Proofs of theatrical activity before the 14th c. are difficult to obtain. We are confronted with a sudden birth and a rapid growth of all sorts of performances achieving a great impact on their public due to a respectable level of professionality. How can we explain this?
In 1207, Innocent III in a pastoral letter to the archbishop of Gniezno, requires him to extirpate public entertainment or games from churches. The consequence of bad habits among the canons is that in their churches public festivals are being held, and not only monsters in masks are being introduced in playful spectacles, but even deacons, presbyters and subdeacons, on three annual church feasts after Christmas, take turns to show their madness before the people. Instead of bringing solace to their flock through the word of God, they shamelessly engage in mimic exercises, harming the dignity of the clergy.
We have no confirmation of any "games" as actual practices suggested by the letter. But the letter, being no account of actual games, cannot be a fantasy written 'just in case'; the archbishop was at that time in Rome and the papal letter was presumably based on his account and meant as an admonition and legitimation for more action against the abuses. The main problem was nepotism. But what about the ludibria? It must have been something more than a couple of clerics who played with each other undisturbed in front of the town's population. The only institutional frame of that behavior was the cathedral school with choristers' class. Not the students are addressed, however, but the deacons, the presbyters and the subdeacons. Apparently, not the chorister's games are being criticized but the regular clergy joining the fun. Also, monsters in masks (monstra larvarum) do not seem to be the worst evil, but the priests partaking of games, and when doing so, using gestures and dancing in an inappropriate way before the believers.
My hypothesis is: During the three annual feasts after Christmas (Innocents, Circumcision, Epiphany) some extravagance of the choristers inside the churches was tolerated, but it became intolerable as soon as it became public and if the regular clergy was getting involved.
The feasts like the boy bishop are well known with theatre historians. No attention has been given to educational practice in the cathedral schools as form of transmitting knowledge fundamental for any theatrical practice. Here we find an institutional frame for groups working within the church but not quite in public. By proving it we will obtain an alternative and an addition to Jody Enders' innovative answer to the quaestio famosissima of our discipline: the reappearance of theater and drama in the Middle Ages. In her Rhetoric and the Origins of Medieval Drama (1992) she pointed to the rhetorical theory and practice developed by French law confraternities and universities. I am attenting to an earlier missing link: the monastic and cathedral schools and their teaching practices, later continued by civic Latin schools. They were institutions transmitting the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary for acting, if not identical with it. The acting skills are covered by the rhetorical part of schools' curriculum, especially the two canons: memoria and actio. The theory of the genres using only 'introduced persons' was contained in the Accessus tradition, in different manuals of poetics like Poetria Nova, and in commentaries (discussed and quoted recently by Ansgar Kelly in The Ideas and Forms of Tragedy).
Participation of schools can be inferred from Peter Damiani's (+1072) criticism of monks who desired to study grammar. At which stage or point of the study of grammar could it become "dangerous"? Not at memorizing declension paradigms. It must have been texts, learned by heart and reproduced from memory in the class, using the "three languages of recitation" according to the handbooks of rhetorics, but probably with too much care for the effect. Was there a teacher at Gniezno around 1200 to be 'accused' of spectacular teaching and attracting the attention of clergy who wanted to participate in illicit games? Yes, different documents from 1213-40 do mention a certain scholasticus Venceslaus. It can be presumed that a teacher's career preceded his becoming canon-head of the cathedral school about 1213. We have got a man, a school, can we point to a possible text?
Let us discuss a short text from a codex of ca 1200, preserved in the library of the cathedral of Gniezno (the one addressed in the letter of Innocent). The text begins with the sentence [Q]uoniam recentia magis placent quam vetera, and it ends with line 11 from the psalm 84(85): Misericordia et veritas obviaverunt sibi, iusticia et pax osculate sunt.
The text tells a story of the Rex et famulus type: a king's subject, enticed into disobiedience, gets punished, but is ultimately saved by the royal son. I want to prove it was a school text, a sort of teacher's draft introducing and explaining the narrative. It was a perfect material for exercises in recitation because of its expressive dialogues between the personae introductae. If someone would like to stage this text, there would appear a couple of monsters, or monstrous personifications (not devils). Or, otherwise: if the text was being "staged" by students of the cathedral school of Gniezno, the "monstra larvarum", mentioned by Innocent must have been introduced.
