Gzsote's Blog

Performing Arts in a wholesome environment

More Drama History October 11, 2010

The following is from a handout I typed up to hand out to a group I spoke for on Friday. They’re very brief and by no means comprehensive:

Mystery, Miracle, and Morality Plays

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Bible was only available in Latin. Most of the common people of this time could not read English, much less Latin, and therefore had little education in the basics of Christianity. To remedy this, the Catholic church began performing plays as a way to teach the tenets of faith to the masses.

Mystery plays were Bible stories, with 4-5 plays in one presentation. Frequently, each play was performed in a different part of town, sometimes even on a wagon that was pulled through town, much like a modern parade float.

Miracle plays depicted the miracles of saints and their lives.

Morality plays were allegorical, using actors to represent vices and virtues, and showed the importance of repentance and how mankind can overcome temptation.

The “devil on the left shoulder, angel on the right shoulder” plot used in cartoons and comedies has its roots in morality plays.

Commedia dell’arte

Commedia dell’arte was a popular kind of Italian theatre in the mid-16th century.

This form of comedy had 9-10 main characters, two old men (vecchi), two romantic couples (innamorati), two captains (zanni), and a serving maid or two (servetta). Each character had their own identifying costume and mask. These characters include Harlequin, Columbine, Scaramouche, and Pantalon.

Commedia dell’arte has contributed to Western theater in its use of slapstick (literally, two sticks that clapped together to make a loud slapping sound), and has influenced several playwrights, including William Shakespeare in The Tempest.

The Globe Theater

The Globe Theatre was owned in shares by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, of which William Shakespeare was part.

It was built in 1599, burned down in 1613, and rebuilt in 1614.

It was an open-air theater; the stage had a false ceiling (not shown in picture) over it to protect the actors from bad weather.

Wealthier audience members could pay more for the drier box seats, but the common laborers had to stand in the open area (the “yard” or “pit”), sometimes for 3 hours at a time.

The best seats were actually behind the stage, which meant poor visibility, but excellent audio. The acoustics of the Globe Theater were poor.

The Globe was closed in 1642 by the Puritans, who insisted that all acting was sinful.

William Shakespeare has contributed much to not only Western Theatre, but to Western culture as a whole. His plays have provided us with new words (he invented words such as “eyeball”, “lonely”, and “bump”), quotes, and cliches used in common speech.

Method Acting

Developed by Konstantin Stanislavski, method acting was a system of techniques in which actors “become” the characters they are playing. Instead of just pretending to be sad, for example, an actor actually uses exercises to causes himself to feel sadness.

Techniques include drawing upon the actor’s experiences and memories to give more realistic performances, concentrating on the actor’s stage partner, and “staying in the moment”.

Method acting has been very instrumental in modern theatre. This technique is frequently taught in high school drama classes and employed during theatre rehearsals.

Famous method actors include: James Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and many more.


wikipedia.org; Greek Theatre; Commedia dell’arte; Globe Theater; Method Acting



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