Mystery plays are religious dramas that were the dominant form of theatre in Europe up until the 15thcentury. These are the plays that William Shakespeare would have seen as a child. Mystery plays were performed all over Europe, particularly in England and France. These plays were a retelling of Scripture, often long and detailed, with elaborate sets and costumes that travelled from town to town on carts. Mystery plays dealt with events from the Old and New Testaments, and playwrights often incorporated social themes and current events into their work. There were many characters in one play, and the scenes in the play followed one another without any unity of action, although the scenes were tied to a central theme. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD0nF8oluCg
There are four complete English collections of mystery plays remaining today: the York cycle, the Towneley plays (Wakefield cycle), the Ludus Coventriae (N-Town cycle) plays and the Chester cycle. http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/playtexts.htmThe English mystery plays recount most of the major stories in the Bible, from The Fall of the Angels to the Last Judgement. Creation retells a few stories from the book of Genesis, in the Old Testament (from the war in the heavens to the birth of Isaac).
The authors of the English mystery plays faced a difficult question. How could they represent the Bible in a theologically accurate way to the average person, and also make it interesting and believable as a play? God and the Trinity had to be represented by just one person – a human – and made believable. This problem was often solved by having the actor who played God recite a speech at the beginning of the play, saying that he/she was just representing God. Also, the audience had to understand why Lucifer rejects God. Lucifer was often shown to be increasingly proud and boastful, through words, and physical action – for example, – Lucifer would go sit on God’s throne. The set also posed problems. On a small travelling set, how could you show the difference between heaven and hell? Indications of place could be physical (higher and lower; beautiful and ugly) or actors could indicate with words that they were entering heaven or hell. One big problem was the question of how Lucifer should look when he is in the Garden of Eden. Should he appear as a snake? The Devil? Or should he just announce his transformation? Finally, the Bible ends the story of the Fall of Man with the hope of Redemption. It was important to include this idea in mystery plays. Perhaps a rainbow would appear on the set after the Flood (the rainbow being a symbol of God’s promise to mankind to not destroy the world by flood again). Or the entire cast could appear on stage at the end of the production to sing a song of hope. For a thorough discussion of these and other problems, please see Rosemary Woolf’s excellent book, The English Mystery Plays.
Teacher Prompt: How does Peter Anderson handle these problems in Creation?
BACKGROUND – THE BIBLE
THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Genesis is the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. In the book of Genesis, God creates the world and gives Man dominion over the Earth and all of its creatures. Man's disobedience leads God to destroy the world (the Flood). Corruption exists even after the Flood, and God commands Abraham (and his male descendents) to be its salvation http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Genesis. The first chapters of Genesis contain two versions of the creation of the Earth and all living beings. In the first version, God creates everything in six days and rests on the seventh. In the second version, God creates Adam out of earth, then God creates plants and animals, and finally, God creates Eve from Adam's rib. There are inconsistencies between the two stories http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_bibl.htm. Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) is thought by religious scholars to be the work of many individuals http://www.religioustolerance.org/jepd_gen.htm.
QUESTIONS OF GENDER AND GOD
Traditionally, the choice of the male pronoun (he) has been used to refer to God in English. In recent decades, churches have tried to use inclusive language (referring to God as both Father and Mother, for example). But the limits of human language make this a difficult and controversial undertaking http://www.laudemont.org/a-wail.htm. The feminine divine has experienced a resurgence in recent years – women and men are exploring the history of goddess worship that existed in Europe and the Middle East 6,000 years ago http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,972894,00.html, trying to find a place for the female in a primarily male-dominated religious tradition.
