Ten things playwright Tim Slover wants you to know about Hildegard of Bingen before VIRTUE opens February 16

Tim Slover

Playwright Tim Slover

Tim Slover makes his Plan-B debut with VIRTUE. His writing includes the play JOYFUL NOISE (Samuel French), the novel THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (Random House), the non-fiction work MESSIAH: THE LITTLE-KNOW STORY OF HANDEL’S BELOVED ORATORIO (Silverleaf Press) and the screenplay A MORE PERFECT UNION (PBS). His plays have been produced off-Broadway and in regional theatres in the U.S., Canada and the UK. His writing awards include the Hopwood Award for Drama, the Christopher Brian Wolk Award for Playwriting Excellence and the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge George Washington Honor Medal. He has been a writer-in-residence at Lamb’s Players Theatre, Cornell College, Penn State University and the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House at Franklin & Marshall College. Tim heads the University of Utah Department of Theatre’s playwriting program and is currently under commission for Oregon Shakepeare Festival’s PLAY ON! Shakespeare Project. VIRTUE II

VIRTUE celebrates the life and music of Hildegard of Bingen. So we asked Tim to share ten things he wants you to know about her before you see the play.

1. Hildegard was born in 1098 and died in 1179. At the age of 8 she was given to the Benedictine monastery of St. Disibod as a tithe—the tenth of ten children. At that time she was “enclosed,” that is, lived in a cell at the back of the nave of the church, with a young anchoress called Jutta. As a grown woman Hildegard wrote against the practice of sending children to monasteries against their will and disapproved of asceticism.

Hildegard's self portrait of herself receiving a vision with Volmar observing

Hildegard’s self portrait of herself receiving a vision with Volmar observing

2. Hildegard’s first vision came when she was even younger: “I was only in my third year when I saw a heavenly light which made my soul tremble, but because I was a child I could not speak out” (Vita, II, ii).

3. Hildegard’s visions came to her while she was in a normal, waking state, not in some kind of trance or hysteria. She wrote, “Whatever I see or learn in this vision…I simultaneously see and hear and understand and, as it were, learn in this moment. But what I do not see, I do not understand, because I am unlearned” (Hildegard of Bingen, Selected Writings, p. xx).

4. Her visions were written down—and the grammar corrected—by a Benedictine monk and scholar, Volmar. The two were very close. “That these encounters may once have kindled intimations, at least, of sexual feelings is, though a matter for conjecture, not necessarily one of mere prurience. Throughout her writings she displays a rare natural sympathy with the pleasurable aspects of ‘lust’” (Fiona Maddocks, Hildegard of Bingen, pp. 106-7).

5. Hildegard wrote her visions into books: Scivias (Know the Ways), The Book of Divine Works, and The Book of the Rewards of Life. She also wrote Physica, a book about health, herbology, midwifery, and healing. Early parts of Scivias, Hildegard’s first book, were read out to the College of Cardinals by Pope Eugene III, which had never been done with a woman’s writings.

An excerpt of Hildegard’s music

6. Hildegard wrote 77 pieces of vocal music: 43 antiphons, 18 responsories, 6 sequences, 4 hymns, 3 songs, 1 kyrie, 1 alleluia, and the Western world’s first opera—which was also the first morality play—called The Play of the Virtues.

7. “Hildegard’s musical technique departs so radically from the norms of Gregorian plainchant that it suggests her claim is true: that she really had not undergone any study of the traditional forms. Instead, under the guidance of her inspiration, she was striking out on her own” (Hildegard of Bingen, Selected Writings, p. xxxvii).

8. In her reflections about her life, Hildegard wrote: “For while I was writing the book Scivias, I bore a deep love for a certain noble young woman, daughter of the above mentioned marchioness [Richardis of Stade]…. She joined herself to me in loving friendship in everything, and comforted me in all my trials, until at length I finished the book” (Vita, II, v).

9. Disibod was a “double monastery,” meaning that both men and women lived there. Once Hildegard became an Abbess, her nuns were accountable to her, and she had a large degree of autonomy. Nominally, the Abbot, Cuno, outranked her.

One of Hildegard's illustrations in "Scivias"

One of Hildegard’s illustrations in “Scivias”

10. Here is the daily worship schedule at a monastery in Hildegard’s day:
2 am: Matins
Sleep till dawn
Dawn: Lauds
Needlework or study
6:30 am: Prime
8:15 am: Terce
12 noon: Sext (followed in summer by lunch and 2 hours’ sleep)
2:30 pm: Nones (during winter followed by the only meal of the day)
5 pm: Vespers (followed in summer by second meal)
7:15 pm: Compline (followed by bedtime)

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