Medieval theatre existed in Europe from around the 10th through 16th century. The forms of drama during this time formed through liturgy and eventually developed into elaborate Christian celebrations depicting stories from the Bible. Plays were presented in large festivals which utilized pageant wagons, which were movable stages that were aligned so that audiences could move from scene to scene.
There are three different classifications of Medieval theatre- Miracle, Mystery, and Morality. Pippin contains aspects of two:
A miracle play tells the biographical story of the miracles and martyrdoms of saints. In “Magic To Do,” Leading Player says that they have “miracle plays to play.” Thus, “Pippin: His Life and Times” could be considered a miracle play, foreshadowing Pippin’s martyrdom for the troupe in the grand finale.
Morality plays told the story of a man summoned to judgement upon his death. They used allegorical figures to tell the audience what virtues were acceptable and would aid them at their own judgement. Pippin is shaped after a classic morality play from the 15th century called Everyman. In this drama, Everyman goes on a journey to find who he can take with him to his judgement, finding that he must undergo confession, extreme unction (a sacrament anointing the sick), and must leave behind his possessions, family, friends, etc. to cross into Heaven. The only one that he can take with him is Good Deeds. Other morality plays depict the seven deadly sins.
Pippin himself makes a reference to morality plays in “Corner of the Sky.” He sings, “Every man has his day dreams, every man has his goals.” According to Paul Sturtevant, Pippin is a modern morality play in which “Pippin attempts to learn how to face life rather than death.” However, at the end, it is revealed that Leading Player represents Death and has been taking Pippin on a journey to his death. Though there is no judgement or salvation, Pippin is joined by Catherine and Theo as Everyman is joined by Good Deeds.
In terms of allegories, we cross three major sections in Pippin in which audiences are meant to learn morals. Sturtevant wrote, “This trifecta- war, hedonism, and politics, shows clearly how the moral options of 1972… in war there is no glory, only death. In hedonism there is no escape, only emptiness. And in politics, there is no justice only tyranny.”
As many of the aspects of Pippin are not historically accurate, the theatre troupe does not come from Medieval theatre. The troupe is a group of Commedia dell’Arte performers. This form of theatre developed in Italy from the 16th to 18th century. Performers, also called players, used stock characters and scenarios to improvise their plays.