The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

When theater re-emerged, it did so, ironically, in the context of the church. The Christian church was the sworn enemy of the drama (perceiving it to be both immodest and akin to devil-worshiping). But, since services were performed in Latin, which fewer and fewer parishioners could understand, priests had to devise a way to dramatize the liturgy.

From the fifth century c.e. forward, mystery plays, dramatizing events in the scriptures, and miracle plays, which depicted the lives of the saints, were increasingly performed both inside the church and on church grounds. As they became more elaborate, they moved into the market square.

Costumes worn in the early religious dramas were ecclesiastical garments. As the scripts became more secular, often involving townspeople in addition to the clergy, lay performers assumed responsibility for any costume pieces not owned by the church. Contemporary religious art provided inspiration for such characters as Daniel, Herod, the Virgin Mary, and assorted devils.

It was during the Renaissance that production elements, both scenery and costume, came to be even more important than the text. Throughout Europe, the nobility staged lavish court masques and pageants to entertain their guests. Costumes depicted gods, animals, and mythological creatures, as well as such emotions as hope and joy. Designers for these festivities included Leonardo da Vinci and Inigo Jones.

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