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The Second Birth of Theatre

Performances of Anglo-Saxon Monks

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Mirosław Kocur

This book presents a new approach to early English theatre by exposing a genuine relationship between monastic performances and theatricality. It argues that modern theatre was reinvented in Anglo-Saxon monasteries by monks who were required to transform themselves by disciplining their bodies and performing complex religious acts. After extensively surveying the monastic and liturgical sources of theatre the author reconstructs the XII-century staging of the Anglo-Norman «Ordo representacionis Ade» and demonstrates the fundamental incongruity between the ancient and Christian performativity. On a more personal note he concludes with comments on references to the monastic rule in «Performer», a programmatic text by Jerzy Grotowski.

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Part two: Liturgical Performances

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While the liturgical day comprised a cycle of offices, and the monastic week a cycle of psalms, the church calendar itself was framed as an annual cycle of commemorative holidays, which developed with time into quite spectacular performative events. The liturgical year (temporale) was determined by celebrations of events in the life of Christ, which were ordered into two cycles connected with two crucial ceremonies: Christmas and Easter. They were supplemented with festive celebrations of saints (sanctorale). The Christmas cycle, defined in accordance with the Roman calendar – secular and solar – began with Advent, i.e. four weeks of solemn preparations, and ended with Epiphany. The Easter cycle, defined in accordance with the Jewish lunar calendar, was modified at the Synod of Whitby to ensure that Easter falls on a Sunday defined using the Roman method, and not the Celtic one. It began with forty days of Lent and ended with Pentecost.

The liturgical calendar defined all people’s rhythm of everyday life, because there was no alternative way of measuring time in the Middle Ages. Anniversaries or birthdays were referred to using names of religious holidays occurring on the same day. Holidays determined the rhythm of work at courts of law and other public institutions. Marriage was impossible during the four weeks of Advent and the six weeks of Lent. During Lent one was supposed to withhold not only from eating meat, but also from consuming any eggs and dairy produce. Strict fasting was also in order during...

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