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Theater and the Sacred in the Middle Ages

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Andrzej Dąbrówka

The book presents a theory of relationships between the forms of devotion
and early drama genres. The historical background is the circumstances of the Church becoming independent of the Empire. A theological and philosophical aspect of the transformation of piety at the time was the specification of the ontological status of the sacred (spiritualization) and "shifting it to Heaven" (transcendentalization). In opposition to a theory of Western civilization as a process of increasing individual self-control, the author argues for the need to take into account purely religious conditions (the idea of recapitulation). This allows the author to develop a holistic aesthetics for the religiously inspired creativity in the period spanning the 11th-15th centuries and to propose a new typology of medieval drama.

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24. The Morality Play

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1. SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Let us define morality play as a drama in which we learn to know ourselves “in our own estate.” The sacred manifests itself here only through the sacraments. We learn God’s Will not by direct revelation or miraculous intervention but by the dialog of people with sacramental values. Should God appear in a morality play, he is beyond an ontological border like at the beginning of Elckerlyc/Everyman – here using the mediation of Death. Thus, the interference of God’s Will does not influence the course of action.912 However, the morality play persuades that once we have God in the heart – that is, we know the rules – we can, and even must take our salvation into own hands. Such parenetic and eschatological encyclopedias, for example, were the French and Dutch festivals of morality plays.

In contrast to the mystery and miracle plays, the morality play does not deal with the history of mankind in the frame of sacred history, but puts the individual fate in the center of the action and concentrates on the individual’s responsibility for own destiny, that is, salvation (Erzgräber 1977: 61).913 While the matter of sources in previous genres was quite simple, morality play offers a new quality that prompted Alan Knight to oppose the previous genres – as historical – with morality play and farce, which he considers fictional.914 Knight considers them jointly in two subsequent chapters (3–4) of his genological dissertation (1983). In the French material from 1475–1560,...

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