Article Title

The Figure of Mahomet in the Towneley Cycle


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

Many studies have asserted the important role that typology plays in establishing the structural and thematic unity of English cycle drama.1 For the most part, these studies maintain that the individual cycles present only those characters and stories which prefigure or are related to those two most dramatically climactic events, the Passion and the confrontation of Christ and Antichrist that marks the beginning of the Judgment. Yet, in dealing with the typology of the various plays and characters, especially the villainous characters, there is relatively little said about the figure of Mahomet, the god of the drama's antagonists. Although he never appears on stage, we know of him through the countless oaths sworn in his name by such characters as Pharaoh, Herod, Christ's torturers, and, most important, Pilate. Attempting to account for the anachronism of selecting the founder of Islam as the god under whom all of the New Testament villains are united, Walter Meyers argues (pp. 53-54) that the cycles derive this use of Maholllet from the French romances where he is most often part of the pagan trinity along with Termagant and Apollo. Meyers concludes, therefore (p. 53), that the Mahomet of the cycles is a fictionalized character, unknown to the times, with no real connection to the "historical" Mahomet, and that he fits into the typological scheme of the drama as an artistically conceived type of the devil. This argument for the source of Mahomet and his function in the typology of the cycles seems both unlikely and overly generalized. First, Mahomet is not presented in the plays, as he is in the French romances, as an icon who shares his power with other gods. Rather, he is the one and all-powerful god of Christ's enemies. Secondly, for the cycles' authors to ignore the "historical" Mahomet in the way suggested by Meyers would be untypical and inconsistent with the methods used in selecting the other characters.

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