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AKA the medieval period

Ca. 1350-1550: The Peak of Medieval Theatre

 Often based on the country and/or the art form being studied, the exact dates vary.
 500-1400 is often referred to as the Middle Ages
 1400-1650 is often referred to as the Renaissance… that era when the classics of Greece
and Rome were rediscovered
 Some sources say 1350 is the start of the Renaissance
 It is true that the line between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is a blur… as the
Renaissance arrived first in Italy, then France, then England… with some Renaissance art
forms emerging… while theatre was still in its medieval phase.
 The greatest Medieval Drama was created between 1350 and 1550… at which point
Renaissance painting and sculpture were already established.
 Painting/sculpture, theatre, architecture
 We know theatre reflects society
 We see that art transitions with social change faster than theatre
 Bear in mind… that while paintings and sculpture can be created by an individual
and commissioned by a single person, theatre requires a much larger community
for theatre to be produced, and it needs to appeal to an audience.
 Rome fell… A.D. 476 (Collapse of the western Roman Empire)
 Byzantium… the eastern empire (centralized by Constantine in Constantinople, continued to function
until 1453.


 Byzantium (now the eastern world/ as opposed to the western world/Europe) had synthesized: Greece,
Rome and Christianity
(3 important influences on the Byzantine Empire)
 During the CRUSADES… the religious wars of the 12th & 13th centuries…the western world came in
contact with Byzantine… and “re-discovered” these roots.
Discoveries now available to the western world to see and know…
 The Hippodrome, a large arena in Constantinople (equivalent of the Circus Maximus or the Colosseum)… and all of their glorious
 Preserved classical Greek drama… plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, and the Criticism of Aristotle… which became part
of the rediscovery of the past in the western world… AKA… the Renaissance.
 Laid the foundation for the High Middle Ages
 Roman institutions toppled by barbarians from the North
 Roman towns and roadways fell into disuse
 When the pagan barbarians invaded, many were converted to the new belief…
 The Church’s power was centralized under the pope
 Secular leaders/rulers/emperors… were always subject to the influence of the Church

 When Charlemagne became the most powerful secular ruler in Europe during the early
part of the 9th century, he was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
 PIPPIN??? Son of Charlemagne? Written… wow… in 1972, musical by Hirson and Schwartz
 Co-existed with the ever present and powerful Church
 Primarily agrarian (living off the land)
 This word was coined in the 16th century from the Greek word “agros” meaning field.

 Tended to not travel… stay close to where they were born and raised
 The development of mechanical tools: heavy plows, better harnesses, windmills…
made for efficiency in agriculture, and systems of crop rotation were developed
allowing increased productivity and reduced soil depletion. (3 parts… 1 plot left
unplanted every 3 years.)
 3 Classifications of people:
 Controlled large areas of land
 Protected less wealthy landholders.
 The Lesser Lords
 Conrtolled smaller areas of land
 Under the protection of the Lords/Counts
 Provided military service and payment fees to the Lords/Counts
 Attached to their lord’s land and required to work it.
 Received protection and a small financial reward
 Bound to the land
 Had a higher status then the slaves
 Unlike the slaves, they had recognized rights and could move to other areas

 Note: Slavery was not practiced on a large scale

 It’s very possible that the growth of National Monarchies grew out of Feudalism .
 Ie: in France, the chief

figure among the important lords

came to be the monarch.
 Rebirth of towns due to expansion of commerce and trade
 Towns were self-governing units (not based on the feudal system)
 The growth of towns is possibly what lead to the end of feudalism and the
eradication of serfdom in the 15th century.

