Medieval Theatre Medieval Theatre v Time frame 5
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Medieval Theatre v Time frame: 5 th c- mid 16 th c v Secular theatre died in Western Europe with the fall of Rome v Theatrical performances were banned by the Roman Catholic Church as barbaric and pagan v Most Roman theatre had been spectacle rather than literary drama
Roman Literary Drama ® 2 nd c. bc - 4 th c. ce ® Origins in Greek drama and Roman festivals ®Tragedy: Seneca ®Comedy: Terence and Plautus
Roman Spectacle Gladiatorial combats Naval battles in a flooded Coliseum “Real-life” theatricals Decadent, violent and immoral All theatrical events were banned by the Church when Rome became Christianized
Byzantine Theatre v The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) with its capitol at Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) flourished until 1453. v The Byzantines kept Greek and Roman theatrical pieces alive and saved manuscripts and records of Classical playwrights.
Drama in the Early Middle Ages 500 -1000 v Small groups of traveling performers – minstrels, jugglers, acrobats, bards, mimes, puppeteers -- went from town to town entertaining. v They performed in taverns and at festivals for the commoners and at court for the nobility v Festivals usually contained both pagan and Christian elements ( e. g. Halloween and Christmas celebrations )
Liturgical Drama v The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for the rebirth of European theatre in the 10 th – 12 th century v All Europe had been converted to Christianity v The Church needed ways to teach illiterate parishioners: cathedrals, stained glass windows, sculpture, painting and drama
Liturgical Drama v Religious rituals ( the mass, baptism, etc. ) embody theatrical elements. v Priests began to incorporate such elements into the gospel lessons of the mass. v The first short plays were called tropes v Written in Latin, these tropes were performed by the clergy during the mass.
Religious Vernacular Drama v Vernacular: language spoken by the people v To reach the commoners, the clergy began to translate the liturgical plays into vernacular languages v As the plays became more elaborate, they were moved from the altar of the church to the church yard. v As more roles were added, commoners were used as amateur actors
The 3 M’s of Religious Vernacular Drama v Mystery plays: Biblical stories v. Miracle plays: saints’ lives v. Morality plays: allegories
Mystery Plays v Mystery: from French mystere -- secret. The term could refer to Biblical truths or to the secrets of the crafts held by the guilds who were responsible for producing the plays. v In England, these Biblical plays were produced in cycles: a series of plays depicting Biblical history from the Creation to the Last Judgement. Also known as Cycle Plays. v The cycles were usually performed at the religious festival of Corpus Christi -- in the spring or early summer.
Mystery Plays performed by Trade Guilds v While the plays were written by the clergy and overseen by the Church, the performances were produced by the guilds of each town and mostly performed by amateur actors. v Productions were considered a religious duty, and each guild invested considerable resources into productions. v Plays were often assigned to guilds associated with the subject matter of the play and became a kind of “advertisement” v. The Flood: Shipbuilders or Barrelmakers v The Nativity: Shepherds v The Magi: Goldsmiths
English Cycle Plays v Each cathedral town had its own cycle: v York v Chester v Wakefield v N-town v The cycles were very popular amongst commoners and nobility: records show that both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I attended performances. v The Protestant Reformation brought a halt to the presentation of cycle plays as they incorporated Roman Catholic theology.
Modern Productions Chester Mystery Plays York Mystery Plays The Lichfield Mysteries B. J. Elvgren. Quilt: depicting scenes from Chester’s 14 th century dramas set against modern city landmarks – Chester Cathedral
Dramatic Techniques v English mystery plays incorporate a combination of high seriousness and low comedy: v High seriousness: the Biblical stories of the Old Testament and Jesus’ life and mission v Low comedy: the plays incorporate almost slapstick sketches of contemporary medieval daily life. v The plays are set in contemporary settings with recognizable contemporary characters: the truth of the Biblical stories is timeless -- the divine truths revealed in the Bible are still true “today. ”
Miracle Plays v Miracle plays were similar to mystery plays in dramatic techniques v Dramatized the lives of Roman Catholic saints ( in order to become a saint, a person had to perform 3 documented miracles) v The most popular subjects were the Virgin Mary (plays usually written in Latin), St. George (dragon slayer and patron saint of England) and St. Nicholas ( associated with Christmas festivities)
Morality Plays v Theme: how to live a Christian life and be saved. v Allegory: v A story told on two levels: the literal and the symbolic v Plot: a journey through life or to death v Emphasis switches from Biblical and saintly protagonists to the common man: Everyman, Mankind v Focus on free will v First major use of professional acting companies
Staging the Plays v PROCESSIONAL v Pageant wagons would v travel a set route and perform at several locations: like a parade or v would be set up around a town square and the audience would travel from one wagon to the next to see the performances v STATIONARY v. Mansions or a series of stages would be set up around the town square v Anchored at either end by Heaven and Hell v Elaborate special effects such as floods, flying and fiery pits were very popular
Dramatic Techniques v Theatre was performed in found spaces: town squares, taverns, churches, banquet halls -- no specifically designated theatres v Theatre was intimate -- audience interacted with performers v Elaborate special effects v Characterization was often dependent upon costume and makeup
Interludes and Farces v Combined elements of allegory, classical myth, and courtly entertainment: music, dance, spectacle v Interludes were short plays performed between courses at court banquets v Farces were longer plays ridiculing such human follies as greed and dishonesty v As the mysteries, miracle and moralities were censored by Protestant authorities, secular drama became more important to all levels of society
Folk Plays v Often performed at such holidays as Christmas, New Year and May Day v Incorporated remnants of pagan rituals v Mummers, Morris Dancers, etc. v Robin Hood v Feast of Fools: Fool companies consisted of. young men, whose chief business was to play gross comedies and to execute nonsensical and often ribald travesties on the Mass. These boisterous "Feasts" antedate most of the mysteries, and may have been reverent in their origin
Types of Medieval Drama v Performances by itinerant entertainers v Liturgical tropes: gospel dramatizations v Mystery plays: Biblical plays v Miracle plays: saints’ lives v Morality plays: allegories v Interludes and farces: secular plays v Folk plays: pagan and folklore elements