Ludus Danielis – A Liturgical Drama and its Context
Händel, Heine, Lord Byron, Rembrandt, Johnny Cash, Rossini. They all used it as an inspiration – the biblical story of unrighteous King Belshazzar and the writing on the wall. However, there are even older usages of this dramatic topic of the Old Testament. One of it is the liturgical drama Ludus Danielis (The Play of Daniel) from Beauvais. This essay will attempt to review the main literature centered on Ludus Danielis Belouacensis to gain an understanding of the importance of this liturgical drama considering particularly the claim to be a “medieval opera”. Furthermore it will give special attention to the problem of the dating with drawing Hilarius Historia de Daniel Representanda into account.
Before we can go into detail on our play I would first like to draw the attention on the term of a liturgical drama. As John Stevens and History of Western Music inform us the term coins all Latin dialogues, plays and ceremonies which draw most of their content from liturgical books and “are animated by the spirit of the liturgy” (Stevens). Our play which text and its monodic music setting is preserved in the British Library (The British Library; Ogden 89; Dronke 118) as “Egerton 2615” dates back to the “2nd quarter of the 13th century, probably between 1227 to 1234” (British Library). Ludus Danielis draws its main story about King Belshazzar and King Darius from chapter five and six from the book of Daniel of the bible but not its structure. For example the “principes” recount the whole plot just at the beginning of the play. But Ludus Danielis also integrates the apocryphal story of prophet Habakuk from “Bel and the Dragon” (Ogden 78) who gets sized by the hair by an angel and carried to the lion´s den to provide Daniel food. Moreover, at the end Daniel prodicts that the “Holy One comes” and after an angel harrolds the birth of Jesus Christ by singing “Nuntium uobis fero de supernis”, the only piece originally from the liturgy (Young 301).
What can be said now about the creators of the play? By consulting the facsimile of our play we already gain three important pieces of information by decoding the first four lines: “Ad honorem tui Christe. Danielis ludus iste. In beluaco est inuentus. Et inuenit hunc iuuentus” (Odgen appendix). Apparently, Ludus Danielis was composed in Belvaco (today: Beauvais; The British Museum) by the youth to honour Jesus Christ. This leads immediately to the question of the identity of these young people. Most of the sources assume here that they were pupils of the cathedral school in Beauvais (Bulst and Bulst-Thiele 9; Young 290; Meyer 55; Ogden 77). Though, this is not confirmed and as Arlt examines there is not enough known to get a clear impression of the spiritual life of the cathedral (32-33) and Young notes that “illuminating information concerning the cathedral school of Beauvais for the twelth and thirteenth centuries seems not to be available” (486). In contrast, Peter Dronke, notes that the term “iuventus” was used for all people from 20 to 50 years (110-111). However, in the light of the low life expectancy in the Middle Ages this statement does not seem to be very plausible.
In addition, Smoldon points out that there is no clear evidence that the play was even performed (Music 227) though it is likely that it was played in the “Basse- Œu vre”, the Romanesque cathedral in Beauvais (Ogden 11). Unfortunately, most of it was destroyed in the late 12th and early 13th century and only the western end is preserved, standing today beside the large Gothic cathedral. Therefore it is hard to imagine how it was staged but architectural historian Émile Chami gives us some hints: Apparently, at least for its time the “Basse- Œu vre” was rather large with a height of 19 meters in the nave, a length of 65 meters with especially a long choir and a total width of around 20 meters with the two aisles (qtd. in Ogden 13-14).
However, I have to question the assumption that it was played in the Romanesque cathedral if we assume that the date (between 1227 to 1234) of the manuscript in which Ludus Danielis is preserved is true. I will elaborate on the problem of dating later but at least the homepage of the Cathédrale de Beauvais and a French page about religious occidental architecture (Architecture Religieuse en Occident) inform us that the Basse-Œuvre was already destroyed by a fire in 1225 and not in the late twelth century as Ogden assumes by refering to Stephen Murray. Apparently, Ogden made here a mistake because Murray clearly states that the construction works for the new Gothic cathedral begun in 1225 and points to an error made earlier in scholarship which was overlooked by the next scientist and adopted in many other secondary sources (Murray 533).
 Smoldon writes that it is preserved in the British Museum (Music 224, Ludus 1) but his books are much older than Ogden's and Dronke's investigations. It seems that the British Museum who acquired the manuscript 1883 (Arlt 24) handed it later over to the British Library.
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- Nora Görne (Autor), 2010, Ludus Danielis – A Liturgical Drama and its Context, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/177730