 Merchants and craftsmen developed

 Ie: butchers, weavers, goldsmiths,…

 These groups became organized into trade guilds

 Protected their interests and privileges
 Allowed for organized vocational training (a system to train to become a master
craftsman: apprentice to journeyman to master craftsman).
 Marked by the spread of knowledge
 The writings of Aristotle and other classical texts were re-discovered by scholarly
monks in monasteries in western Europe
 By the end of the high middle ages, over 100 universities had been established in

 HOWEVER: Theology (the study of religion) remained the “queen of sciences”

 Monasteries were responsible for the copies of manuscripts
 Monasteries were the centers of learning
 A product of the 10th century… so, it’s a transitional time from Early to High Middle
 She was a nun who lived and worked in a center of scholarship in northern
 Gandershim, a Benedictine abbey in Saxony, led by women of noble families

 She is believed to be of noble birth (so had access to the world)

 There is evidence that unlike many nuns, she was a “canoness”… so not completely
cloistered/confined to the abbey.
Canoness, NOUN
(in the Roman Catholic Church) a member of certain religious orders of women living communally
according to an ecclesiastical rule in the same way as nuns.
Example Sentence:
‘Hroswitha became a canoness and was allowed to leave the convent for outside visits.’
 Read and wrote in Latin, the language of the church
and western scholarship
 She studied classical Roman texts for their form and
 Terence was one of the classical Roman playwrights
admired for his style.
 Hrosvitha appreciated his style, but feared that his
subject matter was unsuitable for Christian readers.
 To create texts students could read without corruption,
she wrote 6 plays in the Terentian manner, but used
Christian stories.
 Her purpose: to glorify Christian virgins.
 Topics:
 Martyrdom of devout Christians
 Hard won conversions of nonbelievers
 Renunciations of sinful pasts
 Strict penance for the past

 Paphnutius and Abraham, 2 plays, both about woman’s redemption from sexual sins
 Dulcitius, 1 play, depicts the martyrdom of 3 Christian virgins**
 3 Others: Gallicanus, Callimachus and Sapienta

 Most likely not meant for performance… but probably read a loud.
 The work was not widely known until it was rediscovered and published in 1501
 Of interest:
 Connection of her plays to the formal composition of classical drama (based on Terrence)
 The themes and subject matter of the medieval mystery and morality plays
 The relationship of the plays to contemporary feminist theory
 She has been historically depicted as a poor imitator of Terence whos plays she
 It is assumed that if she was cloistered (which it now seems she wasn’t) … in which case
her plays would have only been a monastic exercise
 These ideas come from a male-oriented view of dramatic technique and history.

 FYI: Through closer examination it was found that:

 Hrosvitha, in her plays, represents women who control the dramatic action and respond to male
aggression… unlike the weaker women represented by Terrence who are manipulated and
controlled by men and have little onstage presence.
 It’s close re-examination of this type of work that has people challenging the biases of
historians who generated the list of great dramatists known as the cannon. While this
list has been accepted as historic reality, the biases of those that created the cannon
quite possibly ignores critical works due to a cultural and/or sexual bias.
 We can’t.


 READ: DULCITIUS, by Hrosvitha, found on D2L under

 Or

 A play about 3 Christian virgins, Agape, Chionia and Irena.

 Test Scores should be posted by Friday
 MONDAY: COME READY TO Discuss Dulcitius

 Still to come:
 Liturgical Drama (Religious)… From sanctuary to stage (Films on Demand)
 Mystery or Cycle Plays
 Miracle Plays & Morality Plays
 Popular forms of Theatre
 Decline of Religious Theatre
 Short
 Straightforward
 Topics: Power, Miracle of God, Christianity vs. Greek/Roman Religion…
 Goal: To educate people in the ways of the Church
 Multiple locations (immediate shifts)
 Many conventions were different… might not fly easily with a contemporary
 1. What do we learn about theatre styles?
 2. What do we learn about society?
 Full Class Day Video: Films on Demand
 The Entire scope of Medieval Theatre
 Liturgical Drama is Church drama… short plays that developed around biblical
events/bible stories.

