Who is More Sexist: Mankind or God?
All members of society, religious or not, at some point have heard the legendary tale of Adam and Eve. The Bible story has inspired countless retellings of mankind’s creation, each with their own unique interpretations and expansions. The Play of Adam was written in the twelfth century and provides detailed stage instructions and scripts for acting companies wishing to perform the story of Adam and Eve. The Play of Adam takes inspiration from the roughly fifty original lines from the Bible to create a sexist conviction of Eve’s role in humankind’s downfall that extends over nine hundred and sixty two lines. From the beginning of The Play of Adam, the author’s use of characterization, speeches, and stage directions emphasizes Adam’s superiority over Eve and present audiences with a narrative of a biased Creator.
The original story of Adam and Eve details almost nothing beyond the creation and downfall of mankind. The Bible story’s brevity lends itself to interpretation, which the author of The Play of Adam uses to create a sexist portrayal of Eve. In the very first speech God gives to Adam after the creation of Eve, God declares, “She is your wife, she’s your equal; / You ought to her to be faithful. / You’ll love her, and she’ll love you too” (10-12). The word used for “equal” in the original French edition of the play is “pareil” which is defined in the Old French-English Dictionary, henceforth referred to as the OFED, as “equal, peer, partner, spouse.” The beginning of the play sets Adam and Eve as equals, but the remainder of the play shows how they are not. Within the same speech only two lines later, God continues, “She should take heed to your command / As you should do what I demand” (14-15). This statement creates a hierarchy with God on top, Adam obeying God, and Eve at the bottom obeying both Adam and God. If Adam and Eve were truly equal, they would take heed of each other’s commands and only obey the demands of the Father.
Evidence of Eve’s station below Adam in The Play of Adam can be further seen in God’s first speech to Eve. God speaks directly to Eve saying, “He [Adam] is your husband, you his wife. / To him you always should incline. / Don’t stray far from his discipline. / Serve him with love and spirit fond” (33-36). The language of God in this speech clearly shows Eve’s role in creation, and it is not to be Adam’s equal. Eve was created to serve Adam happily and obey his commands, which is shown again when God speaks, “If you’re his good accessory / I’ll set you near him, in glory” (38-39). In the original French edition of the play, the word for “accessory” is “adjutoire,” with is defined in the OFED as “helper.” This means that in order for Eve to sit next to Adam in glory, she must be his good helper, whereas God gives no requirements that Adam must fulfill for Eve in order to sit next to her in glory. This is completely different from the Bible, where God sets no requirement of Eve to achieve glory beyond following His will.
In the Bible, God places Adam into the Garden of Eden after his creation, before the formation of Eve. In The Play of Adam, God creates both partners before leading them into the Garden. Upon entering, the stage directions instruct God to pull Adam closely and address him privately about the gift he is giving him—a long life without hunger, thirst, pain, or sorrow (48-57). The stage directions make a point in directing God to take Adam away from Eve to describe all he is gifting him. Are all of these things not gifted to Eve as well? The author makes it a point to intentionally separates Adam from Eve for this particular part of the conversation, which highlights God’s favoritism for Adam. God brings Adam back to Eve to continue his speech, saying, “I tell you [Adam] now, and wish Eve to hear this / (For if she doesn’t, all will go amiss)—” (58-59). God choosing to speak to both Adam and Eve for this part of the speech shows His preference for Adam. The Lord expresses doubts about Eve intentionally in front of Adam, which only strengthens their inequality in their Father’s eyes. This quotation shows that God already has doubts about Eve on the first day of her existence. The author of the play hints at God’s knowledge and expectation of Eve’s sin before she even experiences temptation. An equal and just God should not expect the worst of His children. The further into the play the audience reads, the more the play deviates from the true story of a fair Creator and an equal man and wife.
Adam and Eve’s inequality is seen again in God’s warning about the tree of knowledge. After being shown the many inhabitants and flora of the Garden of Eden, God again pulls Adam aside. The stage directions then instruct, “And he [God] should show [Adam] the forbidden tree and its fruit saying: / But this fruit I forbid you both to try. / If you should eat it, you will surely die” (101-02). If Adam and Eve are truly equal, why does God only speak to Adam? If eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge has such dire consequences, God should want both parties to hear the warning. These actions directly set Adam as the superior of the two, by making him the only person trusted to relay the unbreakable rule. Conversely, in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, only Adam is created when the Bible states, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’” (Gen. 2:15-17). God gives the command to not eat from the tree of knowledge before He creates Eve. Though in both stories Eve is not directly told to avoid eating from the tree, the Bible’s version does not put Adam above Eve, because the only reason she is not told is because she did not yet exist. Contrarily, in The Play of Adam Eve is not explicitly told because she is portrayed as unworthy of hearing God’s commandment, making the divide between Adam and Eve more prominent.
