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Toward a New History of Medieval Theatre: Assessing the Written and Unwritten Evidence for Indigenous Performance Practices
Symes, Carol (Department of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Société Internationale pour l’étude du Théâtre Médiéval XIIe Congrès – Lille, 2-7 juillet (2007)
“Medieval drama” is essentially an invention of modern philology, which drew upon the models of classical literature, evolutionary biology, ethnography, and nationalism for its constructions of the medieval past. Access to a truly medievaltheatre, therefore, requires us to eschew these expectations and categories, which still govern the study of formal dramatic documents and the larger culture which produced them, and to look very freshly at the evidence for indigenous methods of transmitting information about performance during the Middle Ages. How, and why, did some individuals and communities choose to record certain practices, while others did not? How do we tell a prescriptive text from a proscriptive one? If we grant – as we must – that the vast majority of medieval entertainments (didactic and recreational) were unscripted and improvisational, what methods can we develop in order to recover information about what was performed, when, by whom, and why? These are some of the vital questions to be addressed in this paper.