To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
This volume showcases civic theatre and display, with articles on Chester (Gerhardt), York (Twycross), Durham and Newcastle (Chambers and Jakovac), and London (Butterworth). There is a happy emphasis on particularities. In the second part of her article on stage lighting in broad daylight, Meg Twycross discusses, among other things, how the actors in the York Play knew what time it was, and how fast a medieval person was expected to walk. Philip Butterworth lays out the difficulties presented to London pageantry by unauthorised house extensions and horse-droppings. On a more elevated level, Gašper Jakovac, in the Newcastle section mapping James VI & I's tours of the North, talks about theatre and coal; and in his revelations about the Chester Waterleaders and Drawers of Dee, Ernst Gerhardt talks about theatre and fish.
As part of our remit to discuss parallel forms of theatre, we welcome Lucy Deacon's introduction to a living tradition of mystery plays, the Taʿzia khani of present-day Iran, seen and reported on by Western travellers from the seventeenth century AD onwards. Her account of its development has many suggestive parallels with Western pageant-waggon plays. Do not forget to check out the videos she cites (URLs on the METh website). Finally, Elisabeth Dutton and Perry Mills discuss their production of Wit and Science by Edward's Boys, the first, as far as we know, by a company of the right age and sex since the sixteenth century, which some of our readers will have seen at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa during SITM. Discussing the performance of allegory, it reveals some interesting cultural assumptions (ours and theirs): are boys always boys? and what about girls? and how do you ‘get an education’?
The 2019 METh Meeting celebrated our fortieth birthday with a (working) holiday in Switzerland. Elisabeth Dutton, Olivia Robinson, and Aurélie Blanc welcomed us to the University of Fribourg for two days of concentrated colloquium and partying in an unrivalled Alpine setting. The theme was ‘Peoples and Places: Networks, Communities, and Early Theatre’.
I started this investigation because of my experience of playing the pageant of Doomsday in 1988 along part of the original route in York in the fading light of evening, and the apparent necessity for some form of artificial lighting – for which there is no evidence in the records. It widened, almost inevitably, to take in other pageants which called more conspicuously for lighting effects which, it seemed, must have depended on the manipulation of sunlight. Doomsday, and the plays which immediately precede it, do not depend thematically on the revelation of a great light. The sunlight, and its potential reflection, is used to create an impression of the continuous radiance of God, and by extension, of heaven. But the time of day at which these pageants would have set out makes even this increasingly vulnerable as the day draws to a close. The elevation and angle at which the sun would have struck the waggon at any given point on the route is possibly more crucial here than in the earlier pageants where it was high in the sky. I decided to work out whether our experience was the same as theirs would have been in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
However, mapping the position of the sun inevitably involved working out where it is for the whole day, not just the late afternoon. I also had a natural interest in where it would be for the other pageants I have talked about. This led to a more comprehensive overview of the day's activities, which in its turn led to an unexpected excursus into timekeeping in medieval York, for reasons which will become apparent.
There are tables on the Web which list exactly when and at what angle the sun rises and sets on every day of the year, in York as well as in London, and how it travels across the sky during the day. In order to use these for the fifteenth century you have to make certain obvious adjustments.
First, you must remove British Summer Time and go back to Greenwich Mean Time.
Anyone with the good fortune to possess a complete run of Medieval English Theatre has on their shelves an almost complete history of desktop publishing. At the beginning it was produced on a manual typewriter with a ribbon. The text was painstakingly justified by counting the number of letters in each line and inserting double spaces accordingly. There were no italics, and no bold, and you produced underlining by going back and hitting the ‘underline’ key the requisite number of times. Typos were to be avoided, but small ones could be disguised with Tippex. Notes were photographed and then reduced to half size and pasted, physically, into the text (which is why for so long they were at the end of the article instead of at the bottom of the page). Blackand- white figures were glued in; photographs were screened by the printers, then also glued in. Image printing was by offset litho; the rest was essentially photocopied and reduced onto A4 from A3 sheets which were themselves made up of two A4 sheets carefully overlapped and stuck together – in the right order. You learned a lot about rectos and versos and imposition: ‘Page 1 is on the right hand side of page 92, and next, back-to-back with it, comes page 2 on the left hand side of page 91’. The covers were in black and red or gold (with a separate plate for each colour) on Kaskad ‘Lapwing Brown’ paper; the artwork came from photocopied woodcuts or engravings, and the typography was Letraset. It was all very handicraft.
In 1983, judging from the results, we acquired a Silver Reed Electronic Memory typewriter. This had a tiny horizontal window above the keyboard which showed (part of) the line you had just typed so you could correct it before moving on to the next line, when it had gone for ever. I think it was self-justifying. It also had a daisy-wheel printer which let you do two different sizes of typeface, and bold but not italic. The spokes kept breaking off. Contributions, of course, arrived by mail in hard copy and had to be laboriously retyped.
In 1991 we dipped a toe into full-blown word processing with a dedicated programme called Vuwriter developed at Manchester.
Having returned, somewhat belatedly, to research I did on the York Mercers’ Doomsday pageant wagon for the Joculatores Lancastrienses’ recreation for the York Festival of 1988, I have been ambushed by all manner of questions, some of which had not occurred to me in the hurly burly of the actual production. One of them is, ‘Why is there no provision whatsoever for lighting in the 1433 Indenture or anywhere in the Mercers’ accounts?’ There is a regular entry for processional torches for escorting the shrine of Corpus Christi, but no hint that these were used in the pageant. They were liturgical objects, intended solely for the procession, and were stored separately, with their ‘castles’ and banners, in the Mercers’ Hall.
There are two reasons why the question of lighting is important. The practical one is visibility. Doomsday is the last pageant in the cycle. Even with the most expeditious of performances and the most efficient organisation, somewhere on its journey along the pageant route, the sun was likely to set. In our recreation, which we timed for early evening along Petergate – the run of four pageants started at 7 p.m. – the audience had trouble seeing things on the lower deck of the waggon while the sun was going down, and in general when it had gone down. At the time we just found this vaguely annoying, and attempted to compensate with hidden lamps rigged up from a car battery – this was before the days of portable LEDs. Notes sent to Giorgio Vasari by a friend after the dress rehearsal of the Florentine Annunciation play of 1565/6 suggest that this was not a purely twentieth-century problem:
Lumi, lumi, lumi! Et habbiateci l'occhio, perché el mazzo non si vedi punto.
E vi dico che e’ non ve ne sará tanti che e’ non paino pochi.
Lights, lights, lights! And keep your eye on this, because you couldn't see the garland of angels at all. And I'm telling you that however many [lights] you have they will still seem too few.
Sheer visibility is important to a play. Apart from the spectacle (which as we shall see is thematic as well as affective), if you can't see what the actors are saying, it's much harder to hear what they are saying.
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.