Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Drama, Performance, and Polity in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Drama, Performance, and Polity in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland

Article excerpt

Alan J. Fletcher, Drama, Performance, and Polio in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland (Cork: University of Toronto Press Incorporated and Cork University Press, 2000). xv + 520 pp.; 20 illustrations. ISBN 1-85918-245-3. L45.00.

It is now over a generation since totalizing studies of medieval and early modern drama were recognized as an inadequate and misleading approach to a body of texts and documents strongly characterized by regional variation. New editions of the corpus of dramatic texts, and the impetus given to local documentary research by the Records of Early English Drama (REED) project have since laid the foundations for more accurate and discriminating syntheses. Apart, however, from Gail Gibson's pioneering discursive account of East Anglia (The Theatre of Devotion, Chicago, 1989), regional monographs on the early drama have been slow in coming. There is thus a small irony in the fact that the first substantial monograph yielded via the painstaking REED methodology should be Alan Fletcher's study of Ireland's extraordinary wealth of early dramatic activity, ranging in time from the hall of Tara itself, as pictured in the Book of Leinster (where the professional farters were given an honourable place amongst a host of other impromptu entertainers), down to the Werburgh Street Theatre in seventeenth-century Dublin, where the plays of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shirley were staples of the repertoire.

Between these two chronological and indeed theatrical extremes, almost every page of Fletcher's study brings a revelation. The full range and variety of the material he covers has never been treated systematically before, if indeed it has been known of at all. No trouble has been spared to identify, describe, and transcribe the original sources (be they in Gaelic, Latin, or English), and the book brings to light much that is new and, because of its provenance, often unique in early drama studies. 'Drama' and 'Performance' are rightly viewed as inclusive of a wide variety of phenomena that possess a quality of theatricality, without necessarily being intelligible as drama in its more restricted and formal narrative senses. 'Polity' however seems merely to be a gesture towards recent fashions in historicism, and the book itself proves to be jargon-free, and without the ideological agenda that might be expected from its title. …

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