Glossolalia, heteroglossia and the grotesque body in the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play  Cover Image

Glossolalia, heteroglossia and the grotesque body in the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play
Glossolalia, heteroglossia and the grotesque body in the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play

Author(s): Estella Antoaneta Ciobanu
Subject(s): Language and Literature Studies
Published by: Ovidius University Press
Keywords: mystery cycle; Bible; the other; speaking in tongues; ventriloquism; grotesque; Michel de Certeau; Mikhail Bakhtin.

Summary/Abstract: The Towneley Secunda Pastorum has arrested the critics’ attention for so long as to be deemed typical of the Middle English mystery cycle tradition, much to Hardin Craig’s chagrin already in 1955. A shepherds play in its own right, Secunda Pastorum is atypical of that tradition in one important respect: it reduplicates the shepherds’ visitation story in a much larger episode that precedes and grotesquely embodies it. Notwithstanding the unique and problematic presence of two shepherds plays – “another of the same” (alia eorundem) – in the Towneley cycle alone, what makes this pageant compelling is the frame it provides ultimately to the Nativity: as commentators have remarked (Meredith 154-55), here the birth of the Messiah, pointing as it does to the reconciliation between God and humankind, is contingent upon a prior reconciliation amongst humans. However, the script articulates this message in a plot whose major dimension is that of irreverent reduplication of sacred texts, to the extent that it literalises and thereby threatens to cannibalise the archetypal Johannine topos of the “Word made flesh” (Jn. 1.14). My purpose here is to address the play’s glossolalia (Michel de Certeau) – at once the apostolic “speaking in tongues” (cognate with Mikhail Bakhtin’s heteroglossia), and the ventriloquism of the actors of sorts that the characters turn into in self-consciously theatrical episodes – in terms that make Secunda Pastorum a play as much about the Nativity as about the theatre.

  • Issue Year: 2009
  • Issue No: 20
  • Page Range: 189-208
  • Page Count: 19
  • Language: English