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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: September 2012

“Be Ware of the Key”: Anticlerical Critique in the Play of the Sacrament

from Essays

The Croxton Play of the Sacrament, an East Anglian eucharistic miracle play which purports to dramatize events that took place in Spain in 1461, suffers from no shortage of villains. In fact, among the play's fifteen characters, one would be hard pressed to identify a single hero besides Christ himself, embodied in the communion wafer, whose bodily image appears at the climax. The multiple antagonists include Jonathas, the Jewish skeptic who tortures and maims Christ's body; his henchmen Jason, Jasdon, and Malchus; the slippery Christian merchant Aristorius, who sells them the Host; a clownish quack doctor named Brundyche; and even a Bishop, who metes out punishment to all parties at the end, forcing the merchant to give up his trade and wander in exile. But perhaps the most wretched villain of all is the one who seems most innocent at first — Sir Isoder, the parish priest who is duped.

In the course of his brief appearances in the play, it becomes clear that Isoder is far from the pious ecclesiastical representative that would seem to be ideal for an orthodox sacrament drama, which relies on a priest to consecrate the eucharistic elements and thereby effect a miraculous transformation. Isoder is a glutton and a drunkard, careless with the keeping of consecrated wafers in his church, beholden to a wealthy merchant in his parish, and thus easily tricked when that merchant turns out to be the church's enemy.

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Fifteenth-Century Studies
  • Online ISBN: 9781571137623
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