The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought

Augustine to the Fourteenth Century
Donnalee Dox
Reads medieval texts long considered the historical basis for Western drama as part of the Latin Christian intellectual tradition


This book considers medieval texts that deal with ancient theater as documents of Latin Christianity's intellectual history. As an exercise in medieval historiography, this study also examines biases in modern scholarship that seek links between these texts and performance practices. The effort to bring these texts together and place them in their intellectual contexts reveals a much more nuanced and contested discourse on Greco-Roman theater and medieval theatrical practice than has been acknowledged. The book is arranged chronologically and shows the medieval foundations for the Early Modern integration of dramatic theory and theatrical performance.

The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought will be of interest to theater historians, intellectual historians, and those who work on points of contact between the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. The broad range of documents discussed (liturgical treatises, scholastic commentaries, philosophical tracts, and letters spanning many centuries) renders individual chapters useful to philosophers, aestheticians, and liturgists as well as to historians and historiographers. For theater historians, this study offers an alternative reading of familiar texts which may alter our understanding of the emergence of dramatic and theatrical traditions in the West. Because theater is rarely considered as a component of intellectual projects in the Middle Ages, this study opens a new topic in the writing of medieval intellectual history.

Donnalee Dox is Assistant Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Texas A&M University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Classical Theatre is an elegantly concise survey of the way classical notions of theatre have been interpreted in the Latin Middle Ages. Dox convincingly demonstrates that far from there being a single 'medieval' attitude towards theatre, there was in fact much debate about how theatre could be understood to function within Christian tradition, even in the so-called 'dark ages' of Western culture. This book makes an innovative contribution to studies of the history of the theatre, seen in terms of the history of ideas, rather than of practice."
    —Constant Mews, Director, Centre for the Study of Religion & Theology, University of Monash, Australia
  • "Through well-informed and nuanced readings of key documents from the fourth through fourteenth centuries, this book challenges historians' long-held beliefs about how concepts of Greco-Roman theatre survived the fall of Rome and the middle ages, and contributed to the dramatic triumphs of the Renaissance. Dox's work is a significant contribution to the history of ideas that will change forever the standard narrative of the birth and development of theatrical activity in medieval Europe."
    —Margaret Knapp, Arizona State University
  • "This book will revolutionize historians' thinking about the concept of theater as it was conceived of in medieval Europe."
    —Margaret Knapp, Arizona State University
  • "In the centuries between St. Augustine and Bartholomew of Bruges, Christian thought gradually moved from a brusque rejection of classical theater to a progressively nuanced and positive assessment of its value. In this lucidly written study, Donnalee Dox adds an important facet to our understanding of the Christian reaction to, and adaptation of, classical culture in the centuries between the Church Fathers and the rediscovery of Aristotle."
    —Phillipp W. Rosemann, University of Dallas
  • ". . . this very close look at the minute mechanisms of Christian thought is very useful, and not merely as a comprehensive, brilliantly framed summation of some of the most difficult twists of Christian theology concerning the drama . . . . The usefulness of this text to theater historians committed to the ongoing New Historicist project of debunking myths associated with the discontinuities between the medieval period and the Renaissance is readily apparent, as is the book's utility to students of medieval theology and philosophy . . . . [A] must for the bookshelf of any scholar of medieval theater practices."
    —Michael M. Chemers, Comparative Drama

  • "Dox gives us a first rate literature review...and provides a thorough, scholarly review of the place of theatre within early, medieval, and Renaissance Christian thought...Dox's book remains an extremely useful tool as broad survey of trends in thought, as capable of prompting questions, and as a fine deposit of literature review. All in all, every theatre and liturgy library and office should incorporate this book."
    —James O'Regan, Baylor Journal of Theatre and Performance

  • "Exploding the narrative of a theater history in which the Middle Ages functioned largely as a hiatus, Dox reveals that medieval writers who considered ancient theater participated in a current of intellectual history. She has restored that history."
    —Pamela Sheingorn, Speculum

  • "Dox does an admirable job of demonstrating that understandings and uses of the idea of Greco-Roman theater did in fact change over time...This is a useful book. It participates extensively in the intellectual conversation on medieval theater, filling a gap  in current scholarship, and makes intelligent use of underutilized primary sources. I expect to use it, and I recommend others interested in the reception of ancient theater in the medieval period do the same."
    —Jane Beal, Sixteenth Century Journal

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Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 204pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11423-8

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  • $94.95 U.S.

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