"Wormys mete is his body": Enacting the diseased spirit of Herod the Great on the late medieval English stage

Date of Completion

January 2006


Literature, Medieval|Theater|History, Medieval|Literature, English




One of the best known villains in medieval English drama is Herod the Great, usually remembered for his ranting, epitomized by the often-cited stage directions in the Coventry Shearmen and Taylors' play. Students of medieval drama frequently cite these stage directions as if they were found in all of the English plays which feature Herod, betraying an assumption that there is an ubiquitous characterization of Herod the Great found raging on the pageants and streets of every town that staged a biblical drama cycle. This dissertation demonstrates that the six Herod the Greats in extant English medieval drama are varied in characterization, and that the medieval playwrights explored different physical and linguistic methods of portraying a dramatic character. ^ My method of investigation is informed by several approaches to medieval texts and drama. The first is indebted to recent theoretical studies of the representation of the body on stage and in the Middle Ages in general. The second focuses on the relationship between the body and language, and the third is rooted in medieval theory about the way body and speech may reveal the moral state of the subject. All of these are combined with the more traditional, philological approach to literary texts. Finally, my approach to dramatic texts is also informed by my practical experience as an actor and director. The inclusiveness of my own experience as scholar and theatre practitioner encourages me to argue that our scholarly approaches to early drama must allow for multiple frames of reference. ^