In the 9th cent. drama returned to the Western world in the
form of mystery and miracle plays, which were performed in
churches. Usually stories from the Bible, such plays were
first acted by priests, their stage consisting of different
platform sets arranged in rows along the side of the nave
of the church. One effect of the church setting was to create
a close relationship between audience and performer.
these plays were moved out of the church into the street,
where the platform sets were arranged around an area in which
the audience could stand or move from place to place in a
prescribed order. Acting took place either on the platforms,
in front of them, or between them, depending on the need.
The platforms were often elaborate in their decoration and
stage machinery. With the shift to the streets, acting was
transferred from the priesthood to the amateurs of the guilds
or professional players.
the advent of the Renaissance in Italy there were various
attempts to construct theaters on Roman models, the culmination
of this movement being the Teatro Olimpico (1580–84)
at Vicenza, designed by Andrea Palladio. However, the development
of the theater form that was to dominate until the 20th cent.
began with the Teatro Farnese (1618) at Parma, designed by
Gian-Battista Aleotti. Of primary importance was Aleotti's
use of the proscenium arch creating the picture-frame stage.
also introduced painted perspective scenery, first outlined
in the treatise Architettura (1537–45) of Sebastiano
Serlio. While these developments were taking place in an academic
and aristocratic milieu, the commedia dell'arte was carrying
on a popular theater of improvisation, which did much toward
developing professional acting as opposed to courtly amateurism.
England and Spain, theories of theater construction were less
tied to classical example than in Italy. The Spanish theater
developed in the corral, or courtyard, of various large buildings,
where plays were originally performed, while the innyard served
as a similar model in England. These theaters offered greater
flexibility of movement than did the Italian. The Elizabethan
audience in England included all levels of society, and professional
actors were treated with relative respect. By the closing
of the theaters by the Puritans in 1642, English audiences
had become overwhelmingly aristocratic, a tendency that continued
in the Restoration period.
17th-century England the designs of Inigo Jones revealed Italian
influence in their use of perspective scenery and the proscenium
arch. However, English theater never indulged in the architectural
extravaganzas that proliferated on the continent. In 17th-century
Europe the trend in theater production was increasingly toward
more elaborate machinery and scenery with less and less concern
for the drama itself. This trend is illustrated by the triumph
of opera in Italy and Spain and, later, by the popularity
of the exuberant baroque architecture and scene design of
the Bibiena family throughout 18th-century Europe.