The Current State of Research on Late-Medieval Drama: 2007-2008. Survey, Bibliography, and Reviews

Article excerpt

This article is a regular feature of "Fifteenth-Cenfury Studies." Our intent is to catalogue, survey, and assess scholarship on the staging and textual configuration of dramatic presentations during the late Middle Ages. Like all such, dated material, this assessment remains incomplete. We shall therefore include 2008 again in the next listing. Our readers are encouraged to bring new items to our attention, including their own work. Monographs and collections selected for detailed review will appear in the third section of this article and will be marked by an asterisk in the pages below.

During the last decade, critics of medieval drama have demonstrated a propensity to move beyond emphasizing written texts and turned to the social and political circumstances of theatrical performances, and the skills of actors. This new attention is visible in a collection by Evelyn Birge Vitz,* N. F. Regalado, and M. Lawrence (Performing Medieval Narrative). Excellent also is the book by Philip Butterworth* (although restricted to England) : Magic on the Early English Stage, which highlights the activities of jongleurs, their sleights of hand, skills, and deceptions. Another groundbreaking book is Julie Stone Peters's The Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe. Peters contributes here to the history of communication; she defines theater, the authors' involvement, and their position within society. The study remains weak on the history of actual performances. Lynette R. Muir* penned a companion volume to her 1995 "The Biblical Drama of Medieval Europe, entitled Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama: The Plays and Their Legacy (2007), but left matters of performance undiscussed.

One part of Timothy J. McGee's Improvisation in the Arts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance is devoted to activities before 1700. Rich in improvisation were the Quack episodes in German and French Easter plays and, of course, in the farces. Two other works showing general research are Tracy C. Davis and T. Posdewait's Theatricality (the theater relates to politics, societies, cultures, and religions, and may be thought of as providing melodramatic aspects of the real world) ; and Erika Fischer-Lichte's History of European Drama and Theatre (trans. Jo Riley). Vol. 10 of European Medieval Theater, ed. Jelle Koopmans,* with rich offerings, has appeared, but is replete with editing and spelling errors.

Finally, we include here two works on the ancient stage: Rush Rehm's Radical Theatre: Greek Tragedy and the Modern World (the modern stage, Rehm says, has lost the power of ancient tragedy; Greek theater was aggressively public; human and divine forces are responsible for an individual's actions). Laurie O'Higgins wrote die enlightening Women and Humor in Classical Greece.

Six studies are devoted to English stages. Clifford Davidson proves mat in spite of many difficulties, the York cycle has never ceased to attract spectators. In the fifteenth century, the city was in decline, had bad harvests, epiemics, guild resistance, and a low birthrate. Nevermeless, local art contributed to the themes of the passion story, and guilds still regarded the York plays as a means of self-identity. Another approach to York is chosen by Jefferey H. Taylor in a study of allegory on four levels of meaning in the York cycle of plays. Barbara I. Gusick penned an essay on Christ's Healing of die Lame Man in York's Entry into Jerusalem : "Interpretive Challenges for the Newly Healed."

The Digby Mary Magdalene Play, especially the protagonist's dream in a locus amoenus, is Joanne Findon's topic. Her essay is heavily indebted to Lawrence M. Clopper's Drama;, Play, and Game (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); she neglects, however, the continental influences of die Mary Magdalene story (Jean Michel), and her study suffers from duplications. Karl Tamburr* investigates the Harrowing of HeR in Medieval England, whereas Ruth Nisse examines the politics of interpretation in English drama of the fifteendi century: vernacular plays addressed social concerns; Wycliffite uieology, female and male mysticism, Franciscan ideals, and anti-semitism are discussed on die stage, as well as in odier genres of English medieval literature. …