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The Staging of the Assumption in Europe J. Francesc Massip One of the most widely used plots in the late medieval religious theater—and one that offers perhaps the greatest variety of staging—throughout European countries is the Death and Assumption of the Virgin Mary. There are, of course, numerous and different staging solutions to the scénographie problems presented by this and other stories in different regions of the continent. Interestingly, in contrast to Northern Europe where the mythological past had been marked by terrible deities with a resulting tendency for drama to emphasize scenes of hell and its devils, the South, where the cultural background had been a previous classical mythology with an anthropomorphic and gentle Olympus, preferred displays involving Paradise and using bold aerial machines. These are two different theatrical emphases, both of which express from opposite cultural bases the great messages of the Christianity that after all had come into being as a religion within the classical Roman world. A survey of the abundant surviving texts of the Assumption plays and of the numerous dramatic records of such drama in Europe will be adequate for a preliminary classification system in which five different types of staging may be designated: (1) ecclesiastical staging with horizontal arrangement; (2) urban staging on horizontal and fixed stages; (3) ecclesiastical staging with a vertical arrangement; (4) urban staging on a movable and linear stage; and (5) urban staging on a fixed vertical stage. 1. Ecclesiastical Staging with a Horizontal Arrangement. Representations of the Assumption seem to have had their inception as plays inside churches possibly no earlier than the thirteenth century. They had developed from liturgical acts that, with expressive dramatic rudiments, took place on the feast of the Assumption (15 August). Some of these early 17 18The Staging of the Assumption examples have survived to the present time under different forms, as for instance in the case of the procession for the burial of the Virgin and preparation of her deathbed.1 But an exclusively liturgical farcita epistle, consisting of ninety-four lines in Latin and in langue d'oil, of the second half of the thirteenth century has been preserved.2 A lauda of Perugia is to my knowledge one of the earliest theatrical representations of the Assumption. It can be dated to the last years of the thirteenth century and consists of 160 verses in the vernacular.3 This first Umbrian attempt is hardly surprising in view of the powerful influence that the local Franciscans seem to have exerted upon the beginnings of the vernacular theater in the Romance language areas.4 The surviving fragments of the Amorbach drama can, however, be placed at approximately the same time. This drama, which ends with the funeral procession of the Virgin interrupted by the Jews, is written in Latin and archaic German and additionally possesses musical notation.5 No record of the staging of these examples survives, nor is there any such evidence available for the Orvieto play of La Rappresentazione de Santa Maria d'Agostod—another Umbrian lauda of 410 lines in length from the fourteenth century which may have been performed inside a church building. The only totally preserved liturgical Assumption of Mary drama in Latin and with extant music that has been preserved is the one that was staged, at least in the early fourteenth century, inside the monastic church of Sta. Maria de l'Estany. The performance took place between the choir and the altar of the romanesque church using a purely horizontal layout and with dialogues and action very similar to the staging of the traditional Visitatio SepulchriJ However, the Assumption dramas performed in the cathedral of Mallorca at the end of the fourteenth century—plays including at least twelve fully costumed apostles, wearing gilded tinplate crowns, and seven winged angels8—must have been more spectacular than the plays noted above. The first Castillian dramatic text based on the Assumption appears to have been the play staged around 1509 in the church of the Franciscan nuns' convent of Sta. Maria de la Cruz at Toledo. The play was performed on a single but spacious scaffold with at least two levels connected by stairs. The higher...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 17-28
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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