Exile Atones for Everything? Politico-Ontological Exile in the Christian Imaginary of the West as Suggested in Middle English Drama
Estella Antoaneta Ciobanu
Abstract: This paper, while focused on the exilic trope in western medieval Christianity, is not concerned with theological pronouncements on earthly life as a form of exile or with exegesis of biblical exilic experiences; nor does it aim to offer a critical overview of theorisations of experiential exile and of exilic writings. Rather, it investigates how two Middle English plays from Chester re-morph the Christian exilic trope into an onto- theological metaphor with socio-political ramifications, thus offering a fresh case study of subject identity-making under patriarchy in the West. In this sense, the exilic metaphor is studied here in its endorsement of marginalisation in the wake of allegedly devious conduct, which thereby contributes to the elaboration by the hegemonic group of discursive practices of identification, segregation and marginalisation of other groups, deemed disruptive of in- group coherence and ethos, and to their stigmatisation as the devil‟s lot. The fallen angels‟ condition can be – and was at various times during the Christian Middle Ages – construed as an exile from the original state of grace; so was the Adamic fall. Nonetheless, my reading of the two Chester Fall plays as developments of the exilic trope parts company with the traditional interpretation of medieval religious drama as ethically coterminous with Christian teachings. On the contrary, I find the extant scripts a compelling illustration of the patriarchal stakes of blaming within the Christian discourse as disseminated to the laity and intent on instructing and edifying them. Both Lucifer, the premier rebellious angel, and Eve, the premier insubordinate human being, according to malestream Christian lore, appear in Chester as the always already blameable creatures, even as the discourse which constructs them as such is one fraught with intertextual ambivalent allusions. As I hope to demonstrate, Chester‟s Lucifer and Eve are confined to a „statutory‟ exilium – a pre-scripted exclusion of „devil‟ and „woman‟ from the (spiritual) place and condition held to be one‟s true home – invested with kyriarchal socio-political meanings: they cannot but be guilty for the very notion of righteousness to be definable meaningfully.
Keywords: exile, Middle English religious drama, Chester Fall plays, devil, woman, violence of representation
To cite the article: Estella Antoaneta Ciobanu, (2012) “Exile Atones for Everything? Politico-Ontological Exile in the Christian Imaginary of the West as Suggested in Middle English Drama”, International Journal of Cross-Cultural Studies and Environmental Communication NO. 1 2012, Vol. 1 Iss: 1, pp. 25 – 41
Estella Antoaneta Ciobanu teaches Medieval English Literature, Gender Studies, and Religions in the U.S., at Ovidius University, Constanţa. She has published articles on medieval English theatre and culture, as well as on medieval and post-medieval cartography and early modern anatomical illustration. She is co-author, with Petru Golban, of A Short History of Literary Criticism (Kütahya, Turkey: Üç Mart Press, 2008).