1. The St. Omers Crux Vindicata, a play of unknown authorship which identifies itself as a tragedy but, in view of its happy ending, is more accurately classified as a history play, is preserved by Stonyhurst College Library MS. A.VII.50 (2), pp. 122 - 149. Thanks to collegiate records, its performance can be dated to August 8, 1656. NOTE 1 The play dramatizes an important event in the history of the True Cross. When Khosrau II (called Chosroes in the West), the Sassanid king of Persia, conquered Jerusalem in 614, he bore off the Cross as a kind of trophy. Thirteen years later, in 628, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius defeated the forces of Chosroes and set his son Kvadh II (Siroes) on the Persian throne. As a gesture of gratitude, Kvadh turned the Cross over to Heraclius, who returned it to Jerusalem in 630. A ms. marginal note following the Argument states that the play's source was Baronius (i. e., Cesare Baronio's Annales ecclesiastici for the years covered by the play's action), but the story of the theft and restoration of the True Cross is one with a long history tracing back to such Byzantine historians as Theophylact and given new prominence in the thirteenth century by Jacopo de Voragine's widely-read Legenda Aurea.
2. Such, in essence, is our play's plot. As one would only expect of a play written for a Catholic school, it contains plenty of pietistic effusions, but the author has been careful to include a number of elements that make it an exciting and entertaining theatrical experience: a cruel and hubristic tyrant (and yet an interestingly complex one morally and psychologically, for the love Chosroes displays for his son Medarses is palpable and at some points renders him considerably more sympathetic than most similar stage-villains); NOTE 2 courtly intrigue as his treacherous satraps decide to undermine him and replace him with Siroes; a colorful battle-description; a masque-like entertainment featuring song and dance; a large number of tableaux vivantes and other elements of visual spectacle. Indeed, even if the text of the play contains some of evidence for part-doubling (see the note on 1214), the number of performers needed to stage this play, including non-speaking participants in its tableaux and, one presumes, the instrumental musicians who provided music for the dancing, was considerably larger than the human resources needed to mount many of the other plays in the St. Omers repertoire, and in this and other ways its production must have placed an abnormal strain on the resources of the school, so the production must have impressed its audience as being unusually “spectacular.” Crux Vindicata is obviously the product of an author with a good deal of talent for writing effective drama, and it is not difficult to imagine that it provided St. Omers theatergoers with a highly satisfying evening's entertainment.
3. . I wish to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins of The Shakespeare Institute for drawing my attention to this play, and for supplying me with a photographic reproduction of the manuscript.
NOTE 1 The entry from the St. Omers Registrum is quoted by William McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the English Jesuit Theatre (St. Louis, 1983) 95. The existence of Crux Vindicata is also noted by Alfred Harbage, “A Census of Anglo-Latin Plays,” P. M. L. A. 53 (1938) p. 628, and Alfred Harbage, Silvia S. Wagonheim, and Samuel Schoenbaum, Annals of English Drama 975 - 1700 (London, 1989) 154.
NOTE 2 In introducing the Jesuit play Thomas Cantuariensis, produced at the Venerable English College, Rome, in 1613, I pointed out that one of the felicities of having a play written by a priest, is that the author was able to enrich his characterizations by drawing on his professional understanding of sin, repentance, and redemption, and this facilitated more complex and nuanced representations of villains that was normal on the secular stage. Thus in that play the portrayal of the four assassins of Thomas à Becket, while not minimizing the enormity of their deed, is remarkably sympathetic.