Aural Space, Sonorous Presence, and the Performance of Christian Community in the Chester Shepherds Play


  • Andrew J. Albin Fordham University at Lincoln Center



sound, sounding, sound experience, space, spatiality, aurality, aural field, fellowship, community, presence, angel, shepherd, Nativity, music, hear, hearing, listen, listening, cry, howe, horn, echo, voice, song, sing, singing, gloria, performance, phonology, vowels, Chester, mystery, cycle, Corpus Christi, play,


Sensitivity to the Chester Shepherds’ soundedness in performance reveals that its climactic action — an angel singing a sophisticated Gloria, its audience of shepherds responding with playful macaronic Latin — stands not as an isolated outburst but rather as the concentrated centre of a thoroughgoing network of meaningful sound that stretches from the play’s first to its last line. By reading the Chester Shepherds play with ears attuned to its sounded dimension, we gain insight into how the play fostered opportunities for interanimating presence, identity, and community by manipulating the aural space of late-medieval theatrical enactment to draw an audience into sonorous presence. The play patterns sounds, verbal and otherwise, into a meaning-bearing experience of sound in its own right in order to develop a dynamic acoustic space in which present sounding and hearing can become the fulcrum of redemptive meaning and salvific Christian membership.