Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

The Queen's Dumbshows: John Lydgate and the Making of Early Theatre

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

The Queen's Dumbshows: John Lydgate and the Making of Early Theatre

Article excerpt

The Queen's Dumbshows: John Lydgate and the Making of Early Theatre

Claire Sponsler

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014

42.50 [pounds sterling], hb. 308 pp., 7 b/w ill.

ISBN 9780812245950

Ebook ISBN 9780812209471

As Sponsler points out at the beginning of her impressive study, "The standard history of medieval English literature is one in which dumbshows would not readily find a place" (1). Accordingly, the reader may expect Sponsler to challenge this by writing a performance history of the dumbshow as opposed to a literary history of the manuscripts, which she does. However, she does much more than this. In writing about the mummings, dramatic and commemorative poems, banquet entertainments and Queen Catherine of Valois's dumbshows, Sponsler unearths a fascinating portrait of medieval cultural life. In doing so she challenges the standard histories and reveals a rich matrix of theatrical life in London where ideas of metropolitanism, economics, religion, politics, visual identity and gender form an important backdrop to the city's entertainments.

Much of the study approaches the poet John Lydgate through the "voice" of John Shirley, the fifteenth-century scribe who copied Lydgate's performance pieces, and the first chapter is spent on the issues of the manuscripts. …

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