Peter Brook begins the second chapter of The Empty Space, “The Holy Theatre,” with a lament for the loss of sacred approaches to theatre; approaches that satisfy a community's need to make visible its identity, its hope, and its history. In describing the vacuum within the modern theatre once occupied by ceremony—what he defines as the importance of a noble aim for theatre—Brook critiques hollow and backward attempts to fill new and grand spaces with old and meaningless ritual. In postwar Europe, he saw a need for new spaces that “crie[d] out for a new ceremony, but of course it is the new ceremony that should have come first—it is the ceremony in all its meanings that should have dictated the shape of the place.”Footnote 1 Brook's assessment of postwar European bourgeois theatre and its search for new and meaningful agendas is framed by conceptions of space as antecedent to action, requiring only performer and audience in order for theatre to occur, and for a space to be called a theatre.Footnote 2 Indeed, theatrical space is always a product of well-established cultural performance conventions—a phenomenon common throughout history. Brook's critique focuses on the conventions of theatrical space that developed from the romantic dramas and spectacle-driven performances of the late nineteenth century and continued well into the twentieth century. Echoing Bertolt Brecht,Footnote 3 Brook rejected theatres that predetermined the limits of drama and performance, arguing that it was necessary to strip them of conventional expectations in order to lay bare their potential. Essentially, he asks: When and how does a space become a theatre?
Brook's exploration of the theatrical possibilities of space was an insightful critique of conventions that still defined theatrical practice in the mid-twentieth century. Unfortunately, the same critique was not being applied to the developing historiography of theatre in premodern Europe. Expectations of twentieth-century theatrical space were so inculcated within the study of medieval theatre, as informed by E. K. Chambers and Karl Young,Footnote 4 that many theatre historians have continued to accept and reproduce a narrative of medieval theatricality in which drama cannot and did not emerge until it becomes a scripted practice removed from liturgical settings (i.e., the church) and onto purpose-built stages for performance.Footnote 5 The paradigm that resulted from this historiographical narrative has shown malleability in recent decades in response to approaches that highlight the importance of performance in various milieus throughout the Middle Ages.Footnote 6
Brook argues that theatre is most effective when space is shaped by performance rather than when performance is shaped to fit space. Historiographical shifts in the study of medieval drama continue to examine and question how extant dramatic texts document and communicate concepts of space; but because most of this scholarship focuses on later periods, vernacular drama, and a concept of theatre that is most similar to modern conventions, early medieval Latin theatre historiography is still ripe for a Brookian critique of its conventions and a reexamination of what constitutes theatrical space in the period preceding scripted plays and purpose-built stages that dictate, even control, the nature of drama in performance. In this article, I outline new historiographical and methodological approaches that allow us to identify the common location of the early medieval theatre. Specifically, I argue that the pages of manuscript books—codices were a new and growing communication medium in the early Middle Ages—can function as theatrical spaces, even when the texts within these books do not announce themselves as dramas.Footnote 7
As Jody Enders points out, the Middle Ages were a period of multifarious literacies born from cultural, social, and political milieus that regarded ritual, ceremony, and the body as vehicles of information; thus, any study of medieval literature must take into account a literacy of performance.Footnote 8 It is the assertion of this article that a medieval literacy of performance—the ability to “read” rites, rituals, ceremonies, liturgies, legal proceedings, oratory, poetry, and so on—had a long history of informing a wide range of documentary practices, particularly in the early Middle Ages (defined for this essay as prior to the twelfth century).Footnote 9 Thus, it is also necessary to examine the ways in which this performance literacy informed the rubric, structure, content, and voice of medieval documents over time. The materiality of these extant documents serves to inform the physical space where documentary practices of the period utilized performance literacies—alongside extant copies and accounts of classical playsFootnote 10 —to mediate the document's specific audience, time, issue, and point of view.Footnote 11 Therefore, I argue here for a more specific historiography of early medieval documentary practices that is informed by theatricality—not just performativity.Footnote 12 In choosing to refer to medieval documents specifically as stages, I highlight their function as a medium or platform for wider publicity and foreground their materiality for the sake of identifying emerging practices surrounding the purposeful theatricality of documentary practices in the Middle Ages— or, what could be termed as an early medieval theatre. This material function presents a purposefully constructed location upon which to provide greater and more “staged” publicity for the medieval theatre.
