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The two pays that I have revised are both based on the same biblical episode about the Flood, but the main idea of each play is different. The N-Town version is closer to the text of the Bible, though it contains an episode that is obviously apocryphal. The Towneley version is more comical, it contains many irrelevant details and also many details which was taken from the medieval life and not from the life of the biblical character. For example, Noah’s wife spins and this was the most wide-spread women work in the Middle-Ages.
It was pointed out before that the representation of the characters differs in the plays. From one hand, there are more characters in N-Town play. It includes not only Noah, his wife and God, but also Noah’s sons (with the correct biblical names), an ang ...
A comparative analysis of the episode with Noah in N-Town play and Towneley play 4
Medieval plays differs from the modern day plays a lot and not only in language or problems taken in the play but also in their goals and attitude to the theatre itself.
There was a special theatre genre in the Middle Ages – mystery plays. They In were performed not in the building, but on pageant wagons. Each wagon held a different story and moved from location to location around the town. Mystery plays were based on the biblical event, though sometimes rather loosely. Some plays were serious; some of them were more comical, even if the biblical story was told in the play.
There are four intact cycles that remain from the era: Wakefield, York, Chester, and N-town. The Wakefield Cycle (or Towneley cicle) was the most comedic and irreverent of the four, often mentioning contem porary events.
In the N-town Cycle, N stands for the Latin word “nomen” which means name. Any town could use their own name for that cycle. Cycles could range from the Fall of the Angels to Judgement Day. According to E. Prosser, a common theme of Mystery Plays “was to show a fall, then Redemption. But the number of separate plays and of playing stations varied widely” .
In this essay the differences and similarities between two different plays based on the same biblical episode is going to be revealed and compared. The episode with Noah is very wide-known and popular in the medieval theatre. It was used as a base both in the Towneley and N-Town cycles, but the representation of the episode in these two cycles are rather different. And the main difference is, as I think, concerns the representation of the characters in both plays.
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They also speak about power of God and sinful people, about obedience and virtue. After each son his wife speaks. It is necessary to point out that this play mentions the names of the sons: Shem, Japhet and Ham. But there is not any difference in their monologues. Even Ham who considered to be “bad” by the biblical story, says following:Lord God I thee pray,Both waking and also in sleep, Gracious God thou me keepThat I never in danger creepOn dreadful dooms day.This play does not include the episode with drunken Noah, so this may be the explanation of the fact that Ham is not stand out against the other two sons.God has his own monologue in the play. From this monologue we find out that the idea to kill all the people makes him said: “My handiwork to slay sore grieves me“, but he feels that it s only option to annihilate the sin itself. Only Noah and his family are going to stay alive.The next monologue adds much to the plot. It is the word of Angel to Noah. He tells him about the flood coming and about the great arc. Noah does not agree very quickly (though he did it in Bible), on the contrary he argues with Angel, pointing out that he is very old (and he is over 500 years old indeed), he hasn’t got enough wisdom. But then Angel says: “God shall inform thee and rule thee full right“, and Noah agrees. Though this part is strongly based on the biblical story, we can find some differences. The main difference is the fact that Noah does not agree at once. He tries to avoid this difficult task. This detail adds some psychological characterization to the character of Noah. It makes him both modest and uncertain in his own abilities.Then the episode with Noah and his family is interrupted by an interlude about Lameth and the boy. Lameth, or Lamech, is known to be Noah’s father, but his name nowadays less well-known than Noah’s name. There is an apocryphal legend that Lameth killed Cain who “went through the brambles and the bushes like a wild animal”, but this legend is not mentioned in the Bible, though it is mentioned that Lameth killed someone. So this episode describes the killing of Cain. According to “Genesis”, no one should kill Cain, because he was punished with his eternal life: “And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him”. Also it is known that Lameth used to be a good archer. This detail is used in the play:„Lameth the good archer my name was overall For the best archer my name did ever spread“.But now Lameth is blind, so he cannot see where he shoots. Young boy helps him to aim. And this makes it possible to kill Cain: Lameth does not break God’s prohibition consciously (as a “good” character, father of the righteous Noah), he does it by accident. After that the truth is revealed to Lameth and he kills the boy too. Boy’s last words are very close to Cain’s last words. Compare:(Cain)Out! out! and alas, my heart is assunder!With a broad arrow I am dead and slain.