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This volume celebrates forty years of Medieval English Theatre. For those who were there at the first meeting in Lancaster in 1979 ‘to discuss the pageant waggon’, this thought is both alarming and exhilarating. In the intervening decades we have travelled all over the United Kingdom, from Southampton to Edinburgh; and next year we go to Switzerland to celebrate our fortieth birthday, on what will be, by the quirk of mathematics that means that you have your first birthday a year after you were born, our forty-first meeting.
Our Fortieth Meeting on ‘Performance and its Urban Context’ was in Sheffield, ably hosted at the Humanities Research Institute by Charlotte Steenbrugge and her team. It was a packed day, with an interesting variety of approaches. Starting with York's Corpus Christi Play, Eleanor Bloomfield looked at the Passion sequence and its relation to the Mass; Sian Witherden spoke on the exploitation of the sense of touch, especially the implications of ‘stepping in Christ's footsteps’ for acts of virtual and vicarious pilgrimage; and Meg Twycross looked at ‘The Sun in York’ (see below). The next session considered the relationship between religious establishments and the city: Aurélie Blanc on the efforts made by the Abbess of Barking to instruct and involve the local community through drama; Olivia Robinson on the political implications of changes to the processional route at Huy in Belgium, and how the relationship of the modern nuns to their own theatrical performances casts light on that of their predecessors; and Jason Burg on the dramatic ceremonies of Lincoln (the St Anne's day procession, a possible Ascension play), where the Cathedral and the Guild seem to have worked together. In the afternoon, Daisy Black spoke about the unexpectedly powerful effect of silent characters in the civic plays. Mark Chambers and Gasper Jacovac recounted their discoveries about the theatrical entertainments laid on at Durham and Newcastle for James VI and I in his 1617 tour of the North. Phil Butterworth reminded us of the recalcitrance of material objects by describing the hazards to medieval street theatre from structures which were not supposed to be there.
This volume testifies to the vitality of the field of early theatre, demonstrating the eclectic range of interests METh engages. A group of essays approach the performance records of civic and community drama. Philip Butterworth takes us back to the founding principles of METh by exploring the technology of pageant-waggon maintenance and manoeuvre in the light of the Chester records – the pageant waggon being the subject of the very first volume of the journal in 1979. Similarly seeking to make sense of fragmentary record evidence, James Stokes investigates the scattered and enigmatic references to ‘camping closes’ and ‘game places’ as potential performance sites in the vicinity of Beccles in Suffolk. Jamie Beckett starts from a puzzling textual reference, the name of the Jew ‘Fergus’ in the lost York Funeral of the Virgin, pursuing local history and tradition to identify a possible hate figure. The perspective is broadened by Tom Pettitt's wide-ranging and suggestive discussion of Gladman's supposed ‘Carnival’ parade in Norwich in 1443, and the revealing analogues of street performance that may be found not in England but in Italy. James McBain pursues not different locations but different types of audience: examining Gascoigne's skilful play on New Comedy in the Supposes, he evaluates how different levels of familiarity with the genre in audiences at the Inns of Court and the University of Oxford suggest different kinds of spectator response. These last three essays all arise from papers given at the 2016 METh meeting at Canterbury, while Diana Wyatt's was delivered at the 2017 event at Glasgow. Based on a family record of a 1526 wedding, this opens up the field of household drama, with the apparently traditional mounting of a ‘maske and play’ as part of the celebrations. Apart from these essays, we are pleased to engage with theatrical productions of the last year, with Peter Happé's review of Elisabeth Dutton's production of the Digby MS The Killing of the Children, mounted on 8 February 2017 in the chapel of New College, Oxford.
The 2017 METh meeting, held in Glasgow with co-hosts Pamela King and Eila Williamson, was a special event, held to honour the life-work of Philip Butterworth, a founder member of METh.
Medieval English Theatre is the premier journal in early theatre studies. Its name belies its wide range of interest: it publishes articles on theatre and pageantry from across the British Isles up to the opening of the London playhouses and the suppression of the civic mystery cycles, and also includes contributions on European and Latin drama, together with analyses of modern survivals orequivalents, and of research productions of medieval plays. This volume comprises the second half of the Festschrift presented to John J. McGavin (of which volume 27 is the first); its essays reflect and honour many of his interests. The subjects addressed include ceremonial (a coronation and a grand funeral), audience reception and spectatorship of many kinds, Welsh drama, the role of womenin the production of libels, and the structure of didactic dialogue plays. A special addition is the late David Mills' last essay, on the Abraham Sacrifiant of Théodore Bèze.
Contributors: Mishtooni Bose, Elisabeth Dutton, Alice Hunt, Pamela M. King, David N. Klausner, David Mills, Sue Niebrzydowski, Nadia Thérèse van Pelt, Charlotte Steenbrugge, Eila Williamson
Volume 38 enshrines the second part of the Festschrift presented to John McGavin at the METh meeting at Southampton in 2015. A stimulating and varied collection of papers, it again celebrates the breadth and influence of John's interests — and naturally, with a Scottish bent.
The first two papers, by Alice Hunt and Eila Williamson, show how a coronation (of James I and VI) and a funeral (of ‘bold Buccleuch’) spoke to their audiences through ceremonial and its carefully devised trappings. The scene then shifts to Wales: Sue Niebrzydowski describes a Welsh play of Troelus a Chresyd which drew its plot from both Chaucer and Henryson, while David Klausner attempts to disentangle the events behind the reportage of what was possibly an early monastic Crucifixion play. A group of essays addresses audience and spectatorship. Elisabeth Dutton juxtaposes an Annunciation by Fra Lippo Lippi with a seemingly incongruous partner, the St John's College 1602 student play of Narcissus showcased at the Southampton METh meeting, to consider the nature of spectatorship and self-realisation both inside and outside a work of art. Charlotte Steenbrugge convincingly challenges the too-easy assumption that the modes of audience address in morality plays must be the same as those of sermons. Nadia van Pelt calls on cognitive science to assess how new theories can contribute to our analysis of multiple spectator reactions. Mishtooni Bose explores ‘the drama of performed thought’ in didactic dialogue-plays, in which an apparent impasse can enable a leap of thought which opens up new ground. Pamela M. King offers a reconstruction of the soundscape, intentional and peripheral, of the York Corpus Christi Play. Clare Egan tackles an unexpected form of performance, the publication of libels, using the rich but underexplored resource of reports of Star Chamber cases from Devon. Finally, we are honoured to be able to present David Mills’ last article, intended for the Festschrift and dictated to Joy Mills, on the Abraham Sacrifiant of Theodore Bèze.