Space and Publicity in Twelfth-Century Theatre
We begin with documentary examples of theatre in the twelfth century that allow us to establish practices of the early medieval theatre before moving into even earlier documents. The two testimonies examined here utilize different formats for different audiences on roughly the same topic, yet provide information about the medieval relationship of space and theatricality. The Ludus de Antichristo (ca. 1160) begins with a rubric that clearly identifies the text as a play (the extant manuscript includes didascaliae, costume and scenic instructions, and mimetically allegorical characters), likely performed in the monastic church of St. Quirinus at Tegernsee in southern Bavaria, although its setting as a possible part of the liturgy is unclear.Footnote 13 A text contemporaneous with the Ludus de Antichristo, Gerhoh of Reichersberg's polemical treatise De investigatione Antichristi (On the Investigation of the Antichrist, ca. 1162), includes a chapter concerning “theatrical spectacles mounted in the church of God” (“De spectaculis theatricis in ecclesia Dei exhibitis”). In it, Gerhoh describes theatrical events within spaces widely understood as reserved for sacred activity.Footnote 14 Gerhoh thus documents the practice of “playing” within the cathedral church, using the terms spectacula and ludi to include representations of the Antichrist, Herod (the Antichrist's Gospel equivalent), and the tragic Hebrew heroine Rachel.Footnote 15 Conventional readings of Gerhoh's treatise interpret it as polemically opposed to the Ludus de Antichristo specifically.Footnote 16 But, as Lawrence Clopper points out, Gerhoh references mimetic representations (representationes), use of demonic masks (homines se in demonum larvas transfigurant), gendered transformations (in quibus viri totos se frangunt in feminas), and their various effects, in order to call for clerical reform.Footnote 17 His polemic is thus aimed at a larger culture of theatricality at work in cathedral and monastic settings, not at an individual play. Gerhoh bundles these clearly theatrical activities together because of their regular occurrence within sacred spaces, in order to make a larger point about the theatrical debasement of religious worship as paving the way for the coming of the Antichrist.Footnote 18
These two twelfth-century sources alone challenge the teleological narrative in which drama makes a slow return to designated performance spaces before it can be truly theatre.Footnote 19 Gerhoh outlines, in no uncertain terms, the diabolical efficacy of theatrical activities, whereas the author of the Ludus delivers his political argument through the vehicle of theatre. Even though Gerhoh's treatise attempts to proscribe specific theatrical activity within the church while the Ludus celebrates it, both texts point to a theatrical literacy at work in both religious and political arenas. Furthermore, both documents seek theatrical functions as public contributors, on opposing sides, to a wider European debate over competing papal and imperial claims to power (conventionally known as the Investiture Controversy), which had been renewed during the middle of the twelfth century by Emperor Frederick I “Barbarossa” and his antagonist, Pope Alexander III.Footnote 20 Thus, each document plays into a shared propagandistic discourse going on at that time and each aims to engage the common performative understandings of that audience.Footnote 21
Both Gerhoh's polemic and the Tegernsee Ludus de Antichristo describe differing theatrical activities occurring within sacred spaces. At the heart of both documents lies the need to communicate their greater immediate concerns through critique or enactment of theatrical activity commonly encountered in church spaces, thereby contesting its familiar usage for the sake of a specific agenda. In both cases, theatrical staging determines the boundaries of space and the ways in which that space is employed for the sake of making meaning.Footnote 22 The Ludus de Antichristo presents the monastic church of St. Quirinus at Tegernsee as a map of the world in order to make a political statement in support of Emperor Frederick, whereas Gerhoh builds from the Augsburg cathedral school (and/or the Reichersberg monastic church) a metaphor for the body, and the dangerously sinful activity of devilish activities occurring within it, to make his call for clerical reform. In each case, performance within space is documented in theatrical terms for a wider European audience.
