The itinerant healer as a stage role: its origins in religious drama

Katritzky, M. A. (2020). The itinerant healer as a stage role: its origins in religious drama. In: von Contzen, Eva and Goodblatt, Chanita eds. Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama. Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 81–103.



In the merchant scene of the medieval and early modern biblical stage, one or more itinerant healers sell unguents and spices, generally (but not exclusively) for the Holy women’s Visitatio Sepulchri. My focus is on studying evolving changes to this scene between the 12th and 16th centuries, by considering selected merchant scenes: both within religious playtexts, and with reference to significant images, some previously unknown in this context. I consider 11th and 12th century manuscript and stone double depictions of the Holy Women: with a spice merchant, and then again at the sepulchre, in relation to Latin merchant scenes of c.1100, in the Spanish Verses pascales de III M(ariis) and French Sponsus, a mystery play based on the parable of the wise and foolish Virgins. Post-1300 manuscript illuminations of Holy Women buying spices are considered with reference to vernacular playtexts such as Arnoul Greban’s Mystere de la Passion (1452). Sixteenth-century paintings of an itinerant toothdrawer in altarpieces of “Christ driving the traders from the Temple,” are related to the German vernacular tradition of Easter and Passion play merchant scenes featuring itinerant healing troupes, such as that of Erlau (15th century). Studying the playtexts with reference to these images contributes to a deeper understanding of how their merchant scenes intersect with evolving traditions of biblical drama and performance practice.

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