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Medieval Liturgy as Theatre: the Props

  • R. N Swanson (a1)

It may be debated how far the liturgy of the medieval Church (in particular the Mass) can be considered as ‘drama’, but its theatrical impact and organization are undeniable. Staged within a distinct space, the principal act of the Church’s worship had its own text and directions, which through contemplation and allegory summarized Christ’s terrestrial experiences and various aspects of the Christian faith. The Mass and other liturgical celebrations were events to be visualized, both externally and internally. It has been said of medieval plays that their

fundamentally visual nature… so apparent to [a] medieval audience, often escapes the attention of modern scholars. The lines drawn between disciplines hinder easy access to methods that would enable readers to pass from a text to a visual reconstruction of it. Nonetheless the readers of dramatic texts need to visualize stage properties, costumes, and sets, and, when appropriate, to see beyond their literal meaning to their symbolic import. Further, readers must see gesture, placement, and interrelationship of actors, and understand how these visual elements contribute to the content.

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H. E. Bell , ‘The price of books in medieval England’, The Library, ser. 4, 17 (1936–7), pp. 31232

A. Beardwood , ‘The trial of Walter Langton, bishop of Lichfield, 1307-1312’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, ns 54/iii (Philadelphia, 1964

S. Rankin , ‘Shrewsbury School, Manuscript VI: a medieval part book?’ Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 102 (1975-6), pp. 12944

E. Venables , ‘The shrine and head of St Hugh of Lincoln’, Archaeological Journal, 50 (1893), pp. 4850

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Studies in Church History
  • ISSN: 0424-2084
  • EISSN: 2059-0644
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-church-history
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