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Like the theatre of ancient times, the theatre of medieval Europe took place at outdoor festivals, though not until about 1200. Medieval theatre had its origins in short plays performed in Latin by priests in churches. Some scholars argue that the church introduced dramatic ceremonies to counter pagan rites that remained popular throughout Europe. However, dramatized episodes from the Bible also made biblical stories more immediate and understandable for the public. Gradually, performances moved out of churches and into marketplaces. Lay performers replaced priests, and scripts became more complex, mixing serious religious subjects with boisterous and farcical material.

Medieval theatre used two types of stages: fixed and movable. The fixed stage was a platform set up in a public square for the days or weeks of the performance. Audiences stood around the platform. One of the best-known fixed stages was constructed in 1547 for a Passion play performed in Valenciennes, in northern France.

Depiction of the acting area of a performance of a Passion Play at Valenciennes in 1547, from a manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale


One part of the stage contained so-called mansions or huts that depicted such locales as Paradise, Jerusalem, a palace, the sea, or the Entrance to Hell. The other part of the stage served as the open playing space. Heaven and hell were usually at each end of the stage, with earthly scenes of toil and humor occurring between them. The fixed stage made it possible to present numerous scenes along with special effects without interrupting the performance. Actors simply went from hut to hut to indicate a change in locale. Costumes distinguished the spiritual and earthly realms. God, angels, and saints wore borrowed church garments; earthly characters wore garments appropriate to their status in life; and devils were fancifully conceived with tails, horns, beaks, claws, and wings.

While fixed stages were common throughout Europe, movable stages were also used in England and Spain. A platform on wheels, similar to a modern parade float, was called a pageant wagon in England and a carros in Spain. A hut on top of the wagon provided a scenic background, an acting space, or a place for costume changes. The wagons moved through narrow streets and stopped for performances at different places. Audiences gathered around the wagons to watch such plays as “The Wakefield Cycle” (“The Second Shepherd’s Day”), which traced the Christian view of world history, from Creation to Judgment Day, in 32 short plays.


Second Shepherds’ Play Manuscript


Three types of plays were written for performance on medieval stages. Cycles (or mystery plays) dramatized biblical material in a series of short scenes. Miracle plays depicted episodes from the lives of saints and martyrs. Morality plays dramatized spiritual lessons. The morality plays, or moralities, aimed to teach through entertainment by dramatizing the conflict between Vice and Virtue (which were represented by actors) for an individual’s soul. They were performed by small professional companies in banquet halls and elsewhere. The best-known morality play in English is “Everyman” (1495). The plot of the play is the following: Everyman is visited by Death. He is told that he can take one friend with him on his long journey. He invites Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods, Knowledge, Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Five Wits. However, they all refuse. Only Good Deeds will join him on his journey. The moral is obvious. (What is it?)

Morality plays flourished in the mid-15th century and formed a bridge between earlier religious drama and the secular drama of the Renaissance.


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Studopedia.info - Студопедия - 2014-2022 год . (0.018 сек.) русская версия | украинская версия