Early English Drama

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At the fall of the Roman Empire, which marks the beginnings of the middle ages, the corrupt Roman drama, proscribed by the Church, came to a dishonoured end. The actors of the last immoral and degenerate phase of the Roman theater then started to perform as wandering jugglers and minstrels with their crude and immoral presentation. But under the impact of the barbaric invasion of the sixth century, they, along with other varieties of itinerant entertainments, eventually became absorbed in the miscellaneous repertory of the profession long before it contributed anything to the vitality of the acting out of miracle and morality plays.

Perhaps these minstrels were able to continue for quiet a long time after being outcast by the Church only for the fact that they responded to the demand for dramatic spectacle, which is one of the deepest though not least troublesome instincts in human nature.

The origination of English drama also owes to this fact. The instinct for dramatic representation in the people of Christianized England found its outlet initially in the Church liturgy. The ritual of the Christian Church, with its celebration of the significant points of Christ’s career from the Annunciation to the Ascension in Christmas and Easter, was itself inherently dramatic. The ceremonies with which these events were commemorated lent themselves naturally to dramatization; from simple antiphonal chanting to more elaborate acting out of a scene between two characters or sets of characters was but a step. These dramatic elaborations of part of the liturgy, known as ‘’tropes’’, represent the beginnings of medieval drama.

Afterwards these tropes received additions and elaborations, with more characters added. The liturgy, biblical story, and other varieties of Christian literature contributed to the development of many simple and short plays with characters from both the New Testament and the Old- and the tropes thus grew into the liturgical drama, which was fully...
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