This publicity and theatricality of medieval documents like the Ludus and De investigatione have recently been emphasized by a growing number of medieval historians,Footnote 23 yet still remain largely marginalized by theatre historians.Footnote 24 The contextual relationships among space, publicity, and descriptions of theatrical activity always inform the historiographical narrative of any particular period of theatre history.Footnote 25 Thus, the documentation of theatrical activity by medieval sources must be seen as the documentation of how space is contested—how performance enhances or co-opts the publicity of space and to what end.Footnote 26 But conventional theatrical models presuppose the existence of theatrical conventions that dictate the ways in which plays are scripted and rubricated (including elements such as stage directions or other forms of didascaliae); they assume that early medieval plays do not contest space as much as they contest conventions of staging—which, for medieval theatre, are routinely supposed to have mirrored modern theatrical staging conventions and documentation of theatrical space.Footnote 27 Again, Brook provides a challenge to such historiographical models: “if one starts from the premise that a stage is a stage … then the word that is spoken on this stage exists, or fails to exist, only in relation to the tensions it creates on that stage within the given stage circumstances.”Footnote 28 In other words, a modern stage is not a medieval stage, and to force medieval texts to abide by modern staging conventions will result in the problematic narratives and models that have plagued theatre historians for decades. The lesson of Brook is that documentation of theatrical activity as described in the medieval period centers on attempts to control space over time, rather than to designate it specifically for theatre, so that performance fulfills the goals of engaging wider sociopolitical relations.Footnote 29 The drama of the early medieval theatre is found not just within the narrative of a given document, but in what that document attempts to perform as a material and discursive product of contested spatiality in sociopolitical power struggles throughout the medieval period. The medieval stage is the medieval page.
Many medieval documents seek to engage a broad public by placing the narrative within a particular location. But space is not only a function of the narrative. As noted above, the Ludus de Antichristo uses the monastic church at Tegernsee to inform the dramatic representation of its plot. So, how can a play with such a strong political message make a larger statement on the stage of European debate when it is so distinctly tied to a remote church in southern Bavaria? The answer lies within the media through which the play is distributed and preserved. To begin, the manuscript is a later copy (ca. 1186) bound within a small, unadorned codex likely meant for ease of use and/or ease of travelFootnote 30 —indicating a possible interest in the play by individuals in locations other than Tegernsee, even long after the impetus for its creation had passed. The codex that contains the Ludus was also used for instruction in Latin, rhetoric, and the study of letter and legal formulas for writing and oration.Footnote 31 Importantly, the space the play shares with the various other contents of the codex points to its continued function beyond the scope of dramatic practice in and of itself. Thus, the materiality of the manuscript and its contexts inform our understanding of the drama through its relationship to the other documents with which it is bound.
Indeed, it is the materiality of the manuscript, specifically the space of the page, upon which I wish to focus as a site of contestation. Manuscripts like that preserving the Ludus were intended to teach embodied practices of rhetoric and dialectic to students who would later serve the diplomatic and bureaucratic needs of European authorities. In so doing, effective rhetorical and dialectical skills were practiced in the art of writing as well as through the spoken word.Footnote 32 Thus, the manuscript page, like the embodied orator mastering the skills of spoken rhetorical delivery, also serves as a vehicle through which argumentation, debate, and dialectic are made manifest. In other words, the body and the manuscript are the material media through which space is negotiated for the sake of presenting meaning, especially in opposition to other media contesting the same space.Footnote 33
In the case of the Ludus, the archive at Tegernsee may have been remote, but the play did make its way outside the monastery. A forty-line fragment of the play was copied onto a verso leaf in the final volume of a four-volume illuminated Bible manuscript from the St. Georgenberg monastery at Fiecht in modern-day Austria.Footnote 34 The fragment is not a direct copy, in that it does not follow the same line and column arrangement, and may either have been written from memory or originated from another manuscript at Tegernsee before finding its way to Fiecht.Footnote 35 Nevertheless, the St. Georgenberg fragment of the Ludus is found on an adjacent folio opposite an adorned initial P that begins the Pauline epistle to the Romans on the following leaf. Originally an empty page, the fragment appears written in two distinct hands but without the careful detail of the rest of the codex; it does not follow the same line spacing as the rest of the manuscript, and only manages to take up a little more than the upper-left quadrant of the page.
While the existence of this fragment poses many important questions, the focus here is on the publicity of the text in relationship to concepts of space at work with this play. Because the two monastic communities were particularly close—both geographically and in that many brothers and abbots moved between them—the existence of the fragment is not surprising;Footnote 36 but its inclusion in a Bible codex points to a new use for the play, because the space it takes up indicates that it had more of a theological and/or eschatological connotation for the community at Fiecht than the political/pedagogical implications that were important to Tegernsee. In fact, the locations of each playtext reflect the agendas of the two monasteries. The imperial suzerainty enjoyed by Tegernsee since the tenth century made the monastic community a strong proponent of imperial ambitions, especially during the long-simmering tensions of the Investiture Controversy—hence the inclusion of the play within an instructional codex. Fiecht, however, was “reformed” during the tenth century and brought into line with the propapal agenda of clerical separation from secular power—hence the inclusion of the play within a biblical text and its placement opposite the Epistle to the Romans.Footnote 37 This relationship of the play to other documents included within a particular codex performs the relationship of a given cloister to the larger sociopolitical issues of western Europe during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Thus, the materiality and uses of the manuscript must factor into concepts of space when looking for an early medieval theatre—especially when a text does not announce itself specifically as a play but makes use of the space of the page in theatrical ways, for the sake of engaging a sphere of wider publicity.
It should therefore be the goal of the theatre historian to explore the early medieval theatre's constant engagement in a wider public debate through its commitment to establishing or altering space for performance, and to seek the models and means through which this may have been accomplished. Therefore, it is important to examine the development of manuscript culture, as informed by surviving classical plays and descriptions of Greco-Roman theatre culture (e.g., Augustine and Isidore of Seville) that were copied during the rise of the Carolingian dynasty beginning in the eighth century. During this time, the manuscript codex was a relatively new technology, increasingly aimed at engaging discourse through documentation and contesting space in order to secure the publicity necessary for legitimizing a particular position.Footnote 38 Such an examination reveals the performative foundations upon which later, publicity-aimed documents like the Ludus were clearly constructed. In other words, theatricality was a ubiquitous means for engaging publicity and informed structures of documentation that had significant influence on later scripted drama. Thus, Carolingian Europe serves as a significant point of examination for studying the ways in which documents work to connect with a wider European medieval theatricality. Along the timeline of theatre history, early medieval texts must be included as theatrical efforts to perform meaning through public readings, rituals, and writings that invoke physical gesture, endorsing liturgical performance and the display of rhetorical skill.Footnote 39
Performance and Early Documentary Practices
For the Carolingians, documentation was part of “an effort to make the past comprehensible and to relate it in some way to the present, whether as support for contemporary political ideology or to explain God's purpose for humanity.”Footnote 40 History, or precedent, played into the way documents performed important sociopolitical public functions in Carolingian Europe, especially in issues of succession.Footnote 41 In his examination of the diplomas issued upon the anointing of Louis V as King of West Francia in 979— making the thirteen-year-old coregent alongside his father, Lothar III—Geoffrey Koziol shows how that the very act of creating such diplomas was a public display of kingship.Footnote 42 Such documents also perform Louis's kingship through the adoption of the language of kingly grace and mercy, modeled after biblical principles, in order to show deference to the supplicants within his presence and acknowledge his position as their lord. Koziol goes on to examine closely the four extant diplomas issued on the day of Louis's anointing. It is important to note that each one performs a different act, or narrative, depending on the intended petitioner. Of particular interest is the single extant diploma signed jointly by father and son, laying out the planned succession from Lothar to Louis.Footnote 43 In outlining the diploma's emphasis on history, Koziol touches upon the complex system of supplicatory acts and rituals needed to issue a royal diploma, all performed to ensure that the line of succession was recognized publicly and aimed at circumventing the problems that had plagued Carolingian succession for many years—an issue of which Lothar was keenly aware. This diploma also makes public the supplication of Hugh Capet (ca. 941–96), the powerful dux Francorum who had his own designs on the crown of West Francia—yet who publicly accepted this transfer of power from Lothar to Louis. Thus, the diplomas were “‘performing’ … the recognition of Louis as Lothar's inevitable heir by Hugh and his faction.”Footnote 44
Furthermore, the diploma contains the two monograms of Lothar and Louis, which also perform a function beyond establishing historical precedent and solidifying Louis's succession to the Frankish throne. Koziol, analyzing the technical skill of father and son in making their marks on the parchment, shows that Lothar's fluid and confident mark within his monogram performs the king's continued authority over the inexperienced son—who is struggling to make his first public monogram—and points to the wider culture of performativity in which those who encountered the monograms would understand that Lothar's authority supersedes that of his son.Footnote 45 Indeed, as the coregency continued until Lothar's death, Louis held little to no real power even within the lands granted to him by his father. In this example, the document materializes a narrative by using recognizable performance conventions in order to reframe, or control, a history and to publicize the relationship of its dramatis personae to inform and instruct its particular audience through recognizable means of performance outside of the narrative.
