IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 1228: English Civic Drama

Wednesday 15 July 2009, 14.15-15.45

Sponsor:Medieval English Theatre (METh)
Organiser:Philip Butterworth, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Moderator/Chair:Philip Butterworth, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Paper 1228-aThe Newcastle Noah's Ark: Or the Shipwrights' Ancient Play or Dirge
(Language: English)
Sheila Christie, Department of English, University of Bristol
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Manuscripts and Palaeography, Performance Arts - General, Performance Arts - Drama
Paper 1228-b'The Whole Drift of the Play Would Be Altered': North Eastern English Drama Negotiating the Reformation
(Language: English)
Diana Wyatt, Independent Scholar, Oxford
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Manuscripts and Palaeography, Performance Arts - General, Performance Arts - Drama
Paper 1228-cDescribing the City: The Discourse of Medieval Civic Ceremony
(Language: English)
Pamela M. King, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Bristol
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Manuscripts and Palaeography, Performance Arts - General, Performance Arts - Drama
Abstract

Paper -a:
In discussing Newcastle’s one extant pageant, Noah’s Ark; Or the Shipwrights’ Ancient Play or Dirge, A. C. Cawley breaks off his analysis, confessing that ‘This is as far as, or perhaps further than, one should go in analyzing an incomplete dramatic action’ (151). The paucity of archival material has similarly led to a relative silence among scholars concerning the context of production. REED: Newcastle’s extracts are primarily late copies of ordinances, and they by no means provide a complete register of crafts participating in the play. Nonetheless, a close consideration of these ordinances in conjunction with a Star Chamber case of 1516 reveals local tensions and a concern for order in which Corpus Christi pageant production was expected to serve a particular social role. This paper uses the 1516 Star Chamber case to delineate the lines of craft-civic conflict that dominated Novocastrian politics, and then considers how the language of craft ordinances shifted over time to reflect the changing role of cycle participation in mediating this conflict. Together, these documents reveal a context within which we can indeed go further in analyzing an incomplete dramatic action.

Paper -b:
The process of the Reformation – from the Henrician dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s through the growing Protestantism of Edward VI’s reign, via the Marian effort to re-establish Catholicism, to the Elizabethan settlement – meant a constant need to keep the Biblical drama aiming in the approved direction as the goalposts of doctrinal orthodoxy shifted. Royal visitations resulting in the defacing of church imagery, and the abolition of church feasts including that of Corpus Christi, were a reminder that plays might also be the target of reformist iconoclasm. The quotation in the title of the paper, from the letter sent by Matthew Hutton, the Dean of York, to the York city council in 1568, is part of his observation that partial revision of the Creed play would be inadequate, but radical revision would change the nature of the play: a striking reminder of the difficulty, and sometimes impossibility, of steering a careful course. (The Creed play was evidently never performed again.)

Two significant northern English expressions of discontent – the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536-37 and the rising of 1569 – suggest that the north east of England was particularly resistant to changes enforced by central government, but the people and governments of individual towns and cities varied in their degrees of resistance or conformity. York and Wakefield at any rate continued to perform increasingly unorthodox plays until the 1570s; on the other hand, there is evidence that the East Riding – where Beverley’s Corpus Christi cycle had ceased production c.1521 and the Noah play of the Hull Trinity Guild was last performed in the mid-1530s – was perceived at least to be easily conformist.

This paper will examine REED and other records of drama (as well as music and festive activity) mainly from Yorkshire, for evidence of how local councils attempted to negotiate, in their management of their plays and other public shows, the changing demands for conformity to a frequently revised definition of orthodoxy. Beyond that, it will investigate the possibility that communities with thriving local traditions of drama and entertainment were less conformist to the Reformation than others.

Paper -c:
This paper will consider how civic ceremony defines and occupies the city, demarcating a privileged space, but also how in its characterisation of civic life, it exposes the city as a locus of social transgression, vice and corruption, and develops its own particular poetic discourses to serve this end.