Sacred Feeling: A Dramaturgy of Religious Emotion


  • Donnalee Dox Texas A&M University
  • Amber Dunai Department of Humanities, Texas A&M University--Central Texas


We show in this paper that the soteriological aims of medieval theatre relied on the precise articulation of emotions, affect and feelings associated with religious devotion. We propose that this dramaturgy of emotion undergirds the formal structure of medieval plays as effectively as realism, imitation, and representation did for later dramas influenced by Aristotle’s Poetics.  In a close reading of Hildegard von Bingen’s twelfth-century music-drama, Ordo Virtutum, we align a medieval play’s movement of emotions with a schematic organization of religious feeling provided by St. Augustine. This reading offers a perspective on reading medieval devotional drama that expands Aristotelian considerations of dramatic structure to consider how medieval audiences steeped in a particular theology of salvation were socialized to respond emotionally to imagery, sound, narrative, and characterization. 

Author Biographies

Donnalee Dox, Texas A&M University

Donnalee Dox is an Associate Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Texas A&M University.  She is also Head of the Department of Performance Studies and Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Religious Studies. Her research and teaching focus on religion and the human body. She is the author of two monographs: The Idea of the Theatre in Latin Christian Thought: Augustine to the Fourteenth Century (University of Michigan Press, 2004) and Reckoning with Spirit in the Paradigm of Performance (University of Michigan Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in Theatre Journal, The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, The Journal of Religion and Theatre, Theatre Research International, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Ecumenica, and TDR as well as in collections of essays, including the groundbreaking Acts of Faith: Religion, Theatre, and Performance (Routledge, 2011). 

Amber Dunai, Department of Humanities, Texas A&M University--Central Texas

Amber Dunai is Assistant Professor of English in the Department of Humanities at Texas A&M University--Central Texas, where she teaches early English literature and linguistics.  Her research focuses on medievalism and medieval dream vision literature, and her work has appeared in the Chaucer Review.