Questions on Performance, Theater, and Performance Literacy

Acting (Up) in the Middle Ages: Performance, Theater, Performance Literacy



  1. What does medieval theater borrow from the Imitatio Christi in your opinion?



  1. Does Njus give the visual arts enough credit in his analysis of Elisabeth of Spalbeek and medieval performance?


  1. Discuss Elisabeth as a living Veronica.


  1. What is the relationship of the audience to Elisabeth? Does this relationship support Stevenson’s ideas?


  1. Does one gaze at a diptych in the same way as one gazes at a medieval performance?


  1. Do you consider Elisabeth of Spalbeek’s trances a subversive alternative for devout women?


  1. Does the anthropological-art historical bifocal lens reveal the “real” Elisabeth? What was distinctive about Elisabeth compared to other mystics of her time?


  1. Discuss the rebellious nature of Elisabeth’s dances as defined by Rodgers and Ziegler.


  1. “Performance is twice-behaved behavior.” Discuss. Cf. The dance is the dancer….


  1. Do you feel that a phenomenological approach to medieval theater is useful?


  1. How does performance literacy operate in the case of a vernacular play and in viewing the Pavement Hours?


  1. Do you believe that images in a manuscript foreground the reader’s material presence in the devotional text?


  1. In what way does the face of Christ in the Pavement Hours offer a subversive interaction for the reader?

11 responses

  1. 2: I think Njus recognizes the power of visual art when she mentions that Elisabeth meditated on a “small diptych” (9). Visual art is a factor in inspiring Elisabeth’s performance. Perhaps this is akin to a corporeal vision inspiring a spiritual or intellectual vision. It would have been helpful for Njus to describe the diptych in more depth and make explicit connections between it and Elisabeth’s performance. It also would have been nice to know more about connections between books of hours and the hourly structure of Elisabeth’s performances. So, it seems that Njus recognizes that the visual arts are connected to medieval performance, but she does not explore this connection as deeply or fully as possible.

    3: Elisabeth is a living Veronica in that she provides a duplicate image of Christ. Her emotion is the most striking aspect of her copying of Christ, but she also mimics him physically, as she bleeds. Understanding Elisabeth as a Veronica points to Njus’s argument about mimesis. Njus states that “The term “Veronica” thus became synonymous with the concept of an ideal image, a perfectly mimetic representation” (9). This reflects the paradox of Elisabeth’s performance. That she is a copy of Christ implies a divine act. Yet, the idea of mimesis implies acting, a state of creating rather than being.

  2. I am not sure that any more concrete information about Elisabeth’s diptych is known for Njus to provide the reader. I agree that would have been very helpful but my memory is that this piece of the puzzle is not known. I love the idea of Elisabeth as a living Veronica though I agree that it is not without its own problems. Add to that the viewer’s experiential reception of Elisabeth’s mimetic performance and one is further removed from the divine.

  3. 6. Do you consider Elisabeth of Spalbeek’s trances a subversive alternative for devout women?

    I think that there must have been something interesting going on; Elisabeth’s performance is definitely different from other mystics’ performances. On the other hand, I don’t know that there’s such a subversive underlying plot as Rodgers and Ziegler’s article suggests. I can definitely see how Elisabeth’s performances and Philip’s praise and record of them were counter to the ideals set out by the centralized church at the time.

    I feel like if nothing else, her performances would have inspired devout laywomen and given them more opportunity for agency in their own spiritual experiences. Whether she intended her dances to have a reaching effect, however, I can’t say.

    • But its sentiments remain relevant today, and I present it again as an appreciation of all those who have died for us in battle. It was, and remains today, a day to salute heroes. It was a huge loose of our self actualization lecture Stephen R. Covey. For me, the Speed of Trust is one of the most useful aspects I learnt from Stephen Covey. May his soul rest in Peace.Thabo (

  4. 2. Does Njus give the visual arts enough credit in his analysis of Elisabeth of Spalbeek and medieval performance?

    I feel that Njus does not give the visual arts enough credit in his analysis; he even claims that laypeople “do not need books or illuminations to celebrate [the Passion]” (10). While Elisabeth may provide a powerful performance, it is through the understanding of images that laypeople and especially the illiterate would be able to understand her performance. By stating that Elisabeth’s wordless performance was understood through her gestures because she “could rely on her spectators to recognize the imagery from their familiarity with sacred art,” implies the need for art (7). This contradiction of the reliance on imagery and the simultaneous dismissal of imagery is confusing. It would seem that Elisabeth’s performance is successful only if the audience is familiar with visual imagery.

  5. I totally concur. Elisabeth’s power, or the power of her performances, was based on the visual art that her dances mirrored. I feel that the Passion plays had a similar power that stemmed from the iconic moments derived from images culled from the Passion.

  6. 6. I think Elisabeth of Spalbeek’s methods of trance were subversive alternatives to the traditional devotionalism most devout women were accustomed to practicing. Yet, I do not think that this was Elisabeth’s purpose when enacting these dances and performances. Additionally, her trance-dances are not necessarily practices that one can be taught. Devout women were accustomed to simply fasting, praying, and participating in pilgrimages. In stark contrast, the trance encompasses a transformation in which one’s body becomes the vehicle for the Divine, expressing its presence through ecstatic movements. However, I’m sure women were fascinated and moved by Elisabeth’s unusual performances. Even if women were curious about these subversive alternatives were they ever truly accepted forms of devotion?

  7. I think the unusual nature of Elisabeth’s trance dances made them subversive, though I agree that was not their original intention. Are you old enough to remember some of Madonna’s early recordings and their shock value? Not really parallel in that I think her intention was to shock….but I think the reaction would have been comparable, no? I hope we discuss this further in class!

  8. 3) Discuss Elisabeth as a living Veronica.

    When I originally read this question before class, I made the same inference that Dr. Sadler made; I thought that Njus/Phillip was comparing Elisabeth to Veronica, the person opposed to the portrait. Njus notes that “By providing a living mimetic copy of Christ, Elisabeth achieves something that no book, illumination, or stained-glass window could” (9). I find it even more interesting that as a woman she is considered to be a “living mimetic copy of Christ.” I think we can relate this back to some of our discussions from earlier in the semester about women identifying with Christ through meditative practices. I believe it was in Aers’ article that he discusses the femininity of Christ and Bynum and Beckwith’s approaches to this topic. Here, we can direct our attention to the idea of the body. Christ’s body as well as Elisabeth’s. Elisabeth used her body as a medium for performance of the passion. In Aers’ article, I believe he says that medieval women “gained power through constitution of their bodies.” I am sure this led to women being even more linked to corporeal worship. I believe Elisabeth, much like the Veronica, transcends corporeal, delving into the spiritual and the knowledge that St. Augustine theorizes. If women gained social status through this constitution of their bodies that Aers discusses, one could argue that Elisabeth’s performance or trances “a subversive alternative for devout women.”

  9. I agree with much of what you say, Grace. But I am sitting on the fence about whether women did gain status through their bodies (cf. Bynum)—it was just so damn easy for men to turn the tables and see the female body as the source of so much mayhem. At best, female experiential devotion was a double-edged sword.

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