Playing with Time's End

Cultivating sincere contrition in medieval Last Judgment performances

Authored by: Jill Stevenson

The Routledge Research Companion to Early Drama and performance

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472421401
eBook ISBN: 9781315612898
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043669


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How do you stage the end of time? How do you re-enact a future? And how might performance produce a time that has not yet arrived, but that spectators must experience as inevitable? These are the challenges posed by Christian End Times performances and they allow scholars to examine the relationship between modes of production and modes of reception from a unique perspective. Stephen O’Leary asserts that apocalypticism approaches “the problem of evil. . . through discursive constructions of temporality” (14), and many episodes within the Christian End Times tradition reflect this principle. The Last Judgment account provides one example – angels and Christ descend, and the dead rise from their graves, because the timeline of humanity has suddenly shifted; the End is no longer Near, it is Here. Yet, the Last Judgment’s temporality makes its narrative somewhat tricky to present dramatically. Plays about other biblical events, such as the Nativity or Christ’s Passion, represent past “historical” events. Conversely, plays depicting God’s final judgment of humankind stage a future, but one that many Christian spectators interpret as certain and unalterable. Accordingly, those spectators may approach plays about the End Times as enactments of a future “history” that has already been written and is already known to God. The plays must therefore re-enact a historical event, but one whose actuality must remain postponed even as it simultaneously shapes and resonates through the spectator’s present, felt experience. Ultimately, these plays cannot reproduce the events of the End, but must produce the time of that End ab initio.

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