Time and the N-Town Cycle: Establishing Man’s Relation to God through Time
Marginalia,Vol. 4, (2005-2006) Cambridge Yearbook
The N-Town Cycle celebrates the glory and mercy of God, and concentrates on man in relation to God. In its dramatic reenactment of history, the play uses Time to distinguish man and God. Certain characters are in time, whilst others are out of time, and this demarcation is highlighted by the way characters speak of the past, present, and future. Mortal characters speak in terms of the present. They cannot foresee the future, or review the past. Thus to be in time is to be mortal, since humans are the only characters constrained by time. In contrast, to be out of time is to be eternal; those belonging to eternity can see and refer to the past, present, and future. This essay focuses on Time as a feature of the dramatic development of man’s relation to God in the N-Town Play, a feature which ultimately highlights what Christ brings to earth, and how Christ brings humanity closer to God with his timeless morality. If, as Christian liturgy makes apparent, the Incarnation is the first step in the process of the salvation of the human race, then examination of the N-Town cycle should begin with the “Mary Play”, the precursor to the Incarnation. An examination of “Passion Play I”, in addition to the “Mary Play”, will demonstrate how each character’s cognizance of time determines their place in eternity or in time.