European Theater diminished drastically during the Middle Ages. This was due to the harshness of living during these times. The common people were tillers of the soil, unlearned, with short life spans. The Roman Catholic Church had considerable power. The church has never been a big supporter of things theatrical. But some primitive types of Theater did emerge in this time. The scop was found in the Germanic or Teutonic territories. The scop was a singer and storyteller who would tell about ancient heroes of that land. He would perform at banquets and was given a social status. These scops would give the desolate people a way to reconnect with a more prosperous time. We see this in our own society with Native Americans. They will tell stories of their heroic ancestors and the sacrifices they made.
There were already theatrical elements in Europe at this time, but many of them were associated with Pagan rituals. To claim Europe as its own, the Catholic Church adopted many of these Pagan ritual dates into its own calendar. Christ’s birth is on December 25th to overlap a Pagan ritual date. Easter is also said to be on an originally Pagan date. The pageant sounds a lot like Pagan. I wonder if they are related. The Church began inventing pageants of its own. Palm Sunday was often accompanied by a pageant reenacting Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem. On Good Friday a cross was wrapped in burial sheets and then brought out on Easter Sunday. Today we witness annual Manger scenes at local churches. One of the surviving playwrights, Hrosvitha, had to make her plays about religious themes. Her plays were based on the works of Terence. For fear of the Church, it was best to make all plays liturgical in nature.
The main staging convention was the mansion. The mansion was a house or playing area. Most liturgical shows needed only one mansion, but plays that were more complicated needed more than one mansion. There was usually only one mansion because plays were still put on wagons. But the book says that there are recorded uses of over 100 hundred mansions. At the end of the twelfth century a ritual of pagan times was revived: The Feast of Fools. During this feast monks and other workers were allowed to make fun of their superiors and the overbearing Church. People would feast upon sausages and alcohol, wear masks, and have a general sense of mirth. It sounds much like our current festivals of Mardi Gras or the Latin-American Carnival. The Feast of Fools was very important to the development of comedy.
One medieval practice that would considerably limit the number of productions if put in practice today is the responsibilities of the pageant master. The pageant master was the not only the artistic director of the shows, he was also responsible for every aspect of production except properties. How would you like to take on a job of that magnitude? Most actors were taken from the working class. Woman and children participated at this time, and most actors doubled in parts.