Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Towneley Plays

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Towneley Plays

Article excerpt

The Towneley Plays, ed. Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, Early English Text Society, Supplementary Series 13 (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the EETS, 1994)2 vols. xlviii+ 733 pp.; 1 plate. ISBN 0-19-722415-6. L50.00.

Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley's new edition of the Towneley Cycle is the first full text to be based exclusively on the manuscript since 1836. It is tragic that Arthur Cawley, who made some of the best plays within it accessible to generations of students in his 1958 edition of the `Wakefield Pageants', did not live to see the publication of the whole cycle.

The text (volume I) is admirably uncluttered and minimally altered, and can be read side-by-side with the notes (volume II). The glossary rises to most of the singular challenges posed by the Wakefield Master. The editors, however, also envisage their I976 facsimile of the manuscript as a necessary companion. Ideally the form and meaning of the text is thereby made accessible to the reader, while an awareness of the problems inherent in this, the least coherent of the surviving cycles, is preserved.

A major definitive edition should seize its opportunities to make radical changes. Most strikingly here, the Wakefield Master's familiar compressed nine-line stanza is printed as thirteen short lines. The justifications are various, the effect startling: the characteristic mid-line break vanishes into strings of terse end-stopped lines. …

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