Introduction


spacer1. The St. Omers play Gemitus Columbae sive Theophili Lachrymae, a dramatization of the story of St. Theophilus the Penitent, is preserved by Stonyhurst College Library ms. A.VII.50 (2), pp. 69 - 87. Below, I shall suggest a dating. NOTE 1
spacer2. The source employed for this play is indicated by the notation Metaphrestes Surius immediately following the Argument in the manuscript. The reference is not to any genuine work by the tenth century Byzantine hagiographer St. Simeon Metaphrastes, NOTE 2 but rather to the Latin writer Gentianus Hervetus, whose version of the tale, inherited from Eutychianus, the disciple of St. Theophilus, claims to be a translation from Simeon’s Greek. The story (dated by the Society of Bollandists to the year 538) is that Theophilus, archdeacon and treasurer at Adana in Cilicia, was offered the bishopric of the diocese by his metropolitan but refused it, so that the office went to another man (called Eusebius in this play). This refusal provoked envious slander, which the new bishop uncritically accepted as truth. Stung by the slur on his name, Theophilus had recourse to a necromancer who conjured up Satan, who promised him reinstatement if he would sign away his soul and renounce Jesus. This he did, and soon thereafter the bishop discovered his error and made a public proclamation of Theophilus’ innocence. But Theophilus was wracked with guilt for what he had done. After the Virgin Mary had appeared to him, he made a public confession of his sin, and died shortly thereafter. The story would be familiar to many educated Catholics, since it had been repeated by such Church writers as Paul the Deacon, Aelfric, St. Bernard (in his Deprecatio ad gloriosam Virginem Mariam), Vincent of Beauvais, St. Bonaventure, Jacques de Voragine, and Albertus Magnus, and it figured in the poetry of Hroswitha, Marbodus of Rennes, Hartmann von der Aue, Gonzalo de Berceo and Konrad von Würzburg, and received dramatic treatment from Rutebeuf. This subject commended itself for dramatic treatment because of its wholesome religious message, but even more, one suspects, because the making of Theophilus’ damnable pact provided a fine opportunity for including one of those infernal apparitions so popular with contemporary theatergoers. Indeed, in order to cater to this taste more fully, the play is sandwiched between two further apparitions, the infernal one of Invidia at the beginning and the epiphany of the Virgin at the end.
spacer3. Like another St. Omers play included in The Philological Museum, Felix Concordia Fratrum sive Ioannes et Paulus (a second exercise in dramatic hagiography), which is securely dated to 1651 by collegiate records, in the ms. every scene but the last is followed by an individual’s name, and it may be assumed that there is no name after the final scene merely because of a copyist’s error. The names are as follows:

I.i P. Cuffaud
I.ii John Harcourt
I.iii Thomas Harvey
I.iv Thomas Harvey
II.i James Manners
II.ii James Manners
II.iii Thomas Harvey
II.iv Thomas Harvey
III.i John Harcourt
III.ii Thomas Harvey
III.iii Thomas Harvey
III.iv unspecified

In introducing Felix Concordia Fratrum I pointed out that in all probability these names are the authors of the individual scenes. The college Constitutiones (§ A.3, quoted by McCabe p.104) assign the responsibility for producing plays to the Professor of Humanities. Normally this was understood to mean that the incumbents of this position (including the distinguished Jesuit playwright Joseph Simons) provided the texts themselves, but it would appear that one such Professor adopted the pedagogical technique of assigning the writing of individual scenes to his students. Two of the names of contributors to Gemitus Columbae reappear in connection with Felix Concordia Fratrum: P. Cuffaud (i. e. the Professor himself, Father Edward Cuffaud or Cufford S. J.) contributed three scenes to the latter play, and Thomas Harvey supplied two. Especially because one presumes that only advanced students were selected to participate in this exercise, it is likely that Gemitus Columbae was written very close in time to Felix Concordia Fratrum: since the latter play was produced in 1651, it is therefore probably safe to assume that Gemitus Columbae was produced either in 1650 or 1652.
spacer4.I should like to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins of The Shakespeare Institute for drawing this play to my attention and supplying me with a photocopy of the manuscript, and also Dr. Jamie Reid Baxter for suggesting various corrections and improvements.

 

Notes

spacerNOTE 1 Its existence has been noted by Alfred Harbage, “A Census of Anglo-Latin Plays,” P. M. L. A. 53 (1938) 628, and William McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the English Jesuit Theatre (St. Louis, 1983) 102.

spacerNOTE 2 Metaphrestes cannot simply be dismissed as a copying error for Metaphrastes, since this form of the name name is found in a couple of other sources, vol. V of Thomas Hearne’s Remarks and Collections (repr. Oxford, 1889) p. 372, describing a Greek ms. in the Bodleian Library, and Edélstand du Méril, Poesies Populaires Latines antérieures au douzième siècle (Paris, 1843) p. 99
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