Article Title

Pilgrims and Prostitutes: Costume and Identity Construction in Twelfth-Century Liturgical Drama


Andrew J. Gibb


Didascalia from the earliest examples of medieval drama, such as those found in the visitatio sepulchri from the tenth century Regularis Concordia of Bishop Æthelwold, clearly indicate that costuming was initially a utilitarian affair, employing only the items commonly found in a church vestry. By the late medieval period, costuming was a far more complex practice, as is evidenced by the great cycle plays. Historians of medieval performance have yet to recognize the importance of the first great step in that process, when liturgical vestments were set aside in favor of everyday clothing. The first documented instances of that revolutionary costuming practice appear in the Fleury Playbook, compiled sometime in the last quarter of the twelfth century at the Benedictine monastery at St.-Benoît-sur-Loire. The timing of the Fleury innovations is an unexplained phenomenon, as is another intriguing aspect of the new staging practice: the first two characters to be represented non-traditionally were a prostitute and a pilgrim. With this study, I address those two conundrums. I argue that the twelfth century’s intellectual, spiritual, and economically-driven fascination with individualism was the primary motivating factor behind the new costuming practices. The pilgrim and the prostitute, I contend, were character types that embodied the new possibilities and dangers presented by a rapidly changing European society. They provided two distinctly gendered models of behavior for believers struggling to form new identities in an exciting and dangerous world.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.