School drama

School drama. A theatrical form of the 17th and 18th centuries, organized around the schools of that time. The playwrights were teachers of poetics, and the performers were the students, who would study the principles of drama by performing. School drama developed from the dialogic verse of the Christmas and Easter cycles, popular in Western Europe from the 12th and 13th centuries and in Ukraine from the late 16th to early 17th centuries. The earliest extant examples are Pamva Berynda's Na rozhstvo virshi ... (Christmas Poems, 1616) and Ioanykii Volkovych's Rozmyshlian’ie o mutsi Khrysta Spasytela nasheho (Reflections on the Sufferings of Christ Our Savior, 1631), printed in Lviv. The earliest dramatic works, in a more precise sense of the word, were Prodav kota v mishku (He Sold a Cat in a Sack) and Naikrashchyi son (The Best Dream), two intermedes in J. Gawatowicz's Polish tragedy about the death of John the Baptist (1619).

In the second half of the 17th century dramatic literature saw significant developments. Following literary theories of the time, lecturers in poetics would divide dramatic works into tragedies (plays which portrayed tragic events in noble and famous families), comedies (scenes from the lives of the common people), and tragicomedies (works with elements of both). Thematically, school dramas can be divided into plays from the Christmas and Easter cycles, miracle plays (dramas based on legends about saints), morality plays (instructional dramas, in which the characters were personified abstract concepts: Truth, Love, Pride, Faith, Vanity, etc), and historical dramas. From among the extant texts the earliest is a miracle play by an anonymous author, Aleksii, chelovik Bozhii (Alexis, Man of God), which was staged in 1673. It was composed of a prologue, two acts, and an epilogue and was based on the legend of Alexis, the son of the Roman senator Euphimian. Influenced by Christ's teachings, Aleksii left his home and marriage and was absent for 17 years. Upon returning to his father's home he lived there for another 17 years as an unrecognized beggar. Only after his death did it become known, from a letter that he had written, that he was truly the senator's son. The repertoire of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy also included, among others, the popular morality play Tsarstvo natury liudskoi (The Kingdom of Human Nature, 1698), from which only fragments have been preserved.

One of the most popular plays in Western Ukraine was the Easter drama, based on apocryphal tales of the descent of Jesus Christ into hell, Slovo o zburenniu pekla (The Tale of the Harrowing of Hell), which has been preserved in several extant manuscripts from the second half of the 17th and from the 18th century. The drama is notable in that it departs from the rules of poetics of the period; it contains witticisms and portrays folk customs, and therein lay its popularity. The play appeared in an English translation by Irene Makaryk as About the Harrowing of Hell (1989).

The first play with a historical theme was Teofan Prokopovych's tragicomedy Vladimir, written in 1705, when the author was beginning to lecture in poetics at the Kyivan Mohyla Academy. The play glorifies Volodymyr the Great for having Christianized Kyivan Rus’, and for his battle against paganism, and Hetman Ivan Mazepa for his patronage of scholarship and the arts, painting and architecture in particular. A drama on a biblical theme, Iosif patriarkha (Joseph, the Patriarch, 1708), was written by Lavrentii Horka, a lecturer at the Kyivan Mohyla Academy. The second play based on Ukraine's historical past, which followed Prokopovych's Vladimir, was the drama Mylost’ Bozhiia ... (Divine Grace ..., 1728), written anonymously. Researchers have recognized it as one of the best dramatic works of the 18th century, the ‘swan song’ (Oleksander Biletsky) of Ukrainian school drama. The well-known historical drama Trahediia, sirich Pechal’naia povest’ o smerty posledniho tsaria serbskoho Urosha v ... (A Tragedy, or The Sad Tale of the Death of the Last Serbian Tsar, Urosh v, 1733) was written by a graduate of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy, Mykhail Kozachynsky.

In the 18th century dramas were also written on Christmas and Easter themes, namely Mytrofan Dovhalevsky's Komicheskoe diistvie (A Comic Play, 1736) and Vlastotvornii obraz chelovikoliubiia Bozhiia (The Power-Endowing Image of Divine Love for Man, 1737), Heorhii Konysky's Voskreseniie mertvykh (The Resurrection of the Dead, 1746), and also Varlaam Lashchevsky's morality play Trahedokomediia ... (Tragicomedy, ca 1742). Altogether 20 handwritten and printed manuscripts of dramas have survived in Ukraine. The graduates of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy spread the school drama to Russia as well—such as the plays staged by Dymytrii Tuptalo in Rostov. Later researchers (particularly Mykola I. Petrov, Volodymyr Riezanov) traced the origins of the Ukrainian school drama to the Western European school theater, specifically the Jesuit theater.

Franko, I. Iuzhno-russkaia paskhal’naia drama (Kyiv 1896)
Vozniak, M. ‘Stara ukraïns’ka drama i novishi doslidy nad neiu,’ ZNTSh, vol 112 (Lviv 1912)
———. Pochatky ukraïns’koï komediï (Lviv 1920)
Riezanov, V. Drama ukraïns’ka, fasc 1, 3–6 (Kyiv 1926–9)

Ivan Koshelivets

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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