody Enders, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory, Violence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); Anthony Kubiak, Stages of Terror: Terrorism, Ideology and Coercion as Theatre History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991); and Violence in Drama, ed. James Redmond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

(54) Charles Phythian Adams, "Ceremony and the Citizen" in Crisis and Order in English Towns, 1500-1700, ed. Peter Clark and Paul Slack (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), 57-85.

(55) "As pervasively liminal beings within Western cultures, cross-dressers can disturb the natural order of things, representing the cultural equivalents of chaos, disorderliness, and pollution. Theatrical cross-dressing taps into this liminality, permitting immersion in its destabilizing qualities within the performance space" (Claire Sponsler, Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods and Theatricality in Late Medieval England [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997], 27).

(56) Pieter Spierenburg, The Spectacle of Suffering: Executions and the Evolution of Repression (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 89; Michael Merback, The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1998), 20.
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Author:Price, Merrall Llewelyn
Publication:Comparative Drama
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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