Pilgrims and Prostitutes: Costume and Identity Construction in Twelfth-Century Liturgical Drama‪.‬

Comparative Drama 2008, Fall, 42, 3

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Compiled sometime in the last quarter of the twelfth century at the Benedictine monastery at St.-Benoit-sur-Loire, the Fleury Playbook contains the record of a highly unusual theatrical event. (1) It is found in the Raising of Lazarus, a play that scholars believe may have originated at Fleury. (2) The action begins conventionally enough with Christ and his disciples dining at the house of Simon. But not long after the play begins, Mary Magdalen enters the scene "in habitu ... meretricio," or, "costumed like a streetwalker." (3) The dignified Latin of the original text does not seem to capture fully the shocking quality of the staged performance it describes, that of a pious cleric entering the church dressed like a prostitute. One might reasonably ask what the assembled congregation would have made of such a spectacle. Or for that matter, what the monk-actors could have been thinking by presenting it. The mystery deepens when we consider the monks' peculiar staging choice in the context of the heretofore established costuming techniques prescribed for liturgical dramas. For at least two centuries, in tropes such as the visitatio sepulchri, Mary Magdalen and other female characters had simply been represented through the artistic draping of priestly vestments near to hand. (4) But the phrase "habitu meretricio" would seem to indicate clothing not likely to be found in the sacristy, and therein lies the shock value of the diclascalia. But in addition to appearing somewhat bizarre to the modern eye, they also document a contemporary costuming revolution: they are the first known examples in medieval theater of a prescribed costume that was not a liturgical vestment. The monks of Fleury did not restrict their costuming innovation to Lazarus alone. In another of the Playbooks scripts, Peregrini, a male character appears "ad modern Peregrini"--in the manner of a pilgrim--a outfit that includes a tunic, a hat, a staff, and significantly, a leather purse or wallet. (5) Representing a pilgrim with that particular accessory is another innovation attributable to the monks of St.-Benoit-sur-Loire. (6) With its appearance in the didascalia, the mystery of the Fleury costuming practices grows not only deeper, but darker--for the researcher is confronted with the intriguing and disturbing fact that, in the long history of medieval liturgical theater, the first two characters ever represented through secular costume are a prostitute and a man with a wallet.

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