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Play of Adam


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A: Anon. Pf:c.1140–74, France Pb: 1918 Tr: 1928 G: Mystery play in three parts, mainly medieval (Anglo-Norman) French and some Latin verse S: Paradise, hell, and earth, the biblical past C: 10m, 1f, extrasThe three parts deal with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the slaying of Abel by his brother Cain, and a procession of Old Testament prophets. It begins with a reading of the first chapter of Genesis, with responses by the choir taken from the Septuagesima liturgy. There follows the acting out of the Fall, with Adam and Eve finally being driven towards hell, the first murder, and concludes with a series of prophecies by Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and King Nebuchadnezzar of the Redeemer who will cleanse humankind of their sins and offer salvation to the world.

A: Anon. Pf:c.1140–74, France Pb: 1918 Tr: 1928 G: Mystery play in three parts, mainly medieval (Anglo-Norman) French and some Latin verse S: Paradise, hell, and earth, the biblical past C: 10m, 1f, extras

This is the first biblical piece to have been written in the vernacular (French) rather than in Latin and performed outdoors and not in a church. It was also acted not sung, unlike the 11th-century Sponsus, and so stands as the first of the popular mystery plays that dominated medieval theatre in Europe. While there are many long didactic speeches, some of the text relates more closely to the experience of the contemporary audience. In the telling of the story of the banishment from Eden one notes the realism of the personal confrontations: God (here called the Figura) warning Adam, Eve being cleverly tempted by Satan, Adam resisting temptation but then being taunted by his wife until he finally gives way and brings about the Fall of humankind. While over 150 French mystery plays survive, English speakers will be more familiar with cycles such as York, and Chester.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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