A New Theory Concerning the Origin of the Miracle Play

George Raleigh Coffman


Excerpt from A New Theory Concerning the Origin of the Miracle Play: A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Literature in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

It was my original plan in this problem relating to the early Miracle Play, (1) to make a critical inquiry into the various theories advanced concerning its origin, (2) to study the influences which led to the formation of saints' plays,(3) to reconstruct the lost St. Catherine play performed at Dunstable, England, before 1119, (4) to study the early St. Nicholas plays in relation to contemporary school plays, and (5) to examine later records and Miracle Plays in England to show that contrary to the statements of some historians of the drama the type persisted there and did not give its name to the cyclic and other religious plays. My study of the first of these propositions in relation to the second and third led me to reject the current theories and to propose in detail the one summarized in the closing pages of this dissertation. This resulted in a necessary subordination of the fourth and a complete exclusion of the fifth. These I expect to make subjects for further investigation. Dr. Weydig's dissertation, Beitrage zur Geschichte des Mirakelspiels in Frankreich, necessitated my devoting an initial chapter to an analysis and rejection of his definition of Miracle Play, and to the establishing of another as the basis for my work.

In a word, the thesis of this dissertation is that circumstances and conditions of the eleventh century explain the origin of the Miracle Play, not only as to its type, but also as to its form and spirit. In this connection, I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to Professor Joseph Bedier, whose studies on the origins of the Chanson de Geste (e. g., Les Legendes Epiques) have influenced very greatly my method of investigation, and whose thesis I have just now paraphrased to fit my particular problem. Professor Karl Young of the University of Wisconsin kindly read my dissertation last summer and gave many helpful suggestions. It is a pleasure also to express my thanks to Professor J.W. Thompson of the History Department of the University of Chicago for suggesting some of the material in the third chapter. To Professor Karl Pietsch of the Romance Department I am grateful for constant helpfulness relative to mediaeval materials.

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