Theses Doctoral

Transformed Within, Transformed Without: The Enactment of Religious Conversion in Medieval and Early Modern European Saint Plays

Kuntz, Emily Ciavarella

My dissertation investigates the ways in which both medieval and early modern saint plays depict and incite religious conversion through self-aware theatrical techniques. In each of my chapters, I examine one or two popular saint plays from a given period and area (medieval England, medieval France, early modern Spain, and early modern England) and show how each play invites the audience to undergo a spiritual shift parallel to that of the saint protagonist. These playmakers harnessed the affective power and technology of theatrical performance to invite the audience to engage with performed religious conversion in a controlled, celebratory environment and to encourage them to convert toward a more deeply felt Christianity. The plays reconfigured the audience’s sensory and intellectual understanding of Christian theology in order for the audience to recognize spiritual truth within an inherently communal, participatory, and performative space. The plays I examine depend on the audience’s familiarity with theatrical culture and practice in order to distinguish between sincere and insincere religious performance. By making the process of conversion a theatrical performance onstage, these plays could advocate for the theatrical medium as a genuine and effective catalyst for spiritual renewal. In addition to joining the conversation on the nature and goals of early European theatre, my dissertation also argues for the continued intersection between performance studies and conversion studies, demonstrating the ways in which theatrical performance elucidates the ways in which communities can instigate and collectively feel conversion.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Peters, Julie Stone
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2020