Dressing the Pleasure Garden
The two text fragments of the sixteenth-century Norwich Grocers’ Play present an Eden created by God as a “garden of plesure.” It is a place of spectacle and sensuality: showcasing the wares of the grocers’ guild and engaging all five senses of its audience through the use of perfumes, edible exotic foodstuffs, music, paints, masks, and a theatrical magic trick when God fashions Eve from Adam’s rib. In both texts, Adam and Eve are “dressers” of the garden, their occupations suggesting both their participation in the creation of dramatic spectacle and their reproduction of the roles played by their performing guild. Yet against the pleasure of creation is balanced the implied dangers of recreation. God’s (paradoxical) absence from the garden, and Adam’s decision to leave his partner alone to “walk a whyle for my recreacion” turns pleasure into a deceptive and dangerous solitary indulgence for Eve. Although both play texts celebrate the sensory pleasures of Eden, they treat them rather differently. While the 1533 A text celebrates the pleasures of Paradise, in the 1565 B text these are overshadowed by the impending sin. This change corresponds with a shift in the play’s presentation of gender. The B text features two prologues that establish tighter parameters through which to justify the pleasure of theater. They also establish narrower gender roles within the play, directing a more misogynistic reading of Eve and of the Fall. Perhaps because of their fragmentary nature, the few remaining religious plays of Norwich rarely receive critical analysis beyond discussion of their manuscript contexts, with V. A. Kolve (The Play Called Corpus Christi, 132) viewing the plays as inferior to the “sustained intelligence characteristic of the six or seven English towns whose records survive in greater detail.” However, this chapter demonstrates that the Norwich Grocers’ Play has much to offer discussions of the garden as a tactile and ludic arena.