Article Title

The Limits of Typology and the Wakefield Master's Processus Noe


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

Al whl /are ye thus? I fjader and moder both!

Of all the historical schemes available to the Middle Ages~ certainly one of the more useful, both for medieval exegetes and for modem critics, has been the scheme of typology according to which earlier persons or events somehow prefigure and are completed by later persons or events. Typological relationships were not, or so it was believed, merely literary relationships: they were part of the unfolding of revelation itself, a divine heuristic strategy intended to lead fallen man by stages to an understanding of God's plan for his salvation. The history of Creation was thus a story of the gradual perfection of the images through which God revealed his plan to recover what had been lost in the Fall and of the gradual perfection of man's capacity to understand those images. In Hugh of St. Victor's formulation, though there were others, it was a story with three main divisions: the time of natural law, all that time before Moses received the written covenant; the time of written law, inaugurated at Mount Sinai; and the time of grace, which began with the Incarnation. I And it was only through grace that the full significance of what was revealed could be understood. Only when revelation was completed could one see into its emerging design. That is why Moses in the N-Town cycle, seeing the vision of the burning bush, a type of the virgin birth, is made to say that ''It fyguryth sum thynge of ryght gret fame/ [but] I kan not seyn what it may be" (6.21-22).2 And why later in the same cycle, in the time of grace, Jesus reveals the whole design, drawing together the typological relationships between Passover and the sacrament of the Host through the mediating figure of the Last Supper:

And as we stodyn so dede ϸei stond

and here reynes ϸei gyrdyn veryly

With schon on here fete and stavys in here hond

And as we ete it so dede ϸei hastyly

ϸis fygure xal sesse A-nothyr xal folwe ϸer-by

Weche xal be of my body ϸat am Ʒour bed

weche xal be sbewyd to Ʒow be A mystery

Of my fflesch and blood in forme of bred.


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