Theatre History Notes

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  • Topic: Mystery play, Liturgical drama, Drama
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  • Published : February 15, 2007
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Quem Quaeritis Trope 76
This trope was part of the Introit of the Easter Mass; the questions and answers would be sung by two halves of the choir. The tropes were eventually shifted from the Mass to the services of the hours, particularly Matins, the service before daybreak. From a tenth-century manuscript found in the monastery of St. Gall. Reproduced in Medieval and Tudor Drama, ed. John Gassner (1963: New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1987), 35. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 C.E., the Roman provinces lost contact with the dramatic tradition that the Romans had inherited from the Greeks and spread to all their colonies from the Indus River in Asia to the northern forests of what is now Germany and west to Ireland. The Christian church had spread with the empire, too, but it tended to persist in the remnants of the old regime, now run by local tribal chiefs. The Latin-speaking clerics still had manuscripts of Roman drama, and clearly they must have preserved some hidden dramatic performances for themselves, but the church's dramatic theater was entirely subsumed in the performance of the sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony. By the tenth century C.E., bishops apparently had begun authorizing the dramatization of some parts of the biblical narrative as an inducement to parishioners to experience the lessons with more feeling. From the shallow root of the first recorded dramatic embellishment or "trope," called "quem quaeritis" after its first words, a tradition of English sacred drama emerged that fused with revivals of classical drama in the sixteenth century to create the "Elizabethan drama" of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson. * Two choirs, usually situated on opposite sides of the nave or cross-bar of the cathedral, or on opposite sides of the church doors, address each other with the first two and second two lines of this short paraphrase from the Vulgate Bible. The "three Marys"* come to his tomb on the third day after his crucifixion only to find the stone rolled away from its door and an angel standing in the doorway. The angel asks them the question in the first line, they reply with the second line, and the angel answers their request with the last two lines: . This drama is based upon a 10th century dramatization of the Introit for use as an Easter entrance rite. . The congregation gathers in the narthex or hall outside the nave. Inside the nave, all is dark. At the entrance to the nave, in the doorway, stands the paschal candle, lighted earlier at the Great Vigil. . A young man enters from the dark nave and stands by the paschal candle in the doorway. The man is vested in alb and deacon's stole (over the shoulder) and carries a palm branch. As he takes his place, the three Marys (M) come through the congregation to the doorway and stand before the angel (A). The women are vested in alb and shawl or head-scarf. The first two carry a candle-holder and candle from the altar. The third carries a thurible or incense pot with incense burning. The Marys speak in unison. It is something of an irony in the history of the drama that the Church, which had brought about the demise of theatrical spectacle at the end of the Roman Empire, brought it back into being, and that because dramatic presentation apparently came to be seen as an effective method for bringing home the most important episodes of the Bible, the Birth and the Resurrection of Christ. This trope survives from the ninth century. Not much later stage directions, costume, and props were added to the simple Latin dialogue translated and reproduced below : LITURGICAL DRAMA?plays performed in Latin by the clergy and the choir that sang the service, as part of the liturgy of the Church during the medieval period. As early as the fifth century, bible stories were represented in church by means of live tableaux accompanied by singing. From such simple...
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