Theatre 2 – Advanced Theatre – Dr. Neighbours Theatre History – Medieval Theatre PowerPoint Notes Medieval history

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Theatre 2 – Advanced Theatre – Dr. Neighbours

Theatre History – Medieval Theatre

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Medieval history

  • After the fall of Rome the 600’s A.D., came a period known to us as the " ."

  • Much political turmoil – no reliable political structure

  • The was the only stable "government"

Feudalism .

  • The (large estate), headed by a nobleman, had absolute authority over the , (peasants) who worked the land. Lords of manors were vassals, or subjects, of a king. The king’s knights protected the lords and their land.

  • Serfs (servants) owed allegiance to their .

  • There are many church edicts against , , – terms for secular performers.

Little is known about the theatre between A.D.

  • Minstrels or troubadours became the primary preserver of tribal histories, but the Teutonic tribes converted to Christianity after the 7th or 8th century, and they were denounced, branded as bad as mimes.

  • _ , a nun, wrote religious plays based on Terence's plays, but they were probably "closet dramas."

Between 925 and 975, drama becomes re-introduced into the .

Christian ceremonies, where the theatre seems to have been " ." Theatre was "reborn" within the very institution that helped to .

:” within the church liturgy (the service)

The practice blossomed – many developed dealing with biblical themes—mostly Easter, Christmas, the 12th Night (Feast of the Epiphany).

At first, the church had control of the drama outside of the church, but then it gradually became more controlled by secular groups.

The (tradesmen or Confraternities) took over in some cities, and it was common for certain Guilds to retain control over certain plays / stories, all of which were based in some way on the Bible or religious teachings.

Municipalities took over in some cities. But the still needed to approve the scripts, even when its role diminished.

Before 1200, most were still being done inside the church as part of the . Most were probably still in , the language of the Church

Staging: There were two main areas for the performances to take place:

_ -- small scenic structures for indicating location (for instance, a throne might equal the palace of Pilate). In more complex plays, there were many mansions.

_ – general acting area, adjacent to the mansion.

The church structure usually served as the mansions (the choir loft, for instance, could serve as heaven; the altar might be the tomb of Christ).

Machinery was also used: to fly Christ up to heaven, have angels come down, etc.

Costumes were probably ordinary church vestments.

By 1200, some of these plays were being performed outdoors.

By 1350, plays were in the , rather than .

_ were the actors (male members of the community, unpaid—though there were some women on stage in France), no longer clerics and priests.

The stories began to range even further than when they were part of the liturgical services.

The church seemed to support these dramas.

Why did they begin to move outdoors? .

Medieval drama outside of the church

With diminishing church control, led to some changes.

Sometimes the plays were very complex – in cycles – that someone was hired to oversee.

The master copy of the script was called the – sometimes the producing company / guild could monopolize or censor it or ban it –

The was an important position and had much control.

The – was in charge of the machines (secrets) – the special effects.

Often very intricate (need 17 people to operate Hell machinery in Belgium in 1501).

_ was a major technique.

Quite common – almost all the scenes had Heaven on the right, Hell on the left, and Earth on the middle.

Therefore, angels, resurrection – had to use flying.

Platforms covered with cotton (the " ") held angels.

_ – appearances and disappearances (Lot’s wife turning into salt, etc.)

Fire – the – a fire-breathing monster representing hell.

Medieval staging

Two major kinds of stages in the medieval theatre: and

These technical tricks would be more extensive on fixed stages.

The mansion and platea were borrowed from the church services.

Simultaneous display of several locations also borrowed from liturgical drama-

Simultaneous staging was a distinctive characteristic of medieval theatre.

Fixed Staging:

Mainland (except Spain and parts of Italy)

Mansions set up in available spaces (courtyards, town squares, etc.), usually arranged in straight lines or rectangles or circles, depending on the space.

Heaven and Hell were at opposite ends, if possible.



The term "pageant" is used to refer to the stage, the play itself, and the spectacle.

Plays performed in sequence – thus each play was performed several times.

The Medieval Drama – the plays themselves…

_ were quite common (In The Second Shepherds’ Play, for instance, the stolen lamb becomes the baby Jesus, and the Shepherds had been using Christian references even before this "baby Jesus" arrived).

Comic elements appeared in plays that were otherwise quite serious, and had as their purpose to .

The medieval mind looked at the temporal world (Earth) as ; were the eternal realities.

The plays themselves…..The religious plays

Performed in .

Three kinds of religious plays:

Mystery plays –

Miracle plays –

Morality plays –

– only his good deeds accompany him in death

Characteristics in common:

aimed to teach or reinforce

melodramatic: good rewarded, evil punished

God and his plan were the driving forces, not the

These plays were typically episodic, had confusing sequences of time, and an odd mixture of comic and serious tones

Key Elements & Themes of Morality Plays

Morality plays held several elements in common:

The hero represents or .

Among the other characters are personifications of virtues, vices and Death, as well as angels and demons who battle for the possession of the soul of man.

The , the battle for the soul

A character known as the often played the role of the tempter in a fashion both sinister and comic.

Certain themes found a home in the morality plays:

The theme of the

The theme of Mercy and Peace pleading before God for man's soul against Truth and Righteousness; and

The , which focuses on Death as God's messenger come to summon all, high and low.

The plays themselves…..The secular plays

Latin were studied in schools and universities

_ – very popular, particularly in France, where it was well-developed.

_ – secularized – allegories based on classical gods and heroes, often with some political content

_ and – given at wealthy homes on holidays – pantomimes, danced and narrated stories

_ and – between courses at a banquet, masques were allegorical compliments to the guests – with intricate dances and spectacle.

Secular plays were most often performed by actors attached to

The decline of medieval theatre

Increased interest in learning – affected staging and playwriting

Social structure was changing – destroyed and " " nature of communities

Dissension within the church led to of religious plays in Europe

By , drama of medieval period lost its force

Results of the decline:

Professional actors still needed, but not .

Professional theatre , became (no longer a community venture).

No longer plays – returned to the for new ideas for stories.

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