THE ARTIFICE OF ETERNITY: A STUDY OF LITURGICAL AND THEATRICAL PRACTICES IN BYZANTIUM
White, Andrew Walker
Hildy, Franklin J.
Majeska, George P.
This study attempts to fill a substantial gap in our knowledge of theatre history by focusing on the Orthodox ritual aesthetic and its relationship with traditional theatrical practice in the Eastern Roman Empire - also known as Byzantium. Through a review of spatial practices, performance aesthetics and musical practice, and culminating in a case study of the Medieval Office of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, this dissertation attempts to demonstrate how the Orthodox Church responded to the theatre, and determine whether the theatre influenced the development of its ritual aesthetic. Because of the well-documented rapprochement between church and theatre in the west, this study also tries to determine whether there was a similar reconciliation in the Orthodox east. From the Early Byzantine period onward, conduct of the Orthodox Liturgy was rooted in a ritual aesthetic that avoided direct imitation or representation. This Orthodox ritual aesthetic influenced every aspect of the Liturgy, from iconography to chant to liturgical dance, and involved a rejection of practices that, in the Church's view, would draw too much attention to the material or artistic aspects of ritual. Theatrical modes of representation were consistently avoided and condemned as anathema. Even in the Middle Ages, when Catholics began to imitate Jesus at the altar and perform representations of biblical episodes using actors, realistic settings and special effects, Orthodox hierarchs continued to reject theatrical modes of performance. One possible exception to this rule is a Late Byzantine rite identified by western scholars as a "liturgical drama" - the Office of the Three Children. But a detailed reconstruction of its performance elements reveals that it was quite different in its aesthetics from Medieval Catholic practice. Some of the Office's instructions, however, lend themselves to a theatrical interpretation; and the instability of the Office's manuscript tradition, as seen in five extant versions, reveals strong disagreements about whether and how to include many of its key visual and musical elements.