chapter  3
15 Pages

MEDIEVAL COMEDY: FOOLS AND FOLLY

There is general agreement that the medieval theatre-at least in Britain and France-had its origin in Church ritual (Faivre, 1988:16-30; cf. Evans, 1976:134-9). In the tenth century, elements of the Bible such as the opening of the tomb and the Resurrection are given a kind of dramatic representation: monks dressed as women come to a place in the Church designated as the tomb, and another one dressed as the angel tells them Christ is risen. This dramatisation is separate from the liturgy proper-e.g. the mass. Subsequently the liturgy becomes centred on the officiating priest, instead of consisting of mass participation of the faithful-it becomes a spectacle. In some places these spectacles rapidly become more highly developed-more events are portrayed, with more roles; in others change is slow, and in many places there is ecclesiastical resistance to using theatricality and impersonation for religious purposes. Increasingly, the theatrical element becomes charged with emotion, where the skill of the ‘players’ provokes reaction on the part of the congregation/ audience. Theatrical time is introduced-for example, the discontinuity between episodes in a Bible story has to be perceived by the spectator as a narrative element. The same is true of space-Jerusalem and Damascus are side by side in representations of the conversion of St Paul. It is commonly held that these dramatisations gave rise to more extended mimetic performances outside Church premises-the ‘Mystery’ plays-whose basic design was closely modelled on Church precursors. For example, the theatrical space was modelled on the distinction between those places which had a sacred significance-e.g. the crib in Bethlehem-and the ‘indifferent’ space which separated the others and which could be used for any dramatic purpose (King, 1987).