Heike Holenweg

title.none: Ogden and Zijlstra, The Play of Daniel (Holenweg)

identifier.other: baj9928.9802.002 98.02.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Heike Holenweg, University Library, Göttingen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Ogden, Dunbar H. and A. Marcel J. Zijlstra, eds. The Play of Daniel: Critical Essays. Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series, vol. 24. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. 132. $30.00 (hb); $15.00 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 1-879-28876-1 (hb); 1-879-28877-X (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.02.02

Ogden, Dunbar H. and A. Marcel J. Zijlstra, eds. The Play of Daniel: Critical Essays. Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series, vol. 24. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. 132. $30.00 (hb); $15.00 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 1-879-28876-1 (hb); 1-879-28877-X (pb).

Reviewed by:

Heike Holenweg
University Library, Göttingen

Volume 24 of the Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series is devoted to the Danielis Ludus, a twelfth-century Latin liturgical play from Beauvais. It contains not only, as the title promises, critical essays on the play, but also a new transcription of the Latin text and the music, an English translation, and a facsimile of the play from the unique manuscript, BL Egerton MS 2615. The leading principle of the volume is its focus on the staging of the play, pursuing "the goal of understanding the Daniel and of considering its interpretation for modern audiences", as Ogden states in his introduction (p.1). The critical essays address questions of staging, medieval and modern, and the transcription and facsimile provide the primary material for study and production.

Ogden's own essay, "The Staging of The Play of Daniel in the Twelfth Century" (p.11-32) and Richard K. Emmerson's "Divine Judgment and Local Ideology in the Beauvais Ludus Danielis" (p.33-61) assess the cultural context of the original production of Danielis Ludus, an understanding of which Ogden sees as a necessary prerequisite for achieving "integrity" in performance.

Ogden describes twelfth-century Beauvais cathedral, a building of grand dimensions for its time, as an environment for performance of the Daniel. Its impressive height and especially the unusual length of nave and choir were a large and dramatic space. Ogden outlines the various effects of this space: it allows extended displays of pomp in royal processions, but underlines Daniel's situation as a poor exile when he, "pauper et exulans", has to walk far to the king who has summoned him; it heightens suspense when Darius invades Balthasar's (Belshazzar's) kingdom and adds comic effect to the scene in which an angel carries the prophet Habakkuk by the hair of his head to Babylon so that he can bring food to Daniel who has been thrown into the lions' den. All these, I think, are probable effects of the play's setting. On the whole, however, the conclusion reached here is not much more than that the great size of the cathedral and the length of the choir can have many different kinds of effect on the play if they are used skilfully in performance. One might also imagine that the size and splendour of the sacred building do not reinforce but rather dwarf the king's worldly pomp, whereas they reinforce the importance of the spiritual sphere in which Daniel, the "vir propheta dei", surpasses the king and the nobles. Still, I think the effects in performance would normally be more likely to resemble Ogden's statement, even though this is hard to prove. The experiences of modern performance are not necessarily proof for the effects achieved in the twelfth century, when the audience had a totally different background.

Ogden also examines the liturgical calendar as a contemporary context for the Daniel. It connects the play to the festivities of the Christmas season and to the "youth" of Beauvais mentioned in the play. These are probably the subdeacons whose activities during Christmas celebrations, hitherto inappropriately boisterous, were subsumed into more decorous dramatic performance. Ogden then goes on to analyse the rubrics. Having earlier used the setting as an indication of the style of performance, he now draws conclusions from the rubrics about how this space must have been used in performance. Enumerating words from the rubrics unique to the Daniel, he concludes that the action is unusually vivid in comparison with other liturgical plays, reinforcing his earlier point that the cathedral in itself must have been a "dramatic" space.

