The last Gothic edition of a most popular French mystery play, originally written by the brothers Arnou and Simon Gréban of Le Mans in the 1450s, and expanded to more than double length by the Angers poet Jehan Michel a generation later. The Gréban original was first performed at Paris around 1450, and Michel's expansion was the first version to appear in print, published in 1486. Very little is known of les frères Gréban, except that Arnoul was a master of grammar, an organist, and composer at Notre Dame who may have arranged music for Lorenzo Medici in Florence later in life. But Clément Marot did immortalize the brothers in his 223d epigram, stating that they had honored Le Mans by their esteemed work. Our edition, printed by Alain Lotrian at Paris, was probably the last gothique, and is illustrated with eleven woodcuts in a mélange of styles. Michel's play rather sanitized the frankly gnarly Gréban version, and added many additional characters and secular storylines, such as the tale of the love affairs conducted by Judas, and the imagined daily life of Mary Magdalene, but Michel did retain Gréban's description of Hell. Scholar Edelgard DuBruck, writing in 1979, states:
"In Gréban's Mystère de la Passion (1450), Hell is fully 'furnished' linguistically, and detailed descriptions of it as well as of the devils leave little doubt as to the Dantean inhospitableness of the place. Furthermore, the comic and the musical possibilities of a scene in hell have been fully written out. Lucifer uses vocabulary rich in grotesque exaggeration and distortion to describe Hell and his fellow devils as essentially ugly (in aesthetic terms) as opposed to paradise and its inhabitants. Dark colors prevail (noirs, obscurs), and the two epitheta ornantia horribles and hideux characterize the infernal scene. The sense of smell is involved (feu, souffre), and the enumeration of the devils' accessories, or tools of their trade, to inflict pain, includes sharp objects, animals, and even the elements: chaisnes, crochés, gibés, furnaces, serpents, dragons, molten metal. Here Gréban's octosyllabic verse accumulates descriptive terms without attention to meter or rhythm: it is intentionally rough, uneven in order to project the entire unwholesome image of Hell."
Michel's version, which ran up to 65,000 verses and took ten days to perform, was one of the most enduring of all French mystery plays. Even the printed versions found a wide audience—at least twenty reprints occured in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and they were often produced in runs of 600-1200 copies, rendering them relatively affordable, especially the later, illustrated editions by Lotrian. According to Graham Runnalls, a copy would cost as much as laborer or artisan earned in a day. Per OCLC and USTC, no copies of this 1541-2 Lotrian edition in American libraries; four abroad.
Full title: Senſuit le miſtere de | la Paſſion de noſtre | ſeigneur Jeſuchriſt | Nouuelleme[n]t reueu et corrige oultre les precedentes impreſſions. | Auec | les additio[n]s faictes/ par treſeloque[n]t et ſcie[e]tificq[ue] docteur Maiſtre Jehā | michel. Leq[ue]l miſtere fut ioue Angiers moult triu[m]pha[m]ment Et dernie | reme[n]t a Paris. Auec le no[m]bre des p[er]ſonnages q[ui] ſont a la fin audit liure. | Et ſont en nombre. Cxli. 1541 lv. | ❡Paſſio d[omi]ni noſtri Jeſu chriſti. [Typeset vertically around a woodcut of the Crucifixion]: O vos o[mn]es q[ui] tra[n]ſitis p[er] via[m] || Attendite Et videte. [&]. [Colophon]: Nouuellement imprime a Paris par Alain lotrian Imprimeur et Libraire demourant en la rue neufue noſtre Dame a lenſeigne de leſcu de | France/ et fut acheue dimprimer le dixhui- | ctieſme iour Daouſt. Mil. v.c.xlii.
Paris: Alain Lotrian, 1541-2.
Quarto, 187 x 139 x 36 mm (binding), 184 x 135 x 33 mm (text block). a8 b-d4 e8 f-i4 k8 l-t4 v8 x-z4 &4 ç4 A-D4 E8 F-N4 O8 P-X4 2A4 2B8 2C-I4 2K6 =ccliii, [i] =254 ff. Title printed in red and black, gothic characters in two columns. Eleven woodcuts: a1r (Crucifixion), a1v (John the Evangelist), a2r (St. John preaching), c4r (Temptation of Christ), i2r (Christ curing Jairus's daughter), i4v (Christ and the Good Samaritan), l1v (beheading of John the Baptist), x2r (Healing of the blind), A4v (Christ on a donkey), 2E4v (Crucifixion), 2H2v (Descent to Hell), 2K6v (device, arms of Paris flanked by dragons rampant). Modern gray reverse crushed suede, titled on vellum label in pen in second and fifth compartments, text block edges painted vermilion, slight wear to extremities. Interior: Gutters a bit snug, but without loss to printing; margins a trifle precious, but no loss; minor stains here and there; slight dampstaining to gatherings 2C-2E.
The Maurice Desjardins copy, with his small ex libris to upper pastedown, sold at the dispersion of his property by Beaussant-Lefèvre 15 May 2013, lot 27; scattered booksellers' and cataloguers' penciled notes to upper endpapers.
Bechtel G209; Brunet III col. 1974; Pettegree 23467; USTC 40917; DuBruck, Edelgard, "The Devil and Hell in Medieval French Drama: Prolegomena," Romania 1979, Vol. 398 pp. 165-79; Champion, Pierre, "Arnoul Gréban, l'auteur du Mystère de la Passion," Histoire poétique du XVe, Paris, 1923; Stein, Henri, "Arnoul Gréban, poète et musicien," Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes, vol. 79, 1918, pp. 142-6; Smith, Darwin, Arnoul Gréban. Clerc, chanteur et pédagogue entre la France et l'Italie au XVe siècle, (thesis) Paris, 2010 (online). Please see ARLIMA for further references: https://www.arlima.net/ad/arnoul_greban.html and https://www.arlima.net/il/jean_michel.html. Please also see Bechtel's intoduction (under Gréban) for further notes on the various editions.