Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sacraments on Stage?

Way back in the stone ages, when I was a grad student, I learned that it was illegal to do several things on the English stage. First, you couldn't personate a living Christian monarch. (And the whole Game at Chesse incident with its supposed personation of the Spanish king supports that idea.)

And second, you couldn't represent or enact a sacrament on stage.

But I'm reading The Renegado, and there, big as life, with a splash of water, is an onstage baptism. And before it, a short discussion of the efficacy of baptism by midwives and other folks who weren't ordained. (And that discussion seems likely to irritate eccliasiastical folks, doesn't it? David Cressy talks about the arguments for and against the efficacy of midwife baptism; doesn't sound like a discussion the Master of Revels would want on stage.)

So, did I just imagine that no-sacrament rule, or did things change, or is The Renegado just getting away with something?

Has anyone else heard the no sacrament rule?


  1. Anonymous7:28 AM

    Do all the medieval plays that have Jews desecrating the Eucharist count? Because that's immediately what I think of. Not sure to what extent they ever enact a sacrament, though.

  2. I'm doing some semi-related research right now. Two plays that are on my list to check are Peele's "Edward I" and Shirley's "The Travels of the Three English Brothers." Had I time enough between now and, well, two days ago, I would look them over myself and report.

  3. THe midwife baptism thing is popularly assumed to be effective, even if the theologians don't agree.

    I'd never heard the rules about the stage though.

  4. I just heard a paper about midwifery in the 16th and 17th Cs, which maintained that after the Reformation, midwifes were employed more or less in the service of the church, to root out Catholicism, etc.--and I believe they were authorized to perform at least emergency baptisms, right?

    Don't know nothin' about no drama stuff, though.

  5. I just did a 10-second search on this and didn't come up with the hard-and-fast rules, but I did find something that is helpful. If the theater was outside the city of London, then censorship rules might not have been fully unenforceable.

    I don't know about sacraments being staged, per se, but I thought that Christian God(s) (God, Jesus, and holy spirit, not to mention saints) weren't supposed to be staged after the Act of Common Council in 1574. I could be off... but I think that law is why, in the latter 16th century, the stage gets less Christian focused. (I mean, besides the rise of humanism, etc.)

  6. But marriages get staged, and those would count as a sacrament, no? Perhaps it was something more specifically about the eucharist?

    And what year is The Renegado from? (I've never heard of it, but that means nothing) It could very well pre or post-date a law about the sacraments and theater.

  7. Hmm, there's definitely a baptism in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, but I can't remember whether it takes place on or off stage. (Also, if I remember correctly, it is a Puritan baptism, which may or may not have counted as far as the Church of England was concerned.)

  8. Nah: Chaste Maid happens right after the christening; all church-action is off-stage. But you do get plenty of drunk puritans, which is the real bonus of that play.

    Actually, there are lots of bonuses in Chaste Maid, only one of which involves drunk puritans.

  9. Clearly, I need to read Chaste Maid again, perhaps for more reasons than one.

  10. Flavia is part right: midwives are supposed to be licensed by the bishop. When unmarried women give birth, the midwives are clearly acting as agents of authority to get the women to name the father (and a one whose identity they believe -- you'd been seen with him etc.)

    I'm pretty sure that not all midwives are licensed, and the process is less about being "employed" by the church as being vetted by the church.
    Once you get rid of limbo, in theory you don't need the midwive to baptise. And there is great concern about midwives bewitching babies.

  11. Nosey question: Were you at a religious school?