Ancient, Medieval And Anglo-Norman Drama

Ancient, Medieval And Anglo-Norman Drama

Through this article, let us dive deep into the development of drama in the Ancient, Medieval, and Anglo-Norman periods. For this, first, let’s get through some points:

  • Drama originated around 5th century BC.
  • Its primary purpose is to mirror society and culture.
  • Different forms of drama emerge over time.
  • During the Anglo-Norman and Revival Age, Mystery and Morality plays were prevalent.
  • ‘Everyman’ is recognized as a significant morality play from this period.

Drama: An Introduction

  • The term ‘drama’ comes from the Greek word ‘chan,’ meaning to do or perform.
  • Technically, drama refers to actions on the stage and has a strong connection with action.
  • Throughout its history, action has been a vital part of drama.
  • The drama goes beyond mere dialogue or a collection of characters and events; it serves purposes like purification and salvation.
  • Elements of drama include characterization, plot, and dialogue, as well as stillness, sound, and light.
  • Defining drama succinctly is challenging due to its multifaceted nature.
  • In literature, drama portrays events through written dialogue, whether fictional or non-fictional.
  • It can be performed on stage, in film, or on radio, commonly referred to as a play.
  • Those who create drama are known as Playwrights or Dramatists.
  • Drama relies on spoken dialogue to convey characters’ feelings, personalities, motivations, and plans.

Origin, Growth And Development Of Drama

  • Drama’s origin is deeply connected to human instincts, seen in Greek, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, and Christian traditions.
  • Greek drama, dating back to the 5th century BC, has roots in Dionysian religious rites, serving as a communal rite in the classical period.
  • Dionysus, the God of life and death, wine, and fertile Earth, played a pivotal role in the birth of Greek comedy and tragedy.
  • Early Greek plays delved into philosophy and religious beliefs, addressing societal issues through legendary and mythological themes.
  • Medieval drama conveyed gospel messages through biblical story re-enactments during mass gatherings, contributing to spiritual and moral growth.
  • Drama and theatre influenced social life in ancient Rome, England, Germany, and France, with playwrights like Shakespeare shaping national identities.
  • Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” positively impacted the American industrial sector, sparking an industrial revolution spirit.
  • In Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o faced arrest due to the political and social awareness stirred by his play, “I Will Marry When I Want,” leading to his exile.
  • Dramas reflect a society’s problems, aspirations, philosophy, and culture, serving as a transition between classical drama and modern plays.
  • Professional actors performing these plays contribute to the evolution of drama through various dramatic periods.

Functions Of Drama

  • Drama presents stories realistically through actors to entertain, inform, and educate the audience.
  • It serves as an effective tool for mass mobilization by governments and private agencies for campaigns on issues like AIDS, Drug Abuse, and Child Abuse.
  • Dramatists, among all creative artists, have a unique ability to reflect society and initiate social reforms through vivid and realistic presentations.
  • The immediacy of drama’s message resonates with diverse audiences, including the rich and poor, young and old, literate and illiterate.
  • The characteristic of drama to depict events in a vivid and picturesque manner helps embed social conditions realistically in the minds of the audience.

Types Of Drama

  • Dramatic performances are categorized based on mood, tone, and actions in the plot.
  • Comedy:
    • Lighter in tone, intended to make the audience laugh with happy endings.
    • Features off-beat characters in funny situations and can be sarcastic, addressing serious topics.
    • Sub-genres include romantic comedy, sentimental comedy, comedy of manners, and tragic comedy.
  • Tragedy:
    • Portrays serious subjects like death and human suffering in a dignified and thought-provoking way.
    • Rarely has happy endings, often involving tragic character flaws leading to the demise of characters.
  • Melodrama:
    • Utilizes music extensively but is defined by the portrayal of protagonist and antagonist.
    • Involves the protagonist suffering but triumphing in the end, and the antagonist facing suffering.
  • Tragic Comedy:
    • Mixes both comic and tragic elements in equal proportion, evoking both tragic and comic emotions.
    • Features characters dealing with tragedy humorously, leading to happy endings.
  • Farce:
    • Comedy of situation based on a familiar theme, including mistaken identity and elaborate misunderstandings.
    • Presents physical activities growing out of situations, without addressing serious issues.
  • Opera:
    • Combines theatre, dialogue, music, and dance to tell grand stories of tragedy or comedy.
    • Characters express feelings through song, requiring performers to be skilled actors and singers.
    • Examples include tragic “La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini and comedic “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi.