Ultimately, while Koziol makes it clear that the diplomas of Louis's coronation served as public and performative devices, such performativity is dependent on the materiality of the document itself, its embodied interaction with audiences, and on the shared understanding of what those performances meant. In order for the document to perform its function, there must exist for its audience certain criteria or expectations of the document's legitimacy. Its materiality (e.g., a proper seal, the use of a monogram, the quality of parchment) was subject to investigation by its recipients. The importance of these elements and the authoritative function they perform reveals a sociopolitical network dependent on certain documentary conventions necessary for successful communication. For example, Brigitte Bedos-Rezak explains that the “instrumentality of documents was predicated upon a proper integration of material format, rhetorical modes, and graphic design, a system within which seals anchored the equilibrium of the whole.”Footnote 46 If the seal's wax was unable to maintain these recognizable conventions—due to poor-quality wax that could crack or break, an unreadable or unrecognizable stamp, or improper imprintsFootnote 47 —and the recipient rejected or questioned the content and sender of the letter, then the entire network upon which communication is predicated would reject the contents of the letter as corrupted and illegitimate. In other words, before the content of a document is even read, it must set the stage of its performativity using the specific conventions and expectations of its audience in order to increase the efficacy of its text. Similarly, audiences today encounter theatre with established expectations that are determinate of efficacy; that is, breaking character, missed/late technical cues, or ignoring such established conventions as the prohibition of mobile devices during the performance.
This materiality of the early medieval document serves to frame the stage upon which contemporary issues could be expressed or communicated dramatically and through performative means. Courtney Booker examines the events surrounding the latter years of the reign of Louis the Pious (778–840), especially the narratives that focus on the year 833, which featured Louis's deposition as emperor after a successful rebellion led by his sons and the subsequent penance paid for crimes against members of his family (he would be restored to the throne the following year). Specifically, he explores the creation of texts and how they perform meaning in the light of those clerical figures who attempted to frame Louis's penance in 833 as either guileful or genuine—noting that the record of Louis's iniquity was read aloud to him before he also publicly confessed to these misdeeds.Footnote 48 As Charlemagne's only legitimate heir, Louis played an important role in the political memory of later Carolingian intellectuals who wished to locate an event (or person) from which a perceived decline in the empire ensued. Booker analyzes several accounts of Louis's penance that present varying narrative perspectives on his reign, pointing out that, across all of these extant texts, “even in the acts of its preparation and performance, Louis’ penance was interpreted to mean different things by its different participants.”Footnote 49 Booker's point is that many of these accounts, particularly those written by Louis's detractors, were largely neglected by later historians who preferred to represent Louis as a tragic character in a story of betrayal by his sons, thereby postponing the decline of Carolingian Europe to the later ninth century and into the tenth.Footnote 50 Here, the documents themselves are the stages upon which the various accounts involving Louis were enacted; and as stages, they presented the parameters of public judgment within their narrative and, through this, performed their particular take on the issue in light of contemporary contexts.
Like the boundaries of a proscenium stage, in a context where the audience understands the restrictions on the visible world of the play, medieval documents also frame, in specific ways, the subjects of their narratives. Engaging the conventions of their medium, the author of a text would create a setting in which the figure at the center of the narrative would be located and against which he or she would struggle, challenge, and change, or to which that figure would capitulate. For example, the narrative of decline and the threefold decentralization of the empire after Louis's death was the product of civil strife in the last decade of his reign. In the context of increased Viking raids and the increased promulgation of the heretical theology of predestination by the church—an issue hotly contested among the monks and clergy closest to the now multiple Carolingian rulers—the memory of Louis served to measure the judgment of current affairs by associating rulers with similar Louis-like qualities that shaped the debate over his rule during the tumultuous points in his reign.Footnote 51 Booker details the mid-ninth-century discussions regarding a ruler's commitment to Benedictine ideas of equity (aequitas) in his realm, and efforts to discourage the influence of agents that would disrupt fair judgments and lead such a ruler into acts of iniquity (iniquitas). In this example, the binary association of aequitas–iniquitas to characters within a narrative performs the intent of the author to place Louis, or a later Carolingian ruler, in relation to the qualities associated with effective Christian leadership.
The aequitas–iniquitas paradigm serves to delineate the stage upon which the narrative of Carolingian rulers was debated in public ways. For Louis, such an adjudication occurred in court, where he was required to exhibit a very public penance that was also mirrored in the documentation surrounding the event.Footnote 52 Essentially—and what is important to note for the purposes here—the texts that make up the center of Booker's monograph serve not only to frame the arguments and documentation of the events of Louis's final decade as emperor, but also to inform the ways in which Louis is staged, or how he should perform publicly as a ruler and penitent. Even after Louis's death in 840, the stage of aequitas–iniquitas became the site upon which an individual character—secular or ecclesiastical—could rise or fall. Thus, to view aequitas–iniquitas as a stage provides a historiographical perspective on the relationship between Carolingian manuscript culture and the performative practices of court,Footnote 53 such that this relationship can best be understood as a theatre with established forms for both its written and performed aspects.
The aequitas–iniquitas documentary staging convention that developed around Louis as its central character continued well beyond his reign and was employed to place clerical figures and theological debates at center stage. Between 846 and 847, Hraban Maur (Rabanus Maurus, ca. 780–856), archbishop of Mainz, wrote to a Count Eberhard concerning the arrival at his court of the monk Gottschalk of Orbais (ca. 808–67, a former oblate under Hraban at Fulda). He was particularly concerned about Gottschalk's persistence in promoting the heretical theology of predestination, but he also framed Gottschalk in terms of spiritual and earthly forms of justice, explaining that predestination nullifies Divine grace as well as Christian merit.Footnote 54 For Hraban, Gottschalk and his heresy of predestination represented a repudiation of order, both sacred and secular, that was not unlike much of the criticism rained upon Louis only a few years earlier. In fact, Hraban Maur places Gottschalk squarely upon the same stage by claiming that his view allows for a world without grace, and therefore without justice, fully showing him to be unjust (iniquitas).Footnote 55 Gottschalk later appeared before a synod in Mainz in 848, where Hincmar (806–82), archbishop of Reims, condemned him and his position as heretical, writing that the importance of Divine justice comes through God's grace and man's free will, further promoting the stage of aequitas–iniquitas in the public debate concerning Gottschalk.Footnote 56
Setting the Stage of the Early Medieval Theatre
The practice of copying various documents into manuscripts and binding them into codices for archival purposes within monasteries around Europe maintained the Carolingian method of staging debates of authority through conventions that were enacted in the courtroom and mirrored in the text. These conventions provide the historian with clues as to why such documents came to be bound together—just as the codex that contains the Ludus de Antichristo points to the pedagogical use of the play for proimperial means well after the play was first created. For example, the Codex Guelferbytanus 1062 Helmstedter (Cod. Guelf. 1062 Helmst.) is, according to Abigail Firey, a tenth- or possibly late ninth-century collection of legal precedents and ecclesiastical regulations best examined in light of its inclusion of poetry by Gottschalk.Footnote 57 The greatest portion of the codex is taken up by the Collectio Dacheriana, a collection of eighth-century Carolingian canon laws, but Gottschalk's extant poetry points to a likely connection between the necessity of public penance (like that of Louis the Pious, this was something that Gottschalk underwent forcibly after his trial) and the enforcement of canon law, such that documents like those in this codex “were brought to judicial proceedings at councils,”Footnote 58 performing a similar function as modern scripts. Firey also points out that the relationship between Gottschalk and the Collectio Dacheriana is not unique to this particular codex.Footnote 59 Gottschalk's poetry, preceding the Collectio Dacheriana, provides the material stage for its narrative and historical importance in the ninth and tenth centuries.Footnote 60 It presents the physical relationship between literary device and public performance framed in the lasting materiality of the manuscript, so that precedent may be established and controlled for the benefit of future Carolingian leaders and thinkers.Footnote 61
To view documents of the Carolingian period as stages—contested material spaces—upon which debates concerning important contemporary issues took place also provides the medieval theatre historian with a framework for exploring the extent to which knowledge of ancient theatre informed and shaped the perceptions of these issues, both in developing courtly performance practices and in their related documentary practices. Documents such as the Carolingian manuscript copies of Terence (ca. ninth century) or the adaptations by Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (tenth century) signal the extent of ancient theatrical knowledge. But to assume that the medieval theatre will always announce itself through an extant script modeled after antique or modern dramatic forms is like expecting a present-day theatre to contain a copy of the script from the play that was performed there the night before.Footnote 62 