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The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought

Augustine to the Fourteenth Century

Donnalee Dox

Publication Year: 2004

Through well-informed and nuanced readings of key documents from the fourth through fourteenth centuries, this book challenges historians' long-held beliefs about how concepts of Greco-Roman theater survived the fall of Rome and the Middle Ages, and contributed to the dramatic triumphs of the Renaissance. Dox's work is a significant contribution to the history of ideas that will change forever the standard narrative of the birth and development of theatrical activity in medieval Europe. ---Margaret Knapp, Arizona State University "...an elegantly concise survey of the way classical notions of theater have been interpreted in the Latin Middle Ages. Dox convincingly demonstrates that far from there being a single 'medieval' attitude towards theater, there was in fact much debate about how theater could be understood to function within Christian tradition, even in the so-called 'dark ages' of Western culture. This book makes an innovative contribution to studies of the history of the theater, seen in terms of the history of ideas, rather than of practice." ---Constant Mews, Director, Centre for the Study of Religion & Theology, University of Monash, Australia "In the centuries between St. Augustine and Bartholomew of Bruges, Christian thought gradually moved from a brusque rejection of classical theater to a progressively nuanced and positive assessment of its value. In this lucidly written study, Donnalee Dox adds an important facet to our understanding of the Christian reaction to, and adaptation of, classical culture in the centuries between the Church Fathers and the rediscovery of Aristotle." ---Philipp W. Rosemann, University of Dallas This book considers medieval texts that deal with ancient theater as documents of Latin Christianity's intellectual history. As an exercise in medieval historiography, this study also examines biases in modern scholarship that seek links between these texts and performance practices. The effort to bring these texts together and place them in their intellectual contexts reveals a much more nuanced and contested discourse on Greco-Roman theater and medieval theatrical practice than has been acknowledged. The book is arranged chronologically and shows the medieval foundations for the Early Modern integration of dramatic theory and theatrical performance. The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought will be of interest to theater historians, intellectual historians, and those who work on points of contact between the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. The broad range of documents discussed (liturgical treatises, scholastic commentaries, philosophical tracts, and letters spanning many centuries) renders individual chapters useful to philosophers, aestheticians, and liturgists as well as to historians and historiographers. For theater historians, this study offers an alternative reading of familiar texts which may alter our understanding of the emergence of dramatic and theatrical traditions in the West. Because theater is rarely considered as a component of intellectual projects in the Middle Ages, this study opens a new topic in the writing of medieval intellectual history.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-10

Much has been done in the last two decades to assert the value of medieval theater, performance, performing bodies (living and dead), modes of representation, and texts independent of the consciously theatrical presentation of classical plays in the Renaissance.1 Vibrant performance traditions associated with medieval ceremonies, civic rituals, tournaments, festivals, folk traditions, and religious rites, as well as ludi, have been explored for their technical virtuosity and variations on mimesis. ...

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Chapter One: The Idea of a Theater in Late Antiquity: Augustine’s Critique and Isidore’s History

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pp. 11-42

The writings of St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and Isidore of Seville (d. 636) have provided modern scholarship with rich information about theatrical performance in the Greco-Roman world. Augustine’s The City of God and Confessions criticize theater as a social, religious, and representational practice from a Christian perspective; Isidore’s Etymologiae describes Roman...

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Chapter Two: Transmission and Transformation: Liturgical Allegory and the Idea of Theater

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pp. 43-71

As Christianity took institutional hold in Western Europe, churches, monasteries, ceremonies, iconography, and texts began to create distinctly Christian modes of representation. Elaborations on the liturgies of the Mass and offices yielded what twentieth-century scholars have come to recognize as the emergence of a dramatic tradition in the Quem quaeritis trope and ...

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Chapter Three: Renaissance and Reorientation: Ancient Theater Revisited in the Twelfth Century

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pp. 72-94

Carolingian writers had carried the idea of ancient theater forward from the Fathers as a denigrated and false mode of representation (whatever Christian values might be imposed on the historical records). The revival of focus on classical texts in the eleventh century, as they both matched and challenged Christian beliefs, allowed for a more complex representation of...

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Chapter Four: From Poetics to Performance: The Reception and Interpretation of Aristotle’s Poetics to the Early Fourteenth Century

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pp. 95-124

throughout the twelfth century, vernacular and sacred ludi had emerged in tandem with new religious orders, preaching styles, and liturgical practices. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, elaborate, scripted Passion plays; secular ludi, such as Adam de la Halle’s Le jeu de Robin et Marion; and prototypes of guild-sponsored cycle plays were performed out of doors with temporary scenery and platform stages. ...

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Chapter Five: Afterword: From Idea to Practice

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pp. 125-128

One of the frustrations—or perhaps one of the joys—for historians who study medieval performance practices has been the lack of a critical tradition to explain how medieval minds perceived and understood activities now easily folded into modern, Western notions of theatrical drama. Since the early twentieth century, modern expectations for drama have presumed...


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pp. 129-176


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pp. 177-190


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pp. 191-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025152
E-ISBN-10: 0472025155
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472114238
Print-ISBN-10: 0472114239

Page Count: 204
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 588897171
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Theater -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History of doctrines -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Theater -- Rome -- Historiography.
  • Theater -- History -- To 500 -- Historiography.
  • Theater -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History of doctrines -- Early church, ca. 30-600.
  • Christian literature, Early -- Latin authors -- History and criticism.
  • Theater -- History -- Medieval, 500-1500 -- Historiography.
  • Christian literature, Latin (Medieval and modern) -- History and criticism.
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