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Mary Magdalene and the Drama of Saints
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Mary Magdalene and the Drama of Saints
Theater, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval England

Theresa Coletti

360 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 illus.
Cloth 2004 | ISBN 9780812238006 | $79.95s | Outside the Americas £64.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Middle Ages Series
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"Theresa Coletti's book, eagerly awaited, does not disappoint."—Speculum
"The book is magisterial: learned, gracefully written, intelligent, and aware."—Gail McMurray Gibson, Davidson College

"The importance of this study cannot be underestimated."—Medieval Review

"Coletti scrupulously traces an elusive web of associations—texts, practices, patrons—in order to reconstruct the play's complex engagement of social, political, and religious concerns on the eve of the Reformation in England. In doing so, she calls for a long-overdue reassessment of both the play's and East Anglian culture's place in English literary, social, and religious history."—Renaissance Quarterly

"This fascinating and important interdisciplinary study of theatrical practice . . . reveals the importance of Middle English drama to the religious environment of fifteenth-century England"—Religious Studies Review

"In this richly rewarding book, Coletti is chiefly interested in the questions that Mary Magdalene raises about women and institutionalized religion, spirituality, and sexuality, and the possibilities and limits of female religious authority. Coletti pursues these questions by concentrating on one play, the extraordinary East Anglian drama on the life of Mary Magdalene. . . . Coletti provides a probing account of devotional and mystical texts, saints' legends, homiletic traditions, and other religious writings. . . . A masterful report on the cultural meanings of one medieval performance, but also a compelling account of how such performances matter for literary and cultural history."—Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England

A sinner-saint who embraced then renounced sexual and worldly pleasures; a woman who, through her attachment to Jesus, embodied both erotic and sacred power; a symbol of penance and an exemplar of contemplative and passionate devotion: perhaps no figure stood closer to the center of late medieval debates about the sources of spiritual authority and women's contribution to salvation history than did Mary Magdalene, and perhaps nowhere in later medieval England was cultural preoccupation with the Magdalene stronger than in fifteenth-century East Anglia.

Looking to East Anglian texts including the N-Town Plays, The Book of Margery Kempe, The Revelations of Julian of Norwich, and Bokenham's Legend of Holy Women, Theresa Coletti explores how the gendered symbol of Mary Magdalene mediates tensions between masculine and feminine spiritual power, institutional and individual modes of religious expression, and authorized and unauthorized forms of revelation and sacred speech. Using the Digby play Mary Magdalene as her touchstone, Coletti engages a wide variety of textual and visual resources to make evident the discursive and material ties of East Anglian dramatic texts and feminine religion to broader traditions of cultural commentary and representation.

In bringing the disciplinary perspectives of literary history and criticism, gender studies, and social and religious history to bear on specific local instances of dramatic practice, Mary Magdalene and the Drama of Saints highlights the relevance of Middle English dramatic discourse to the dynamic religious climate of late medieval England. In doing so, the book decisively challenges the marginalization of drama within medieval English studies, elucidates vernacular theater's kinship with influential late medieval religious texts and institutions, and articulates the changing possibilities for sacred representation in the decades before the Reformation.

Theresa Coletti is Professor of English at the University of Maryland. She is author of Naming the Rose: Eco, Medieval Signs, and Modern Theory.

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