The theater town in the Middle Ages

How was theater made at the end of the Middle Ages, and what did the city that organized it do?? By its exceptional character as well as the richness of the documentation, the Mystery of the three doms representing Romans-sur-Isre in 1509 reveals its collective religious, social and civic dimension.

This work is distinguished first of all by its ambition, a stated desire to break with false ideas and commonplaces relating to theater in the Middle Ages, and to the shows that we designate as mysteries. Despite a rich and ancient historiography (Gustave Cohen, Jean-Claude Aubailly, Maurice Accarie, Graham Runnalls) as well as a long-lived one (closer to us: Véronique Dominguez, Jelle Koopmans), research on medieval theater remains poorly known, prisoner no doubt of certain disciplinary boundaries and, also, of clichés distantly derived from the Hugolian representation of the opening mystery Notre Dame de Paris, and confusing the medieval spectacle with a whole nebula of romantic myths, alchemists, and courses of miracles. To get rid of distorting filters and clarify the mystery of the mysterythe author intends to construct a new story anthropologis, rincarn (p. 22).

Invoke the divine, protect the living

Romans-sur-Isre, beginning of XVIe century. While in 1504, the region was overwhelmed by drought which destroyed crops, an urgently organized procession was followed by rain considered miraculous. A promise is made by the inhabitants of the city, by the canons of the Saint-Barnard collegiate church and by the elected consuls to whom the government of the commune is delegated, to represent the lives of the patron saints of the city, the three doms (Sverin, Exupre and Flicien). Affected by the plague between 1505 and 1508, Romans had to postpone his show project, but the experiences he experienced made his desire grow. THE Mystery of the three doms was thus prepared for almost a year, from July 1508 to May 1509. Involving all the city's institutions and all its social components, it was performed at Pentecost 1509, in the courtyard of the Cordeliers convent.

The author thus intends to reveal, from the outset, an essential aspect of this specific event, but which is also found for other major shows represented at the same period in other cities, in the region (Valence) or elsewhere (Metz). A dimension called votive, apotropaque, conjuratory (p. 57): these three synonymous qualifiers underline the reason for being and the very function of the spectacle: to appease the anger of God, and to henceforth be spared from illness.

By paying attention to Mystery of the three doms, the author also opens a window towards other cases. If it is well attested to Romans, the term of mysterymoreover, is little used in practice in the titles of the pieces performed, which are often titled history, game Or life by characters (p. 128). It therefore joins other equivalent events, even if they are not designated identically.

collective work, sacred work

Beyond the singularity of an event, the mystery of Romans allows Marie Bouhak-Girons to introduce the reader to a whole world of spectacles. She does so with full awareness of the persistent difficulties which contribute to maintaining the theater of the Middle Ages in relative ignorance. It therefore reserves a large space for the discussion of substantial methodological and historiographical issues, and in particular two clear breaks made by current research, in which the author is fully involved.

The first concerns the value of archives and text and the need to turn our back on what is designated as an approach text center (p. 27). By habit, by contamination of the past by the contemporary, research on medieval theater has thus favored the narrative framework, the textto the detriment of the spectacle itself, that is to say the play of the actors, the preparations, the production of an event which far exceeds what the history of Western theater leads us today to consider as theater play, that is to say the written work of a playwright. Against this vision, which is all the narrower because it is limited to a tiny part of the texts produced and performed, most of which have not been preserved, the approach defended is more resolutely holistic, by abolishing the traditional border between philology and archival science, and by integrating the study with a bias egalitarian to all categories of archives previously minor and yet available: contracts, municipal deliberations, accounts, technical documents, testifying to the investment of an entire community during the development of the show.

The second questioning concerns the thesis of a antithral tradition of ancient Christian thought, largely derived from the thought of XIXe century, and yet still propagated by different authors at the end of the XXe century. In addition to the artificial, even absurd, character of the antagonism established between theater and the sacred (fundamental dimension of ancient theater, in particular), religious hatred of theater appears specific to modernity, in particular to XVIIe French century, while medieval mysteries show, on the contrary, the fine intertwining of theater and religion, as much by the motivations which give rise to them, as by the story they carry, and the institutions which govern their preparation, financing and performance .

