The emergence of drama as a literary art – Mindy Ploeckelmann

The emergence of drama as a literary art – Mindy Ploeckelmann


Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Jessica Ruby In the 11th and 12th centuries, most English commoners were illiterate. Since they had no way to learn the Bible, the clergy came up with an inventive solution: they’d create plays out of certain Bible stories so even people who couldn’t read could learn them. These were called mystery plays because they revealed the mystery of God’s word. At about the same time, the clergy also developed plays about the saints of the church, called miracle plays. In the beginning, the clergy members acted out Bible stories on the steps outside the cathedral. The audience reacted so well that soon they needed to move out to the street around the town square. By building moving carts to put on each play and by lining up one after the other, they could put on cycles of stories, which would take the viewer from Genesis to Revelation. These movable carts, called pageants, looked like huge boxes on wheels. Each was two stories tall. The bottom story was curtained off and was used for costumes, props, and dressing. The top platform was the stage for the performance. Spectators assembled in various corners of the town, and the pageant would move around in the cycle until the villagers had seen the entire series. Soon, the plays required more actors than the clergy could supply. So, by the 13th century, different guilds were asked to be responsible for acting out different parts of the cycle. The assignments were meant to reflect the guilds’ professions. For example, the carpenter’s guild might put on the story of Noah’s Ark, and the baker’s guild might put on The Last Supper. Can you imagine what might happen to the story if the butcher’s guild put on The Crucifixion of Christ? Yes, without the clergy, the plays soon started changing from their true Bible stories. By the end of the 14th century, a new form of drama, called the morality play, had evolved. Faith, truth, charity, and good deeds all became characters on the stage. And, at the same time, the opposite virtues of falsehood, covetousness, worldly flesh, and the devil became the antagonists. The morality plays were allegorical stories in which these characters battled for the control of the soul. Audiences loved the immoral characters, and spectators were encouraged to interact with the actors. Throwing rotten food and even getting into scuffles with other spectators became very common. The character of the devil often would roam through the crowds and pull unsuspecting watchers into a hell that was depicted as a dragon’s mouth. The virtuous Biblical stories had morphed into crude and sometimes comic stories. The clergy intended to teach against immorality. How ironic, then, that the morality plays actually encouraged vices as more popular than virtues. By the mid-15th century, the church started to outlaw these performances. Town charters required that any theater must be built outside the city wall. One of the first theaters was built like a larger version of a pageant, with tiers of gallery seating encircling a grassy area in front of the stage. Sound familiar? A young William Shakespeare developed his craft here at the theater that was eventually renamed The Globe. The medieval morality play had led to Renaissance playwrights who were inspired by the inner struggles and the conscience of man. And that, in essence, is how drama emerged as a literary art form.

36 thoughts on “The emergence of drama as a literary art – Mindy Ploeckelmann

  1. Very informative, thank you 🙂 Pretty sure the Egyptians already used this type of method of telling the story of their gods through performance though, as well as the Greeks/Romans after them.

  2. So about that ancient Greece. I guess English theatres just happened to look like Greek ones out of pure coincidence. Who knew?

  3. Go way back to Ancient Greece and Rome and even before that. Go over to the Egyptians, or other ancient civilizations. I thought the theory was that plays and acting things out was something early humans did to pass on stories and history.

    Don't tell me TedEducation is becoming ignorant. You guys should know better then that.

  4. Let alone the fact that I'm pretty sure Greece had something to do with this, what you say about all the eastern theaters in Japan and China? I'm pretty sure they predate this.

  5. I believe there is also a period of time, before the 11th century and around Rome's decline, the church actively vilified Roman/Greek plays and actors. Not being a history guy I don't want to be too certain of myself, but it certainly does seem from what little I have learned that the church at that time played an active role in hindering the theater and then afterward started using it for its own purposes.

  6. This video was about the development of English Drama, while the idea of acting and the first plays did come from Greece they are not considered English Theatre.

  7. Though they had their plays through the Colosseum and the like but that is a different subject than that of the "Development of English Drama." Even the name states it. This is how the development of MODERN acting and drama. In other ways though I totally agree with this comment and others, as Greece and Rome where wonderfully dramatic.

  8. I think they're just talking about the resurgence of it in western society today. If you talk about Greek and Rome, they basically had a whole other timeline of drama where it rose and fell as an art form, and then this video would be either twice as long, or they would mention it once shortly at the beginning and that wouldn't do it justice.

  9. People don't know how to read titles of videos yet they have enough intelligence to type a comment saying TedEd is wrong.

  10. Because it is the development of English drama, not just drama – there is a good chance that the clergy themselves, belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, may have been inspired to put on plays having read the works of the Greeks, who they would have been translating!

  11. I have a question – were the female characters from the Bible played by women or men? I know that the ancient Greeks and Romans did not allow women to perform. What was the case with women in these plays? Were there nuns playing these characters?

  12. I was about to say that! Maybe this describes how medeval europe got plays but those old pagans were putting on shows long before then. Perhaps, with the fall of rome, plays were forgotten. Perhaps later the church, holding Greek/Roman knowledge in high regard, brought plays back.

  13. Anyone who has studied engineering knows that evil doesn't bear the name of "satan". its name is "the differential equation of euler-lagrange" !!

  14. "And that in essence is how drama emerged as a literary art form." IN ENGLAND. THAT'S HOW IT EMERGED AS A LITERARY ART FORM IN ENGLAND. Other parts of the world, not so much.

  15. Cool video! Can u please do another one about ancient Greek drama? About tragedy, comedy, their origins and all that stuff?

  16. The stage shown in this was a picture frame stage, which wasn't prevalent until later. In Shakespeare's England, the theatre was a stage surrounded by the pit and the seats.

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