2 April 2024

Christus Resurgens ... (2)

Now let us move out of the church building. Near the church, there will probably be a Plen-a-gwary; a circular open-air theatre (in St Just in Penwith it is still there, a literal stone's throw from the church). In these enclosures, religious plays were presented the texts of several of which have survived, written in the Cornish Language with the rubrics ...  stage directions ... naturally in Latin. There were pavilions around the circumference, used by certain of the Players ... we even have diagrams of Who goes Where! As for the audience, I suppose they might have sat around the circumference: but I have wondered if, perhaps, they might just have wandered around the enclosure following the Players.

These plays are called the Ordinalia; one of them is headed


We dip into its text about 400 lines after its beginning. We find the Four Soldiers boasting about how well they will guard their buried prisoner; if he tries to get out of the tomb, he will get a 'clout', because Middle Cornish is not afraid of loan-words from English. y pen crac me torse! Violence and threats and rough humour seem to be at the heart of Middle Cornish society. Bribery seems also to function heathily: Pilatus promises the soldiers that, if their custody is successful, gobar da why agas byth Gon Dansotha ha Cruk Heyth ... where the place names of these promised rewards are ... Cornish!

You don't need me to tell you that, despite all their tough talking, the Quattuor Milites, having gone off to their duties, do fall asleep. As the stage instructions put it, Et tunc ibunt ad sepulchrum ... hic dormiunt milites ... tunc surrexit Ihesus a mortuis et iet ubicunque voluerit et cantant angeli cristus resurgens ...

Yes; the medievals did remodel the Latin verb ire to suit their own purposes!

I don't know how the Resurrection was 'presented' dramatically ... whence the actor playing Christ emerged ... Could there have been an aperture in the ground?

But did you notice what was going on as He rose again?

The 'Angels' were singing Christus resurgens.

The list of Characters, which in this play comprises only two angels, could include as many as nine. It is a fair inference that all or some of these sang the Christus Resurgens at the Easter Morning rites. They would be the obvious professionals to 'do' the Antiphon again at this dramatic performance, as an umistakable musical indication that the Lord had indeed risen. 

I think I detect a culture here of assumptions that would have spoken vividly to Medieval Man, but which are almost invisible, intangible, to us. Such assumptions are perhaps the hardest things to uncover and to recognise when one culture looks at a different system.


1 comment:

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

It is worth saying that relatively simple sets can accommodate very dramatic effects. I saw an open air modern dress version of the Wakefield Mystery Plays in 1988. In it the Resurrection had three or four rather gormless soldiers on guard who were suddenly knocked off balance as the Risen Christ ( admittedly with electric light streaming from behind, pushed down a light screen and walked out ( a bit in the Piero della Francesca mode ). It was simple yet very effective. The Wakefield Second Shepherds Play famously includes local references in its comedic presentation of sheep stealing and trying to pass the stolen lamb off as a baby…
I have read a discussion as to how the Croxton Play of the Sacrament was staged as this requires an exploding oven from which emerges an actor costumed and made up as Christ the Man of Sorrows with the wounds and crown of thorns.