When I first began this study I was heavily involved in theater. As someone who was living theater most of the time, I could not comprehend how theater could have been annihilated with the fall of Rome and then reborn later. Nothing about theater as I knew it operated that way. When I read The Medieval Stage by E.K. Chambers, I became confused, because he says right out that he believes mimes survived the Dark Ages. It did not occur to me for quite a long time that we had different notions of what constitutes theater. If it had, I probably would not have become involved with this study: I would have accepted Chambers' theory as outdated, and gone along with the mimes. Instead, I asked myself two questions: 1) did the fall of Rome happen as he said it did?; and 2) is it possible that a native dramatic form, predating the Roman conquest of Europe, naturally survived it when the Roman Empire fell apart?
For all practical purposes, the pre-Roman civilization of Europe was Celtic, but there is very little native information about the Celts, aside from the Medieval Irish records. To fill the gaps in my picture of the Celts, I turned to comparative Indo-European studies.
The Roman-Celtic theaters appeared by magic at a time when I thought my studies were drawing to a close. It was only after the Romano-Celtic theaters dropped into my lap that the idea of an Indo-European theater-context inserted itself into my brain. I suddenly found a lot of diverse and unconnected reading making sense in interesting patterns. Not all of these patterns were valuable, but each of them led me on a search for more information. I would be searching still were it not for the deadline imposed by this thesis.
Meanwhile, I was conversant with Gaul and the Western Provinces. I had done quite a lot of reading about Roman and Medieval Britain. Nothing that I learned fit the pattern set up by Chambers: not the pre-Roman savagery, not the greatness of Roman civilization, not the cataclysm of the fall, not the simple pious barbarity of the Middle Ages. Chambers' entire worldview was off. So was his history. It began to occur to me that our definitions of theater didn't mix. We looked at the world very differently. How did his definition come about? What were the features of his thinking that differed from mine?
At this point I spent a summer on the research that led to the first essay, and I was always doing folk-drama research: I assumed that if there was a non-Roman theater it would show itself there. I discovered that folk-drama scholarship is, if anything, more removed from my idea of reality than Medieval theater studies. I continued to work toward an essay in folk drama until it became clear that folk drama demands its own thesis. In the place of that essay, I have included a folk-drama bibliography with this thesis.
The final essay meets the central problem in Medieval theater studies, which is the question of definition. There are no serious attempts to make conclusions stand, to justify a theory. There is no science of theater history.
There are very serious attempts at resolving the problem of definition, par fiat, but no rigorous attempt at getting at the center of what one knows to be theater.
What theater is is no secret. We do not get theater confused with basketball. We are able to talk about it. We go to it and recognize it. What is difficult is articulating our knowledge and analyzing it. The final essay is an attempt to begin a descriptive exploration of what theater is. It achieves three basic ideas: 1) that most definitions of theater are definitions of bad theater; 2) that the essence of theater is Experience, a mode of Being, and not something out-there; 3) and that what we write histories about is and has been the shell or track of that Experience, but that that study is of value in and of itself.
Cumulatively, the essays displace the old Chambers-Young hypothesis of Medieval theater history, and argue the case for a New Theater History.