 Most likely, dramatic portion of religious rituals, based on Roman Catholicism. created
the basis for theatre to re-develop.
(examples include: the mass, the vestments, the church/theatrical space for presentation…)
 Tropes, extended musical passages, often sung in monasteries, were added to the
services by the 9th century, creating “tiny plays”
 You Heard an Example from Hildegarde Von Bingen, a nun wrote music and lyrics for the
church… political activist, scientist…late 10th century
 She wrote: Ordo Virtutum, an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest
surviving morality play.
 Liturgical Drama was first presented/staged in monasteries or as parts of church
services, and began to emerge in the urban centers as they developed in the eleventh
and twelfth centuries.
 Performed in Churches
 Produced and performed by minor clerics and nuns
 Topics: Catholic morals
 Written in Latin
 Dialogue was often chanted or sung
 It was these plays… coming out of the church,
gaining secular sponsorship, transitioning to
the common vernacular, that laid the roots for:
 Miracle plays
 Morality plays
 Mystery plays
 During the early middle ages, the majority of the populace did not read
 Very few understood Religion, as it was written in Latin
 In the 13th century, the Church decided that Arts would be the medium to educate
the Masses
 Art, Sculpture, Elaborate Stained Glass windows, Music and Plays… all used to
inform and educate.
 Development of Towns
 Liturgical Drama transitioning to secular control
 Plays no longer in Latin, but now in Italian, French, Spanish, English…
 Plays are more meaningful and immediate to the populace

 Some believe the church FORCED drama away due to cost and moral content.
 Other historians believe the church drama and secular drama developed separately.

 NOTE: Plays developed differently in different parts of the country therefore theatre of
France is different from theatre of England and other European countries!!
(We have more records of French theatre then any other country).
Religious Vernacular Drama

Mystery or Cycle Plays

Miracle Plays

Vernacular Drama (Not quite religious, not quite secular)

Morality Plays
 Cycle of short plays
 Based on events in the Old and New Testaments
 Short Dramas (not scenes) presented in a sequence constitution a cycle
 Presented in Spring and Summer (weather)
 Educated the masses on the meaning of Christ and the
promise of redemption made possible by his sacrifice
 First known use of the term: 1842…
 Mystere, in French, means Craft Guild… a word used to
define these plays, established by 19th century scholars

 Staged outdoors
 Written in the vernacular
 Meant to appeal to large audiences and popular taste

 Plays: set in biblical times

 Characters: Medieval Types (Common every day man)
 Anachronisms (Displacement in time created by juxtopositions like these…
common in the plays)
 Series of wagons
 Focus on Spectacle/Special Effects (Water, Fire…)
 Featured Comedy
 Named for the city they were produced in (ie: York, Chester, Wakefield and N)
 N is the initial of a town… but there are 125 towns in England starting with an N, so it’s not
clear where these plays were actually performed!!)

 Plays include: The Fall of Lucifer, The Creation of the World, The Fall of Adam, Noah
and the Flood, The Last Supper,…The Second Shepherds’ Play (England’s
Wakefield Cycle, 1375)
 The Play structure developed from a series of plays/bible stories in a structure of
 From this, we get the title EPISODIC DRAMA

 Flash back and flash forward… Future terms defined:

TWO Dominant Dramatic Structures from the 16th-20th Century

 An approach to drama developed by the • Early traces found in medieval religious
Greeks which became the prototype for drama… became a foundation for highly
plays written in the Renaissance complex plays
(specifically Italy and France) (England’s Shakespeare, Spain’s Lope de Vega,…)

 Action begins near the climax w/ characters

• Series of events (episodes)
already in midst of their struggles • Many characters
 Very few characters • Action shifts time and locations abruptly
• (logical bcz all time is part of God’s
 1 main action
 Comedy and Tragedy are not mixed • Has more than 1 plot… often 1 theme
 Play occurs w/in a short time (24 hours or looked at from more than one point of
less view
 Usually takes place in one locale • Comic and Serious moments are freely
 Exposition used to provide background intermingled
information, and plot often unravels like a
 Individual plays were often assigned to trade guilds or religious clubs (based on
 Plays were assigned as seemed most appropriate (based on available props and
ability to create spectacle)
 Ie: The last supper… the bakers guild, Noah… the ship builders guild… the visit of the
magi… the goldsmith’s guild…

 Town councils assisted in financing and scheduling

 The church continued to oversee outdoor religious theatrical events
 Produced every 2 to 10 years
 Extremely elaborate
 Evidence of plays lasting 25 days and 40 days!! (these were extreme exceptions)
 300 plus performers!!

