Herod the Great in Medieval European Drama


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Herod the Great, as he appears in the English mystery plays, has recently been the subject of critical attention which has shown him to be a complex and multi-faceted character. Penelope Doob visualizes him as a mad sinner whose "wilful madness could never be cured" so that he was doomed to death and damnation,1 while David Staines sees a "diversity in the presentation of Herod in the mystery cycles . . . as he becomes at times the comic braggart, at times the tragic ruler, at times the combination of comic and tragic hero."2 Thus complexity and variety in the presentations of Herod in English drama have been adequately appreciated. However, European drama developed even different traditions for representing Herod the Great, and it is the European approach to Herod that will be the subject of this paper. In the vernacular drama of the continent, great emphasis was often placed on the role of Herod as a courteous and sophisticated ruler, meeting foreign guests in a highly civilized and sumptuous medieval court, while in English drama he tended to develop into an arrogant, blustering, and blaspheming tyrant in a relatively simple and somewhat crude court. An examination of the treatment of Herod in the vernacular drama of Europe prior to the sixteenth century, a topic which has not yet received sufficient attention by modern scholars,3 may serve to deepen our appreciation of the English Herod still further, while giving us a view of an entirely different interpretation of this king by the continental dramatists.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.