READING HANDOUT [enclosed]
The handout contains the most theatrical part of the story with the actions and dialogues of the introduced persons.
In the full text there are expressions typical for a teacher's draft. After the famulus has been sentenced to tortures by the four 'tortores', we read: "Later, if occasion allows, we shall call the proper names of the four torturers". And indeed, as the son visits the oppressed famulus and sees him being punished by the four torturers, there comes the right moment to explain their names.
The explanation is a concise formula of the Original Sin for which we all are being punished by the four torturers (the jail of earthly life, misery, death and worms). After some ten lines the teacher withdraws and the storyteller goes on. After the explanation all readers must be aware of the mystical sense of the story. This was not a scholarly text, but a school text which was read aloud, narrated or maybe presented by gestures. There are no references to the source or other authors, although the text starts with a promise of giving a new explanation of a psalm verse, but its number is not mentioned. Neither is the narrative a sermon - preachers do not begin a sermon with "today I am going to give you a new interpretation of a well known sentence". This would only be possible in a literary composition or with a didactic aim. A teacher is obliged to get his class interested in learning a new sense of an old story, or in discovering different meanings in one and the same text. Literary dimension of the text is best seen in the author's respect for its autonomy and in the fact its personified figures are allowed to speak for themselves.
What features can be called theatrical in the text discussed? First of all, there are the dialogues of the introduced persons [typed in bold]. But even the non-dialogical parts can be of some interest for us. They are of two sorts. In the beginning there is a telling of a story before the actual action [justified right]. Most of the narration is devoted to "stage directions" describing the behaviour of the speakers [the text that's indented and capitalized]. Their speech can be introduced in the present tense - sicut infit - instead of the common narrative perfect ait. The fiction of a speaking person is only once disturbed by the spoken "quotation mark" inquit.
Was that indeed a schooltext? Our knowledge about the codex is insufficient. Whatever little we know suggests it could have been used in one of the cathedral schools of the archbishopric of Gniezno about the year 1200 quite possible. The preceding text is a short piece about the symbolism of the bell (Signum quid in ecclesia reboat), based on the liturgical handbook by Amalarius. It is even shorter than our Rex et famulus story, and very simple; and it is difficult to imagine it being used outside the cathedral school. We can be sure that both texts were meant for the class.
A German allegoric prose treaty of the 15th c., on Trinity as Well contains a debate of sisters and the atonement by the son, and suggests it could be a subject for a school examination (frag, schulfrag). The theme jof the Trial in Heaven is common in the drama of the 15th-17th centuries, and is also represented in other genres, all over Europe. A number of books could be written on this subject. In different forms it is also present in the old Polish literature, the most important specimens can be found here in about 30 Jesuit dramas of the 17th c.
In the light of all these considerations it becomes clear that the protest of Innocent III against church festivals in the diocese of Gniezno around 1200 could have been caused by the actual practices in the local cathedral school. Two additional aspects of the evidence are of importance for the literary theory and history.
First, we have to draw conclusions from the fact that the motif of the Trial in Heaven is so deeply rooted in medieval literature. I think this was a better frame or germ for the drama to develop from, than all sorts of liturgical representations. The most frequently discussed liturgical text of this generic type - the Easter trope Quem quaeritis, covers only one small part of the history of the Redemption, while the Trial in Heaven presents a cumulative theory of Original Sin, Atonement, Redemption and Incarnation. A story of the Resurrection cannot be a narrative frame for a mystery cycle, because it is an episode. This episode gives no answer to the question why Redemption was needed and why could be achieved only through the death of Christ. The Trial in Heaven created better opportunity to incorporate structures of morality plays within the mystery cycles. And it appears in the 12th century - just before the development of drama, while the liturgical celebrations are much older, not to mention their texts like the Quem quaeritis, which is as old as the Scripture itself. Why were they introduced or developed into drama only one thousand years later? With the Trial in Heaven, we not only have a better structural frame for narratives like the presented Rex et famulus story, but something that was obviously and actually developed in all sorts and types of full fledged religious drama, beginning with the most important mystery plays of the 15th c., and ending with numerous Jesuit plays.
