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Evidently Set Forth:
God and the Human Stage
Call for Papers

Day conference on Saturday 4 November 2017 at Corpus Christi College, Oxford

The Bible has a pervasive presence in Western drama from medieval times. The Biblical prophets communicated through dramatic actions as well as through words, as have prophetic figures and radical groups throughout Christian history. Prayer, liturgy, preaching and Christian living have all been described in terms of performance. Drama is found not only in the Bible, but also in poetry and prose fiction. Offers of papers are invited on, for example, aspects of the history and theory of drama, tragedy, drama in Biblical narrative, mystery plays, Biblical dramas, Puritanism and the theatres, and modern drama, including poetic drama, closet drama and studio drama. Performance is within this remit, as also is theo-drama (‘election is the ultimate casting call’, Vanhoozer, see also Urs von Balthasar).

Papers may adopt a historical or thematic approach, or may discuss individual plays or books, or draw comparisons e.g. as between King Lear and the Book of Job (discussed in the listed books by Marx and Hamlin). The CLSG interest is in Exploring Christian and Biblical themes in Literature.

Papers proposed should have a reading time of 25 minutes and be offered for subsequent publication in The Glass. Our linked pages, including the Indicative List of titles, are integral to this Call for Papers.

Send your proposal by 31 May 2017 as a provisional title and brief statement of how you would approach your topic together with some words about your background to Dr Roger Kojecký, secretary@clsg.org.

Indicative book titles

Indicative quotes etc.

‘O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth’, Galatians 3:1, KJV

‘Just as the Christian cycle of sin, repentance, atonement, redemption is completed in its operation by the awakening of pity and the merging of the selfhood of man in love, so the tragic cycle may be thought of as operating on the human consciousness in an analogous manner, though at a lower level’ (T.R. Henn).

Tragedy ‘raises metaphysical issues, but has no metaphysic of its own.’ Henn quotes Wordsworth’s The Borderers: ‘Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark, / And shares the nature of infinity’.

In his Philosophy of Fine Art Hegel defines tragedy as the ethical conflict between two partial goods.

‘The theater carries the art of narration to a higher power than the novel or the epic poem…. The dramatist must be by instinct a story-teller’, Thornton Wilder, ‘Some Thoughts on Playwriting’.

The novel or short story ‘project a history in retrospect, whereas drama is history coming,’ Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form, 1953.

‘The hero of a play not only propels an action, he not only suffers a certain fate, but he also represents a world,’ Friedrich Durrenmatt, Preface to Four Plays.

‘The perfect and ideal drama is to be found in the ceremony of the Mass’. ‘Nothing is more dramatic than a ghost.’ T.S. Eliot, ‘A Dialogue of Dramatic Poetry’ in Selected Essays.

‘The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama.’ (Dorothy Sayers)

 ‘In medieval society religion supplied an image of world order and also a “language” … and served as both a model and a medium’ (Elie Konigson, ‘Religious drama and urban society in France at the end of the Middle Ages’ in James Redmond.

Wuthering Heights or Tess of the D’Urbervilles contains more that is truly tragic than all the abortions of the Victorian stage put together’, F.L. Lucas.

In his Aesthetics Hegel identifies three literary genres, epic, lyric and drama, naming drama as ‘the epitome of art’. Hegel sees epic as depicting events under closure, lyric as subjective, and drama as uniting the two. ‘Happenings that arise from external circumstances and not from an agent’s “inner will and character” are not dramatic in Hegel’s terminology’ (Ben Quash)

Religious experience is problematic for dramatists who, for the most part, fail to give it a satisfactory dramatic form, their plays ‘either evading the religious experience which they profess to make their subject or, if faithful to their subject, ceasing to be drama at all.’  Successes are the Oresteia, Everyman, Samson Agonistes and Brand. ‘Progress into beatitude cannot, in the nature of things, give us tragedy.’  Una Ellis-Fermor, The Frontiers of Drama.

With Christianity ‘the sacred mythos is also real history.’  ‘The Gospel drama … throws light upon every human problem, including the problem which has been discussed so often in the [Christian] News-Letter – the problem of reshaping our present civilization. (Philip Mairet)

‘The root cause of melancholy and discontent is to be found in the social and economic conditions of the time’ (267), L.C. Knights discussing 17C melancholy, Burton’s Anatomy etc.

‘Shakespeare’s King Lear performs a midrashic elaboration of the Book of Job’ Steven Marx.

‘Can a saint’s play ever be truly tragic?’ asks Martz. ‘The least touch of any theology which has a compensating Heaven to offer the tragic hero is fatal.’

Two contrasting quotations on tragedy:
“Christian salvation opposes tragic knowledge. The chance of being saved destroys the tragic sense of being trapped without chance of escape. Therefore no genuinely Christian tragedy can exist. […] At this point, tragedy loses its compelling character: man is aroused by it, not touched in his innermost being. What is essential to the Christian cannot even emerge in tragedy.”
(Karl Jaspers, Tragedy is Not Enough)
“Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within, and if ever we are to find true shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start. Thus it seems to me that this is also where anyone who preaches the Gospel has to start too – after the silence that is truth comes the news that is bad before it is good, the word that is tragedy before it is comedy because it strips us bare in order ultimately to clothe us.”
(Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale)

In Shakespeare ‘No book is alluded to more often, more thoroughly, or with more complexity and significance than the Bible.’ ‘Falstaff is one of the most brilliant practitioners and manipulators of Biblical allusion in Shakespeare.’ (Hannibal Hamlin).

 ‘Comus moves toward the baptismal sacrament of its penultimate scene (and) is a drama of initiation … a rite of passage’ (Fletcher, The Transcendental Masque).

The drama of Samson Agonistes moves to ‘the resolution of the spiritual conflict which the apparent catastrophe serves only to image in terms of event.’ In religious drama ‘“the world”, which is the proper theatre of tragedy, has been “overcome”; its seemingly solid structure has revealed itself as transparent in that irradiation which destroys the significance of outward event’ (Ellis-Fermor).

CLSG Autumn Conference 2016

The deadline for offers (email Dr Roger Kojecky, secretary@clsg.org) is 31 May 2017.

Members and non-members welcome.

CLSG: exploring Christian and Biblical themes in literature

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The Christian Literary Studies Group in association with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship