British Medieval Drama Analysis

Liturgical Drama

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In England, as on the Continent, theater in the classical sense virtually disappeared after the sixth century. With the decline of the study of Greek, classical tragedy lost its cultural currency and was almost entirely forgotten. Fortunately for later ages, some copies of Greek tragedies were preserved, notably in Irish monasteries. Roman comedy seems to have had at least a minimal existence, surviving in the histriones and ioculatores of medieval entertainment. The single example of classical comedy in the Middle Ages is found in the adaptations of Terence by the tenth century Benedictine nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim Her plays on the saints, however, seem to have been confined to her native Saxony and therefore did not affect the development of English drama.

It was through religious ceremonies that drama was reborn in Europe in the tenth century. The simplest form of such liturgical drama was the trope , an amplification of a passage in the Mass or Divine Office. The best-known writer of tropes was Tutilo of the Abbey of Saint Gall. Tropes were known in England, for a Winchester troper (a medieval book containing tropes) dates from the late tenth century. Tropes were often expanded into lengthy poems, sometimes in dialogue form, known as “sequences” or “prose,” which became universal in the Christian liturgy. Some of them, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Lauda Sion (1265), are still in use today.

The first notable development of tropes into drama occurred in the famous Quem quaeritis, a dialogue between two sides of the choir, one side representing the women at the empty tomb of Christ on Easter Day, the other side representing the angel who tells them that Christ is risen. It was to become the most famous of all medieval liturgical plays, eventually developing into more elaborate Resurrection plays . These dialogues were at first exclusively in Latin and were performed within the Mass and, later, during the Divine Office, predominantly by clerics. The prototype of the Quem...

(The entire section is 842 words.)