Medieval Theater Medieval Theater Early Medieval times (7th century) the church played a part in stopping theater performances. Church was then responsible for rebirth of theater during the Middle Ages Dramatic performances based on the story of the Resurrection, were 1st introduced into the Easter service These performances were originally done by priests and monks They were the beginning of a great period of mystery plays, which dramatized almost every part of biblical history. 16th century-medieval religious plays were beginning to
decline More worldly (secular) plays were performed in inns, hotels, and halls and slowly moved to theaters of their own. 1st theater called The Theatre was built outside of London in 1576. Other theaters followed like the Curtain, the Rose, and the Globe. These theaters were on a frame, often a 3 story structure, built around an open courtyard and were circular. The 1st audience sat in boxes or in galleries within the frame. At the end of the stage, where the audience couldnt see was a tiring house where the actors stored props and changed costumes.
During these times, Elizabethan actors (all male) formed guilds and became master actors. One of the most famous actors and playwrights was William Shakespeare. The 5 Ms of Medieval Theater Mummings are one of the earliest styles of Medieval drama. Early as it was, it still had very strong pagan roots, with appearances of St. Nick right alongside the Green Man, a pagan vegetation god. While these plays were performed in yearly rituals, such as the summer and winter solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes, the most important remains as the Yule Mummings. These performances were public communal processions in common social areas, excepting chapels. Mummings were also
unapologetically politically incorrect. Mysteries, or Cycle plays, were performed in each summer. These plays were a joint effort by the community, in which different guilds were assigned a portion of the Bible to act out on a makeshift stagewagons in a community square. For instance, the blacksmith guild, makers of nails, would perform the Crucifixion of Christ. As is tradition, only man acted on the stage in the Medieval period. However, women are allowed and expected to act in Englands modern renditions. These plays were utterly didactic and deeply scriptural, focused on sharing the gospel story. The most famous of these is the Wakefield Masters Second Shepherds Play. Miracle Plays widened its religious horizons and focused on spirituality outside of the Bible, instead dramatizing the lives of canonized Saints. The heavy
emphasis on absolute truth instead of fact meant that events in the plays may not have been realistic. Morality plays were heavily allegorical and straight didacticism, instructing man in what he should do. These can be extremely entertaining. The great focus of the morality play is death. In a post-plague Europe, death was considered a great equalizer because everyone goes with death eventually. The most famous of the Morality plays is Everyman, originally a Dutch play. In this, a character named Everyman is beckoned by Death, and seeks the aid of other personified elements, such as Good Deeds and Kinsmen, before ultimately following Death. In the very late Medieval period, bridging this age with the Renaissance, Manners Plays came out. These plays focused on the social and secular instead of the religious, taking the idea of the morality play and putting it in a social world instead of a spiritual. Often, the plays depict people acting socially inappropriately. Medieval Drama Inside Church
Drama inside the Church Liturgical Drama Before 1200, most were still being done inside the church as part of the liturgy. Most were probably still in Latin, the language of the Church. Staging: There were two main areas for the performances to take place: Mansions -- small scenic structures for indicating location (for instance, a throne might equal the palace of Pilate). In more complex plays, there were many mansions. Platea 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 vernacular, rather than Latin. Laymen were the actors (male members of the community, unpaidthough 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. Medieval Drama Outside the Church Medieval Drama outside of the Church: With diminishing church control, secularization 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 Register sometimes the producing company / guild could monopolize or censor it or ban it - The Keeper of the Register was an important position and had much control. The Master of Secrets was in charge of the machines (secrets) the special effects. Often very intricate (need 17 people to operate Hell machinery in Belgium in 1501). Flying 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 "glories") held angels. Trap doors appearances and disappearances (Lots wife turning into salt, etc.) Fire the hellmouth a fire-breathing monster representing hell. Medieval Theater Staging Two major kinds of stages in the medieval theatre: Fixed and Moveable 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: on the Continent (except Spain and parts of Italy) (W&G call them "platform stages) 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. Moveable: pageant wagons (or click here) moved through the streets while the audience stayed in one place
like parade floats. (W&G call them "wagon stages") (see illustration in text) (click here for a picture..) 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. There are few reliable description of pageant wagons. One claims that the wagons must be over 12 feet tallit would seem impossible to fit through the streets (many medieval streets had overhanging buildings), and would be flimsy. Medieval Drama The Plays Medieval drama seems nave if we dont understand the period. They have little sense of history reflecting the limited knowledge of the people. Anachronisms 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 teach Biblical stories and principles to the people. The medieval mind looked at the temporal world (Earth) as transitory; Heaven and Hell were the eternal realities. The Religious Plays: Performed in cycles. Three kinds of religious plays: -- Mystery plays about Christ or from the Old Testament usually done in cycles (Second Shepherds Play is one of these). -- Miracle plays lives of saints, historical and legendary -- Morality plays didactic allegories, often of common mans struggle for salvation (Everyman only his good deeds accompany him in death).
Characteristics in common: aimed to teach or reinforce Church doctrine melodramatic: good rewarded, evil punished God and his plan were the driving forces, not the characters To us, these plays seem to be episodic, confusing sequences of time, and an odd mixture of comic and serious unnerving. Medieval Secular Plays Latin comedies and tragedies were studied in schools and universities
Farce very popular Particularly in France, where it was well-developed. Pierre Patelin 15th century France clever knaves outwitting each other. Moralities secularized allegories based on classical gods and heroes, often with some political content Mummings and disguisings given at wealthy homes on holidays pantomimes, danced and narrated stories Interludes and Masques between courses at a banquet, masques were allegorical compliments to the guests with intricate dances and spectacle. Towns staged pageantsthe plays were often put in celebrations in honor of dignitaries. Secular plays were most often performed by professional actors attached to noble houses.
Decline of Medieval Theater Increased interest in classical learning affected staging and playwriting Social structure was changing destroyed feudalism and "corporate" nature of communities Dissension within the church led to prohibition of religious plays in Europe (Queen Elizabeth, the Council of Trent, 1545-1563 religious plays outlawed.). By late 16th century, drama of medieval period lost its force. Results of the decline: Professional actors still needed, but not amateurs. Professional theatre rose, became commercial (no longer a community venture). No longer religious plays returned to the classics for new ideas for stories.
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