Performative Reading and Receiving a Performance of the Jour du Jugement in MS Besançon 579


Karlyn Griffith


The mid-fourteenth century manuscript Besançon 579 presents the French mystery play Jour du Jugement in eighty-nine full-color miniatures, 2,438 octosyllabic lines, and three musical scores. The visual program provides a complete and coherent visual text illustrating both the dramatic and the performance texts of the play. This essay investigates how the dramatic subject matter of the miniatures of Besançon 579 affected the way in which the manuscript was conceived and illustrated as well as the manner in which the reader/viewer receives the Jour du Jugement through the visual representation of the play.

Due to the paucity of extant illustrated drama manuscripts, little scholarship properly deals with the function and reception of play manuscripts. I offer the presentation of the Jour du Jugement in Besançon 579 as an example of how certain elements in this manuscript, specifically the imagery, text, rubrics, and mise-en-page, both recreate the modalities of performance for the reader/viewer and provide a unique performance experience when receiving the play as it is presented in the manuscript. The dramatic subject matter of the miniatures in particular affects both the way in which they were conceived and illustrated but also the manner in which they were read, and thus performed. I use Schechner’s Performance Theory to address the relationship between the reader/viewer and the miniatures, and function of the manuscript to recreate two types of performance experiences; one active that encourages a performative reading and one passive that attempts to recreate a dramatic reception of the play.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.