27 Medieval Theater Facts: Popular Dramas, Characteristics, And More | Kidadl


27 Medieval Theater Facts: Popular Dramas, Characteristics, And More

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Medieval theater occurred during the beginning of the Roman Empire and the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

During the middle ages, the drama showcased religious history. The priest and some laymen enacted the scenes from the Holy Bible scripture from the Old and New Testaments.

The word medieval is originally envisaged from around the 15th century and solely refers to Europe and its history and culture. This period falls between the beginning of the Renaissance period and the fall of the Roman Empire, and the early modern period is referred to as the Renaissance period. The medieval plays were much of a local tradition, with the influence of a unique culture evolving from classical relics and Christianity found nowhere else. It was different between the 5th and 15th centuries in other parts of the world.

The medieval plays became an important source of moral values and gained popularity as entertainment during the middle ages. Though initially, one can notice a dash of religious fervor, the medieval plays underwent a series of evolution and eventually accepted topics outside the Bible. The medieval continued to prosper for centuries and became an important source of motivation for stage plays during the Renaissance period and modern theater.

History Of Medieval Theater

The theater developed a new form similar to the theater from the early Greek period during the middle ages. The only thing is that the Greek theater evolved from Dionysian worship. The medieval drama came into existence due to Christianity, and during the Renaissance period, the two eventually merged.

When the Roman Empire collapsed (known as the dark ages), actors traveled from one place to another to entertain people from different social classes. The actors toured from one region to another to perform acrobatic acts, tell stories, play music, and stage plays. Wherever they went, it became a festival scene. However, although they became a source of fun and entertainment, the religious leaders opposed their traveling.

The theater went through many changes and ups and downs during the middle ages. The perfect storylines were introduced, sets were decorated, and characters became an important part of the play.

Scholars mostly have few ideas about medieval drama. It was mostly related to the Church, known as liturgical dramas or stories from the Holy book Bible based on Biblical events were performed.

The earliest surviving drama is about the Resurrection of Jesus, which dates back to 925 CE. It's a very short one and comprises only four lines of dialogue. During this period, actors traveled, musicians and storytellers performed to entertain the people, but the Church completely opposed them. In some places, they were even banned.

During the first few years of the growth of theater, the Church was the main venue for the performance. Priests and other laymen religious men enacted miracle plays and processions during the Holy season like Christmas and Easter. 

The Church hosted the plays, and the official language used was Latin. It is important to know that many people were illiterate during the medieval period, and putting a play was important to educate them about religion and its principle.

The Catholic Church tried to stop the street actors, which was considered sinful by the Church. Despite the restrictions imposed on the street actors, the Church played an important role in the growth of medieval theater. Stages were arranged in circles, straight lines, or rectangles and set up in town squares.

The Church wanted the dramatization of Biblical stories within the premises of the Church to educate the people. 

After 1200, religious dramas started to be held outside the Church. Over the centuries, the theater saw a standard change and became more sophisticated. 

The medieval drama ended its supremacy in the 16th century and the rise of modern theater.

Popular Dramas From Medieval Theater

The street actors who wandered from one place to another throughout Europe kept the medieval theater alive. There were acrobats, wrestlers, jugglers, mimes, minstrels, animal trainers, and storytellers whose skills preserved the soul of medieval theater. 

The medieval theater also introduced dualism to the theater: literary theater and popular theater. Both nourished and fed each other. 

During the end of the middle ages, the actors found a more stable place, the royal court and household of the noble people, where they sang, acted, and played music. 

Medieval theater included theatrical performances which occurred between the beginning of the Renaissance period and the fall of the Roman Empire. 

The medieval theater is huge; it conquered Europe with its dramatic performance for thousands of years. 

The genres included in the medieval era were morality plays, masques, mystery plays, and farces, and the themes were mostly religious.

The most famous dramas are Wakefield Mystery Plays, York Mystery Plays, N-Town Plays, and Chester Mystery Plays during the medieval period. 

The famous Morality play was everyman, and the first secular play that survived is 'The Interlude of the Student and the Girl.'

Another famous secular musical play is the 'Le Jeu De Robin et Marion,' written in the 13th century by Adam de la Halle. 

The original manuscript comprises musical notations, lines, and explanations depicting the actors enacting. Adam de la Halle also wrote other famous plays. 

Many people also enjoyed the vernacular drama. One of the famous vernacular dramas is 'The Mystery of Adam' in 1150, and its detailed direction suggests the drama was staged outdoors. Also, other plays which survived are 'The Play of the Magi Kings,' 'Sponsus,' and 'La Seinte Resurrection.' 

Secular plays were performed by actors from noble households. Let's find out the interesting facts about middle ages plays.

Characteristics Of Medieval Theater 

The medieval drama was kept alive by popular performers. They wandered in groups and performed acrobats, danced, trained animals, mimes, storytelling, and juggling. They knew how to entertain the audience.

The Church service used music known as 'The Hours' to emphasize religious plays. Liturgical dramas were usually based on the stories written in the Bible. The famous ones were: Daniel's escape from the lions and St. Paul's conversion.

One of the most loved Bible stories was Mary's visit to the tomb of Jesus Christ, where she found him coming back to life. During the late medieval ages, Religious plays became more popular even outside the Church. However, during that time, the medieval drama began to change slowly. The occurrence of guilds, the decline in feudalism, and the growth of the local economy greatly contribute to the rise of medieval theater.

From 1200 to 1350, vernacular plays became popular and took the spot once occupied by liturgical plays. Most of the vernacular plays were performed outdoors, especially during the summer and spring. Also, another form was cycle plays, which were both secular and religious plays.

The cycle plays dealt with different themes; however, it was not uncommon for them to stage a play based on a Biblical story. Cycle plays comprise many chapters and episodes but is not in chronological order. Also, the author of the cycle plays usually preferred secrecy.

The morality plays were different from religious plays. Morality plays are divided into chapters, and their story always revolves around man's struggle to be good and avoid evil.

Schools introduced secular plays during the middle ages, mostly Latin comedies, and tragedies. 

In France, secular plays were known as farces and were quite popular. Farcical stories were mostly about the gods and heroes. Interestingly, only actors from noble households got the chance to play such roles.

To conclude, in contrast, the medieval theater was comprised of religious and secular themes. The Church did not favor street performers; they became influential figures in medieval theater. The medieval theater dramas were highly welcomed and were an important source of entertainment.


What was Theater like in medieval times?

The medieval drama plays were performed on a high-rise platform; there was no curtain. It was an open platform stage where the audience sat on all three sides. The area at the back of the platform was for the actors to enter.

What are the three types of medieval drama?

The three types of medieval drama are Morality Play, Mystery Play, and Miracle Play.

What was the main goal of medieval drama?

The main goal of medieval drama is to teach the illiterate group. The medieval theater began to represent religious history in which the priests and the laymen enacted events from the stories of the Holy Bible.

Why did the Catholic Church bring back theater in the medieval era?

The Catholic Church brought back theater in the medieval era to entertain the people involved in serious work. The priests had difficulty teaching the illiterate group about a new religion, so they started staging plays based on the stories from the Holy Bible.

What can Spanish medieval theater teach us?

The Spanish medieval theater teaches us to honor and respect religion. The two popular forms of theater are comedias nuevas ( a form of Spanish secular play) and sacramentals ( a form of religious play).

What is a trade guild medieval theater?

A trade guild in medieval theater comprises guilds responsible for regulating the trade by the craftsmen. Guilds were associated with merchants or craftsmen responsible for regulating the trade.

What is medieval theater history written by a professor?

Many different professors have written about medieval theater history.

When did medieval theater begin?

The medieval theater began between the beginning of the Renaissance period in the 15th century and the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century.

Written By
Sridevi Tolety

<p>With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.</p>

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