Article Title

Killed by Words: Grotesque Verbal Violence and Tragic Atonement in French Passion Plays1


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

C'est la violence qui constitue le coeur veritable et l'âme secrète du sacré. Violence is the heart and secret soul of the Sacred.2

In his classic essay Violence and the Sacred René Girard explained that the sacrificial victim "unwittingly conjures up a baleful, infectious force that his own death--or triumph-transforms into a guarantee of order and tranquillity."3 In the context of the Christian theology of redemption, Christ's sufferings are indeed directly connected to the atonement of humanity; and so it could be said that the more Christ suffers, the better the atonement. I have had the occasion to study how in French Passion plays of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the dramatic matter grows, from the earliest ones in the fourteenth century, in which a few thousand lines suffice to tell Christ's story, to the fifteenth-century cyclical monuments-not to say monsters-which were performed over several days. I have shown how in that textual expansion the sequences devoted to Christ's torments are fundamental; indeed, I have argued that they are expanded because they are important and the modalities of their expansion are rooted in their meaning.4

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.