My dissertation investigates religious conversion in late medieval East Anglian drama (c. 1400–1500). Each of my chapters examines a play with ties to fifteenth-century East Anglia, an economically prosperous region where orthodoxy and heterodoxy coexisted and religious drama flourished. All of the plays stage at least one miraculous conversion experience, yet the plays also offer reminders that conversion is an ongoing process that demands the convert’s continual effort to keep growing in faith. I demonstrate how these anonymous plays deliver their most important lessons about conversion in their much less miraculous moments, exposing a dramaturgy that revels in its ability to dazzle while also carefully conveying lessons about sustaining faith long after the awe-inspiring demonstration.
Over the past several decades, scholars of early drama have paid attention to East Anglia’s rich literary legacy, but no study has considered the conversion thread that links my primary texts across three dramatic genres: morality, miracle, and saint play. My project examines the innovative ways that playwrights shaped their sources to create drama designed to emphasize divine mercy and encourage audiences to consider their own religious responsibilities. I show how the plays take a similar, and surprisingly nuanced, approach to staging conversion, despite key differences between the long, large-scale plays like The Castle of Perseverance and the Digby Mary Magdalen and the shorter, scaled-down plays like the Digby Conversion of St. Paul and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament. Despite growing interest in medieval and early modern religious conversion experiences, medieval drama has been understudied as a source for thinking about the complexities of the conversion process. By focusing on popular drama in the decades before the Reformation, my project suggests that the idea of staging conversion is more complicated than it has been previously considered. Taken together, the chapters that follow consider how medieval drama participated in Christian identity formation and what these dramatic traces can tell us about how East Anglian Christians understood themselves, their responsibilities to others, and the nature of their God.
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Davis, Eleanor, "Preaching to the Converted: Religious Conversion in East Anglian Medieval Drama" (2021). English Theses and Dissertations. 10.
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