By establishing this textual connection with a non-liturgical text, and by stressing the role of cathedral schools, an earlier and more common complement is found to Enders' solution: a milieu which was precedent and parallel to universities' law schools and academic discussions. At the same time the old question of liturgical vs. nonliturgical origins is receiving an answer: the origins of medieval drama are not liturgical, but nevertheless ecclesiastical.
My second theoretical conclusion concerns the paedagogical use of personification. This literary technique is so common that in itself it can be a proof that it was an efficient or even indispensable means of teaching.
If the personification is so common in literature, it must be also more deeply rooted in human thinking. Its efficiency lies in its visual and aural potential created by the introduction of a person whose words and actions can be respectively made audible and visible. Introducing persons into a narrative guarantees two levels of sensibility. When we read a dialogue we can imagine speaking persons (imagined sensibility); the full sensibility is achieved if the personification's words and actions are embodied and enacted before our eyes, e.g. by the teacher or a student. This is the mechanism of what James W. Ong has called "the presence of the word". However, enacting a person is impossible without knowing and understanding this person's words and actions. And this is what teaching is all about.
Indispensability of personification can be drawn from neuro-psychological mechanism of the acquiring a knowledge of one's self. This mechanism is based on the principle of cognitive expression: the internal resources are only cognizable if they are brought outside to be experienced: the only way for an organism to discover its interior resources is observation of its own behaviour (Blachowicz).
When in our story the father is thinking how to keep balance between his four daughters, we are seeing the process of cognizance: the subject is acquiring knowledge about his preferences and choices. This process is very difficult if all hidden attitudes, perferences, wishes and fears of the soul are not separated, exteriorized and put before each other as actors. Such confrontation is even more effective if the actors (personifications) are moved to speak with each other. As soon as they enter and begin to speak, we can look at their actions and listen how they are talking to each other. If we listen good enough, we will find out, what they are telling us, and why they are turnig us into their audience.
TORTORES (...) OMNIBUS PENIS ARREPTUM MISERUM AFFLIGERE CEPERUNTHeu pater carissime * numquid ego sum filia tua misericordia?
HAS FAMULI PENAS UNA DE FILIABUS REGIS * VIDELICET MISERICORDIA
VELOCI CURSU CUCURRIT AD CARCEREM
ET INTROSPICIENS VIDIT FAMULUM INCARCERATUM
ET (...) NON POTUIT NON MISERERI
QUIA MISERICORDIE PROPRIUM EST MISERERI
DELACERATIS VESTIBUS ET COMPLOSIS MANIBUS
SPARSIS PER COLLA CAPILLIS
CUCURRIT AD PATREM
ET GENICULATA ANTE PATERNOS PEDES
CEPIT GEMEBUNDA ET SUPPLICI VOCE DICERE
TALITER ILLA ARGUMENTANTE APUD PATREMIsta inquit soror tua misericordia vult ut ego miserear illius cui penam indixi *
ADVENIT SOROR EIUS VERITAS
ET CUR MISERICORDIA FLERET QUESIVIT A PATRE * CUI PATER
TUNC VERITAS ADMODUM STOMACHATA TONUSNonne ego sum filia tua veritas * nonne diceris esse verax?
TORVISQUE OCULIS INTUENS PATREM SICUT INFIT
(...) HAS CONTROVERSIAS (...) AUDIVIT TERTIA SOROR VIDELICET IUSTITIAIsta soror nostra misericordia vult ut pater noster misereatur
ET CLAMORIBUS EXCITATA CEPIT A VERITATE CAUSAM CONTENCIONIS QUAERERE
SED VERITAS NON POTERAT NON VERA DICERE * QUE AIT
MOX IUSTITIA FLAMMATO VERSANS INOPINATUM CORDE DOLOREMNumquid ego sum filia tua iusticia? Nonne diceris esse iustus?
SIC AIT AD PATREM [PL: JUSTITIA, INFLATO VULTU VERSANS INOPINATUM CORDE DOLOREM, SIC AIT...]
