During the last two decades the interests of scholars
of early drama and of urban historians have found
common ground in the study of urban celebration and
ceremonial. For the student of early drama the
beginnings of this interest coincided with a
redefinition of the area and nature of the study of
early drama, a shift in emphasis from the textual
and literary problems of the few extant dramatic
texts to the circumstances and conditions of their
performance. Signalled in the mid-1950s by F.M.
Salter's revealing study of the production of
Chester's Whitsun plays, this movement gained
impetus from Glynne Wickham's investigations of the
development of English stagecraft between 1300 and
1660, the first volume of which appeared in 1959,
which illustrated the interdependence of a range of
ostensibly disparate activities, such as plays,
royal entries and tournaments. Then, in the 1970s an
iconoclastic challenge to traditional theories about
the staging of mystery plays was mounted by Alan H.
Nelson, drawing upon various local records, and from
the resulting controversies was born a new
initiative, the Records of Early English Drama,
whose avowed purpose is ‘to find, transcribe, and
publish external evidence of dramatic, ceremonial,
and minstrel activity in Great Britain before 1642’.
That series is still ongoing and already constitutes
a major primary resource of regional documentary
transcripts for all interested in early dramatic and
quasidramatic activity, suggesting a hitherto
unsuspected diversity and frequency of dramatic
activity throughout England.