Philobiblon: The medieval Eve

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The medieval Eve

It's funny how once you get into a topic, new angles on it keep popping up everywhere. A few days ago I was exploring the early modern idea of Eve, then a journal I was reading for something entirely different fell open at an article about Eve in medieval English and French religious drama.

And what a different picture it paints. It focused particularly on the Jeu d'Adam, also called Mystere d'Adam, a 12th-century play, which it says was probably produced in England (although most of the web decriptions I found call it French). The article describes it (I suspect controversially) as "the oldest extant religious drama in any vernacular tongue".

In the play, I read, Eve "represents on the one hand the role of woman (in Aristotelian terms) as the formal cause of the Fall; and, on the other hand, because of God's promise that her seed shall crush the serpent's head, she prefigures the Virgin Mary as Adam prefigures Christ". She is also seen as a prophet of redemption, promising salvation.

Yet in the English mystery plays she soon loses the latter role to Adam alone and becomes "a comic butt for Adam's misogynistic humour". In France she was treated more sympathetically, but also lost that powerful prophetic role; she "evolved as the mother of the race, but died without believing in her own salvation".

From 'The Evoltion of Eve in Medieval French and English Religious Drama, Maureen Fries, Studies in Philology, Winter 2002, No 1, Vol 99.

An interesting article, but I do have one complaint - the Jeu d'Adam extracts are only printed in the original Anglo-Norman. I can't imagine there are too many people around who can read that, so while this is a topic that might be interesting to people in lots of fields, its full use is being restricted to specialists. Translations please!

There's a modern French extract here (I couldn't find anything in English) and a review of a book about women in French drama of the period here.

Now, I'd better go off and set myself 200 lines:
I must stick to the research topic at hand ....
I must stick to the research topic at hand ....


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