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The Second Birth of Theatre

Performances of Anglo-Saxon Monks


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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Performance Art of Anglo-Saxon Monks


A performative perspective allows to clearly discern in monastic practices a revolutionary artistic programme, without vulgarizing or banalizing the phenomenon of vocation. This also finds historical grounding. In the Middle Ages, monks would be called “actors” or “artists” only when they betrayed clerical solemnity by behaving in a contemptible or immoral way, which was then stereotypically identified with pagan ancient times, especially theatre, known almost solely from literature, usually Roman and hence deemed dissolute. Rarely could anybody read Greek in the monasteries. Performative practices developed in Anglo-Saxon churches under the influence of continental monastic reforms expressed a new, revolutionary concept of art. However, the practices themselves should not be reduced to merely artistic activities, because they were not intended as such by those who adhered to the strict principles of monastic life. Monks would perceive and practice their performances in the context of serving God as testimony to deep faith. Such proof had a sensual dimension as it was realized in and through the body, communicating the religious message through “living images.” Monks invented and partially codified Christian performativity, making it possible for future performers and lay artists to treat it as a point of reference.363

These are the foundations of the programme for Christian art which can be discerned in the practices of Anglo-Saxon monks:

• TESTIMONY is the main task and calling of any Christian. Christian artists reject ancient masks and reveal to the audience their own bare face. Traces of God can...

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