This contemporary knowledge of ancient theatre remained more than a mental exercise. For example, Donnalee Dox discusses Hraban Maur's knowledge of antique theatre, which was largely informed by Isidore of Seville's early sixth-century work Etymologiae, as a metaphor for public pagan belief and Christianity's triumph over this ancient and pagan world.Footnote 63 Dox's assessment focuses on the way in which Hraban uses Isidore's history as an eschatological agon (Greek for a struggle or contest), stating that “[t]heater's inextricability from the [Roman] social world … kept it in the same category as the systematic violence of the Roman arenas.”Footnote 64 Though Dox is correct that Hraban Maur's understanding of theatre in De universo was filtered through a Christian narrative, she neglects to explore the way in which he performs this understanding in other texts. It is clear that Hraban's writings on Gottschalk display his ability to synthesize and even transcend this knowledge of ancient theatre in order to create a contested space on the page in which the Christian narrative continues to play out as framed through contemporary issues. His understanding of Roman theatre in De universo informs but remains distinct from the theatricality he employs for the sake of engaging and framing the public debate surrounding Gottschalk in his own day.
This theatricality of the medieval text and its longevity in manuscript formats allowed for the establishment and seriously playful contestation of conventions that deserve to be examined as distinctive and constitutive elements of early medieval theatre that informed the conventions of theatricality evident in later dramas, like the Ludus de Antichristo. For example, Hraban Maur's contemporary, Hincmar, in the construction of his narrative, shows a deft understanding of whom to place upon his stage and whom to leave out. Hincmar's treatise focuses on marriage, its role in the sociopolitical context of Carolingian lordship, and the situations in which the marital union might be dissolved. Specifically, he presented his argument against annulling the marriage of Lothar II (835–69), king of Lotharingia, to Theutberga (d. 875) for reasons contextually related to Hincmar's role as advisor to Lothar's uncle (and potential rival claimant to Lotharingia), Charles the Bald (823–77). In an effort to quiet clergy supportive of Lothar's efforts—and an implicit critique on their political ambitiousness—his treatise entitled De divortio Lotharii regis et Theutbergae reginae (ca. mid-ninth century) takes up the argumentative issues regarding the legitimacy of annulment through the example of Lothar and Theutberga. Like Hraban, he is similarly concerned that annulment is a rejection of Divine order and thus harmful to a ruler's ability to be just. Hincmar lays out the dramatis personae at the heart of the issue, but it is his omission of Lothar's mistress (and mother to his illegitimate son, Hugh), Waldrada, within his narrative that points to the particular political position Hincmar and his treatise espouse.Footnote 65 Waldrada was an unacknowledged (or at least, unnamed) individual within the narrative of Lothar's annulment. This omitted her from inclusion within the manuscript, thus not preserving her memory through material means. It also diminished her in her relation to Lothar for the sake of a political position in which Theutberga was given some degree of parity to Lothar, in that she was named and her relationship to Lothar clearly defined by social and spiritual conventions.Footnote 66 This dramatic convention of omission also occurs in the Ludus, where the character of Apostolicus (i.e., the pope) is mentioned in the play's didascaliae but neither speaks nor acts—evidence of the play's antipapal sentiments. Such politically charged omissions in the creation of narrative were not new, even by the so-called twelfth-century renaissance.Footnote 67
Medieval theatre scholars have focused more efforts on later texts, such as the Ludus, that envision space for their narratives as antecedent to performance, neglecting earlier texts like those of Hincmar, Hraban Maur, and the diplomas of Lothar/Louis that create space as a function of their narratives (similar to the ways contemporary devised theatre explores the relationship between space and performer before the creation of text). The connection between how these documents understand and utilize space is found in the prominence of rhetorical training that employed knowledge of ancient theatre as a means to embody effective rhetorical training. As such, Carolingian texts tend to embody and materialize some classical conceptions of theatre to promote the performative functions they played in public spaces, such as court. In Rhetoric and the Origins of Medieval Drama, Jody Enders identifies three areas of intersection between rhetorical training and medieval drama: (1) the manufacture of rhetorical space by the orator, complete with theatrical devices such as costumes and props; (2) the emphasis on the classical conception of agon as central to the existence of both rhetorical and dramatic exercise and important to their aesthetic development; and (3) the recognition of audience as the focal point of performance.Footnote 68 For Enders, however, the manifestations of drama that take life during the performance of forensic rhetoric (i.e., public oratory) are inevitably muted by medieval documentary practice,Footnote 69 stopping her short of identifying these practices as part of an early medieval theatre.
