Introduction


spacer1. During the Renaissance, the Jesuit Order had an institutional vested interest in glamorizing martyrdom, since such was a very real prospect for members of the Order engaged in far-flung missionary work or secret returns to England. Jesuit dramatics were pressed into service in this cause, which is why the “martyr play” is a familiar category of play performed at Jesuit colleges and seminaries. The present play, an anonymous Ananias, Azarias, Mizael sive Pietas de Impietate Victrix, NOTE 1 produced at the Jesuit College at St. Omers, is preserved by Stonyhurst ms. B.VI.10 (Ananias, Azarias, and Mizael are better known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Mesaach, and Abednego, for which see Daniel 1:6). This play dramatizes the familiar tale of the three boys consigned to the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship his image, as recounted in the Book of Daniel, and does so in such a way that the work gravitates into the orbit of the “martyr play.” Daniel and the three boys are eager to suffer death to bear witness to their faith in God, and comport themselves towards Nebuchadnezzar in a way that can only be described as provocative, so as to achieve their end. At least to a dispassionate reader, they seem enamored with the idea of death. When we originally meet Daniel, nearly the first words out of his mouth express a desire to die (5ff.), and after having been rescued from the fire by divine intervention, the boy Ananias’ reaction is a remarkable one of disappointment and frustration, if not downright anger, that he has been robbed of his chance of obtaining martyrdom (1042ff.). It would probably be impertinent for a twenty-first century editor with no strong convictions on the subject of religion to pass any kind of judgment on a seventeenth-century religious enthusiasm, so I shall limit myself to the remark that this play is interesting as an example of how dramatics, a characteristic feature of the Jesuit educational system, could be coopted to foster a desire for martyrdom among young and impressionable minds.
spacer2. Nothing is known of the play’s date, but it presumably belongs to the early decades of the seventeenth century. It is striking that the playwright appears to have imitated features of a couple of other St. Omers plays. In the first place, Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evilmerdoach is presented as a sympathetic friend of Daniel, and he seems distinctly based on Abderramenus’ son Zunelmus in Joseph Simon’s 1623 Sanctus Pelagius Martyr, even if his devotion to Daniel does not bring him to the same bad end suffered by Zunelmus. And there is a distinct resemblance between Sereser’s soliloquy at Ananias II.ix and a speech by the villainous Aztec Quicuxtemocus in the anonymous Montezuma of unknown date (1216ff.)

The former passage is:

O nos beatos! O diem vere meum! spacer
Surge, anime, felix anima caedis ad novae
Decora. Cruentum teste te fiet nefas,
Et teste te, si fiac hic ullum scelus,
Non fiet unum. Multiplex crimen meto.
Faenoreque laeto crimen hoc nostrum redit. spacer
Iam, video, magnos scelera procudunt viros.
Sceleribus itur ad decus, regnum, polum.
Inane pietas nomen est. Virtus ea est,
Ea sola quae per fortia scelera non timet
Ad magna niti. Nil nefas fasque interest,. spacer
Nisi miseros quod aequitas faciat, nefas
Faciat beatos. Huius ego testis brevi
Fuero. Meas iam sponte Daniel in manus
Venit. Timendum restat ulterius nihil.
Ad decora posthac passibus quantis ferar!spacer
Obstare votis Rabsares unus queat.
Mei minister sceleris iste vir bonus,
Adhuc ferendus. Usus hoc praesens petit.
Stolidus sub ictum postmodum facilis cadet.
De rege solus inde mihi fuerit labor. spacer
Sed cur moratur caeptus ad limen dolus?
Perge, anime, prono dum nefas fertur salo.
Favet hora. Caute tempore utamur dato,
Lapsoque maturemus exitium viro.