 More typical… Full days (morning until late afternoon)… probably 4 days.
 Announcements and processionals occurred in advance to draw large audiences
(Although most already knew)
 With a few exceptions, productions were free
 Actors were amateurs
 Professionals may have been supplemented as the productions became more
 Women performed in France but were excluded in England
 Role doubling (having a performer play 2 or more different parts) was not unusual
 Rehearsal time was minimal (maybe 5 rehearsals per play)
 Actors agreed under oath to perform and were fined for missing or disrupting a
 Actors were often type-cast… and asked to repeat roles when remounting cycles
 Financial burden on the actor could be great, but it was a religious duty. (If he had
to miss work, it was on the actor to hire a replacement at their job)
 Actors provided their own costumes
 Extra special pieces such as angel wings or God vestments would be provided by
the church or other financial supporters
 Approach to costuming was most likely not uniform…
 DARE I SAY Anochronistic???

 Might have worn “contemporary clothing”, but they also liked the historical
perspective and may have used representations of clothing from earlier time
periods… most likely in a historically inaccurate manner.
…Ca c’est toute
 Due to the complex nature of producing cycle plays, there developed the practice of having one person
organize and oversee a production.

 The position may have supervised the advance preparation/rehearsals as well as the logistics of the
 Discovered lists of duties include:
 Finding people to construct scenery as well as seating for the audience
 Supervising the building of the stage (or stages)
 Positioning machines and scenery
 Selecting and rehearsing performers
 Disciplining performers and fining those who violated the rules
 Assigning people to collect money at the entrances
 Serving as a narrator between plays… describing what had happened before and arousing interest in what was to

 Many see this role as anticipating the director MINUS the act of interpreting the text and/or generating
an overall concept to guide the production.
 2 types of staging: PROCESSIONAL & STATIONARY

 English, Spanish and Dutch…. Primarily PROCESSIONAL STAGING

 The rest of Europe… Primarily STATIONARY STAGING

(Both forms were most likely present in all countries)

 Audiences assemble in various places and
wagons would move from local to local
 Debate exists over style and scale of wagons
 2 story w/a low dressing area?
 1 story wagon w/ scenery in conjunction with a
bare scaffold cart for acting and scene changes?

 Theories vary due to cumbersome quality of oversized wagons as well as the varying
street widths in some towns

 Most radical theory:

 Wagons pulled a mute tableau through the streets and pulled up to a stationary stage for the actual
 A huge platform stage was erected in an open courtyard or town square
 Occassionally a pulpitum of an abandon Roman amphitheatre was used

 Sometimes these stages were set up in doors

 A series of small scenic mansions stood side by side… sometimes on a stage, but often
on a the ground
 If the cycles were divided into sections by intermission (or breaks between days), the
mansions could be changed or rearranged.
 Heaven and Hell would be placed at opposite ends of the playing area
 Heaven was often elevated and had flying machinery
 The entrance to hell was often depicted as the head of a monster spewing fire and
 Between the two, were the less intricate mansions representing earthly locales.
 Audience relationship to the performance could be proscenium,
thrust or action could be viewed from all sides
(full surround/arena staging)
 Temporary seating…
 Those closest, stand
 Farther back, scaffolding and box seats
were erected
 Many observed from
rooms or roofs of
nearby houses.
 Bare stage
 Non-localized location
 Relied on the audience to jump to the multiple locations… a field, a house, a
mountaintop… and yes, in an instant.
 Like Mysteries… but different 
 Just kidding,… remember “mystere means trade guild)

 Secrets are special effects.

