Devotional Themes in the Violence and Humor of the Play of the Sacrament


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

The Play of the Sacrament has long been regarded as a historical curiosity but not as a work of art worthy to be compared with the best English plays of the fifteenth century. William Davenport's assessment in his recent book, Fifteenth-Century English Drama, exemplifies the position of most critics. After summarizing the plot, he says, "This material is presented in a very odd way; it sounds in outline like a devout miracle play, but in fact it is, for much of the time, farcical."1 Davenport echoes the many critics who have interpreted the admittedly sensational events of the play as intentionally comic.2 Though Davenport applauds the author's effort to employ comedy toward teaching a lesson, he concludes that this playwright does so poorly: "When a dramatist controls the relationship between slapstick and exemplification better, as in Mankind, then it is no longer at all a matter of the 'addition' of comic effects to serious subject matter..." (p. 76). This then is the gist of the complaint against the Play of the Sacrament, that its comedy is not integral.

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