- Records of Early English Drama: Oxford
The Records of Early English Drama (REED) project, founded in 1975, aims to collect records of regional performance in England from the medieval period until 1642. This monumental scholarly labour has a value that will last for many generations to come, not merely as a collection of localized records, but as an essential tool for further understanding English drama in the period. The magisterial volumes for Oxford, in keeping with the series, are reassuringly comprehensive.
The list of contents helps to convey the range and depth of the work that has gone into the volumes. Volume 1, The Records, contains 580 pages of transcriptions, taken largely from college and civic accounts, but also from [End Page 239] private letters, inquests, statutes, inventories, registers, school copy books, minutes, notebooks, diaries, sermons, histories, poems, and plays. Except for the accounts, the extracts seem appropriately full, with all needed contextual information. And although most of the records gathered here are not new to scholars, the sifting, collecting, and retranscribing of them goes beyond what might be reasonably achieved by any one researcher.
The entries as a whole convey a strong sense of the scale of 'play' in medieval and early modern Oxford. As with other REED volumes, 'play' in this context includes secular music, dancing, royal visits, feasts of misrule, hocking, Whitsun ales, May games, bull- and bear-baiting, and morris dancing, in addition to plays, masques, and entertainments. Proportionately, little of the material relates to 'drama' specifically, and after wading through a Latin prohibition against any sort of fun, even the connection to other forms of 'play' can seem specious. Although detailed descriptions are offered for all of the physical manuscripts (and the occasional printed book) and 'endnotes' are provided to describe the context of some items, brief headnotes to entries would be more useful, especially as information about a given record can be spread across several disparate sections of these volumes. Other entries, like 'Item Receuyd at Whytsuntyde xxiiij s' do not stand on their own very successfully, yet receive little contextualization.
Volume 2, Editorial Apparatus, is made up of several sections, including general introductions, a bibliography, maps, appendixes, translations, endnotes, lists of patrons and travelling companies, glossaries for Latin and English, and indexes. Most scholars will dip into this volume to look up specific information, but its complicated division into subsections makes inquiries difficult to resolve quickly. Those interested in a particular category of performance can access such material via the index, but it is an arduous and somewhat frustrating process. It is also an inadequate one, as, for instance, the index entry for 'dancers and dancing' does not point to the payments in appendix 3 to dancers in The Royal Slave. Any linear organization of this material is unlikely to be entirely satisfactory, but these problems could be handled better via hypertext. It is to be hoped that all of the REED material eventually becomes available on a highly structured, searchable database.
The editors of the Records of Early English Drama: Oxford should be congratulated on assembling and facilitating the use of these records. The volumes give a valuable sense of what citizens and academics valued in dramatic production. The overarching concern for costuming, for instance, conforms to what we know of the London theatre companies, but the records for Oxford show how far plays in the city were special occasions, not mere everyday occurrences. On the other hand, these records reveal how wider categories of 'play' and performance were an important part of daily life to the scholars and citizens of Oxford. [End Page 240]
Eugene Giddens, Anglia Polytechnic University