Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama: The Plays and Their Legacy

Article excerpt

Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama: The Plays and Their Legacy, by Lynette R. Muir. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xv + 294. Cloth $96.00.

Reviewer: CHET SCOVILLE

Like Lynette Muir' s Biblical Drama of Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1995), to which this book is a "companion volume" (1), Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama is a large-scale survey of hundreds of dramatic texts from Europe. For the most part, this book eschews biblical plays, polemical plays, and morality plays - that is, those plays that are often the main focus of early drama studies - leaving "a very substantial body of serious medieval plays on love and war" (1). Following Muir, the reader becomes aware of both the vast amount of material that is left to study off of the beaten path, and of Muir' s own vast learning in that material.

Muir divides these hundreds of plays into subject categories, including saint plays, conversion plays, sacrament plays, plays about Troy, and about falsely accused queens. In each of the book's twenty-four chapters, she provides a summation of the characteristics of each subject and a comparison of the way in which the plays treat that subject. It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive subject treatment of this material in book form than that which Muir provides.

However, this study does have some problems, the most significant of which derives from the vastness of the material itself. Muir, as noted, covers hundreds of plays from the twelfth through sixteenth centuries, from France, England, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere. Given that enormous scope, Muir rarely is afforded the space to construct sustained arguments or analyses; often, the coverage of the plays consists of little more than plot summary. Furthermore, Muir' s categorizing of plays by subject matter leads to some curious moments. For example, chapter 11, "Domestic Dramas," is only a page and a half long; in that brief chapter, Muir deals with no fewer than nine plays, saying little more about any of them than the main plot points. …