- Pageantry and Power: A Cultural History of the Early Modern Lord Mayor’s Show, 1585–1639
During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, thousands of Londoners attended the annual Lord Mayors’ Shows. These ritual processions celebrated new mayors with skits, poetic speeches, and spectacular devices sponsored by craftsmen’s livery companies and devised with artificers by Shakespeare’s theatrical rivals: Dekker, Heywood, Middleton, Munday, and Webster. Too often critics of early modern drama dismiss these shows as uncomplicated, unsophisticated, and unappealing in comparison to professional theater and masques. Tracey Hill’s engaging new book, Pageantry and Power, scorns this misperception in a startling image: “The mayoral Show cannot fairly be likened to a ‘municipal’ entity like a [End Page 300] public toilet” (15). The intolerance for scholarly elitism that motivates this book echoes less colorfully worded exasperation voiced unsuccessfully by previous pageant scholars. Hill, nonetheless, launches new and compelling reasons the shows deserve attention. She challenges critics to move beyond printed editions because “qualities of the Shows do not always cohere with the artistic values rated for drama: one should approach them with more nuanced critical criteria” and “in their own terms” (5, 14). Rather than seeking either genius or hackwork, critics should recognize the cultural, artistic, and temporal parameters imposed by the form and the sponsors, on whom, consequently, as chapter 1 reasons, critics should concentrate:
The people who created, witnessed and participated in civic pageantry—from the Lord Mayor himself, to the writers and artificers, to those who fired the cannons on the waterside—are therefore at the heart of this book. It’s my argument here that if we want to comprehend the role of cultural forms in the lives of early modern Londoners, as well as to recuperate the agency of those responsible for producing and consuming such culture, we have to try to gain an understanding of [the] … “assumptions, attitudes, values” … available to these producers and consumers of culture.(11–12; original emphasis)
Hill provides a democratic and comprehensive examination of these entertainments that by posing the “fundamental question … when we talk of the Lord Mayor’s Show, what entity do we actually mean? The performance, the printed text or some … combination?” usefully amplifies current definitions of what we consider to be theatrical (214).
Hill thus reasonably wants to broaden the critical focus to include materialist and historicist criticism rather than displace existing pageant scholarship altogether. Indeed, she acknowledges a debt to David Bergeron—cited twice as often as any other critic—as well as to Lawrence Manley and Malcolm Smuts. In addition to expanding the canon, a goal of her first book on Munday, the author aims “to bring this essential groundwork up to date” (20). Each chapter after the first admits a dominant critical influence. In chapters 2 and 3, in order to make the case for the largely nonverbal component of the shows, Hill borrows the interdisciplinary approaches of Northway on the shows (chapter 2) and of Barbara Ravelhofer on masques (chapter 3). While chapter 2 employs underutilized financial records to determine the companies’ values in choosing competing devisors, chapter 3 adds eyewitness accounts and drawings to recover with profit the potent effects on audiences of music, fireworks, water shows, and lavish clothing. Building on research on the book trade, chapter 4 submits new support for William Hardin’s assertion in his PhD dissertation that written plans initially proposed to the company later became commemorative pamphlets. Chapter 5 notes the work [End Page 301] of Curtis Perry, maintaining that in addition to spectacular and bibliographical features, written and visual content of the shows involved spectators with both the past and the present through traditional symbols and allusions to London’s sometimes inharmonious political and economic relationship with the court.
To make these claims, Hill explains, requires “stud[ying] [the shows] en masse” (14)—an understatement. She references not only fifty-two company manuscript books recording expenditures for the shows, but also eighty-seven original printed editions. Those already...