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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Ritual Culture of Late Imperial Russia: Performing the Middle Ages

  • Author(s): Severina, Yelena N.
  • Advisor(s): Koropeckyj, Roman
  • Vroon, Ronald
  • et al.
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This dissertation examines how the performance of medieval rituals at the tsar’s court, in the dramas of modernist playwrights, and in early cinema can be read as commentaries on the sociopolitical situation during the Russian Empire’s last two decades. These rituals include the commemorative celebrations at the court of Nikolai II, rites of passage in dramas modeled on medieval mystery plays, and costume dramas of early filmmakers. My approach examines these three expressions of the medieval aesthetic and their correlations as homologous actions that were symptomatic of the medieval revival during the fin de si�cle. Ritual thus becomes a way of performing medievalism and hence a constituent part of this phenomenon’s development in the Russian Empire. Two national myths, in particular, which this dissertation investigates, emerge through the performance of these medieval rituals: the myths of tsar (authority) and of revolution (rebellion). “Late Imperial Russia” refers to the period of the last tsar, which lasted from 1894 until his abdication in 1917, with the peak of the medieval revival coinciding with the years preceding World War I, 1894-1914. Assessing these years through political and cultural “performances” of the period allows to present this historical moment as a time of transition that was rife with intimations of social, political, and cultural reforms. Victor Turner’s concept of social drama, together with Richard Schechner’s performance theory, provides a framework for translating these modes of ritualized behavior as aesthetic responses to the sociopolitical conditions of the Russian Empire’s final years.

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This item is under embargo until September 7, 2020.