University of Amsterdam
Claudia Daiber is currently employed as a lecturer for the German language and culture at the University of Amsterdam. Her main research interests are historical theatre, literature and law, digital humanities and German-Jewish Studies. She is about to complete a PhD project at the University of Groningen (autumn 2023) which contributes to the cultural history by researching justice as a European leitmotif. The title of her thesis is “Justice in the Passion Plays of the ‘new’ Faith”, hereby referring to passion plays from the period of the Reformation and confessionalism. Claudia Daiber has graduated in German language and culture (2015) from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands and in law from the University of Constance, Germany (1988).
My research about the genre of the passion play interacts and overlaps with RELICS’ hypothesis that Latin was crucial to the formulation of literary identities and cultural communities by people from various places and times in European history.
When during the 12th century on the European continent the first texts appeared which can be labelled passion plays, they were written in the Latin language hereby indicating their connection to Western Christianity as represented by the Roman curia and its actors. Its composers understood themselves as being part of a literary tradition which first and foremost used the Latin language as a language to mediate the ‘holy’. This status of the Latin language shaped their literary identity to the extent that it was not necessary to be identified by name as writing the ‘holy’ in the Latin language was sufficient for their own literary identification. The thus created aura of the Latin language rubbed off to the community of believers and even though they most likely did not understand its actual meaning, the use of the Latin language conveyed the ‘holy’ to them.
Not long after composers started to use the vernacular in passion play texts too, indicating a shift in their literary identity. Even so, in passions plays which applied a mixed approach, the Latin language remained the language of the ‘holy’, whereas worldly matters ̶ in particular narrating sinning ̶ were told in the vernacular. This marked hierarchy between the Latin and the vernacular was kept in place throughout the late Middle ages when the passion plays experienced their heyday within Europe.
The status of the passion play genre fundamentally changed when Christendom was seized in Northern and Western Europe by the Reformation and subsequent confessionalism. Basically, the reformers rejected the passion play genre, a change in status of the genre which as a matter of course also impacted the use of the Latin language. The rare passion plays from this period dismissed the Latin language and favored the vernacular throughout the text. An observation which can be linked to Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into the vernacular and his and other reformers claim that lay people are able to interpret the Bible themselves, i.e. without the clergy as an intermediary. For the passion plays of the ‘new’ faith, this dictum established the vernacular not only as the language of the ‘holy’ but also as the language of the ‘self’ and therefore the Latin language as the language of the ‘other’, i.e. being the ‘old’ faith. Thus, the roles of the Latin language and the vernacular were exchanged with respect to literary identity formation .
However, this is not the whole story. From the 14th century on in Europe, the Neo-Latin drama as a genre rose, building on the medieval theatre tradition but exclusively using the Latin language. Thus the authors of the Neo-Latin drama have emphasized their literary identity as scholars of the Latin mainly for purposes of education but also building a tradition in its own right. This also applies more specifically to the genre of the passion play even though this genre too seems to have suffered from the Reformation’s impact. An exception to this observation and a staunch example of literary identity shaped by the Latin language is the Christus patiens written and composed by well-known jurist, philosopher, politician and poet Hugo Grotius. Praised by academics of international provenience as a “model of Christian tragedy”, the Christus patiens also showcases the cosmopolitan status of the Latin language.
Considering further research, the next step would be to tackle the other dramas written in Neo-Latin by Grotius which are greatly understudied. The focus of the research should be again on the theme of justice and on the use of the Neo-Latin.