STEWARDSHIP OF THE EARTH – A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
In Genesis, God gives Man "dominion" over the earth and all of its creatures. This has often been taken to mean that Man must populate the earth, and rule over it. In recent years, some Christians have been trying to shift the emphasis from "dominion" to "stewardship" – encouraging humans to become caretakers for the Earth, animals, and each other http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/ecology.html. In 2008, The Green Bible was published (http://greenletterbible.com/index.php). It highlights the over 1,000 references to the Earth in the Bible and includes a call to action. http://daphne.palomar.edu/calenvironment/religion.htm
BACKGROUND – ENVIRONMENTALISM
A TIMELINE OF THE CANADIAN ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT
Until the 17thcentury: Aboriginal peoples and Inuit live sustainably off the land
1885-1886: Establishment of Banff, Yoho and Glacier National Parks
1887: Saskatchewan creates first bird sanctuary
1916: Treaty with US for protection of migratory birds
1930: Canadian National Parks Act
1960s: Birth of provincial and regional environmental protection groups
1971: Greenpeace sails from Vancouver to protest nuclear testing
1971: Ontario passes Endangered Species Act
1972: Canada participates in UN Conference on the Human Environment
1980s: Non-governmental organizations begin to play strong role in conservation
1998: Canada signs Kyoto Protocol
2003: Boreal Forest Conservation Framework
2011: Canada elects first Green member of Parliament, Elizabeth May
If you read the news, it's easy to feel confused. Is climate change happening? Are we really running out of oil? Can the ocean be polluted as badly as they say? It might seem like the simplest thing to do would be to just pretend none of it's happening. After all, what can one person do? Fortunately, there are people out there who realize that one person CAN make a difference, in large or small ways. Here are some Canadians who, like Naomi, Noah's daughter-in-law in Creation, have been sounding a warning bell, and offer us reason for concern, but more importantly, hope.
David Suzuki has been advocating for the environment for most of his life. His program, The Nature of Things, has been around for 50 years (Suzuki has been hosting it since 1979), and has brought Canadians face to face with some of the biggest environmental and conservation questions around the world. http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/
Percy Schmeiser is a Saskatchewan farmer who used to grow canola. He spent 40 years developing his own resistant strain of canola, but in 1999, the multinational corporation, Monsanto, accused Schmeiser of growing their Roundup Ready seed (which has been genetically modified) without permission. They asked Schmeiser to pay them profits from that year's yield. Schmeiser refused – his crops had been contaminated from nearby fields growing GM canola – and took Monsanto all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where he emerged victorious http://www.percyschmeiser.com/He has since spoken out against genetically modified seeds around the world.
The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition is a gathering place for organizations and individuals concerned with climate change. CYCC works in schools and communities across Canada, educating and empowering youth. They organize events like PowerShift (2010) and grassroots training camps for youth across Canada (2011). http://www.ourclimate.ca/wordpress/
CREATION MYTHS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
One of the first-known creation myths is the Enuma Elish*, from ancient Babylonia (Mesopotamia*). It was written in the 12thcentury BC in cuneiform* on clay tablets. There are many similarities between this creation myth and the creation story in Genesis.
-both accounts begin with order coming out of chaos
-both recount the creation of the moon and stars, plants, animals, and humans
-Humans are created on the 6thday in Genesis; they are first mentioned on the 6thclay tablet
-the 7thtablet of the Enuma Elish exalts the greatness and handiwork of the Creator; God rests on the 7thday in Genesis.
-there are goddesses mentioned in the Enuma Elish, but none in Genesis
-there are many gods and goddesses in the Enuma Elish, some of whom must be overcome; others are rebellious and must be subdued. There is only one God in Genesis.
*Enuma Elish: http://www.cresourcei.org/enumaelish.html
Many cultures have creation myths of their own, including Canada's Aboriginal cultures. http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/CS/CSIndex.html.
In some Aboriginal legends, the world is created on the back of a giant tortoise. In one, two men emerge from the earth, marry each other and become pregnant. One of the men is then transformed into a woman to give birth. A Dene myth tells of how the seasons are created – hunters manage to take a sack of heat and warmth from a bear to escape endless winter. Conflict, battles, sibling rivalry and death are common themes in Aboriginal creation myths, just as they are in the Enuma Elish (fighting amongst the gods) and Genesis (Lucifer defying God, Cain and Abel, Noah's sons). http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/firstnations/myths.html