auto sacramental

Definition

Theater

  • The Spanish equivalent of the English mystery play.This vernacular religious drama dates back to about 1200 and derivedfrom the Latin liturgical drama. The plays were acted ontemporary open-air stages or wagons at Church festivals, especiallyat the feast of Corpus Christi. The event began with a processionof choirs, priests bearing the Host beneath a canopy, royalty andnobles, and finally the actors. Prayers were said at the stage beforethe performance. The main religious allegory was usually precededby a prologue and a farce and followed by concluding songs or dances.

    About 400 of the 1200 plays written by Lope de Vegawere autos sacramentales, but the most celebrated writer inthe genre was Pedro Calderón de la Barca. His numerousreligious works were staged in Madrid from 1650 onwards; the bestknown is El gran teatro del mundo, which develops the ideathat the world is a stage on which each person plays the role writtenfor him or her by God. The autos sacramentales continued longafter mystery plays had died away in England and France, but theybecame less and less religious in their content and were finally prohibitedby royal command in 1765.

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