"You Have Begun a Parlous Pleye": The Nature and Limits of Dramatic Mimesis as a Theme in Four Middle English 'Fall of Lucifer' Cycle Plays


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

This essay can perhaps best be characterized as an extended footnote to V. A. Kolve's brilliant and epoch-making study of the Middle English cycle plays, The Play Called Corpus Christi.1 In the second chapter, "The Drama as Play and Game" (pp. 8- 31), Kolve considers the implications of the designation of these cycles by those who created them as plays, games, or pageants. As distinct from the Latin liturgical drama, for which the usual nomenclature was representatio,2 the popular, vernacular cycles were clearly identified by means of a terminology which stressed the play-element of the drama-the creation of a self-contained world with its own rules, intended to entertain and instruct, but not able to be confused with or taken for "reality."3 The reason, in part, for this definition of the drama as play and game was, according to Kolve, the desire to avoid the danger of blasphemy inherent in any attempt by men to impersonate God-i.e., to imitate the Inimitable and thereby confuse the created with the Creator.4 One way to eliminate this danger was to stress the "game" as opposed to the "earnest" nature of the dramatic representation.5 That the danger existed Kolve documents by referring to the Wycliffite attacks, in late fourteenth- century religious tracts, on the popular Corpus Christi drama as blasphemous, and to attempts made to avoid the difficulty by various means in liturgical drama.6

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