Article

Venus in Sackcloth: the Digby Mary Magdalen and Wisdom Fragment

Vincent Gillespie

in The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199566471
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199566471.013.0005

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Venus in Sackcloth: the Digby Mary Magdalen and Wisdom Fragment

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The East Anglian dramatized life of Mary Magdalen, preserved alongside a fragment of Wisdom who is Christ in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Digby 133, engages directly and effectively with many facets of contemporary devotional taste. This article suggests that the incomplete Digby Wisdom and Mary Magdalen respond well to being read against each other. As Victor Scherb has commented, ‘Wisdom reads and plays like an allegorical dress rehearsal for the more elaborate biblical and legendary treatment of related themes in the Digby Mary Magdalen’. The trajectory of Mary Magdalen's life follows an arc from aristocratic grandeur and temptation, through service to the living Christ alongside the other apostles, missionary teaching (if not preaching), and finally eremitic seclusion. It offers a narrative roller-coaster of unusual virtuosity and vigour, full of generic hybridity, rhetorical set pieces, thoughtful theology, and affective (and affecting) spiritual tableaux. Theresa Coletti has called it ‘perhaps the most theologically ambitious and theatrically eclectic play in the entire corpus of Middle English drama’. Whereas Wisdom feels like ‘a journey though a library’, a library perhaps made up of newly printed books, and is a sustained exercise in the visualization of metaphor, the Digby Mary Magdalen offers a recognizable social and spiritual portrait of the journey of a soul.

Keywords: medieval plays; Tudor drama; Wisdom who is Christ; Mary Magdalen; religious drama

Article.  11351 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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