 Enormously popular
 Ingeniously worked out
 Secrets Master: specifically hired to oversee the elaborate stage effect

 Actors could be flown in and out

 Trapdoors could allow actors to be raised and lowered
 Shiny surfaces were used to reflect light… “halo” effects

**note on your timeline, there was a date indicated when an actor was almost killed via a staged
Miracle and Morality Plays
 FOR NEXT CLASS (Monday)… Please read BOTH…

The Second Shepherds’ Play AND Everyman

(Both on D2L)

 CONSIDER: How does the contemporary audience relate to these plays? What still
resonates? What are some of the more difficult components to relate to??
(This will translate to a reflection!!)
 Mystery: Pageant Wagons (Should trigger all)

 Miracle Plays: Focused on the lives of saints

 Morality Plays: Taught principles of Christian Living, but in both a religious and secular

 ALL 3, written in local vernacular

 Mystery and Miracle Plays: Religious Vernacular Drama
 Morality Plays: A third type of Vernacular Drama (categorized as religious and secular)
 Similar to Mystery Plays in Dramatic Technique… and often lumped into the same
 Based on the lives of saints
 A term used beginning in the 1700s to distinguish those plays that were staged on
the feast day of saints, honoring his/her legendary feats as DIFFERENT from the
Mystery Plays
 Virgin Mary and Saint Nicholas are the most popular subjects.
 In England, Saint George is often dramatized.
 Plays which attempt to teach a moral lesson through the use of allegorical
 Characters represent ideas: Charity, Integrity, Greed,…
 Characters can also included God, the Devil, a Type Figure standing for all of
 Characters often undertake a journey through which they learn a moral lesson
 “STATION DRAMAS” often a term used to describe these dramas as the
protagonist is often confronted by a series of crises… often analogous to Christ’s
journey through the “stations of the cross”.
 It is still debated whether to categorize these plays as religious or secular, thus the
 A revolutionary improvement in the medieval dramas, and the audience
appreciated the fresh ideas being presented
 These plays DO establish a struggle between good and evil… personifications of
…a recurring theme of Plays of the Renaissance… particularly in England.
(ie: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus)
 Examples: The Castle of Perseverence, Everyman, and Mankind… by anonymous
 By the early 16th century… staged by professional performers
 Staging techniques were similar to those of the cycle plays
 They were based on the same concept of a neutral platform stage
 REFLECTION (3 questions for you)

 What is the difference between the two plays? (Mystery vs. Morality please)
 How does the contemporary audience relate to these plays?
 Consider….
 What still resonates?
 What are some of the more difficult components to relate to??
 From England’s Wakefield Cycle, ca. 1375
 An example of a Mystery Play
 Dramatizes the story of the shepherds who are told by an angel of the birth of Christ
and are instructed to visit the manger.
 Pt 1: steeling of a sheep by a rouge named Mak, they discover the sheep in the crib,
and show lenience towards Mak.
 Pt 2: Visit Jesus in the manger.
 Parallels: “child”, adoration, gift, giving,… in BOTH plots (not just one!)
 Written in vernacular and in verse
 Is filled with anachronisms
 Mixture of comic and serious elements… indicating both the religious and secular
strains of Medieval Theatre.
 Typical Morality Play
 Teaches Christian morals in a direct, compact fashion
 Life’s reckoning before God
 Fellowship, Kindred and Goods (wealth) will not go with you
 Confession and penance lead to forgiveness… and a recognition of your good
 Reaffirmation of the 7 sacraments and the power of the priests
 Discretion, Strength, Beauty, Wits and Knowledge… will travel, but abandon you in
the end. (All of these are but vanity).
 Good Deeds are what travel with you to the end … a lesson for all
 Popular Entertainment
 Folk Plays, Farce, Sottie and Interludes
 The Decline of Religious Theatre

 …Wed, Completion
 …Fri, Exam Review
 …MONDAY, EXAM (Please note, this is a CHANGE!!)

 Rough draft of your paper is Due November 17th!!

 Outside and around structured drama, in both the Early and High Middle Ages, we still have wandering minstrels,
mimes, jugglers and rope dancers… a world of professional performers
 Performances occurred outdoors, in town squares, in private homes of the nobility,…

 The performers were attacked by the church as pagan and sacrilegious

 These performers continued the long standing tradition of touring players that has roots in ancient Greece.

