Thursday, 24 May 2012

Noah and the Voice of God

I wrote recently about the voice of God in some recent fiction but incorporating the voice of God into literature is not a new idea.

This term I was involved with a production of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde which is a version of the 14th/15th century Chester mystery play, a play which begins and ends with the voice of God.

I, God, that all this world have wrought,
Heaven and earth, and all of nought,
I see my people, in deed and thought,
Are set foully in sin.


My bow between you and me
In the firmament shall be,
By very token that you shall see
That such vengeance shall cease,
That man ne woman never more
Be wasted by water, as is before;
But for sin that grieveth me sore,
Therefore this vengeance was.

Where clouds in the welkin been,
That ilk bow shall be seen,
In token that my wrath and teen
Shall never thus wroken be.
The string is turned toward you,
And toward me is bent the bow,
That such weather shall never show;
And this beheet I thee.

My blessing now I give thee here,
To thee, Noah, my servant dear,
For vengeance shall no more appear;
And now farewell, my darling dear.

(Note: these are the words recorded in the Dent Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays edited by A.C. Cawley. For a slightly different version, click here.)

For a modern take on the play click here and for more information about Britten's version click here or here.

Several thoughts struck me while we were rehearsing:

1. Students as young as 11 had no difficulty with the language of the play, partly because the story was familiar and partly because it was being staged. Nonetheless, we can too easily assume that century (pre-Reformation) English is inaccessible. It is not.

2. God is both tender and just in this play. He says: "Man that I made I will destroy, / Beast, worm and fowl to fly; / For on earth they do me noy, / The folk that are thereon" but he also calls Noah "my darling dear". The contrast with the work of Irvine Welsh et al. could hardly be greater.

3. The play is funny. This is no pompous recreation. Noah's Wife, in particular, is a wonderful character. She has to be dragged onto the boat, whether she "will or nought', and so boxes Noah's ears - "marry, this is hot!" he responds. However, by the end of the play, she joins Noah and the rest of the family in offering sacrifices of thanks to God.

It's not a simple issue but maybe there is a place for the voice of God in fiction after all.

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