My Notes

Not much known history, few records outside of guilds—only date from 12th century (1100s); by 15th century, more records
“by no means exclusively Christian” (66)
• mumming, pantomime, carnivalesque; retained phallic conventions of Aristophanic plays (68)
• church altars in britain usually built around “phallic stones…too sacred to destroy” (68)
• scripted plays/courtly conventions [secular]
• “bi-cultural rather than monocultural”
• “Christ, as so often, stepped into the shoes of Dionysus” (77)
MUCH RICHER AND MORE COMPLEX THAN WE KNOW, or expect from the relative simplicity of surviving texts. “the actual heterogeneity and unpredictability of the components” (77), the scale of some large city processionals, the extravagance of some liturgical spectacles; the spectacle and extravagance of the most ambitious corpus christi plays (78)
arks and other big stage props — like a temple, or an ark — if necessary, wouldh ave been built (generally not in real time — in advance, or in parts, by the guilds; though some plays that took place over several days would have built in real time!) [79, 81]
most voices in “heteroglossia of the cycles” under male control - church, guilds, town leaders all male (Kate Normington, Gender and Medieval Drama 3)
yet, despite male control of these institutions, they were not stable, fixed organizations (3); rather, composed of competing discourses, struggles for power;
audiences very heterogenous - men, women, children, from all ranks and classes; didn't buy “tickets” - free
Women normally didn't perform, but they did help produce - and they wrote. Female characters tended to be performed by cross-dressed men, a fact which increasingly came under fire from church officials.
General trend from 10th to 16th century: move away from church (spatially, geographically) and moved toward secular profession
Guilds are key in this transition
Eventually the dramas moved from church to the exterior - the churchyard and the public marketplace.

After the fall of the Roman Empire (c.5th century CE) - some say as a result of xianity, which opposed the methods and goals of empire, small nomadic bands traveled around performing wherever there was an audience. They consisted of storytellers, jesters, jugglers and many other performers. Later, festivals cropped up where entertainers would show their talents. However, the powerful Catholic Church made headway during the Middle Ages to stamp out such performances and convert the entertainers.
Despite its insistence that acting and traveling performances were sinful, the Church was actually instrumental in reviving theatre in the Middle Ages — in a form it approved, though that was always being negotiated.
Nonetheless — roots of medieval theater remain disputed

“loose confederate of autonomous communities” instead of a “nation state” (65); no center…
no “purpose-built 'theatres'” (66); therefore, difficult to say what is/no classifiable as “theater”
• often performed outside, in open air, in marketplaces, before church
◦ processionals (77-9), simultaneous performance (79), place-and-scaffold (79), amphitheaters/round (derived from roman tradition—79)
• sometimes performed inside the church, but this would likely have been carefully regulated outside of liturgical drama and some important community events
• also inside, wealthy landowners could commission performances in large halls (87), especially in winter
“ludi” - plays, sports alike - no distinction in language

◦ “spectators were never taken to be objective and detatched beings, viewing from a safe position of virtue” “it is an important medieval paradox that goodness grows out of evil” (87)
◦ upper and lower classes participated in both poles: “sacred drama integrated with a church service, and carnivalesque revelry” (88)

In summer, plays often took place outside; most records derive from these kinds of plays, because the guilds were involved

Key features:
• Medieval stage space often based on church building: outside, many plays would have used space in a symbolic way reminiscent of church layout, particularly in symbology of north/south/east/west;
• but, also used the town itself as a stage (starting at city gates, through town, towards center)
• later medieval drama, from 15th century to 16th, increasiingly moved outside of the church; Everyman is a later medieval drama. Could have been performed in church, but likely outside, in a communal space.
• emphasis on narrative rather than individual emotion, as in other kinds of medieval drama—in Everyman? Allegory
• everything visible on-stage
• Mobile, episodic
◦ often written for a series of locations (73), “episodically”; tied into mobility of medieval theater
◦ grand cycle plays—more like pageants, parades; vast festivals, the episodes of which don't really speak to each other individually but comprise parts in a whole
◦ characters travel from one place to the next; episodic structure likely informed by the diffusion of the center—loose confederate of autonomous communities, also informed by lack of “theaters”
◦ often in “pageant wagons”
◦ “processional performance” - significant in life of the medieval city (as were other festivals for classical cities, City Dionysia) (77)
◦ “The official drama of the medieval city was often based around a procession in which the city put its social order on public display. Processions played a crucial part in the life of medival cities, as they had done in the life of classical cities….” (77)
◦ Example: account from 1454 of florentine midsummer processional (77)
• place-and-scaffold; even when not processional, strictly speaking, performances required a degree of mobility
◦ circular theaters on open ground, “reflecting the ancient idea of the cosmos whereby planets orbited around a central earth” (79)
◦ booths around central open area (place) - this technique still used today, in open-air arts festivals for instance. Summer fairs, throughout renaissance, even into 19th century - [picture, fan view bartholomew fair]
◦ mansions: scenic unit, often presented as an individual house or locale (Wadsworth) ; derives from church architecture - different locations within the church where liturgical dramas were performed; stations of the cross… [everyman—”mansion”?]
◦ these would be the “scaffolds” in place-and-scaffold
◦ picture on page 80
◦ performance took place in scaffolds/mansions, but also in the central place—where the audience was
◦ note use of north/south/east/west
◦ “theater in the round” (85)

