Medieval Roles for Modern Times

Theater and the Battle for the French Republic

By (author) Helen Solterer

Paperback - £41.95

Publication date:

15 June 2011

Length of book:

304 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271036137

Ranging from France to Russia to America in the throes of world war and revolution, Medieval Roles for Modern Times investigates how critics and creators made medieval culture a part of their modern world through theatrical role-playing. On both the Left and the Right across Europe, partisans used drama to express the ideological struggles dividing them. Helen Solterer explores the case of the Théophiliens, a Parisian youth group in the 1930s and 1940s whose members included Roland Barthes and Alain Resnais. The performances of the troupe—from the Adam Play to the Mystery of the Passion—captured the paradoxes of the French Republic as it was breaking apart.

The book focuses on two key figures of the Théophilien troupe: founder Gustave Cohen and actor Moussa Abadi. Under Vichy, Cohen went into exile in America, while Abadi went underground. He established a network for refugee families and taught Jewish children role-playing skills to help them evade detection by the Gestapo. Abadi helped save hundreds of children from deportation, and his story of theater and Jewish resistance has never before been published.

“Solterer’s book on theatricality and revivalism is an outstanding and original study of twentieth-century revivals of medieval French drama. She offers a major contribution to our understanding of the history of medievalism and the history of the production of knowledge. She reveals surprising relationships between the revival of medieval theater and important theoretical, ideological, and cultural movements in twentieth-century theater and dramatic theory, linking these to significant trends in contemporary culture. Solterer’s research gathers a wide range of topics and figures that are seldom considered together, using them to show how particular phenomena, such as a theatrical production or a critical publication, respond to profound beliefs about social class, national identity, and the relation of past to present.”

—Nancy Freeman Regalado, New York University