From the Inside Flap
How was it possible for drama, especially biblical representations, to appear in the Christian West given the church's condemnation of the theatrum of the ancient world? In a book with radical implications for the study of medieval literature, Lawrence Clopper resolves this perplexing question.
Drama, Play, and Game demonstrates that the theatrum repudiated by medieval clerics was not "theater" as we understand the term today. Clopper contends that critics have misrepresented Western stage history because they have assumed that theatrum designates a place where drama is performed. While theatrum was thought of as a site of spectacle during the Middle Ages, the term was more closely connected with immodest behavior and lurid forms of festive culture. Clerics were not opposed to liturgical representations in churches, but they strove ardently to suppress May games, ludi, festivals, and liturgical parodies. Medieval drama, then, stemmed from a more vernacular tradition than previously acknowledged-one developed by England's laity outside the boundaries of clerical rule.
Drama, Play, and Game also explores the antitheatrical milieu in which this tradition developed. Clopper reads the Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge-thought to be the only sustained attack on theater between late antiquity and the Puritan period-as an assault not on religious drama but on various forms of ludi inhonesti. He then argues that ludi varied widely in England depending on the participants' clerical or lay status and on where the ludi were performed. Clopper provides profiles of ludic practices in a variety of venues: monasteries and churches, aristocratic houses, cities and towns, parishes, and the countryside.
Moving from consideration of why dramas developed in some cities and towns and not others, Clopper considers finally the "matter" of surviving plays-the kind of information that gets into them and the anxieties they display-and questions whose interests the plays represented. He argues ultimately that clerical indifference and growing distaste for vernacular drama engendered a reaction from lay people who institutionalized themselves in guilds to assert their own political power, flaunt the prestige of urban life, and take advantage of new commercial opportunities.
About the Author
Lawrence M. Clopper is a professor of English at Indiana University. He is the author of Songes of Rechelesnesse: Langland and the Franciscans and The Dramatic Records of Chester, 1399-1642.