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Hrotsvitha anyone?

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Happy to share Kevin J. Harty's review of two Off-Broadway productions related to Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim, Two Headed Rep’s production of Nadja Leonhard-Hooper’s The Collision and Amanda Keating’s The Martyrdom at New York’s 59E59 Theaters:

Everything Old Is New Again—Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim on the Off-Broadway Stage: A Review of Two Headed Rep’s Production of Nadja Leonhard-Hooper’s The Collision and Amanda Keating’s The Martyrdom at New York’s 59E59 Theaters.

Kevin J. Harty, La Salle University

The tenth-century German canoness, Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim, can lay claim to many firsts. Among other distinctions, she is the first Germanic woman writer. She is the first woman historian. She is the first writer since antiquity to compose dramas in Latin. She is the first woman Germanic poet. She is the first Western writer to comment on Islam. But, despite these many accomplishments, we know little of the particulars of her life, other than that she was a canoness at the Benedictine Abbey in Gandersheim in the tenth century, that she was a pupil of the Abbess Gerberga, that she was well-informed about the politics of the Ottonian courts, and that her works—the so-called Liber Primus, Liber Secundus, and Liber Tertius—were either ignored or lost for half a millennium until they were published in an 1501 edition with woodcuts by Dürer. The Liber Primus (The Book of Legends) contains eight hagiographical legends. The Liber Secundus (The Book of Drama) contains six feminist Christian dramatic responses to the Roman comedies of Terence. The Liber Tertius contains two historical works. The first charts the rise of the Ottonian dynasty, while the second records the history of Gandersheim Abbey. Nadja Leonhard-Hooper’s The Collison imagines what the life of a cloistered medieval woman might have been like, and Amanda Keating’s The Martyrdom presents a new adaptation of what is generally considered Hrotsvitha’s funniest and most successful “comedy,” Dulcitius (the Passio Sanctarum Virginum Agapus Chioniae et Hirenae), about the martyrdom of three Christian virgins during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian.

The Collison, and What Came After, or, Gunch is set in a tenth-century abbey in Grebenstein.The abbey is poor, understaffed, and overshadowed by the nearby abbey of Gandersheim. There is, at least initially, an abbess, two nuns (Sister Anise and Sister Gudrun), and a troubled and troubling novice named Gunch (“How do you solve a problem like Gunch?”). The abbess seems a stern disciplinarian—a by-the-book kind of nun. Anise and Gudrun struggle to do their best. Gunch seems hopeless. She can neither read nor write, prizes her pet chicken, and seems more concerned with earthly pleasures than heavenly ones. The abbey is also more than a bit of an also-ran. Illuminated manuscript editions of the Bible fly out the doors of the abbey in Gandersheim—72 complete Bibles in three years. Grebenstein’s record is only 69 such manuscripts. Not helping matters is the fact that the plague has killed off a dozen nuns at Grebenstein, so the abbey is in danger of dissolution....

Denominators: Medievalism, médiévalisme, Mediävalismus, medievalismo, Mittelalter-Rezeption, reception studies



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