Day Three


History of the Middle Ages
     The Middle Ages often refers to the time after the fall of the Roman Empire to the rise of the Renaissance in Italy. (5th century-16th century) Many modern European countries began to solidify their cultural and ethnic identities during this extensive time period that saw the rise and fall of the Carolingian Empire, the Crusades, and the Reformation. During this time period the Catholic Church was a major unifying force for the European populations. Monasteries preserved the art of writing, served as intellectual epicenters, and were often the agricultural and economic centers of most regions. Although the Church suffered a time of division called the Great Schism (1378-1417) during which the Papacy was divided between Avignon and Rome, it maintained a prominent role in everyday life.


     During the 15th century, liturgical drama developed out of Mass itself and attempted to contribute ideas of piety and edification into the theatre. The first dramas to be produced were called ‘miracle’ or ‘mystery’ plays. These plays often portrayed portions from the Old and New Testament or scene for the lives of saints. The plays often came in cycles dealing with all the major event of the Christian Calendar (Creation to Judgement Day) and were performed at festivals. The literary cycles were stories that usually centered on a character or set of events. Liturgical dramas, although originally performed in traditional Latin, eventually began to be performed in the vernacular, with the addition of comedic elements in some of the cycles.


Origins of Morality Plays
     Morality plays were a new genre of liturgical drama that developed in the late 14th century, but differ from their contemporary cycle plays in the fact that they were more adaptable to contemporary ideologies and social conditions. The play’s basic plot structure, struggle, fall, and eventual recovery could be manipulated to suit multiple themes and contributed to its enduring popularity. Like many mystery plays, morality plays also contain moral personifications such as Death or the seven Deadly Sins but only tell the story of an individual Christian rather than the collected history of the Church. The morality plays often depict a spiritual crisis in the life of one man in which he may succumb to vice but is saved and restored to grace.
     The other medieval idea that is manifested in morality plays is the fascination with Death. A common motif in these plays is the coming of Death. In the most well preserved morality plays the Castle of Perseverance and Everyman, the coming of Death is one of the central themes. Morality plays also became a link between the medieval stage and the following drama of the Renaissance.

Stages and Costumes in the Middle Ages
    The staging in the Middle Ages was influenced by the most prevalent type of drama, liturgical drama. Liturgical drama was first performed inside the church as part of the mass; later it was performed in outdoor locations, in front of the church or on movable platforms or pageant wagons. As performances became more elaborate, there was also the addition of elaborate costuming and sometime musical accompaniment.

Everyman in Amsterdam's Dam Square