Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 14106
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Ryan , Denise.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Herod's Law: Sovereignty and Trespass in the "Coventry Shearmen and Taylors Pageant"
  • Source: Gender and Conflict in the Middle Ages. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, York, January 5-7 2001.. 2001.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Coventry Shearmen and Taylors' Pageant, English Mystery Plays Gender in Literature Literature- Drama Massacre of the Innocents
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 15
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  • Abstract: The extant English plays on the Visit of the Magi in the Nativity sequence draw on Matthew 2:12 which relates that the Magi, being warned in a dream that King Herod intends harm to Jesus and themselves, avoid returning to Herod and go home "by another way." Herod’s response to this evasion, which prevents him from identifying the Christ child, is, of course, to wreak vengeance on the innocents in an attempt to ify the threat to his own authority. In the "Coventry Shearmen and Taylors’ Pageant," Herod grants the Magi clearly defined access to his realm for the purpose of seeking the newborn Christ: a "passport" for one hundred days. Their circumvention of the bounds of his authority effectively delimits the extent of Herod’s self-proclaimed power and influence, representing, in legal terms, a contumelious insult, a trespass against his honour, to which his pride dictates he must respond. The form of his response, the slaughter of all the male children under two years old within his realm, generates a dramatically charged gender-based conflict between the soldiers and the mothers of the children that vicariously discharges Herod’s wrath though it ultimately fails in its principal object to kill the Christ child. This paper conducts a reading of the aborted confrontation between Herod and the Magi in light of medieval and early modern concepts of sovereignty. This all-male conflict over power and sovereign space devolves into a male-female conflict over control of private, domestic space as Herod’s soldiers trespass on the customarily female sphere of child-rearing. The doctrinal significance of the sequence from the Visit of the Magi through to the Slaughter of the Innocents is familiar enough: the illustration of the finite authority of the temporal world and the temporal ruler in contrast to God, the divine ruler. This paper assumes a new perspective, concentrating on the cultural significance of the portrayal of issues of sovereignty and authority in relation to gender and space and the ways these issues bind together the two episodes of the Visit of the Magi and the Slaughter of the Innocents in the Coventry Shearmen and Taylor’s pageant. [Reproduced by permission of Gender and Medieval Studies Conference organizers].
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  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2001.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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