Irony as illumination: didactic communication in the verbal texture of the Mystery Cycles
Bates, Linda R.
Marginalia, Vol. 3 (2006)
In the sculptures and rose windows of Laon Cathedral, Emile Mâle observes that ‘the truths of the Scriptures are everywhere imaged in their most mysterious form, the verities of the New Testament disguised in the symbols of the Old.’ We can extrapolate that such ‘verities’ are only available to believers, just as ‘the secret of the kingdom of God’ is denied to ‘those outside’ in Jesus’ discussion of parables in Mark’s gospel. While this understanding of the role of a parable diverges from that suggested in other gospels, it nonetheless provides a template for our reading of medieval drama. An imaginative space existed for the artists, sculptors, and writers of the medieval period in the contrast between those outside who may not perceive and a Christian audience. The dramatists of the Mystery cycles use this disparity to create a dialogic space: the audience and dramatist share recognition of the limited understanding of the play’s characters, and thus the audience moves beyond mere ‘seeing’ to full perception.