• “unity had long vanished as an aesthetic ideal” (73)
◦ often spread out in time as well as in space, and
◦ discrete—though related—performances often happened simultaneously (79), making use of horizontal and vertical distance
◦ “simultaneous performance”
▪ “other parts of the biblical narrative are being played simultaneously (and perhaps audibly) in other parts of the town” (79)
▪ anachronism: historical accuracy not a big issue! Draws the past into the present, present into the past. Additionally, because characters played not by professional actors (though some interludes/traveling performances, esp. in winter, would have been) but by townsfolk, audience could appreciate the comedy in a Noah who “doesn't know what he's doing” - though the shipwright playing Noah would!
▪ “from the point of view of common spectators, these nobles are also actors. The roman emperor is dressed as a contemporary french monarch, so there is no historical distance between rome and the owrld of the audience. The actors are not professionals but members of the community gathered to watch the play.” (81)
▪ “the divine order and the order of everyday life coalesce” (85) - see below
• But, unity of a different sort: audience tends to be directly engaged, involved; “the amphitheatre is circular, and there is no boundary between actor and spectator” (67) (77-8 on mistaking a fanatic's 'additions' for the actual drama!)
◦ “spectators were never taken to be objective and detatched beings, viewing from a safe position of virtue”
◦ “ludi” - plays, sports alike - no distinction
◦ “the spaces of everyday life were theatricalized for the duriation of a festival…. In the medieval world, true reality was other-worldly” (82)
◦ “God and the Devil were omnipresent spectators in human lifes, and the actor/audience boundary was fluid because all humans were conceived as ultimately players”
◦ no offstage action - all is visible (see above)
• “vivid” “bold” theatricality often the norm—see Hroswitha (73) (masectomy!)
◦ also, because of role of guilds in plays, wouldh ave been an oppoortunity for them to display their skill (and get custom!)
◦ importance of stage objects, music
◦ “to portray reality was to portray the divine scheme, and one's own place within that scheme. By turning a marketplace, the focus of communal everyday life, into a theatre, medieval makers of plays showed how everyday life concealed a deeper meaning” (82)
◦ “the divine order and the order of everyday life coalesce” (85)
• often drawn from biblical stories, but by no means always; also used popular legend, pagan history, remnants from classical or byzantine past
◦ Noah from Wakefield cycle - in dover text - self-contained play, perhaps comprable to Everyman; mood is clearly carnivalesque (85) - even in a play drawn from biblical text
◦ often farcical parts add a subversive element
◦ upper and lower classes participated in both poles: “sacred drama integrated with a church service, and carnivalesque revelry” (88)
◦ “It was assumed that human beings could never be perfect, or hope to be, and therefore without an admixture of impiety there could be no acceptable enactment of piety” (88)
◦ the carnivalesque: “celebrate freedom from constraints of every kind” (88); “ritual overturning of authority” (90); marked by “inversion” and “role reversal” (90)
◦ “the c lassical god of theatre and wine…here found his place within a christian framework as an anti-god, and embodiment of all the joyous values that christian piety opposed”
◦ Robin hood (89); folk-plays/games; outlaws, fools - reign began on May Day (pagan rites of fertility!)
◦ during times of political tension, subversive carnivalesque activities seen as dangerous, unacceptable, gradually suppressed (90)
◦ here we see the roman trickster-slave again

• winter plays: festive, smaller-scale, performed indoors, often in private homes by visiting players or members of the household (86-87)
◦ similar investment, though, in anachronism and the blurring of lines between theater and reality, divine/everyday - ”a dining hall allowed the actors to merge in with the audience and then separate themselves as they pleased. The playwright assumed that the audience would know who the actors were, and plays on double identity…” (87)
◦ winter performances often included carnival (february), the anti-lent, a time of revelry and role-reversal
◦ “spectators were never taken to be objective and detatched beings, viewing from a safe position of virtue” (87)

Medieval people didn't have rigid vocabularies to describe their theater—these terms are somewhat fluid.

