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Roman and Medieval Drama
Vocabulary Words
Closet play
Liturgical drama
Vernacular drama
Mystery plays
Miracle Plays
Morality Plays
Pageant Wagon
Cycle of plays
Evolution of Theatre - Roman
• Time period roughly 200
BC to 476 AD
• Romans conquered and
assimilated cultures of
surrounding areas
• Roman Theatre
conventions were heavily
based on Greek theatre
Roman Plays - Comedy
• Comedy more popular than tragedy
• Comic playwrights - Plautus, Terence
• Characteristics of Roman Comedy:
Chorus was abandoned
No act or scene divisions
Songs or music with the dialog
Subject: Everyday domestic
affairs, often bawdy
Action placed in the street
Roman Plays - Tragedy
• Tragic Playwright - Seneca
• Closet plays written to be read not
• Characteristics of Roman tragedy:
Plot Structure - five episodes / acts
divided by choral odes
Elaborate speeches
Violence and horror seen onstage Characters dominated by a single
passion (such as revenge) –
drives them to doom
Roman Theatre Conventions
• Plays took place outdoors about 2 hours long
• Actors were men who wore
Roman dress, with wigs and
makeup - eventually no mask
• Chorus not important eventually abandoned
• Scenery was a street with 3 or
4 houses behind
• A place of entertainment not
of worship
Roman Theatres
• First permanent theatre built of
stone in 55 BC
• Seated 17,000 people - on level
ground, not in hillside like
• Had half-circle shape orchestra
- chorus less important
• Larger proskenon to feature
Other Roman Entertainments
• Romans loved sports chariot racing
• Romans loved animal
fights - bear-baiting,
lions eating Christians
• Romans loved combat
- gladiators
The Dark Ages
• Rome Fell in 476 AD to
conquering Germanic
• Roman Catholic church
dominated religion,
education and often
• Church was a vital part of
civic, economic and
religious life
• Common people were
kept ignorant and
illiterate to have power
over them
The Dark Ages
• Theatre activities were
outlawed due to violence
and sins of Roman
• Little is known about the
theatre between 600-1000
• Only drama in dark ages
was traveling troupes based
on Greek and Roman
performing art: mime,
minstrels and jugglers.
Medieval Drama
• Reborn as liturgical
drama to “act out”
stories so they could be
understood by all
• Text was written in
Latin (as was mass)
• Subject was stories
from the Bible
• Performers were priests
or church members
• Purpose to teach
Catholic doctrine
Medieval Plays
• Mystery/cycle plays based
on bible
• Miracle plays based on
lives of saints
• Morality plays taught a
• Characteristics in common:
Aimed to teach or
reinforce Church doctrine
Melodramatic: good
rewarded, evil punished
Vernacular Drama
“Noah’s Ark” presented as
part of a cycle of plays
• Vernacular drama (spoken
in common language)
took place in town squares
outside the church
• Scenery was mansions in
church then wagons wheeled platforms that
could move from place to
• Costumes were church
clothing with accessories