Article

Drama in Britain

Clifford Davidson

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0030
Drama in Britain

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

GO

Show Summary Details

Preview

The earliest extant drama in medieval England is a Latin Easter church music-drama or ceremony in the Regularis Concordia (c. 970), associated with Winchester—a liturgical dramatization of the visit of the three Marys to the sepulcher on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The view that this drama or ceremony was the germ of medieval drama in England from which vernacular playing arose in its various forms, especially through a process of secularization and evolution, is no longer accepted, though this claim continues to appear in popular sources and some theater textbooks. The development of vernacular drama is now understood as a complex process for which no single explanation is adequate. That England possessed rich local dramatic traditions toward the end of the medieval period—traditions that often continued up to the time of Queen Elizabeth I—is clear from the dramatic records that have survived and from the texts that remain, most of them religious in nature. Religious drama, including elaborate cycles performed under civic auspices and the staging of saints’ lives, achieved popularity in many locations, most visibly in cities such as York, Coventry, and Chester and in East Anglia. This drama is known through a limited number of texts, now recognized as representative of only a small portion of what once must have existed. In spite of high literary value that characterizes some of the extant examples, plays were normally not written as literature for readers and further might be subject to anti-theatrical hostility, particularly after the Reformation. Many texts were discarded as insignificant or later apparently destroyed as dangerously papist under pressure from the Protestant authorities. Only a few—for example, Everyman, a morality adapted from the Dutch Elckerlijc—found their way into print. A more contested area is secular entertainment, which some have seen as harking back to the Anglo-Saxon scōp or even Roman mimes. Hypothetical fertility rites popular as presumed ancestors of folk or traditional drama, emphasized in some earlier 20th-century literature on traditional drama, are no longer believed to have been a factor. Dramatic records demonstrate that secular drama (for example, Robin Hood plays performed in some areas) was widespread, but research is hampered by the lack of texts.

Article.  10966 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.