Liturgy and Community in N-Town Passion Play I


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

N-Town Passion Play I telescopes the events of the first half of Holy Week into a powerful dramatic whole. The Holy Week liturgy annually retells the Passion, and in it we find an emotional and devotional parallel to Passion Play I. Eleanor Prosser, Rosemary Woolf, and--most exceptionally-Theresa Coletti have explored the ways in which the playwright (or reviser) deliberately invokes the iconography and ritual of the Eucharist in the Last Supper sequence,1 but other liturgical echoes are also worth our exploration, and many of these work to reinforce the play's Eucharistic and communal emphasis. While the dramatist was not composing a liturgical play, he linked his drama with both the Advent and Holy Week liturgies through verbal echo and structure. By means of quasi-liturgical moments such as the Prologues, Christ's entry, the lament of the Virgin, and the procession of the apostles, the dramatist could both borrow something of the authority of liturgical ceremonies while at the same time explicating them. In doing this, he gave careful attention to Eucharistic doctrine and ceremonial. The playwright-reviser was able thus to call upon the full evocative and allusive resources of the drama in order that they might point beyond themselves to a higher truth while modeling audience responses and reaffirming some of the central symbols of the medieval community.

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