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Medieval Theatre. The “dark ages”. The Middle Ages were the period between 500a.d.-1000a.d. The fall of the Roman Empire marked the beginning of this era Cities were abandoned and life became more agriculturally focused The Roman Catholic Church controlled religion, education, and politics.

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Medieval Theatre

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Medieval theatre

Medieval Theatre


The dark ages

The “dark ages”

  • The Middle Ages were the period between 500a.d.-1000a.d.

  • The fall of the Roman Empire marked the beginning of this era

  • Cities were abandoned and life became more agriculturally focused

  • The Roman Catholic Church controlled religion, education, and politics


Rebirth of theatre in the middle ages

Rebirth of Theatre in the Middle Ages

  • The church shut down all theatrical activities for 200-300 years, but jugglers, minstrels, and mimes still traveled from town to town.

  • Theatre was (ironically) reborn in the church in the form of liturgical dramas

  • In a liturgical drama, priests or members of the choir would enact small segments of the bible to eventually become short drama performances

  • In the beginning, the liturgical dramas were performed in Latin


Rebirth of theatre

Rebirth of Theatre

  • Later on, the liturgical dramas expanded into longer plays based on biblical stories and were performed in town squares, not in churches

  • These later performances were called vernacular drama because the were performed in the everyday speech of the people


Medieval drama

Medieval Drama

3 types of religious plays were popular in the Medieval Period

  • Mystery (cycle) Plays: dramatized biblical events from Adam and Eve in the Old Testament through the stories of Christ in the New Testament

  • Miracle (cycle) Plays: dramatized the lives of Saints

  • Morality Plays: used religious characters and themes to teach a moral lesson


The plays

The Plays

  • Virtually all of the plays were short; equivalent to one act plays today

  • Mystery and Miracle plays were often strung together to form a series known as a cycle

  • Often times, the story was taken out of the Biblical era and placed in present day. Also, the character were given conventional new names.

  • The plays mixed comedy and drama


Medieval theatre

Pageant Wagon


Medieval theatre production

Medieval Theatre Production

  • The plays took place across Europe including Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and England

  • Large stages were set up in the town square. These set ups were called mansions

  • Another convention was the use of pageant wagons which were rolling wagons that contained scenery and costuming including a backstage area and stage space.


Medieval theatre production1

Medieval Theatre Production

  • The stage accommodated any change in scenery by standing as a universal set or unidentified space.

  • This freedom of movement based on imagination was later developed and perfected by Renaissance Theatre in Spain and England


The performers

The Performers

  • The performers were usually local trade workers called Craft guilds.

  • These lay people (silversmiths, leather workers, carpenters, etc) rehearsed extensively and provided their own costumes & props

  • The productions could be quite lengthy, some lasted as long as 25 days.


The decline of the middle ages

The decline of the Middle Ages

  • Decline of religious theatre occurred due to the weakening of the church as a source of political power

  • The Protestant Reformation was largely responsible for the decline of religious material and for the movement toward secular, or non-religious, theatre

  • The Renaissance is born!


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