Theatre as an Historian's Tool: Adam, "The Second Sheperd's Play," and the Medieval Mind
Conklin, Thomas A.
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This project's objective is to take a play and/or plays written in medieval Europe and to present versions of them that will make the ideas contained in them meaningful to my audience. Furthermore, directing these plays would then give me greater insight into the minds of the men who created them, and to help me as an historian to understand them. The selection of plays was difficult; dramatic conventions have changed so drastically since the medieval period that most plays would have been dull or a museum piece, interesting as an artifact only. What was needed was an exciting play. "The Death of Pilate", a Cornish Cycle play was considered but rejected because in reading it I could see that my own ideas and prejudices could too easily be expressed in a production of the play, thereby negating its value as a historical tool. In the end, I fell back onto "The Second Shepherd's Play" from the Wakefield cycle, generally considered one of, if not the best, examples of medieval drama. "The Second.Shepherd's Play" is a nativity drama. In order to help the audience put the nativity into context and think of it as something other than an excuse for exchanging gifts, it seemed necessary to preface "The Second Shepherd's Play" with something that presented the medieval man's belief in the fall from grace and the need for redemption fulfilled by Christ's birth. I looked at many versions of the creation/fall story as dramatized in the middle ages and finally decided on the Anglo-Norman play Adam written in France sometime in the middle of the twelfth century. The reasons for selecting this play were twofold: first, Adam was the first religious vernacular drama of the middle ages. It was also the first medieval drama to be performed outside a church. If it were not for theater breakthroughs, cycle plays such as "The Second Shepherd's Play" might never have been written. It seemed fitting, then, that this play should precede "The Second Shepherd's Play" in performance. Second, the play offered much opportunity for personal interpretation while still enabling me to stay true to the original script. By editing out many of the speeches, yet adhering to the original rubrics while adapting them to my own purposes, the too familiar myth could be told in a new way. We must remember that to a medieval audience the story of Adam and Eve would not be as trite as we find it.