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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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25. The Recapitulatory Drama

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1. THE SINNER’S MYSTERY PLAY. The following pages do not bring a discovery of a previously unnoticed dramatic genre. Instead, they offer a new name for a certain type of play distinguished by the observers of mystery and morality plays – miracle plays to a lesser extent – especially in their later form, which we know mainly from Jesuit school theaters after the Council of Trent. Developing the thought of Julian Lewański (1991b), we will propose two forms of this genre that syncretize or maybe only integrate earlier forms. An allegorical mystery play is a play, in which allegorical figures depict the story of salvation; for instance, in the extreme form, instead of the persons of God, there appears God’s Wisdom or Love who perform works that in ordinary mysteries fall to Christ or God the Father. In turn, we should name as a passion morality play or a generally soteriological morality play the story of the Sinner that happens in a morality play framework, which locates the redemptive ruling in the perspective of human needs and obligations. This type introduces people as witnesses in the History of Salvation. It cannot be any historical human person, but only a generalized representative of the human species. This species differs so much from its previous stage of existence – when it caused the Fall – that it is the cause, purpose, and beneficiary of redemption. Therefore, the whole species – as one person – is in the Church, outside of which it sees no salvation....

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