Dance and Gesture as Media for Dramatic Expression

Authored by: Frances Eustace

The Routledge Research Companion to Early Drama and performance

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472421401
eBook ISBN: 9781315612898
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043669


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A study of the theatre that relies purely on scripts or play texts as source material has a poor chance of evoking the actual experience of any performance, devoid as it is of gesture and movement. “The Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge” succinctly expresses that a play is a “quick” book, a living book, in contrast to a painting that is “deed” (Walker 198). For the dance historian the situation is even more difficult as written choreographies, or any attempt at dance notation, did not appear in the manuscript record until the middle of the fifteenth century. However it is clear, as evidenced by chronicles, household accounts and other more literary sources, that dancing was an essential part of many entertainments both at court and in the country, in midsummer or midwinter, and for the enjoyment of an audience or purely for the pleasure of the participants themselves. This chapter will consider the definition of “dance” as expressive movement, conveying meaning or intention on the part of the participants and will confine itself to the dramatic aspects of dance, citing some case studies and pointing the way forward for further research opportunities in the relatively neglected field of medieval dance studies.

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