Early Roman and Medieval Theater

Last class, we discussed David Wiles’ essay on theater in early Rome and Medieval Christian Europe, though we paid most attention to the materiality of Medieval performance. Students were generally surprised by the real heterogeneity of performance modes in the Medieval period–from processionals to place-and-scaffold to Church interiors and the halls of private dwellings, the theater of this time was marked by multiplicity. We went over the basic forms of Medieval theater, including liturgical drama and their evolution into mystery plays into cycle dramas, morality/allegorical drama, interludes and popular folk performance, and a bit about the “saint” or miracle play. Wiles provided an excellent example of theater history, too, especially insofar as he higlighted how little we actually know about Medieval performance traditions, how bizarre and alien they can seem. We also focused on the Medieval tendencies toward synchronous performance, anachronism, and community involvement, tying in with earlier discussions on theater as “civic spectacle.” I think students can safely guess that an exam question might be forming here!

Our discussion of Everyman was tied to its material conditions of performance, and we started by returning to the posts I’d asked everyone to make. I was happy to see how, after a bit of redirection, many of the posts went into more specificity about how the evidence in Wiles could be used to inform a staging of Everyman. A bit of time was spent on the thematics of exchange developed in the play, and we came to the conclusion that it would have been interesting–and likely–for this to have been performed in a marketplace, using a mobile Everyman journeying from scaffold to scaffold.

I’m hoping we’ll have a good group for the upcoming fieldtrip to the Shakespeare Theatre in DC, where we’ll see a performance of Lope de Vega’s Dog in the Manger–though we couldn’t read it in class, we will be looking at his Fuente Ovejuna, which is up next!

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