The Fall and Repentance of Mary (Abraham)
 by Hrotsvit of Gandersheim
 Stetson University Stover Theatre
 September 2005

This was one of three short plays by the tenth-century canoness Hrotsvit produced in conjunction with the Southeast Medieval Association Annual Conference in Daytona Beach, sponsored by Stetson University's English Department. The other two, Calimachus and Dulcitius, were directed by Dr. Julie Schmitt.

Hrotsvit (Hroswitha, Roswitha, etc., the “strong voice”) of Gandersheim is renown as the first known female playwright and the first to address Christian subjects through drama. Born in the 10th century AD, she served as a canoness at the abbey of Gandersheim in Germany. (The abbey stills stands today, in the German city of Bad-Gandersheim). She was highly educated and familiar with many classic texts, including the comedies of the Roman playwright Terence, whose form (though not content) she sought to emulate, thus turning a Pagan entertainment to Christian purposes. Hrotsvit set for herself the task of using the dramatic form as a means of championing the strength of Christian women.

Inspired by the lives of saints and martyrs, her plays champion the strength of Christian women while examining themes of temptation, conversion, sacrifice, and forgiveness. The three plays chosen for this performance (out of the six she wrote) offered a unique perspective on the experience of women through the lore of the early Middle Ages.

In Abraham, the young virgin Mary is persuaded by her hermit uncle Abraham and his "co-hermit" Effrem to pursue a life of chastity and worship. When she yields to temptation and loses her virginity to a young man disguised as a priest, her fear that her sin is so great as to be unforgivable drives her to follow a life of prostitution. When Abraham learns where she has fled, he disguises himself as a soldier in order that he might procure some time alone with her, during which he appeals to her to seek forgiveness and return to the fold. Through this play, a kind of "learning piece," Hrotsvit transforms Mary's shame into a testament to her character and the power of divine forgiveness.

This production was attended by the primary translator of Hrotsvit's work, Dr. Katharina Wilson from the University of Georgia. According to her, our production was notable for introducing Hrotsvit as a character and staging as direct address the preface and incipits (brief introductions to each play, that served as "teasers").

 

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Copyright © 2005 by Ken McCoy.