Against textocentrism

It must be understood that questioning the centrality of the written text does not only aim to have other sources fill in the gaps that could be left by the disappearance of the text of the pieces themselves. This is in fact not the case for the Mystery of the three doms, the text of which is preserved: found in the attic of an old house in 1881, it was said in 1887. It is also a question of understanding that the text of the mystery is not written to be read (p. 26). Certainly, a text was indeed written before the show, by a fatist, name given to the authors of mysteries here Canon Siboud Pra, from the chapter of the Saint-Barnard collegiate church, designated by the consular assembly. We can also trace the history of this story, in particular its sources. The acting was also directed by a play leader, a function distantly related to that of the modern director (although we do not know with certainty by whom).

However, the written trace that has reached us is only that of a text which was then divided, distributed into relets, notebooks distributed to each of the actors and containing only their own lines. The text first therefore nothing of a text original, since the work is then brought to evolve throughout the preparation, and over the course of repetitions the text undergoes various rearrangements, corrections, additions, rewritings, of which the manuscript also bears traces (p. 84-87). The writing procedure continues, moreover, by the integration of the text into a spectacular device including many other aspects.

The book thus underlines the importance of carpenters, painters, and all those who work to set up a stage space and a truly spectacular device, with its towers, its galleries, its trapdoors and its machinery opening the stage, alternately, towards hell and towards paradise. Also the rejection of textocentrism also allows us to become aware of the primacy of snography over textthe only explanation moreover of the importance given to the artists imagining this, such as Franois Thvenot Romans or, elsewhere and in a contemporary way, the painter Jean Fouquet.

Likewise, the construction of the theater and the sets by carpenters and other craftsmen encompasses almost three-quarters of the overall cost of preparing the mystery. Beyond a fine criticism of the philological primacy, the anthropological approach of medieval theater thus makes it possible to move the zero moment of the mystery of the solitary act of writing towards performance, and to rediscover the collective essence of the work, by moving the author-function towards the Roman community. .

The medieval actor?

Marie Bouhak-Girons also strives to better specify what theater was in the Middle Ages, not only for its social role, but in its formal and technical aspects. Proposing for example, for the sake of synchronicity and to better avoid comparisons with modern theater, a parallel with the Japanese tradition of n (p. 129), she thus poses the question of what could beactionthe art of the actor, in the Middle Ages.

Despite the gaps in the sources, and the hypothetical nature of certain connections made here with medieval knowledge of the Cicronian rules of rhetoric, the stage directions attest to the existence of an expressive dimension of the theatrical performance, asking the actors to declaim the text in a sung manner, or the voice filled with tears, or to express oneself with astonishment or sorrow (p. 132-133). By all means, it is also a question of the actors taking ownership of their roles, which means formally committing to participate in the show, but also taking responsibility for making the costumes themselves (p. 144).

The poetic forms used by the Mystery of the three doms also allow us to restore its musicality, pushing the author to bring it closer to the later forms of comedy-ballet, baroque opera or musical comedy to clearly affirm that the mystery is a form of musical theater, which is attested both by the presence of musicians than by the versificatory structure and the type of declamation required (p. 140).

Finally, these reflections on the art of acting in the Middle Ages also allow us to recall that many roles were played by clerics, mastering the art of oratory and accustomed to addressing a large audience (p. 143); or that, against a certain number of prejudices, feminine roles were indeed played by women, with the exception of the goddess Proserpina appearing in scenes of infernal fury (p. 148-149). In the same vein, the author shares the questions that the actors of the mystery may have been confronted with regarding playing the role of God or Christ (always interpreted by priests), and even more so when playing the devil, the actor being then able to protect yourself against accusations of anathema by prior notarial deed (p. 151).

An original and now essential synthesis of theatrical art and its collective importance at the end of the Middle Ages, the work offers (despite the absence of an index) essential supplements in the appendices, including a rich glossary, and unpublished sources widely mentioned throughout the discussion: accounting of Mystery of the three doms established in the name of the commune by the merchant Jean Chonet, the estimate (price-made) of the carpenters, and the report of the mystery appended to its text, entrusted to judge Louis Perrier.