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Art. 21, Alle herkneth to me nou: Introduction

ABBREVIATIONS: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CCC: Corpus Christi College (Cambridge); CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); IMEV Suppl.: Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse (Robbins and Cutler); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

Harrowing of Hell is an interlude designed for performance. Halliwell names it a “miracle-play” and associates it with other works of medieval drama that feature biblical characters speaking apocryphally. Its parts lend themselves to dramatic reading, possibly within a household, with parts taken by family members and guests, including older children. Alternatively, it could have been written for an abbey. Nothing is certain about how it was originally designed to be performed, whether by multiple speakers or by a single performer who adopted dramatic voices. In MS Harley 2253 the anticipated use seems to have been for a secular household, for the scribe is here collecting texts for a patron with an eye to their value as entertainment and instruction. The script holds good dramatic potential: loud excitement at the gates of hell, a hubristic villain in Satan (who is eventually tied up), and biblical characters made vivid (perhaps bearing props and wearing costumes) by which children could learn the doctrine of Christ harrowing hell.

There are nine speaking roles not counting the narrator. The lengthiest ones belong to Christ and Satan. Most speech markers are provided by the scribe, set in the margin and underlined. A character’s speech usually begins with a capital. The first speaking part, at line 43, does not have a marker, but it opens a column of text and displays a prominent initial H. Hulme prints the three versions in parallel, and Böddeker, pp. 264–84, offers a critical edition that collates the three texts. For background on the Harrowing of Hell tradition, see MacCulloch; and Tamburr, esp. pp. 113–19. For commentary on this Harley article, see Kuczynski 2000, pp. 134–35; and Nelson 2013. For another item in the Harley manuscript marked for performance by means of speech markers, see Gilote and Johane (art. 37).

[Fols. 55va–56vb. IMEV, NIMEV 185. MWME 2:449 [313]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 6. Meter: Tetrameter couplets. Layout: Double columns, speech markers in margins. Editions: Halliwell, pp. 13–33; Hulme, pp. 3–23. Other MS: Auchinleck MS (NLS Advocates 19.2.1), fols. 36r–v, begins imperfectly (ed. Burnley and Wiggins, online facsimile). Older Version: Bodl. MS Digby 86, fol. 119r–120v (Tschann and Parkes, p. xxv [item 40]; IMEV 1258, NIMEV 1850.5)].

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