Medieval Theater

Video Clips

My Notes

Reading Guide

Early Roman Theater

  1. The relationship between ancient Greek and early Roman dramatic traditions? Why and how did Romans appropriate Greek theater? What is “Roman cultural colonialism”?
  2. What do we know of early Roman performance spaces—from construction to seating, from acting to other entertainments? About what would have been seen in a Roman theater?
  3. Who is Plautus, and what is the major theme of his plays? How does Wiles use Plautus’ Pseudolus as an example of early Roman theater?
  4. In what ways did the militaristic context of Roman civilization impact its theatre? Throughout this essay, David Wiles describes Roman theater as intensely political. In what ways did Roman theater constitute a “political arena”?
  5. What are “stock” or “mask types”?
  6. What was the impact of permanent stone theatrical complexes? Why were stone theaters, like that constructed by Pompey in 55 BCE, so important?
  7. Regarding the display of violence and horror onstage, how do Roman and Greek drama differ? Why? What about medieval theater?
  8. Why was pantomime so important in Roman theater? What characterizes pantomimic performance?
  9. Early Roman theater history is divided into three parts: theater of the Republic, theater of the Empire, and Byzantine theater. What marks the shift between these three periods?

Medieval Theater

  1. In the transition from classical to medieval theater, Byzantine performance traditions are closer in nature to medieval traditions. What are some connections between Byzantine and medieval performance? How did medieval theater and staging techniques differ from earlier, classical theater?
  2. What problems face the historian of medieval theater?
  3. What are ludi?
  4. In what sense was the medieval world “bi-cultural rather than monocultural”? And what does this mean for the role of theater? For actor- versus author-centered theater and theater history? Wiles notes that “[t]here was space…for piety, but also for mockery and farce.” What is the relationship between pagan rites and performances and Christian rites and performances in the medieval period? Between carnivalesque revelry and moral drama?
  5. What are the key features of medieval performance?**
  6. Where could medieval drama be performed? Who would have acted in medieval theater? Which actors received the most money, and why?
  7. What are guilds, and what was their role in medieval performance traditions?
  8. What were processional performances? Pageant wagons? Place-and-scaffold performances? What are “cycle plays”? What else do we know about medieval stagecraft? What is “simultaneous performance”?
  9. Did women write in the medieval period? Who are some important medieval women dramatists?
  10. Drama, as we have noted, is a uniquely communal form of art, and the role of the community is central to medieval performance traditions. In what ways do performance and theater intersect with the communal life of a medieval city?
  11. What are the differences, in late medieval drama, between summer and winter theatrical activities?
  12. Medieval theater is known for the ways in which it blurs the boundaries between the real and the representation, between the everyday and the festival, between the identity of the actors and the roles they played, and so on. What examples from Wiles can you find to exemplify this blurring of boundaries?
  13. What is the “carnivalesque”? Why is it difficult to study? What is its role in medieval community? Who is Robin Hood?
  14. In general, what was the role of the Counter-Reformation in the development of medieval theater?
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