2018 Stevens Award for Best New Essay

Martin Stevens Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Brazil, Sarah Jane. “Forms of Pretense in Pre-Modern Drama: From the Visitatio Sepulchri to Hamlet.” European Medieval Drama 20 (2016): 181–201.

In this well-written and compelling essay, Brazil convincingly makes a case for a kind of “dramatic flexibility” in medieval performance in which the players’ life roles are not lost in the roles they imitate (or stand in for) for an audience.

Visitatio Sepulchri, Brazil draws from a wide breadth of medieval texts and leading scholars to effectively counterbalance classicist and modern notions of representation with medieval perceptions of the same. Modern criticism, she argues, has yet to recognize just how different the notion of representation was in the medieval era. In positing a specifically medieval mode of performance, Brazil questions the early critical characterization of the Visitatio Sepulchri and other forms of liturgical drama as being primarily mimetic. Scholars, she argues, tend to use “mimesis” without defining the term precisely or determining its applicability to pre-modern performance. Instead, using critical techniques pertaining to the study of early modern theatre, Brazil offers “a more attuned perspective on the significance of imitatio” (185). She determines that them “naturalism” inherent in critics’ conceptions of mimesis does not characterize accurately the relationship between actor and role in medieval performance (187). Such performance, she argues, always emphasized the separation of the player from part and performance space from the scene depicted.

As Brazil persuasively demonstrates, early medieval drama “intentionally shun[ned] naturalism” (198) in order to highlight the ritualistic and cultural implications of the interactions among performer, script, iconography, and setting. Moving masterfully between theory and close readings, Brazil’s essay re-frames medieval representational practice while making a case for its larger importance to narratives of theater history. For this successful combination of subtlety and detail with larger scope, we are very pleased to award the Martin Stevens Award for best new essay in early drama studies to Sarah Brazil.

Award Committee: Vicki Hamblin, Frank Napolitano, and Susannah Crowder (chair). Awards announcement and presentation took place during the MRDS business meeting in May at the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.