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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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A personal epilogue: Performer as Monk

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In the late 1980s, Jerzy Grotowski wrote in Tuscany a short “travel report,” attempting to define the chief task of an artist called the Performer (with a capital letter). The document remains a unique testimony left by one of the greatest cultural innovators of the 20th century and one of the most insightful scholars in the art of acting to emerge in the history of theatre. The crucial element of Grotowski’s cultural revolution was the enlivening of “bodily memory.” “I don’t look to discover something new,” he writes in Performer, “but something forgotten.” Grotowski reformed theatre by returning to the sources of performance art. The path of his career, marked by a series of transformations, was truly incredible: from actor and director, through politician, scholar and dissenter, to guru and hermit. Performer was written during the last period, and formulates the vision of a total artist, which has been also expressed – to my mind – in liturgical practices of early Christian monks.

Grotowski’s text can be thus employed here to recapitulate once more the achievements of Anglo-Saxon monks, albeit using a modern language we all understand, and without attempting to assume a falsely objective perspective lined with common condescension, or trying to fruitlessly describe the 10th century with terms derived from that period. In this elaboration on the monastic performativity no attempt is made to define the term “performer” in strictly “scientific” categories. Instead, the following meditation follows hints offered by a practitioner and hermit who called...

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