Medieval Theatre Glossary


a literary device where each character within the story represents an idea or attribute; used to illustrate the moral lesson within morality plays

Anglo-Saxon scops or troubadors

minstrels or poets; gained their living by wandering from village to village or tribe to tribe chanting to the harp either the popular ballads or more formal poetry of their own composition

Biblical Cycles

bible stories with a set order; not interchangable


vestments of the clergy

Cycle plays

when a number of mystery plays, or dramatized bible stories, were presented in sequence, creating a cycle; simple plot; not interchangeable; oftentimes focused on the stations of the cross

Episodic Form

the juxtaposition of two stories, two plots, and two different sets of characters, so that they reverberate with and reinforce one another

Feast of Fools

a festival where young clergymen selected a mock 'bishop' or 'pope of fools' who was allowed to misuse his religious power; this became an early influence for secular farce

Fixed Staging

As the Church's theatre became more popular, the Church failed to have enough space or seating to hold it's audience, so the essentially poured out of the church and into the courtyard where fixed neutral platform stages were erected, with mansions upstage and playing space downstage.

Processional Staging

wagon moved from locale to locale performing one cycle play; audience was fixed

Stationary Staging

a series of wagons stood side by side each performing an episode on repeat; the audience moved from wagon to wagon eventually seeing the entire cycle play

Flattening of history

the anachronism; people have no sense of the unfolding of history within their own era due to a lack of education, and suppression by the church (due to a lack of literacy in the populace and the majority of texts being latin; esoteric knowledge)


member of a guild; guilds were created to teach a trade and to protect the interests and privileges of its guildsmen; apprentice>journeyman>master craftsman; controlled the number of people to enter a trade


door altar left that led to catacombs and represented hell; sinister in latin means left


935- 1001; earliest known female playwright; admired Terence; rewrote 6 plays so they would be suitable for Christian readers; themes included, martyrdom of devout christians, conversions of nonbelievers, and strict penance for the past


musical; introduced between skits; became a feature of plays


a scenic structure used to indicate the locale; all mansions were on view at the same time

Miracle play

hagiographies (biographies of saints); good models for what to do or cautionary tales of the sacrifices made; how the divine interacts with human life

Morality play

allegorical; attempting to teach a moral lesson; struggle between good and evil for the main character's soul; example, everyman

Mystery play

stories from old and new testaments; center on the divine or supernatural (mysterious) events at the heart of the religion

Neutral Platform Stage

a nonlocalized playing area that is placed in front of the scenic background or the mansions; like a slate that can be 'wiped clean' giving way to a new locale


a scene erected on a fixed stage on a moving vehicle as a public, touring show

Pageant Wagons (Moveable Staging)

Neutral platform stage on wheels with trap doors; curtain on upstage wall; behind curtain was a tiring area or dressing room; loft with flag to announce a performance; sometimes an extra platform that sat in front to extend the playing space

Passion play

stations of the cross; a play depicting the passion of Christ (his trial, his suffering and his death)


the central, open playing space


a short dramatic piece from the bible; came after tropes and before the 3 M's


a short comedic bit of writing; oftentimes a parody; local, domestic issues

Trope "Quem Queritis

925; first suggestion of a performance in medieval times staged within the church; 4-lined musical trope; meaning whom do you seek?; implies the story of the three marys visiting the tomb of jesus; written in latin, not performed by actors, but instead by clergy or choir boys at the altar

Corpus Christi Cycle

1311; favorite occasion for the performance of cycle plays; stations of the cross on trinity sunday; reminder that the bread and wine symbolizes Christ's body and blood, and that the union of human and divine in him as well as his sacrifice leading to our redemption are both mysterious and lead to our existence

The Second Shepard's Play

1374; dramatization of the shephards who are told of the birth of Christ; uses double plot, and episodic form; anachronisms; vernacular; example of a mystery play


Most popular example of a morality play; Everyman represents humanity, Kin, Beauty, etc; discovers that only Good Deeds can be of assistance when one is summoned by death