Staging medievalisms : touching the Middle Ages through contemporary performance
Gutierrez, Christina Lynn
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Staging Medievalisms analyzes how twentieth- and twenty-first century performance constructs the Middle Ages. This work is in conversation with medievalism, the academic field concerned with the diverse ways post-medieval societies have re-imagined medieval narratives and tropes, often in service of their own values. As a result of centuries worth of re-definition, the term "medieval" is unstable, referring simultaneously to a fairytale prehistory and a dark age of oppression. I argue that performance, both in theatrical productions and in medieval-focused tourist spaces, allows an affective connection between the medieval past and the present, casting the Middle Ages as an inherently flexible backdrop for contemporary political and social concerns. In tourist spaces and plays about the Middle Ages, the performing body becomes the site where the medieval and the modern touch. I conduct close readings of six productions and three public spaces which stage the Middle Ages, examining which particular versions of the medieval they create, how they stage moments of historiographical contact, and how each uses the medieval to imagine their own historical contexts. Chapter one provides an overview of medievalism and its connection to performance studies, and subsequent chapters take up contemporary productions of medieval history, legend, and fantasy, respectively. Chapter two examines three recent stagings of Shakespeare's medieval history play Henry V, a work which stages two opposing versions of the medieval simultaneously. The Royal Shakespeare Company (1994), National Theatre (2003), and Austin, Texas (2009) productions offer commentary on modern warfare, using Henry's medieval battles as both evidence and setting. Chapter three analyses representations of the Holy Grail in Mort d'Arthur (2010), Spamalot (2005), and Proof (2001). Each re-imagines the Grail as a symbol of achievement and power, drawing different conclusions about contemporary society's need for the mystical. Chapter four takes up performances of the Middle Ages in the public sphere, examining how Disneyland, Medieval Times, and the Renaissance Faire offer visitors varying degrees of freedom to experience the medieval through their own bodies. Throughout, I argue that performance encourages affective connections to the medieval past as a reflection of contemporary desires.