Article Title

From Many Lives a Single Play: The Case of Saint Margaret and the Dragon


Saint Margaret of Antioch enjoyed a place in Catholic hagiography throughout the medieval era despite the fact that her story was ultimately deemed to lack legitimacy. That final judgement notwithstanding, during the eleven centuries during which her image adorned churches and her Passion was recited in liturgies, Greek, Latin and vernacular texts recounting her story circulated in countless prose and poetic versions that served the multiple purposes of education and entertainment. One of the last medieval manifestations of that tradition survives as a printed edition of a fifteenth-century French mystery play entitled the Vie de madame sainte Marguerite, vierge et martyre. Mystery plays were produced by municipalities and by clerics to commemorate the life of a community; in the case of saints’ lives, these plays used authoritative texts to create a performance event for annual celebrations or as exceptional petitions. This study focuses on how the Vie de madame sainte Marguerite, vierge et martyre is related to the hagiographic traditions that celebrated the life of this virgin martyr. In comparing the performance remnant to representative poems and prose narratives that recount Saint Margaret’s battles with a pagan prefect, a fire-breathing dragon and a black devil, it is clear that the play draws not only from the popularized iconography of the era in which it was compiled, but from the authority afforded the centuries-old Latin tradition itself. That textual evidence points toward clerical participation or endorsement of the play in a setting that remains undefined.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.