Slovak theatre from the Middle Ages to 1920

Manifestations of religious and profane theatre have been proven for the medieval period (12th to 15th centuries). Religious theatre mostly drew inspiration from the Christian liturgy (Easter and Christmas) and developed under the influence of the Benedictine order in Slovakia. The mysteries of Bardejov confirm the later forms of the medieval religious theatre outside the church. The profane theatre is connected with the action of wandering jesters (ioculators) who were referred to as igrici in Slovakia.
During the Renaissance period (16th, early 17th century), theatre life developed in the form of the school theatre under the effect of the spread of the Reformation and Protestant education. The German influence through the Protestant school in Bardejov and its organiser L Stockel, a student of Luther and Melanchton, is obvious. Dramas by the first Slovak playwrights P Kyrmezer and J Tesak-Mosovsky were created under this religious, spiritual and cultural impact.
In the Baroque period the theatre developed further in the schools, but additional theatre activities reflecting the European influence stressing the social, religious and national differentiation now also emerged. The most active representatives of phenomena like the Counter Reformation and Re-Catholisation were the Jesuits, and it was in Slovakia more than anywhere else in the Kingdom of Hungary where the greatest number of Jesuit theatre shows were presented. Towns like Trnava, Skalica, Bratislava and Spišská Kapitula became important theatre centres at this time.
From the 18th century aristocratic theatres began to enrich theatrical life. Plays were presented in residences and manors of noble families where theatre, music and opera were cultivated. The position of the city of Bratislava was special in this respect. Bratislava was the coronation city of the Kingdom of Hungary from the 16th century down to 1840, and theatre shows always accompanied the coronations, sessions of the Diet and visits by kings or princes. The oldest theatre activities in the territory of Bratislava were connected with travelling groups at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1741 the first wooden theatre was built in Bratislava on the occasion of Empress Maria Theresa’s coronation. At the beginning of the 1770s, the first permanent theatre opened in the Grünes Stübel (Green House) in the city’s main square. This venue served until 1776, when the first stone municipal theatre was established on the site of what is today the old building of the Slovak National Theatre.
The European theatre of the 19th century was an important factor in the development of civic society. In Slovakia, German, Hungarian and Czech theatre greatly influenced the origins and development of modern Slovak theatre. Its delayed origins and the fact that it only existed in an amateur form may be accounted for by way of reference to the complicated and specific cultural, linguistic and economic development of Slovak society. The incentive for theatrical life in the 19th century was domestic playwriting. Along with dramatic literature, histrionics played the most important role in the theatre activities of the Slovak amateur drama.
The emergence of Slovak amateur theatre is linked to the opening night of Jan Chalupka’s drama Kocúrkovo in Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš on 22 August 1830. During the 19th century theatrical life in Slovakia focused on a small group comprising organiser G Fejerpataky-Belopotocky, playwright J Chalupka, young members of Stur’s group in Sobotište and Levoča, the first Slovak actress A Jurkovicova and playwrights J Palarik and J Zaborsky. Before the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic, poets and writers like P O Hviezdoslav, J Gregor-Tajovsky, J Holly and the most performed playwright F Urbanek also made an important contribution to this important phase of the Slovak theatre. The leading amateur theatre group of the time was Slovenský spevokol in Martin.
The activities of German and Hungarian travelling theatre-makers were also important for the development of theatre in Slovakia. Thanks to the dedicated work of K Wahr, a renowned personality of central European theatre in the 1770s, this period is considered a golden era for theatre in Bratislava. In the course of the 19th century, the Hungarian professional theatre pushed out the German professional theatre-makers from almost all towns, with the exception of Bratislava. The city of Košice became the most significant centre of Hungarian drama in Slovakia.