Academic journal article Comparative Drama

The Lost Playing Places of Lincolnshire

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

The Lost Playing Places of Lincolnshire

Article excerpt

Since at least 1912 when Hardin Craig wrote his first essay on Lincoln, most major scholarship on early drama in the county of Lincolnshire has focused its energies in what might be called "The Quest for Cycle Drama in the City of Lincoln," either supporting or, more often, rejecting Craig's thesis that Lincoln was home to the N-Town Cycle. (1) While the assembled dramatic records (gathered for the forthcoming Records of Early English Drama volume) offer considerable evidence of early religious drama and procession in Lincolnshire, very little, if any, of that evidence suggests cycle drama of the kind seen in, say, York or a few other large cities. However, the records, together with topographical evidence, do indicate that Lincolnshire had many performance traditions and many playing places, some apparently used for the production of large fixed-site plays (similar to those found elsewhere in the eastern regions), others for the mounting of traditional customs, games, sports, and ceremonies. As a way of making sense of the many playing places that have been revealed, I am classifying them initially as dedicated or nondedicated. I am taking dedicated playing places to mean those whose primary use was for play of one kind or another, or those which were so habitually used for a particular kind of entertainment or spectacle that the name of that entertainment attached itself to the place, meaning that people used the spot for a specific event recurringly and traditionally. By nondedicated playing places I mean those (both indoor and outdoor) that were occasionally used as playing venues but whose principal uses ranged from worship to commerce to habitation, and that were not normally identified by a name associated with performance.

Dedicated playing places of several kinds are documented in the records. Archaeologists have identified the location of what they think was a theater in Roman Lincoln, but during the period covered by the records (the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries) Lincolnshire had no working purpose-built theaters. (2) The earliest dedicated playing places to turn up are large, open-air spaces that had originally been sites for trials by combat but which, by the thirteenth century, had evolved into venues for hastiludi (jousting) and for common recreations, including plays. One of them, the Battle Place in Lincoln, was a croft immediately west of the castle, "abutting towards the north on [the] cemetery of St. Bartholomew." (3) In 1274, a hundred roll described it as an area of two acres "where the citizens customarily come to play, the friars to preach, and all to have their easements" (ubi homines de Lincolniensis solebant ludere fratres predicare & alia aisiamenta habere). (4) It was also described as a"Common pasture called Bataylplace." (5) In 1393-1394, the cathedral chapter accused the dean, Dr. John Shippey, of judging wrestling and attending shows on the commons outside the city, presumably this same site. (6)

Lincoln also used a second large open-air space as a playing place, an area known as Broadgate, a piece of ground in the lower city, next to the king's ditch in the parish of St. Augustine, very near to the River Witham and to the playing field of the grammar school (if it was not indeed the playing field itself). In 1564, the city ordered that "a standing play of some Storye of ye bibell schall be played ij days this Sommer tyme," in July, "in broadgate in the seid Cyty" and in 1566 the city ordered the same play to be played again "in whytson holye days." (7) As described in the Corporation Minute Book, the play, having nine or ten stations representing different cities, would have required considerable space to perform. So, Lincoln had at least two large open-air playing places, one a permanent site atop the hill, the other at its foot.

The fenlands market town of Spalding had a similar open-air playing place. A Corem Rege Roll of 1397 refers to "a certain site called 'the Playing Place'" in the town. …

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