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Scandinavian Drama: Medieval and Modern Introduction This issue of Comparative Drama has been organized around Scandinavian drama in the Middle Ages and the relation between the medieval and modern in theater and film. The theme is defined by the five contributors who revisit specific domains of the medieval world. The object and nature of their search for the Middle Ages set the boundaries for a collective attempt to represent Scandinavian drama in a medieval context. Below the clouded and tangled patterns of facts and events the scholars represented here attempt to reconstruct history from their diverse vantage points. They all share a historical approach in their remembrance and reflection on things past. From this perspective the articles allow themselves naturally to be presented in chronological order. Terry Gunnell's article, '"The Rights of the Player': Evidence of Mimi and Histriones in Early Medieval Scandinavia," examines evidence for mimes and actors from the beginning of the tenth century to around 1350. Gunnell refers initially to an often repeated assertion that apart from the liturgical ceremonies of the Catholic Church, "medieval Scandinavia was, to all intents and purposes, void of any other dramatic activity." In his careful philological reconstruction of the evidence pertaining to the early implications of the word leikari (literally "player"), primarily in Old Norse literature, he traces the itinerant entertainers recorded at the courts and castles of medieval Scandinavia. It was after all the aristocracy's demand for story-telling, poetry, singing, and mime as entertainment—an aristocracy with sufficient economic resources— that made these incipient theatrical activities possible. The earliest appearance of these players in Scandinavia seems to have been at the court of King Haraldr hárfagri (c.855-932). The evidence from Gunnell's research supports the notion of the courtly milieu of the nobility as the provider of literary culture in the vernacular languages in Scandinavia, with Norway and Denmark being slightly earlier than Sweden. In other words, only a small and select group from the ruling class could attend these performances, but thereupon these activities were disseminated to the educated burghers and other residents of towns in the Middle Ages. The entertainers' popularity among aristocracy and common people alike can be seen from the restrictive laws which applied to the rights pertaining to the players in m ivComparative Drama provincial Sweden from the thirteenth century onwards. The players in Gunnell's documentation represent a histrionic tradition of music, dance, mime, farce, and burlesque comedy skits memorized to be "improvised" from shared performance structures and techniques . In this way they represent a continuous histrionic tradition of creation and re-creation in many ways analogous to the oral ballad tradition . The players represent a body of knowledge with antecedents in the European community of mimi and histriones. It was a performance tradition that existed without written documentation apart from the scant and scattered comments of observers. Albertus Pictor's painting of a player (Sw.: lekare), dressed in colored hood and tights and playing his fiddle in a suggestive position, in the famous wall paintings at the Härkeberga church in Uppland from the 1480's is a revealing document. Another portrayal of lekaren in the same sequence by Albertus Pictor depicts a player who, entering the stage cautiously and peeking forward with shield and stick, is dressed in a green fool's garment with hood, pointed ears, black stockings, and leather bauble. In Ingmar Bergman's depiction of medieval life in The Seventh Seal, a troupe of itinerant lekare are shown in their profession, improvising a bawdy farce about a cuckolded husband as part of their stock repertoire. There may be here a direct inspiration from the visual imagination of Albertus Pictor since the latter also appears in the film as a spokesman on life and art. Bergman also presents him as the painter of a wall painting of the Dance of Death, underscoring the director's central visual metaphor for the existential human dilemma of suffering in the face of death. While there is such a painting at N0rre Alslev church in Denmark, none has been identified in medieval Sweden, though Albertus Pictor did depict a related motif, the Wheel of Life, in the H...

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Additional Information

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