Staging Faith: East Anglian Drama in the Later Middle Ages

Staging Faith: East Anglian Drama in the Later Middle Ages

Staging Faith: East Anglian Drama in the Later Middle Ages

Staging Faith: East Anglian Drama in the Later Middle Ages

Synopsis

"Staging Faith examines the relationship between faith and stagecraft in late medieval East Anglia, especially focusing on attitudes towards art and drama. The evidence demonstrates that the East Anglian stage served as a particularly vivid object of pious memory, meditation, and devotion in its own right. Drama was not just the container of devotional images, however. It also functioned as a didactic tool, a mnemonic device, and even as a subversive commentary on contemporary conditions. Powerful symbols, often dramatically embodied as stage settings, props, and actions, are central to the structure of East Anglian plays, giving them religious, social, and theatrical impact. Illustrating this thesis through an examination of the plays themselves, Staging Faith explores how different modes of production resulted in different types of dramatic organization, different relationships between the audience and the dramatic action, and how dramatists exploited the symbolic and affective potential of different types of settings, props, and dramatic actions. The simple place-and-scaffold play accommodated an oppositional structure, one that could be embodied spatially in the arrangement of the scaffolds and further articulated in processional action. The symbolic images in these dramas often have a strongly devotional character and attempt to unite the play's audience around a central devotional object or scene." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In the later Middle Ages, the noun "STAGE" could describe any number of types of raised platforms employed for a public display, although either the spectators or the performers might well use such a "stage." Royal entries, tournaments, executions, and sermons could all be placed on a stage as well as drama. For example, in The Castle of Perseverance, a fifteenth-century religious play, a character named Detraccio asks Human Genus (Humankind) to look and see "where Syr Coueytyse sytt / and bydith us in his stage" (783–84). Here, the term plainly denotes a raised area where the actor playing Covetousness awaits the arrival of Humankind. the word could also be used as a verb, however, and this usage is also relevant to the character. Covetousness is in effect singled out for scrutiny by both the other characters and by the audience, literally "staged" by the physical circumstances of production. in a more modern sense of the word, too, the play is concerned with "staging" covetousness— presenting it in a dramatic form in which it is visualized, enacted, and ultimately superseded. These varied usages evoke a complex configuration of associations concerning theatricality, aesthetics, society, culture, religion, and audience response. in late medieval religious drama, these issues are all closely, perhaps inextricably, intertwined, leaving faint traces in a handful of still surviving play texts, historical documents, and other kinds of cultural artifacts.

The title "staging faith" refers most directly to the performance orientation of this study, these plays being performed within a specific configuration of historical, cultural, and theatrical circumstances. East Anglian dramatic manuscripts contain abundant evidence of performance, particularly in their copious stage directions and marginalia. Local records document that physical stages were erected; even where physical stages were probably not used, playing places were found, whether in a hall, a church, or the street. in some cases, scaffolds were built for the players and representational structures were used. Although details are sometimes murky, East Anglian communities found producers . . .

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