Staging Faith: East Anglian Drama in the Later Middle Ages

By Victor I. Scherb | Go to book overview

The N-Town Play and Conclusions

THROUGHOUT THE BOOK I HAVE TRIED TO STEER A COURSE BEtween theatrical and religious frames of reference, between staging and faith. East Anglian play manuscripts record a vigorous, long-lived, and spectacular theater that gave dramatic form to local piety. Although the question of origins is outside of the range of this study, religious vernacular plays were being produced by the end of the fourteenth century. With increasing frequency throughout the fifteenth century, local companies performed stage plays, plays without formal stages, and large-scale plays, sometimes drawing resources from a fairly large area. By the second half of the century, attempts were being made to preserve and expand the repertoire, resulting in the comprehensiveness of the N-Town compilation and multiple copies of plays such as Wisdom. As documented in the Digby plays and in records, community plays continued to be performed until the eve of the Reformation and beyond at places like Chelmsford in Essex.1

East Anglian drama appeared in many contexts, but certainly one of them consisted of a semiprofessional theater that drew on community resources under the auspices of a dramatic producer. Parishes, religious guilds, religious institutions, or community organizations may have sponsored these plays. Side by side with such community undertakings, however, small professional troupes, sometimes operating under the auspices of a noble patron, performed in local towns and households. These differing types of sponsorship contribute to the composite character of East Anglian drama—since prospective producers could not know too far in advance what resources might be available, they required a selection of play scripts from which to draw. For their part, the dramatists planned these plays for a variety of staging conditions, but insured their coherence by structuring each drama around a series of emblematic sets, costumes, symbols, stereotypical characters, and repeated actions that often climax around particular devotional or mnemonic images.

This study has also focused upon how different modes of production resulted in different types of dramatic organization and

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Staging Faith: East Anglian Drama in the Later Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Acknowledgments 9
  • Introduction 11
  • 1: [Si Placet] 21
  • 2: Devotional Images and Stagecraft 41
  • 3: Processional Action and Devotional Imagery in the Simple Place-And-Scaffold Play 66
  • 4: From Soul to Social England 106
  • 5: Staging Faith 146
  • The N-Town Play and Conclusions 191
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 244
  • Index 268
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