The author of The Play of Adam utilizes the scene of the serpent’s temptation to characterize Eve as vain, gullible, and disloyal to Adam. In the serpent’s temptation of Eve, he says, “You’re such a dainty, tender thing; / You’re fresher than a rose in spring. / You’re white as crystal, or as snow / That falls on icy streams below” (226-29). The serpent appeals to Eve’s vanity to tempt her to accept his words as truth. The serpent continues with his speech, calling Adam a “nincompoop,” an “imbecile,” and a “big jerk” (220-31). Throughout this speech Eve never defends Adam against the serpent’s insults, which to a medieval audience, would make her look unfaithful to her husband. Only after hearing insults against Adam and the serpent’s flattery does Eve agree to listen to what the serpent has to say and accept his claims about the tree of knowledge. Eve’s neutrality during the serpent’s insults of Adam and her affinity for flattery, characterize Eve in a very negative, vapid light— far different from the Eve described in the original story. The Bible describes the scene of the fall with the serpent saying, “You will not certainly die… For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). In the original story, the serpent appeals to Eve’s desire to be like her Creator. This reason for giving into temptation is more understandable for audiences than succumbing because of flattery, like in The Play of Adam. Readers of the Bible, especially Christians, would relate to a desire to be like the Father, but would resent a woman who cursed mankind in exchange for compliments. The author of The Play of Adam intentionally changes the cause for Eve’s betrayal to make her a less sympathetic character.
Eve’s potential for sympathy is completely lost in the scene where Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge. The author of The Play of Adam again changes Eve’s characterization by having her insult Adam to convince him to sin. Eve pressures Adam to eat the fruit by saying, “You’ll be a coward if you don’t” (297). The author writes Eve as someone willing to insult her husband to get what she wants after one conversation with the serpent. Not only is Eve now giving into temptation, but she has also taken on the serpent’s tendency to insult Adam. Eve is no longer an innocent woman who accidentally falls prey to temptation, but she is a woman who listens to verbal attacks on her husband and then repeats those attacks herself to get what she wants. After this fall to temptation, the chauvinistic treatment of Eve in The Play of Adam reaches its climax. Immediately after eating the fruit, Adam begins the longest speech of the play, despairing over his loss of innocence and betrayal of the Creator. Almost halfway through the speech, Adam turns to his wife and begins his condemnation of her. Adam exclaims, “Ah, woman! False harpy! / In evil hour born of me! / I’d rather that my rib had burned / Than live to do this evil turn!” (357-60). Adam condemns Eve’s entire existence because of a sin he also commits. God gifted all of man with free will, which Adam, like Eve, uses to consciously decide to eat the forbidden fruit. Though Eve did persuade her husband to eat the fruit alongside her, it was ultimately Adam’s decision, making him equal to blame for bringing about the fall of man. In The Play of Adam, Adam never fully admits his guilt, and continually names Eve as the cause of his suffering.
When God confronts His children after their fall, Adam again puts all blame onto Eve. Adam begs, “The woman you gave me: / She was the first to trespass! … A bad decision led to bites— / But that transgression was my wife’s” (418-23). Adam denounces his wife’s actions to God, hoping to save his own skin by surrendering Eve. While God does not forgive Adam for listening to his wife over his Creator, He does blame Adam far less than Eve. When the Father turns his attention to Eve, He says, “Such hardship and so many cares / Have you brought down on all of your heirs. / All those who to the world come in / Will weep forever for your sin” (458-61). God condemns Eve by placing the entire world’s eternal suffering on her shoulders, and none on Adam’s. The play again distances Adam from Eve and escalates their inequality. In the Bible, the Lord punishes Eve by saying, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3.16). Only after Eve’s betrayal does God place her below Adam in the original story. He does not put the weight of the world’s suffering on her shoulders or condemn her for her mistake. In the Bible, God gives out an arguably equal punishment for Adam, forcing him to harvest cursed soil for food by the sweat of his brow until the day he dies (Gen. 3.17-19). In The Play of Adam, God’s anger with Eve reaches almost to a point of hatred, which is completely unmatched in the Bible. The author of The Play of Adam took the story of the Bible and completely ignored its underlying message of free will and forgiveness, writing instead a story of man’s superiority and woman’s evil deception.
Eve is one of the most important names in the Christian religion, falling only behind the Virgin Mary. The author of The Play of Adam’s desecration of Eve’s character could be an attempt to starkly contrast her with the character of the Virgin Mary. In comparing these two women, Eve falls out of the traditional role expected of women at this time and provides counsel to her husband, which ultimately leads to the downfall of mankind. Contrarily, the Virgin Mary represents the foundation for what a Christian woman should be. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth, and is famous for being a mother, which is the biggest purpose for women at the time when The Play of Adam was written. The characters of Eve and Mary balance out the roles of women in the Bible. One woman brings the downfall of mankind through her sin, the other woman brings salvation to the world by being the chosen vessel for the Son of God. It can be argued that the author of The Play of Adam desecrates Eve’s character more than the original Bible story in order to persuade women to be more like the Virgin Mary or even to highlight Mary’s holiness more by comparison. Since the author of The Play of Adam is unknown, his true purpose behind the sexist characterization of Eve may never be known, but audiences will continue to read his play and speculate about Eve’s purpose and role in both the creation and downfall of mankind.