Article Title

"Blake and wyght, fowll and fayer": Stage Picture in Wisdom Who Is Christ


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

Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection, written in English in Nottinghamshire before 1396, is a major source for the play of Wisdom Who Is Christ and in particular for lines 103-70 that form the opening dialogue between Wisdom or Christ as King and Anima, the soul of man. Hilton's text describes the relation between these two figures in terms that bear important implications for a theater of visualized moral abstraction. What do the qualities of soul look like in the theater? How is the soul to be rendered in contrastive theatrical modes as it resembles both God and the devil? Hilton offers a visual vocabulary that repeatedly stresses the dual concept of image and likeness. Every soul "is the ymage of god," says Hilton, quoting 1 Corinthians 11. 7. The soul is "made to the ymage and to the lyknes of hym," ''wonderly fayre." Conversely, however, through man's fall in Adam, the "lyknes" of man has been "dysfygured." As a result, the "soule of a chylde that is borne and is uncrystenyd by cause of orygynal synne" is "nought but an ymage of the fende & a bronde of helle." This defacement can be remedied alone through Christ's sacrifice and through the individual's baptism, whereby the soul is "reformed & restored to the fyrst lyknes"; but man's sensual nature is quick to undo this good. Sensuality, defined by Hilton as "flesshly felynge by the fyve outwarde wyttes''-that is, the part of the soul concerned with the physical senses--can readily become the means through which the soul loses and inverts its likeness to God. When man's sensual nature "is unskylfully and unordynatly ruled," it "is made the ymage of synne." Reason accordingly has two parts: the "over partye" or higher part which is "propyrly the ymage of god" and the "neyther" or lower part through which the soul understands the use of earthly things. "Fayr is mannes soule & fowle is a mannes soule," Hilton summarizes, "foule without as it were a besst/fayre within lyke to an angel."1

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