Folk plays/Interludes/Carnivalesque: Often bound up with other modes of performance, integral to—because of negotiation between pagan and christian traditions. Interlude is a comic drama that grew out of the morality play

Liturgical Drama/Mystery plays: performed in church services, precursor to cycle plays; earliest mystery plays were liturgical performance - representation of bible stories in the church in tableaux form with accompanying song. “mystery” means “incident in the life of Christ” (OED). Originated as tropes, embellishments on liturgical texts - principally verbal, at first, then more and more visual and dramatic. Quem Quœritis, a dramatised liturgical dialogue between the angel at the tomb of Christ and the women who are seeking his body - priests or other clergymen would perform some roles. In 1210 the Pope forbade clergy to act in public, so guilds took over - though church did support theater financially. As they evolved the individual “mystery plays” became cycle plays and went outside.
• “Mystery” = secret rite, often in reference ty mystical/religious truth; also used in reference to the “secret rites” of master craftspeople, those who led the guilds—societies into which only the qualified/initiated are admitted.

Mystery/Cycle Plays: mystery plays are simple plays based on bible - accompanied by rich and complex music performed at appropriate times in liturgical calendar (68) - Innocent's Day/”pagan invasion” (69); sometimes performed within church services, sometimes outside of church during important days on the liturgical calendar. Mystery plays evolved into cycle plays after 13th century interdiction by Pope.
• no “off-stage action”; all is visible within the acting space (68)
• emphasis on narrative rather than individual emotion, as in other kinds of medieval drama - in Everyman? Allegory
• importance of stage props, objects - expensive, but also tied closely to the meaning of the play, of the guild; this is a period of saints relics…
• Often performed at easter - famous CORPUS CHRISTI/PASSION plays organized by guilds, many records (75)
• by end of 15th century, mystery plays had become cycle plays
• mounted by guilds - what are guilds? like/unlike Choregos? - in conjunction with church
• Paid for by guilds and sometimes by church, as well; which guild = based on the content of the bible story; Noah, performed by a shipwright; Joseph played by a real carpenter in town
• Guilds a.k.a. “mysteries” (different meaning from theological use of ‘mysterycycle—because contain individual plays drawn from a larger story (corpus christi—usually episodes focusing on crucifiction and ressurection), each episode performed by different craft guild” (79)
• these plays were typically PROCESSIONAL in nature; liturgical celebration fitting for a procession that itself suggested “the idea that the urban community was a single body, analagous to the body of christ” (79)

Four English cycles are mostly extant:
1. York (48 plays);
2. Chester (25 plays);
3. Wakefield (or more properly Towneley after the family who owned the manuscript - 32 plays);
4. N-Town (mistakenly called Ludus Conventriae - 42 plays).
In addition, parts of cycles exist from a great many other towns: Beverly, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London (which may be the source of the Brome Abraham and Isaac). Cycles were most popular beginning in the late 13th Century thought the 15th Century and into the 16th.
The Subject matter and structure of all four existing cycles is always the same: Divine history from the Fall of the Angels through the Last Judgment. The most important episodes are:
1. the Fall of Lucifer, 2. the Creation and Fall of Man, 3. Cain and Abel, 4. Noah and the Food,
5. Abraham and Isaac, 6. the Nativity sequence, 7. the Raising of Lazarus, 8. the Passion and Resurrection sequences, and 9. Doomsday.
Only slightly less important are: 1. the story of Moses, 2. the Procession of Prophets, 3. Christ's Baptism, 4. the Temptation in the Wilderness, and 5. the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin.

Allegorical/morality drama: survived during reformation because other, more elaborate and spectacular modes “condemned as idolatrous” - what is idolatry? Why would theatre be condemned as such? Why would reformation have anything to do with it?
• Allegory: extended metaphor, often appealing to imagination rather than reason; everyman a form of “naive allegory,” so called (Northrop Frye) because the characters aren't three-dimensional; they embody an abstraction—all details support that abstraction, rather than clarify an individual identity. Often relies on visual symbols (sometimes highly complex) that would be readily identifiable by the audience; water=baptism, east/west/north/south (Medieval use of “stage space” 71), church as character accompanied by mercy and justice (71);
• Allegorical elements of Everyman?
• Not always about christian morailty, identity; often about politics of church and town, conflicts within the church or outside of the church, etc—”medieval church was no monolithic entity, but a locus of conflict in which different groups competed for power” (72); no one meaning, but an interpretation open for interpretation
• interlude grew out of the allegorical/morality play

Saint/Miracle play: miracles/martyrdom of saints; fewer survived in england, bc of reformation, though many from Catholic france
• local and specific content of these plays made them popular; “members of a parish would celebrate the feast-day of their patron saint with worship, plays, and markets” - much more than just plays, more like a festival in celebration of the patron saint; “essential to building group identities” (72)
• usually from sources other than the bible

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