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chapter five Afterword From Idea to Practice R 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 drama’s presentation as theater: dramas are acted out in designated performance spaces; actors play characters and speak scripted dialogue in narratives of con›ict and resolution with recognizable reference to the “real” world of daily activities and human emotions. But the idea of theater itself has now expanded to the extent that the discipline of performance studies recognizes an increasingly wide range of human behaviors as overtly performative. As I noted in my introduction, this expansion has had a tremendous, often liberating effect on studies of such medieval activities as festivals, rituals, processions , and executions, as well as on studies of activities more easily labeled “theatrical,” such as cycle plays and liturgical reenactments. Modern historiography has, in its many phases, romanticized, dismissed, criticized, or championed the roles that Christian beliefs and institutional structures played in the development of Western theatrical traditions. Intellectual inquiries independent of Christian belief were clearly not solely responsible for the secularization of the European liturgical ludi, cycle plays, and morality plays. But within the restructuring of knowledge beginning in the late ‹fteenth century, the scholas, academies, and schools did reconstitute classical drama and theater as valuable artifacts of the ancient world in a way 125 medieval universities and monasteries had not. Classical drama and theater took on the status of an intellectual discipline, neither dependent on Christian narratives and rituals nor emerging directly from the less structured mummings, disguisings, folk performances, and festivals of everyday practice . Drama and theater were set apart, de‹ned, made independent objects of study rather than by-products of other activities, such as worship. What survives to constitute a kind of medieval dramatic criticism (itself a post-Renaissance idea) is thus ambiguous at best. At one extreme, Augustine ’s diatribes against Roman theater seem to have provided a foundation for ecclesiastical resistance to excessive spectacle. Augustine’s concerns that theatrical representation proferred and encouraged false emotions, as well as theater’s inextricability from pagan culture, kept theater well out of Christianity ’s purview. At the other extreme, Honorius Augustodunensis freely reincorporated the image of a classical actor to explain the positive value of human arti‹ce in the performance of the Mass, and John of Salisbury championed the acting on the ancient stages against the debauched spectacles popular in the twelfth-century courts. This study has attempted to break apart two conventions in medieval theater historiography by casting writings about classical theater in the medieval intellectual tradition rather than in the history of a developing theatrical tradition . The ‹rst convention is the tendency to anthologize these writings as dramatic criticism or evidence of theatrical practice without attention to their internal arguments, textual context, or purpose. Thus, we ‹nd in Augustine a sophisticated analysis of theatrical signi‹cation running through his severe critique of theater as a Roman institution, and we ‹nd in Amalarius of Metz indications of mimesis in Christian ritual that is not intended as theater (theatrum ), though some liturgical practices at the time clearly evoked concern that worship might come to resemble ancient theatrical shows and so set back Christianity’s progress over pagan religions. The second convention challenged herein is the question of continuity or discontinuity between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance along the axis of an artistic tradition. As a relic of the past, accessible through such texts as Isidore’s Etymologiae, the theaters of the ancient world generally remained in a separate category from the rituals and ludi performed on temporary booth stages or pageant wagons and from the Roman plays read as literature and rhetoric (the ancient techniques of which were absorbed into medieval oratory , later evident in the so-called Terence stages and chambers of rhetoric). The effects of medieval categories of thought on the potential for recouping classical theater for Christian purposes is especially evident in the treatment 126 The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought of Aristotle’s Poetics in the thirteenth century. Early fourteenth-century thought suggests some of the sensitivities to theatrical mimesis that opened Aristotle’s Poetics to reinterpretation as a document of literary and theatrical practice in the sixteenth century. As...


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