London Times Article – The Medieval Theater in the Round
Commonplace Book – Pages 79-83
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“The Castle of Perseverance” – a Morality Play of about 1425. Consists of: a prologue in the form of ‘Banns,’ the play itself, a list of characters and a plan.
The ‘Banns’: Contains 12 stanzas or 156 lines – They are written for delivery by 2 vexillatores as the stanzas alternate between them.
‘Glorious God! In all degrees Lord of most might -
That heaven and earth made of nought, both sea and land,
The angels in heaven him to serve bright,
And mankind in middle-earth he made with his hand,
And our Lovely Lady that lantern is of light -
Save our liege lord, the King, the leader of this land,
And all the nobles of this realm, and rede them the right,
And all the good commons of this town that before us stand in this place!’
It is a reference to Man’s bareness of all goods as eh enters and leaves the world, and alludes to the angel of Good and Bad that pull Man this way and that. Man has 3 enemies: The World, the Fiend and the Flesh. Pride and Avarice lead Man to the World, the Devil leads him to Anger and Envy, and the Flesh calls him to Sloth, Lechery, Gluttony and others. The Good Angel sends conscience and confession with penance-doing to call Man to good living. And then Meekness, Patience, Charity, Soberness, Busyness, Chastity, and Generosity bring him to refuge in the Castle of Perseverance.
Pride vs. Meekness, Anger vs. Patience, Envy vs. Charity but battle between Covetessness vs. Generosity will be longest. Covetessness also encourages Gluttony vs. Soberness, Lechery vs. Chastity and Sloth vs. Busyness.
The last and 7th sin, is Lust-liking, which in medieval times was different from lechery. Lechery represents only that desire directed towards sexual things while Lust – liking would signify any inordinate desire for material things.
The phrase ‘on the green’ is what we would call today the ‘acting area.’ The phrase dates back to the days of the old green baize stage-cloth used to cover the stage in Restoration times; and also used in the masques at Court.
The stage directions are written mostly in Latin and by a 15th c. scribe who was presumably an Englishman and thus may have had imperfect knowledge of its syntax. It also contains many abbreviations and certain letters are almost exactly the same in form as other letters or pairs of letters. There are 32 stage directions in the original script of ‘The Castle of Perseverance.”
According to the Plan, both World and God have separate scaffolds marked in their name, the World’s in the Wes and God’s in the East. The Devil also has his own scaffold, that on the North.
The plan of the Castle also calls for a ditch – an enormous and apparently disproportionate amount of labor just for one day’s performance. The audience would sit on the mound of dirt in front of the performance. It had to present persons crossing it with any ease, this means that it cannot have been less than some 10 ft wide, and cannot have been less han 5 ft deep. The Hill must have been 5 ft high and 10 ft thick at the base; or both higher and thinner, or both lower and thicker; but containing the same volume of earth as came out of the ditch.
Cornish Rounds: The earliest source is Richard Carew’s The Survey of Cornwall, 1602. There is no mention of a ditch, but rather the words ‘they raise an earthen Amphitheatre.’ It says its some 40 or 50 feet. This size is considerably less, but it presents us with the idea of a very compact little circle that, given good weather conditions, might probably have been pleasant both to speak in and to see in.
The next example quoted by Norris from a manuscript by Scawen, belonging to soon after the Restoration: ‘The play – shows or spectacles…solemnized not without shew of devotion in open and spacious downs, of great capacity, encompassed about with earthen banks, and in some part stonework of largeness to contain thousands, the shapes of which remain in many places at this day, though the use of them is long since gone.’ – The audience was not outside, but inside – ‘contained by the earthen banks – No ditch – much more expensive and expansive task – where as in the Castle legend: ‘if any ditch may be made where it shall be played…’
The Round of St. Just: William Borlase – published in 1745 – ‘observations on the Antiquities Historical and Monumental of Cornwall’ – 126 ft as the diameters of the circle at St. Just in Penwith. The height of the hill above the Place as ‘now’ 7 ft, the ditch is outside the bank of seats and a drop into it of now 10 ft.’ He also suggests that in addition to 6 rows of steps on the inner side of the bank, there was a wide ‘rampart’ round the top, 7 ft wide. The circle of such dimensions might hold 4,000 people.
‘Ye haste you then thitherwards, Sirs, hendly in height,
All good neighbors, full specially we you pray,
And look that ye be there betimes, lovely and light…”
The people come in and divide; they either climb the Hill round the side and settle in the seats here, or they pick a spot on the grass of the Place itself and settle.
Scaffold 1: Where God is enthroned with several angels – he is bald with a wreath fillet round his hair a spear in his hand, large winds and full plate armor.
Scaffold 2: Holds the orchestra – is level with 1 + 3
Scaffold 4 + 5: #4 seats ladies of quality and those in 5 are citizen’s wives
Scaffold 6: Hell – occupies both upper and lower stories – upper story is provided with loose drapery ‘balustrade’ skirting the bottom of the opening
Last line of the Castle Perseverance: ‘Surely I see him, Lord royal, There in the plain.’
It was not until the Italian Renaissance that the place of a performance could become attired in costume like an actor and take part in the drama – and scenery was born.