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The Role of Music in Medieval Shepherds’ Plays

The Role of Music in Medieval Shepherds’ Plays

By Vicente Chacón Carmona

Societe Internationale pour l’etude du Theatre Medieval – XIIth Colloquim (2007)

Introduction: Music, song and, to a certain extent, dance, feature in all medieval shepherds’ plays, even if they are not musical dramas proper. A series of English, French, and Spanish Nativity plays, composed and/or put into writing in the 15th and early 16th centuries, in which shepherds feature as relevant characters, are here studied in order to ascertain the role that music plays in them. The following dramas are analyzed: The Chester Painters’ Play; the Towneley First and Second Shepherds’ Plays; The Coventry Shearmen and Taylors’ Pageant; The York Chandlers’ Play; Arnould Gréban’s Le Mystère de la Passion de Notre Sauveur Jésus-Christ; Marguerite de Navarre’s Comédie de la Nativité de Jésus-Christ; Fray Íñigo de Mendoza’s Vita Christi; Juan del Encina’s Égloga Representada en la Mesma Noche de Navidad; Lucas Fernández’s Égloga o Farsa del Nascimiento de Nuestro Redemptor Jesucristo and Auto o Farsa del Nascimiento de Nuestro Señor Iesu Christo and Gil Vicente’s Auto Pastoril Castellano, Auto de los Reyes Magos, Auto de los Cuatro Tiempos. The authors of these plays employ musical turns for a series of purposes; mainly, to mark the climax and determine the pace and development of each drama, to define the moral quality of characters, and to help explain the spiritual changes undergone by certain characters.

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