Emmerson's "Divine Judgment and Local Ideology" examines the play's exegetical, historical, and ideological contexts. He states that the play has not only a universal, "timeless" meaning, but underlines its "timeliness", its special meaning for twelfth-century Beauvais. This meaning, Emmerson states, is not primarily connected to Christmas, since prophecies of the Nativity are not very prominent. Rather he sees it in the play's depiction of royal power. This power is stressed in the repeated acclamation "rex, in eternum vive!", but questioned when the king is shown to be subject to divine judgment. Thus the play supports the role of Beauvais' powerful bishop-counts, who in their conflicts with the royal court in Paris could claim that their power was sanctioned by god. Mere secular power is shown to be much less substantial, and always subordinate to god's higher authority. This interpretation, influenced by New Historicism, is indeed an interesting point, but it seems doubtful whether the play can be reduced to a depiction of the power struggle between the Bishop of Beauvais and the French king. The play does indeed tell of various instances of divine judgment: King Balthasar's hubris and his downfall are shown, his father's pride and subsequent humiliation are narrated, and Daniel, thrown into the lions' pit by the king, is found worthy of divine protection and saved. This, however, is not only an assessment of secular and spiritual power in twelfth-century France. There is a wider significance to it: king and prophet, the representatives of Babylon and Jerusalem, stand for the two cities of St. Augustine's City of God. They show two possibilities of human behaviour between which everyone has to choose, giving the play a more general meaning. Balthasar succumbs to pride and is punished when he is killed by Darius' men; Daniel is obedient to god and remains humble even when praised by courtiers, and is saved from the lions. In showing the consequences of the two ways of living, the play underscores the necessity for choosing the way that is pleasing to god. This makes the Daniel a very appropriate play for Christmas, even if prophecies of the Nativity are only a small part of its text, since traditionally Christ's coming into the world at Christmas is seen in connection with his second coming at the Last Judgment.

Emmerson further argues that even though royal authority is subordinated to religious power in the play, it is not condemned as intrinsically evil. Borrowing the terms of the post-colonial theory of Homi K. Bhabha, he describes this fact as "the kind of 'sly civility' that characterises the discourse of the colonial subject". However, the applicability of post-colonial theory is problematic. Emmerson does not comment on the fundamental difference between the position of "colonial subjects" and the bishops of Beauvais. Colonial subjects and those ruling them do not have a common frame of reference apart from the culture of the colonial power which is imposed on the subjects. King and bishop in medieval France, however, are both first and foremost Christians. The criticism of royal power which Emmerson has outlined before is achieved just by appealing to the Christian faith as a frame of reference for all power. Thus it is the bishop's, the "colonial subject's", own field of influence which is used for invoking an authority higher than the king's. This seems too fundamental a difference for making post-colonial theory a really helpful method of interpretation.

On the whole, however, Emmerson's interpretation does have one rather strong point. It provides an explanation for two points about the Daniel which otherwise remain puzzling: why is the story of Daniel chosen for a Christmas play? It is not really the obvious choice. In addition to that, the role of Balthasar's queen is rather enigmatic: she is a surprisingly positive figure. This becomes logical when Emmerson interprets the kings and the queen as figures in a drame a clef (even though he thinks it is impossible to name the precise historical figures involved), the queen referring to one particular French queen who had supported the claims of the bishops of Beauvais.

The two remaining essays address more practical matters. Fletcher Collins, Jr. in his "The Play of Daniel in Modern Performance" (p. 63-75) describes various performances of the play, starting from the first modern staging, Noah Greenberg's 1958 New York production. He observes a kind of spectrum, with opulent pageantry at one extreme and very simple productions at the other. Audrey Ekdahl Davidson's "Music in the Beauvais Ludus Danielis" (p.77-86) stresses the melodic inventiveness and structural coherence of the play's music. It "both accompanies and carries the action in the drama from moment to moment".

In addition to the essays, the volume contains A. Marcel J. Zijlstra's transcription of the text and music from the manuscript. Just as the essays are all in some way focused on stagings of the play, this transcription was initially prepared for a performance at the 1994 Congress in Kalamazoo. The interpretations necessarily contained in a transcription are thus not purely theoretical, but the result of the experience gained in production. The transcription is followed by an English translation and a facsimile of fol. 95r to 108r of BL Egerton MS 2615, containing the text and the music of the play. Even if the red of the rubrics is very pale in the black-and-white facsimile, it adds to the usefulness of this volume.

On the whole, The Play of Daniel: Critical Essays collects interesting material for the study or production of the play. The essays are not quite uniform in their aims and methods. Emmerson's is a more theoretical interpretation, his insights, even if one accepts them unquestioned, difficult to put into practice in a performance, whereas the other papers address more practical matters of productions, music, styles and theatrical effects. If they do not provide a definite assessment of Danielis Ludus, they do indeed stimulate further discussion.