Jesuit drama

Definition

Theater

  • Plays performed and sometimes written by students at Jesuitcolleges in Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries. The first suchplays were written as school exercises to promote a greater understandingof theological and moral ideas; gradually they developed into moreelaborate productions than the professional theaters were giving atthat time.

    The first Jesuit college, the Collegio Mamertino, opened inMessina, Sicily in 1548; the first recorded Jesuit tragedy was performedthere three years later. The early plays had biblical or classicalsubjects, such as David, Saul, or Hercules, while later works dramatizedthe stories of saints and martyrs. As early as 1569 Latin began togive way to local languages, when Stefano Tuccio's Christus Judexwas translated into Italian and German.

    By the 17th century, Jesuit drama was being influenced byopera and ballet, especially in Vienna; this led to the use of largechoruses and orchestras, lavish costumes and scenery, and elaboratestage machinery. In 1659 Pietas Victrix by the Austrian NicolausAvancini had 46 speaking parts and seven transformation scenes.Productions of Jesuit drama in Paris were equal to those of the ParisOpéra; in Paris, too, such female characters as St Catherineand Esther were introduced.

    By the mid-18th century Jesuit dramas were being performedat regular intervals in about 300 colleges. However, the excessesof these extravagant productions led to the imposition of restrictionsand the dramas ceased altogether in 1773 when the order was suppressed.Some Jesuit dramas are occasionally revived; Jakob Bidermann's Cenodoxus(1602), for example, was performed in 1958 at the Residenztheaterin Munich as part of the city's 800th anniversary celebration. Dramatistsinfluenced by Jesuit drama include Calderón, Goldoni, Molière,Voltaire, and Corneille.

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