Translatin
The Transnational Impact of Latin Theatre from the Early Modern Netherlands

Workshop: Biblical Drama in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present Day

Oxford
10th of June 2022

Keynote Speakers: Dr Daisy Black (Wolverhampton), Dr Jan Bloemendal (Amsterdam)
Organisers: Dr Dinah Wouters (Amsterdam), Sarah Fengler (Oxford)

Liturgical drama in the Middle Ages starts by adapting the most cherished texts of European culture: Scripture. Once introduced as a common practice of dramatising the Bible, European drama kept producing scriptural plays. While there was a strong German tradition of medieval mystery plays, the history of biblical drama is by no means limited to the German cultural sphere. New formats and modes of biblical drama developed through the centuries and in different language areas: from French mystery plays, humanist sacred comedies and tragedies, Jesuit Bible drama, and Spanish Golden Age autos sacramentales through to neoclassical biblical tragedy, biblical Trauerspiele in the German Empfindsamkeit, and scriptural plays in English Romanticism. Furthermore, there was a rediscovery of the so-called cycle plays during the nineteenth century, and even today biblical narratives are still being staged, from modern and postmodern biblical plays through to Broadway and movies. A large number of writers from various eras debated the question of how Scripture can be dramatised, including Hugo Grotius, Jean Racine, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Voltaire, George Gordon Byron, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, to name but a few.

In this workshop, we want to explore the continuities, (in)consistencies, and break lines in the history of European biblical drama. Our objective is to come closer to a diachronic, transnational, and comparative perspective on biblical drama as a literary genre. Presentations can address, but are not limited to, any of the questions below: 

  • What was or is the status of biblical plays in Europe within the context of drama theory and production in different periods and regions?
  • What efforts were or are being made to establish biblical drama as a distinct literary genre, and how do these efforts relate to other modes or types of drama as well as to drama theory in general?
  • How did the relationship between biblical drama and other literary adaptations of scripture develop over time, and what role did certain historical circumstances play? 
  • Do specific aesthetic modes or stylistic features of biblical drama build on each other across time? 
  • Conversely, what are the break lines and discontinuities in the history of European biblical drama, and what can we take from the absence of biblical drama in certain eras and regions?
  • Which transnational ties and influences, if any, contributed to the establishment of biblical drama as a distinct genre, or hindered it?
  • How do biblical tragedy, biblical comedy, and other modes of biblical drama relate to each other?
  • To what extent do contemporary cinematic adaptations of biblical stories and modern theatrical performances enter into a dialogue with historical configurations of biblical drama?

Please send your proposal for a twenty-minute presentation by the 15th of January 2022 to dinah.wouters@huygens.knaw.nl and sarah.fengler@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk. We would like to receive the abstract as a word file containing between 250 and 300 words. Please also send a brief biography of no more than 200 words in a separate file. Notification of acceptance will be given by 15th February. We are looking at options for inviting speakers to publish their paper as a special journal issue in 2023.

The workshop will take place on 10th June 2022 in Oxford. We are planning a live event, but might turn it into a hybrid or online format if circumstances make convening in person difficult. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reimburse travel expenses. Please do get in touch with us if you have any questions before the deadline.

Organisers: Sarah Fengler, doctoral researcher (Jesus College, University of Oxford), Dinah Wouters, postdoctoral researcher (TransLatin, Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands—Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)