Elements Of Drama

  • According to Aristotelian conventions, dramas follow six basic elements.
  • Dianoia:
    • Central idea or theme expressed through dialogue, action, or inferred after the performance.
  • Mythos:
    • Order of events in the play, including what characters do and what happens to them, forming the plot.
  • Ethos:
    • Characters who perform the drama, interwoven with the plot, bringing out the theme.
  • Lexis:
    • Language used in the play, crucial for communication with the audience, including dialogues, wit, tone, and accent.
    • Language may include verbal and non-verbal techniques, with famous lines like “To be or not to be…” leaving a lasting impact.
  • Melos:
    • Music compositions, sounds, rhythm of dialogues, background score, and sound effects in the drama.
    • Right music at the right points elevates the drama; in Greek plays, melos includes chorus utterances.
  • Opsis:
    • Visual elements such as costumes, special effects, stage props, and makeup that accentuate the play’s visuals and highlight characters.

Ancient And Medieval Drama

  • Ancient Greek Drama laid the foundation for later dramas, with Roman Drama emerging as its offshoot but degrading in later empires.
  • With Christianity becoming the state religion, theater was initially frowned upon, yet the Church eventually used drama for religious purposes.
  • Drama began in the 10th century in monasteries during modifications to the mass, using plays to explain religious tales to the illiterate.
  • Liturgical dramas, like the “Whom Do You Seek” Easter Trope (ca. 925), were early forms sung by two groups without actors.
  • Ethelwold of Winchester’s “Regularis Concordia” (965-975) included a playlet with performance directions, marking a shift from incidental to essential church service parts.

Anglo-Norman Literature

  • Anglo-Norman Literature, also known as Norman French literature, refers to writings in Old French used in medieval England after the Norman Conquest in 1066.
  • The Norman Conquest, also called the Battle of Hastings, led to Anglo-Norman becoming the language of the ruling classes in England, replacing Old English.
  • The Hundred Years’ War contributed to the increased use of English, with French surviving mainly in parliament and law.
  • “Le Mystere D’Adam,” an Anglo-Norman play, is one of the earliest plays entirely in French, dramatizing stories from the Bible.
  • Other plays from Anglo-Norman literature include “Le Jeu d’Adam” (The Play of Adam), “Seinte Resurrection” (Resurrection of the Saviour), and “Le Jeu de Saint Nicholas” (The Play of St Nicholas).
  • “Le Jeu d’Adam” is a semi-liturgical play from the 11th-12th century, depicting the fall of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel.
  • “Seinte Resurrection,” a 12th-century incomplete play, focuses on the burial and Resurrection of Christ.
  • “Le Jeu de Saint Nicholas” is a Miracle Play by Jean Bodel, performed in 1201, blending traditional miracle play elements with secular aspects. The play revolves around a pagan king’s conversion to Christianity through encounters with St. Nicholas.

Drama Of The Age Of Revival

  • Drama of the Age of Revival comprised Mystery Plays, Miracle Plays, Morality Plays, and Interludes.
  • Mystery Plays:
    • Dramatized stories from the Bible, focusing on the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity.
    • Included plays like “The Wakefield Cycle,” featuring the masterpiece “Second Shepherds’ Play.”
    • “The Chester Plays” were serious and didactic, portraying the fall of Lucifer and the creation.
    • “The Coventry Plays” were performed on Corpus Christi Day, with 42 preserved plays.
  • Miracle Plays:
    • Represented the lives of saints and their miraculous interventions.
    • Examples include “The Conversion of St Paul,” exploring conversion through the biblical figure Saul.
    • “Play of the Sacrament” told the story of a miracle involving the consecrated host.
  • Morality Plays:
    • Evolved from medieval sermons, conveyed moral lessons through allegorical characters.
    • “The Castle of Perseverance” (15th century) portrayed the ontology of man, exploring temptation, sin, and salvation.
    • “Everyman” (late 15th century) depicted Everyman’s journey in the face of death, emphasizing moral and religious values.
    • “Skelton’s Magnificence” by John Skelton was a political morality play focusing on financial mismanagement.
  • Interludes:
    • Denoted short plays performed between courses of a play cycle.
    • John Heywood, a popular interlude writer, contributed to the genre.
    • Interludes encompassed secular farces and dialogues with religious or political points.
  • Overall:
    • Drama of the Age of Revival aimed to instruct and entertain, utilizing biblical narratives, moral allegories, and witty dialogues to engage audiences in both religious and secular themes.

Final Words

I hope that you have understood well till here. For more knowledge on drama in English literature, you can check our next articles. Also, read The Historical Overview Of Drama Upto Restoration Period

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