The Play of Adam (Le Jeu d'Adam) Background

The Play of Adam (Le Jeu d'Adam) Background

The Play of Adam (Le Jeu d’Adam in the original French and also known in English as The Service for Representing Adam) dates back to the year 1180, thus giving it a notable place in history as one of the earliest (if not the earliest) drama written in the vernacular of the country in which it was produced. The vernacular in this case being a commingling of Old French with generous dollops of Anglo-Norman patois to create a more accessible colloquial expression of the Biblical stories that are its subject which were traditionally presented only in Latin during church services.

The point was to update the language of the longstanding tradition of Biblical plays so that the nuances and contextual meanings of Old and New Testament stories could not only be enjoyed and understood by a larger segment of the population, but also to make the ancient parables more relevant than they could ever possibly be when staged using not just a foreign language, but an essentially dead foreign language. By way of comparison, try imagining what it would be like to attend a production of Hamlet presented in the Mayan or Aztec language.

To make another apt comparison, The Play of Adam may also be seen as a sort of precursor to those No Fear Shakespeare books which seek place the Bard’s often impenetrable poetic style into a lexicon of modern English. The result is a sacrifice of the richness of meaning of the original language for the gain of an increased sense of naturalism. This effect is further enhanced by the use of rhyming couplets which lend the dialogue a snappy quality not terribly unlike the effect of the rapid-fire exchange of hardboiled dialogue in a film noir.

The dialogue relates a three-part narrative covering Adam and Eve being handed their walking papers from the Garden of Even, the murder of Abel by Cain and a prophecy of the arrival of Jesus Christ to redeem mankind from the sins of Adam and Eve. Dispersed among the rhyming couplets are quick a type of short choral songs known as responsories consisting of bits of Biblical verse to underline the theme of the action

The only surviving manuscript of The Play of Adam provides no author attribution so once again that prolific writer known as Anonymous gets all the credit. The narrative in that manuscript also suddenly comes to a screeching halt, indicating that it may have been an uncompleted work-in-progress or that parts of it went missing at some point.

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