Dancing Devils and Singing Angels: Dance Scenes in German Religious Plays
Paper given at: the SITM, 12th Colloquium, Lille (France), 2-7 July 2007
nu sich her an dit spiegelglaß der schonesten schone, der du hoist! Noch schoner dann noch ye keyn wypp, sich, ßo schone ist dyn lipp! man sal uns aber lieren: ich wyl dich wol denczeren! Ja, vil lieben knecht, es kommet mer wol gerecht! du fugest mer freyden gnungk, du bist woil myn gefug! du hilffest danczen und singen: ich wel myt der springen manchen frolichen sprungk! (ll. 1776–1788)
(Look into the mirror and recognize your beauty! You are more beautiful than any woman at any time. Perceive how beautiful your body is! They should fiddle for us once more, and I shall properly dance with you! – Yes, my dear fellows, it suits me well. You give me more than enough happyness, you match me well. You help me to dance and sing. I shall dance with you and I shall perform many merry jumps).
The quoted dialogue clearly describes a dance which is neither holy nor even courtly. It’s a leaping dance, a kind of dance which during the Middle Ages was regearded as boorish and uncontrolled. The partners of the above quoted dialogue are Lucifer and Mary Magdalene; the dancing scene is part of the Alsfeld Passion Play, performed in Alsfeld, Hesse in 1501. The context of the scene in the play is as follows: Jesus has just freed the Canaanean girl from the demons (Mt 15, 21–28) and has been sharply critizised by the Jews for doing so. At the same instant, the plot shifts to the depic- tion of Mary Magdalene’s worldly life. It is obvious that she is another young woman whom Christ will have to free from demons. The task, however, will be more difficult than it was in the case of the Canaanean girl.