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date: 20 August 2019

Medieval dramalocked

  • John Stevens,
  • Richard Rastall,
  • David Klauser
  •  and Jack Sage


John Stevens, revised by Richard Rastall

The many Latin terms used by medieval writers to refer to dramatic representations include ordo, officium, ludus, festum, miraculum (rare), misterium and, most frequently, representatio. Each vernacular has an equivalent variety. None of these terms is used consistently, nor is any used exclusively (cf English ‘play’) to denote a drama. The terms ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’ are very rare and are not applicable in their traditional meanings. Of the above terms, ordo and officium are commonly used to describe liturgical ceremonies as well as plays; this draws attention to a fundamentally important but elusive distinction between ritual and drama. When describing vernacular plays, medieval writers used the terms ‘miracle’ and ‘mystery’ without distinction; in this article, ‘miracle’ denotes a play based on the life of a saint, ‘mystery’ a play on a biblical or apocryphal subject. These may both be categorized as ‘historical’ as opposed to the ‘fictional’ character of the morality plays (see Knight, ...

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