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The History of Medieval Theater

The Middle Ages was an era in European history that lasted from 1066 to 1485. During this time, religion became a key institution of society, and feudalism took over as the socio-economic structure. The medieval theater of the Middle Ages grew from the church as another outlet for learning outside the church's walls.


Medieval theater's roots lie within the church as part of the spreading Gospel. These roots mimicked the classic Greek and Latin plays with their religious cores, but were made to be repetitive versions of the biblical stories that were revisited each year in the church. The plays were closely monitored by the church, and at first, only priests could play the part of anyone holy.

The Church

Medieval times were full of religious fervor and control as well as fear. The Roman Catholic Church commanded its people, and all followed the notion that God, Heaven and Hell all existed and that it was up to the Church whether or not you would get into Heaven. The Church enforced tithes on its people and made the peasants work on the Church's land for free if they could not afford the tithe.


Morality plays sprung up in order to teach the audience a lesson. These plays depicted the struggle of man in a good-vs.-evil drama. Vices such as greed, pride and vanity were personified along with wholesome traits such as patience, good will and honesty. The characters were placed in a situation that tested their courage and ability to overcome evil. One of the best known morality plays is called "Everyman," first appearing in the late 15th century.

Mystery and Miracle

Mystery and miracle plays came about as a way to re-enact Christian events such as Christmas and Easter. These performances maintained Christian themes and showed struggles between man and the devil based around the miracles of Creation and the stories involving Jesus Christ's life. The plays utilized extensive props and became part of a cycle that took place in several installments for townspeople to view.


Originally, the farce plays were developed as short breaks between the acts of the heavy morality, mystery and miracle plays and were meant to give the audience a moment to relax. These farce skits were known best for their crudeness and jokes regarding sex and various states of digestion. The farce play became popular and moved away from the Church, debuting as its own form of amusement. One of the best known is the "Farce of Master Pierre Pathelin."

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