 Many productions celebrated fertility and sensual freedom… paganism!! 

 From their rituals and festivities, 2 styles of theatre emerged:

 FOLK PLAYS: dramatized the heroic exploits of folk heroes

 FARCE: comically depict universal human weakness

… styles which made it into plays of the Renaissance

 .
 Emphasized the imperfections and scandals of everyday human behavior:
 Adultery, hypocrisy…

 These topics were presented in a strongly satirical or comic light

 Examples… shows development in various countries

 The Play of Greenwood by Adam de la Halle of Arras (French, 1276)
 The Play of Robin and Marion by Adam de la Halle of Arras (French, 1283)
 Pierre Patelin (French, 1470)… so popular, 30 editions published in the next 130 yrs
 The Wandering Scholar from Paradise by Hans Sachs (German, 1494-1576)… wrote over
200 plays
 Johan Johan by John Heyward, (English, 1497-1580)
 A first cousin to the native Farce. 
 Sot (French): “stupid”, “foolish”, “absurd”
 Sottie: “Foolishness” or “nonsense”
 Short sketches
 Frequently had the figure of a fool as a central character
 Often criticized the church or religious figures
 Troupes that found stability through patronage among wealthy monarchs, lords and
merchants developed and presented this form of entertainment
 Short dramatic pieces staged between courses of a banquet
 Topics: politics and/or religious issues.
 Presented in a funny manner, they are considered secular farces.
 Thomas Heywood is the most prominent of the playwrights who contributed a great
deal to the popularity of the Interludes. His works The Four Ps and Johan Johan the
Husband, Tyb His Wife, and Sir John the Priest are considered as the best
 These major forms of drama during the medieval period influenced the later ages
predominantly: Shakespeare, Marlowe, etc. were inspired by these plays and
learned to perfect the form of drama with their own ideas.
 Interludes
 Street Pageants… parades similar to the cycle and miracle plays that honored
visiting monarchs
 Increased disconnect between church drama and secular drama… however
remember that both had mutual influence.

 The battle between secular and religious studies which unfolded during the High
Middle Ages, lead to the explosion of the Renaissance
 Protestant reformation:
 Henry the VIII broke from church/ weakening of the power of the church
 Protestants considered religious drama a tool of Catholicism
 English government actively eliminated the mystery cycles

 Roman Catholicism with drew it’s support of the Mystery Plays… for expressing non-licensed Catholic views.
 Religious drama was outlawed in Paris in 1548
 Elizabeth I, head of the Anglican Church, banned religious drama in England in 1559
 Renaissance scholars found little interest in the rambling texts of the Medieval Dramas
 The general public preferred professional traveling companies that were beginning to arrive from Italy

 In Spain, religious drama continued to flourish alongside secular drama until well into the Renaissance

 After the Middle Ages, religion was no longer the central concern of most theatre
 Just for fun… 1 min… Death of Catholic Theatre… Films on Demand


 The Emergence of Drama as a literary art form (3 min)

 Bring your notes
 You will have the opportunity to review with friends
 Ask questions and Discuss the text
 Plan… to use notes to generate exam questions, and share both questions and
answers with the class

 EXAM: MONDAY!! (Binders will be collected)

 Power Point, Timeline, Vocabulary… Videos: From Sanctuary to Stage, plus Friday
 Middle Ages vs. Early Middle Ages vs.High Middle Ages
 Social Environment/Political Structure/Social Hierarchy…
 Hrosvitha, Dulcitus
 Liturgical Drama
 Mystery, Miracle & Morality Plays… Styles and Production
 Crisis Drama vs. Episodic Form
 Staging: Neutral Platform Stage: Processional vs. Stationary
 The Second Shepherd’s Play VS. Everyman
 Popular Entertainment: Folk Plays, Farce, Sottie, Interludes, Street Pageants
 Decline of Religious Theatre