However, the “dulled” theatricality of manuscript transcriptions actually reflects the ubiquity of rhetorical and oratorical training, such that didactic features need not be included if the culture of rhetorical performance is well defined.Footnote 70 Similarly, actors today are taught the conventions of performance through practice onstage, not necessarily through the script. The reason historians may benefit from viewing early medieval documents as stages is not only due to their increasing ubiquity across Carolingian society, but because, like a modern theatre stage, their conventions are not made explicit within the text of the document but reified in their performative functions. There must exist a culture of staging that effectively interprets the stage itself. In much the same way, any theatrical space is shaped by convention for a specific purpose (e.g., a proscenium stage for big musicals or a black box for small, intimate plays) and serves to encapsulate the possibilities, or restrictions, for performance.Footnote 71 Extant documents of the early Middle Ages may not look like the scripts of the modern and postmodern theatre, but they do share in the conventions of a larger performative culture, as locations that provide the possibilities for performance as informed by a particular narrative for a specific audience.
Enders states that “the courtroom was the rhetorician's ‘stage,’ and his ‘drama’ was rhetoric.”Footnote 72 In turn, early medieval texts do not include directions on how to envision the space for performance because it is the stage of the courtroom—or other space—that the document materializes. The Cod. Guelf. 1062 Helmst. quite literally places two opposing texts together—the eloquent poetry of Gottschalk and the legal formulas of Collectio Dacheriana—to contest the same space within the manuscript. Is the heretical yet well-worded position of Gottschalk superseded by and to be filled in by the legal formulas? Enders continues on to describe the rhetorical practice in which a speaker creates a space in which to enact the rhetorical “contest” of competing ideas and opinions from which he championed his preferred cause, called a temenos.Footnote 73 Medieval texts, imbued with the importance of strong rhetorical practice and written to correlate with performance as a means for public efficacy, are the space for the author to build his or her temenos.Footnote 74 Hraban Maur delineates the space in which Gottschalk's theology harms the greater narrative of a Christian society, and with the probability that his letter was read aloud (possibly with Gottschalk present), the meaning of that space as an encapsulation of society is transmitted via the letter as the model for the court and what it must uphold. The document created its performance space in serving its duty as a physical and vocal representative of a particular individual or cause. Thus, the document was not merely a passive container; it was a social and theatrical actor.
Brook ends The Empty Space with a quick list of the basic necessities that make up theatre: repetition, representation, and audience.Footnote 75 But there must also be a place in which these three elements meet: a theatre. Although the ancient Roman theatres were not emulated during the early Middle Ages for reasons relating to their pagan past, the theatrical culture of Rome informed the teaching and practice of rhetoric, which in turn informed the rituals of law and a system of justice—all of which gradually seeped into early Latin Christian kingdoms, like that of the Franks, as early medieval campaigns for hegemonic standardization of legal and ecclesiastical practices looked to extant Roman texts for models.Footnote 76 The space in which these reforms were received, repeated, used to represent authority, and enacted for a specific audience was the manuscript. Medieval historians have done much to promote historiographies that place early medieval manuscripts and the documentary culture of the period in the limelight of a rich and varied society of disputation and experimentation. For the Carolingians, and continuing for centuries beyond, the stage of the manuscript became the location of control and standardization—not unlike Brook's critique of postwar European theatres—specifically because, as Carol Symes writes, “dramatic activity was pervasive, not rare” and points to “a theatre beyond community … on the front lines of conflict and conquest.”Footnote 77 Thus, Brook provides a unique insider's perspective, albeit modern, on what theatre and theatrical space does as a means of control, the dangers of such control, and ways in which it can be identified. The documents of the early medieval period are the remnant stages of a very theatrical society and culture and, like Brook, theatre historians need only examine them for the ways in which early medieval society built them to serve their purposes as a means to provide a better critical picture of the theatre that they staged.