02 Mystery Play in Medieval Europe

02 Mystery Play in Medieval Europe

After the era of prohibition, theatrical plays come back, and survive

From the age of suffering for theaters to mystery plays

 Roman theatrical plays developed into a decadent and highly entertaining show, with bloody or funny stories. In medieval Europe, where Christian values became dominant, such theatrical plays were considered the root of all evil that demoralized people both physically and mentally, and were prohibited for about 500 years. Professional actors became traveling entertainers and scattered over various regions. Naturally, the theatrical space that could be seen in Greek and Roman times (see Panel 01) faded from the limelight.
 However, theatrical plays were too strong to eradicate. It has been an important method since the dawn of history for people to express and share their feelings, thoughts, and memories, and this never disappeared entirely. By around the 10th century, theatrical plays returned to the Catholic Church, who should have been responsible for prohibiting them. They were the mystery plays of the medieval era, often referred to as passion plays. In medieval Europe, where various ethnic groups with different languages and customs lived together, it was too difficult to use the Bible written in Latin, as is, for missionary work. Instead, by showing various scenes described in the Bible in a tangible way in front of people, the contents could be understood intuitively. Therefore, festivals to explain biblical stories and the life of Christ through dramatic methods began to be held in churches and in town squares.
 From the 9th century to 10th century, the style of antiphon, singing the sacred verses, was introduced to Roman Catholic ceremonies, and strengthened their dramatic nature. For instance, the resurrection of Christ is one of the most important and dramatic themes in Christianity, and it is easy to show the miracle to people by expressing the scenes using a dramatic method. It is said that the theme of the resurrection of Christ was already established as a form of drama in the Easter festivals in the 10th and 11th centuries. They developed into Easter dramas from late 11th century to the 12th century, with a more complex story. The expression further developed by adding and organizing other stories, such as the birth of Christ, the Passion, or episodes in the Old Testament, generating spectacular mystery plays. Mystery plays continued to grow even during the Renaissance period in the 16th century, contributing to the invention of spectacular stage spaces in urban squares.

Text by SHIMIZU Hiroyuki

01 Valenciennes Passion play

02 Lucerne Passion play

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