ADVOCANS IGITUR PATER FILIUM SUUM SAPIENTISSIMUM *Committe michi pater praesens negocium exequendum
SUPER HOC NEGOCIO CONSULUIT EUM *
CUI PATERCerte magna sunt que promittis si vocem facta sequantur
SUSSCEPTO IGITUR FILIUS REGALI SCEPTRO
SUMSIT SECUM MISERICORDIAM SOROREM SUAM ET SALIENS IN MONTIBUS ET TRANSILIENS COLLES
PERVENIT AD CARCEREM * ET RESPICIENS PER FENESTRAS * PERSPICIENS PER CANCELLOS
VIDIT FAMULUM INCARCERATUM (...)
VIDIT EUM DECORIATUM
QUI A PLANTA PEDIS USQUE AD VERTICEM NON EST IN EO SANITAS
VIDIT ET IUGULATUM QUIA PER IPSUM MORS INTRAVIT IN MUNDUM
VIDIT ET DEVORATUM
QUIA EXQUO HOMO MORITUR VERMIBUS ESCA DATUR (...)
VIDENS IGITUR FILIUS FAMULUM SUUM HIS QUATUOR TORTORIBUS MANCIPATUM
NON POTUIT NON MISERERI QUIA MISERICORDIAM COMITEM HABEBAT ET INTROSILIENS IN CARCEREM MORTEM MORTE SUA STRAVIT * (...)
ET CUM COPIOSA PRAEDA ASCENDIT IN ALTUM (...)
FAMULUMQUE (...) DUXIT IN PATRIAM DANS EI STOLAM INMORTALITATIS
HOC VIDENS MISERICORDIA NON HABEBAT UNDE CONQUERERETUR QUIA UIDIT FAMULUM (...) IN PATRIAM REDUCTUM
STOLA INMORTALITATIS INDUTUM
VERITAS NON INUENIEBAT QUERELE CAUSAS
CUM PATER EIUS UERAX FUISSET INUENTUS
IAM ENIM FAMULUS OMNES PENAS PERSEUERAT
IUSTICIA SIMILITER NIL CONQUEREBATUR
QUIA IN TRANSGRESSORE IUSTICIA FUERAT EXERCITA
ADEO QUOD MORTUOS FUERIT ET REUIXIT PERIERAT ET REINUENTUS EST VIDENS IGITUR PAX SORORES SUAS IAM NIL CONQUERENTES
ET UNAM QUARUMQUE IUS PROPRIUM CONSECUTAM
REVERSA EST ET GLUTINE SUI CONUINXIT ET PACIFICAVIT EAS
QUIA EXQUO CESSAT LIS ET CONTENCIO REVERTITUR PAX
ET SIC MISERICORDIA ET VERITAS OBVIAVERUNT SIBI
IUSTITIA ET PAX OSCULATE SUNT.
 ...ludi fiunt in eisdem ecclesiis theatrales, et non solum ad ludibriorum spectacula introducuntur in eas monstra larvarum, verum etiam [...] diaconi, presbyteri ac subdiaconi vicissim insanie sue ludibria exercentes, per gesticulationum suarum debacchationes obscenas in conspectu populi decus faciunt clericale vilescere... Innocentius Pp III 1207 Jan. 8, interdicit archiepiscopo Gneznensi et suffraganeis eius, ne publice uxoratos admittant ad ecclesiasticas dignitates, simulque mandat, ludibria publica in ecclesiis extirpent. Kodeks Dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski, vol. 1, No 55, p. 58.
 De perfectione monachorum (PL 145:291-328). Its Chapter XI, De monachis qui grammaticam discere gestiunt (PL 145:306D): Quod si his artibus operam dare monachum sacra Scriptura permittit, dicatur jam quia uxor viro ancillam in usum sobolis tradit.
 The codex came to Gniezno from the cathedral of Poznań, the time of replacement is not sure. But it belonged to the archdiocese of Gniezno, and the distance between the two cathedrals was not big and this book could have been available to the scholasticus Venceslaus.
 W. Timmermann, Streit der vier Töchter Gottes, Verfasserlexikon, vol. 9, 396-402. It has been edited as a homily of Bede, PL, but its theology is post-Anselmian (Cur Deus homo); according to Timmermann the text family called 'Rex et famulus' has grown from the sermon of Bernard of Clairvaux, the oldest extant version was written before 1176.
 ...et quia sic se nunc occasio optulit accipite quatuor nomina tortorum * Primus qui eum incarcera-||uit carcer est et exilium praesentis uite... (ll.66-7).
With thanks to Jolanta Szpilewska