The actors of the medieval theatre were divided into small groups and turned for the roads, the city plazas and the countries completing acrobatics and numbers from circus, improvising histories sung and played; after the shows they left again immediately because of the hostility of the Church.

In the IX century drama is characterised by liturgical theatre derived from the antiphons (liturgical songs). A great number and variety of scenes taken from the Bible were played in churches and monasteries to make the poor and illiterate believers understand the teaching of the holy scriptures.

These were very simple performances with easily recognisable characters. Unlike minstrels, the clergymen who acted in these plays didn’t improvise but recited the text in a stylised way.

Once a year the cleric were allowed to upset the common order and make fun of the authority of the Church in the “party of the madmen”, a kind of carnival in which anything was allowed; the celebration of these feast was entrusted to the small clergy that could ridicule their own superior and it took plays on the 6 or 13 January.

The flowering of the religious play in the low Middle Ages could be reported partly to the political and economic changes happened between the eleventh and the fourteenth century, and in a particular way to the rapid growth of the cities and to the formation of guilds of arts.

The biblical episodes represented in Churches required more and more elaborate scenes; the players were by now forced to recite on the church square and they didn’t represent single episodes but whole “cycles”. To represent all the episodes were placed side by side many structures of wood on the stage call “mansion”, those more external often represented the Hell and the Heaven, other times they were freely disposed in varied places of the church, in this case the Hell and the Heaven was taken places respectively in the crypt and in the choir.

We have few documents about the place of the Heaven; it was the scene that must mostly strike the public for his shine and his magnificence and it was bigger as regards the other mansion.

Any parts of the Hell was situated more in low; it had sometimes represented by a strengthened citadel divided in four sections: the limbo of the prophets and of the biblical patriarchs that couldn’t ascend to the sky before the arrival of Christ, the limbo of the dead children without baptism, the Purgatory and the Hell.

The actors moved in the following mansion when they had recited an episode, where they would play an other episode; when the small area of the mansion was not enough to contain the action, the actors used freely the space surrounding called stalls.

Since the beginning of the representation the music was used for entertain the public till the actors were ready for begin; a choir of angels sang sacred hymns during the representations and the public were cheered from vocal or instrumental music during the intervals between the scenes.

The public was invited from all the surrounding cities and the same actors unthread in procession for the roads; the public must stay in established areas on one or more sides of the stage during the representation; the entry was almost always free, but the authorities sometimes established a price for recover the expenses.

The feast-day of the Corpus Dominoes was founded in the 1264; from that year solemn and festive celebrations are accompanied, the stage moves then on the plaza of the city; the religious play abandons the Latin and conforms to the vernacular by now spoken from the people in the cities and in the countries.

The organisation and the financing of the religious plays was in wide part evaded the control of the Church and past in secular hands before the end of the fourteenth century also if the texts owed still received the approval of the ecclesiastical authority and they were played in concomitance with religious parties.

The representations were mainly entrusted to religious associations or brotherhoods, whose members were to a large extent secular; they promoted varied types of benevolent actions and presented the plays like actions of devotion.

All the cities participated to the event and also the actors are voluntary, city communes or actors of near city, the interpreters of the plays often paid a contribution and provided for the customs and also for the objects of scene.

In England the responsibilities had divided between the town counsel and the guilds of arts;

the counsel decided the periods of the representations, the formalities and superintended to the job that was up to the guilds.


In the French squares the more important stages were built for cycles that lasted more weeks; were represented cycles of mysteries or of miracles like the “miracles de Notre-Dame”, where the women could also participate.

In Spain the religious play, called “auto sacramental”, was represented on wagons or mobile stages.

In Italy any brotherhoods in Umbria invented the “laudi” that the “flagellanti” sang in their procession of penitence; the matters of these composition were episodes of the life of Christ, praises to the Lady, religious themes like the sin, the mercy of God and the hope, they were composed from a strophe sung from a soloist voice and a refrain sung from the choir; in the strophe was often composed from a dramatic dialogues. The principal authors were Iacopone da Todi and St. Francesco.

In England each guild had his mobile stage, called “pageant”, that crossed all the city for processions and feast-days; beyond to the wagons, in the days after Christmas, groups of disguise people crossed the city in procession and they knocked to the doors of the houses, performing mute scenes and offering gifts; these processions were called “mumming” but they were forbidden in the 1418 because they favoured criminal actions.

But in the other nations the masquerades survived: in France they are called “ballet de cour” and “intermezzi” in the Italian courts; in England they were called “masque” and they unwind during the banquets of the noble, that instituted theatrical companies of court for didn’t let go away the minstrels.

A play of profane matter, called “farsa” began to develop from the 1400, mainly in France and Germany, it dealt with matters like the conjugal unfaithfulness, the quarrel, the gossips, the hypocrisy and other human defects; the text was brief and the action developed in a rapid way; in England his development happened inside of the religious play.

In the 1500 there were none of this, the Protestant Reform accused the Roman Church about the use the theatre for spread his teachings; the religious play disappeared in all Europe except that in Spain, but thank to the printing the comedies and the classical tragedies were published and diffused.