Losing Eden: Theater and the Fall from Medieval Drama to Milton

York, Gretchen, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Parker, John, Department of English, University of Virginia

“Losing Eden” examines the lives and afterlives of biblical drama in Protestant England. It argues that the gradual disappearance of scriptural narratives from sixteenth-century stages facilitates religious theater’s survival in seventeenth-century poetry; the project locates a renaissance of medieval drama within reformed religious verse. Milton turns out, from this perspective, to be an unacknowledged conduit for the plays’ survival. Although contemporary scholars have recognized the influence that biblical drama had upon London’s professional playhouses, critics’ focus on the institution of the theater has obscured the ways that civic religious theater, in the hands of its Protestant preservationists, also shaped conventions of sacred poetry. Late mystery pageants (Chapter 1) and early Protestant drama (Chapter 2) foreground the difficulty of translating God and his Word into a vernacular medium, and such methods provide Milton (Chapter 3) with a means of addressing the risks of turning the Bible into fiction: poetry relieves the consequences of the Fall by reaffirming the fallenness of its artistry. The poet of Paradise Lost, writing in the wake of virulent Protestant antitheatricalism, can appropriate the strategies of the religious stage precisely because he is not a playwright. The death of medieval drama enables its resurrection in verse.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
literature, Renaissance, medieval, drama, Milton, Bible
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