Mrs. Noah and Didactic Abuses


  • Jane Tolmie Harvard Society of Fellows



This essay returns to the issue of female recalcitrance in the Noah plays from York, Chester and (in particular) Towneley, with an eye to postmodernism's emphases on (1) the importance of violence to the begetting of culture and (2) the impossibility of representing so-called real violence onstage as it is inevitably contained by representation. Given that Mrs Noah is beaten or forced onto the Ark in all three plays, this article also addresses the question of whether and how violence against women in farce plays can ever be real or serious, and also of whether and how female resistance to this violence, or female violence, can be real or serious in its turn. In York and Chester, Mrs Noah raises her voice in mourning for friends and relatives, and in the Towneley play insists on remaining behind to work. The story of the Ark has its obvious cruelties; the inclusion of Mrs Noah's resisting voice is one way of making these cruelties present and real for the audience. But much of interest remains to be said about a feedback loop that makes it possible for female rebellions in themselves to justify displays of force within these plays.