[“Oh happy me! Oh day that is truly mine! Rise up, my spirit, my happy soul, to the glories of a new murder. A bloody wrong will be committed thanks to your testimony. But if, thanks to your testimony, there is to be any crime here, it will not be a single one. I am sowing a manifold misdeed, and my felony will pay a handsome interest. Now, I see, crimes mint great men. The highway to glory, to power, to heaven, is paved with crimes, and piety is an empty word. The only virtue is that which does not fear to strive to great things by means of daring crimes. There’s no difference between right and wrong, unless it’s that righteousness makes men wretched, whereas wrongdoing blesses them. I’ll soon be a witness to this thing. Daniel has now freely entered into my clutches. Nothing remains to be feared. Afterwards by what great steps I’ll be borne to glory! Rabsares alone can obstruct my wishes. I must still tolerate that good gentleman as the servant of my crime. My present need requires him. Afterwards the fool will easily fall to my blow. After that, the king will be my only concern. But why does the scheme I have begun loiter at the threshold? Continue, my mind, while my crime is borne along on a willing sea. The hour is favorable. Let us make careful use of the opportunity given us, and hasten the destruction of this fallen man.

And the latter:

Magnanima corda! Vestra quam nobis placent
Studia, alacerque mentis intrepidae vigor!
Fovere, amici, pergite animosum impetum.
Sic sic ad astra surgitur, sic inclyta
Sortis petuntur decora. Triviales solent 1220
Animi timere scelera. Qui magnus velit
Clarusque fieri, scelera per quaevis eat.
Stratum sceleribus usque fortunae est iter.
Si regno, per vos regno, et attestor polum
Favore huius digna vos merces manet. 1225
Coulcopoca, plebis etiamnum furor
Dum fervet aris victima Axacus cadat.
Tuum petit opus hoc ministerium sibi.
Permitte nobis reliqua. Removebo brevi
Causam timoris.

[“Noble hearts! How greatly I like your zeal and the ready strength of your intrepid minds! Continue to support my spirited advance. Thus, thus one mounts to the stars, thus the noble honors of good fortune are sought. Trifling minds are wont to fear crimes. He who craves to be great and noble will make his way through any crimes you care to mention, for fortune’s highway is paved with wrongdoing. If I rule, I rule thanks to you, and I swear by heaven that a reward worthy of your support awaits you. Coucopoca, while the people’s rage is still a-boil, let Axacus fall victim at your altars. This work requires your service, leave the rest to me and I’ll quickly remove the source of our fear.”]

spacer3. The interesting thing here is that all three of these plays, Sanctus Pelagius, Montezuma, and Ananias, are preserved in the same manuscript. In it, they are all presented as anonymous works, although St. Pelagius can safely be attributed to the well-known Jesuit playwright Joseph Simons, since College regulations required that plays be written by its Professor of Humanities, and external evidence shows it was performed at a time when Simons occupied that position. No such thing is known about the other two plays contained together Stonyhurst ms. B.VI.10 so that, unless further research can yield a better understanding of this manuscript and the identity of its copyist, it is unclear what we are to make of the fact that these three plays are preserved together, although the fact that Ananias appears to contain borrowings from the other two may suggest that it was written in the same general time-frame. The St. Omers records of dramatic productions for the years 1624 - 29, during all of which years Simons held the Professorship, do not exist, and it is possible that both Montezuma and Ananias are his work (especially because of Montezuma’s especially good quality), but, given the present condition of our knowledge, such would be an over-bold conjecture.
spacer4. I should like to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins of The Shakespeare Institute for drawing this play to my attention, supplying me with a photocopy of the manuscript.

 

Notes

spacerNOTE 1 The existence of this play is recorded by Alfred Harbage, “A Census of Anglo-Latin Plays,” PMLA 53:2 (1938) 627, William McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the English Jesuit Theatre (St. Louis, 1983) p. 102, and Alfred Harbage, S. Schoenbaum, and Sylvia Stoler Wagonheim, Annals of English Drama 975 - 1700 (third edition, London, 1989) pp. 208 and 240.