(Boy)Out! out! I die here! My death now is sought!This thief with his bow has broken my brain.Lameth reminds the audience that the killing of Cain was forbidden and leave the scene. Noah with his family and the arc comes back and the main story continues.The next scene is shows us that Noah and his family are in the arc. The flood has begun. Noah and his family briefly describe the building of the arc and then they describe again how sinful the people were, why they were punished by God and why Noah’s family was saved. At last Noah send the crow and the dove to check if the flood has ended. We’ve pointed out already that there is not much specifics of the characters in the play. Most of their monologues seemed to be one long monologue that was divided into several parts. There are some specifics only in women’s parts and in Noah’s dialogue with an angel. Wives speak about children and their husbands speak mostly about sinful people. Noah shows uncertainty and modesty in his refusal. As we mentioned before plays from the N-Town cycle were created not only to show people scenes from Bible for the moral admonition, but also to entertain them, to make the biblical story more interesting. The very story of Noah is rather close to the biblical version and the plot of the story is quite obvious, so the entertaining function is on the episode with Lameth and killing of Cain. 2. An Episode with Noah in Townley PlaysIn the Towneley play we see a different picture in many aspects. First, there are even less characters in this play: Noah himself, his wife, God and Noah’s most of the time nameless sons denoted as Primus Filius, etc. (though once Noah call them by their names: Sem, Japhet and Cam). But from the other hand Noah and his wife have more distinctive personalities and the relations are the main part of the play. The plot of the play is also quite simple. It contains several irrelevant to the story of the Flood episodes, but their irrelevance is of the different nature. If the N-Town play includes the episode with Lameth that gives nothing both to the plot and the character of Noah, the Townley play includes several episodes with Noah and his wife that gives nothing to the story of the Flood, but adds a lot to the character of Noah and especially his wife. As in the N-Town play, the plot also covers events from the announcement about the Flood to the description of the Flood and its consequences. Post-Flood events are omitted. The play begins with a very long monologue of Noah where he describes the power of God. Then God speaks to Noah saying that he has made the humankind sinful, and there are no exceptions among men:Sin I have made all thingthat is livand,Duke, emperour, and king, with mine awne hand.But every man should obey and this makes him or her good in God’s eyes. God also repents that he has ever created humankind, because they are sinful:All shall perish les and more;that bargain may thay ban,That ill has done.Though God is almighty, he also can make mistakes and regret about his decisions. The character of God here is more “human”, he is not just some faceless power, but a person with his own thoughts, decisions and relations: God not only regrets of the fact that he created mankind, he calls Noah “me freend”.There is an episode that is omitted in the N-Town play, that describes the ship that Noah is going to built in order to be saved from the Flood. In this play the measures of the arc are described in detail as they are described in Bible. Compare:(Bible, Genesis)15. The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.16. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.
1. Epp G. Towneley: Recycled Plays. URL: https://www.ualberta.ca/~gepp/towneley/TowneleyRP.html. (Date of reference: 03.01.2016).
2. Genesis. The Bible. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1997.
3. Higgins I.M. The Book of John Mandeville: with Related Texts. Indianapolis / Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 2011.
4. Noah. N-Town Plays. URL: http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~ajohnsto/noah.html. (Date of reference: 03.01.2016).
5. Noah. Towneley plays. URL: http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/litsubs/drama/noah.html. (Date of reference: 03.01.2016).
6. N-Town Cycle Essay. URL: http://www.enotes.com/topics/n-town-cycle. (Date of reference: 03.01.2016).
7. Prosser E. Drama and Religion in the English Mystery Plays: A Re-evaluation. Stanford, Stanford University Press. 1961.
8. Sugano D.I. N-Town Plays. URL: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396584/obo-9780195396584-0136.xml. (Date of reference: 03.01.2016).
9. The Towneley Plays Project. URL: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~scriptor/towneley/. (Date of reference: 03.01.2016).
10. Wolfthal D., Vitullo J.M. Money, Morality, and Culture in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Burlington, Ashgate Publishing Company. 2010.
11. Normington K. Gender and Medieval Drama. Cambridge, DS Brewer. 2004.
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