Drama as “Quick Image”: The Fifteenth-Century Context

  • Theodore K. Lerud
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In The Theater of Devotion, Gail Gibson comments parenthetically that the distinction between actual mystery plays and elaborate visual spectacles (tableaux) is “entirely a modern scholarly preoccupation and not a medieval one.”1 This observation is illuminating, though not surprising, in indicating the way in which medieval viewers might have regarded phenomena that comprise distinct aesthetic categories for us. In fact, as we have already suggested, both elaborate visual tableaux and religious plays were seen as quick images, to be considered in the same general category as painted and sculpted images. All were designed as external versions of those images necessary to the psychological processes of memory and understanding. Far from being conceived in aesthetic terms (e.g., as drama, painting, sculpture, art, etc.), all were viewed as the images or phantasmata that, in Aquinas’ model, served as the link between body and soul, sense and understanding. The evidence of a number of relevant late medieval English texts suggests that it is fair to appropriate the discourse regarding images and image veneration to our understanding of the draina.


Fifteenth Century Perfect Image External Version Image Veneration Passion Play 
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  1. 2.
    Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 103–4.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Lauren Lepow, Enacting the Sacrament: Counter Lollardy in the Towneley Cycle (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1990), p. 12.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Anne Hudson, Selections from English Wycliffite Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 180.Google Scholar
  4. 27.
    See E.K Chambers, The Medieval Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903), vol. 1, p. 84, vol. 2, pp. 102–3.Google Scholar

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© Theodore K. Lerud 2008

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  • Theodore K. Lerud

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