Seeing and Hearing: Looking and Listening
This paper speculates about what modern reception theory, focusing as it does on assumed cultural norms, can and cannot offer the student of medieval drama. It can, for example, throw into relief the fundamental question of what we can know about medieval reception, so that we avoid foregrounding the evident literary simplicity of some of these texts at the expense of acknowledging their cultural complexities. The student of medieval theatre does well to proceed with caution in speculating on or theorizing the relationship between medieval plays and their audiences. The relationship between speech and action deserves at least to be problematized. Beyond that lies the wider challenge of reconstructing the differences between medieval and the modern audience assumptions about the cultural event in which they are participating and its relationship to the world they inhabit. The paper suggests, drawing examples from the York Cycle, that a modern audience member cannot avoid imposing upon the plays contemporary ways of seeing, particularly when it comes to scenic arrangement; the paper, therefore, avoids closure.
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