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The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama by Thomas Betteridge and Greg Walker, eds (review)

From: Parergon
Volume 30, Number 1, 2013
pp. 222-224 | 10.1353/pgn.2013.0012

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Reviewed by
Betteridge, Thomas and Greg Walker, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama (Oxford Handbooks of Literature), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012; hardback; pp. 720; 2 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £95.00; ISBN 9780199566471.

Thomas Betteridge and Greg Walker introduce Tudor drama from the 1480s to 1603 as having ‘no teleology from medieval to Renaissance, from religious to secular, drab to golden age’ (p. 16). The editors are more interested in dramatic cultural diversity than a reductive chronological sense of progression.

The thirty-eight essays on offer are divided thematically into four parts. Part I, ‘Religious Drama’, begins with Sheila Christie’s analysis of the Chester Cycle. She demonstrates how the pageants incorporate moral, social, political, and legal concerns. Greg Walker finds similar complexity in the York Corpus Christi play. His argument reflects the book’s entire theme in that the play is more an intellectual ‘blueprint’ for successive dramas, rather than being a ‘simple, almost child-like form’ (p. 52). In a similar manner, Elisabeth Dutton discusses the intricacies of time and place found in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament. [End Page 222]

In probably the last of the medieval morality plays, The Summoning of Everyman, Andrew Hadfield dismisses what appears to be author confusion. Instead, he finds an exposé ‘of the existing religious order’ (p. 101). Following a similar vein, James Simpson finds intriguing evangelical paradoxes in John Bale’s Three Laws.

The collection’s aim – to create ‘an appreciation of the particular energies and possibilities … created in sixteenth-century dramatic culture’ (p. 17) – is perfectly realized in Part II, ‘Interludes and Comedies’. The whole section accrues additional significance by referring to plays analysed in the previous essays to build a more complete picture of the innovations provided by Tudor drama. Hence, Clare Wright’s study of Henry Medwall’s Fulgens and Lucres draws on Everyman and Digby’s Mary Magdalen and Wisdom to construct a compelling argument of the play’s monarchical criticism.

Another theme of the collection is the authorship of anonymous texts. The historicized cultural understanding of Tudor drama is dependent on who penned them. Daniel Wakelin’s contribution argues for authorial identification of Gentleness and Nobility because of its ‘reflections on the state of early Tudor society’ (p. 192). The interlude’s wide readership is due to the efforts of the printer John Rastell, whom Wakelin credits with authorship. Meg Twycross goes one step further with her hypothetical reconstruction of who performed Wit and Science, where, and for whom.

John J. McGavin’s analysis of Nice Wanton is a probing insight into a difficult period of Tudor history from 1547 to 1560. The unstable religious climate that also saw three changes of monarch enables McGavin to orchestrate a complex argument. The play’s original audience, flexible sociopolitical environment, and Calvinist tendencies are addressed convincingly.

Jane Griffiths demonstrates impressive detective work with Lusty Juventus. By close reading of the text’s allegory, she provides compelling answers as to whom the mysterious author R. Wever could refer to, and the play’s uncertain date, as well as by whom or to whom the interlude is performed.

Alison Findlay uses Erving Goffman’s concept of ‘face-work’ to analyse The Comedy of Errors. Her fascinating essay also draws on a Reformation and Counter-Reformation context. Sarah Knight examines the Elizabethan trend ‘of scholars on the commercial stage’ in Robert Greene’s The Honorable Historie of frier Bacon, and frier Bongay (p. 356).

Part III, ‘Entertainments, Masques, and Royal Entries’ adopts an historical approach. Four of the thoughtful contributions analyse Henry VII’s funeral, Anne Boleyn’s coronation, The Greenwich Triumphs of 1527, and The Woodstock entertainment of 1575. The final essay by Allyna E. Ward [End Page 223] claims how the court drama The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (1582) closes the gap ‘between the early dramas and the great works of the 1590s’ (p. 446).

Part IV, ‘Histories and Political Dramas’ begins with Eleanor Rycroft’s discussion of The Interlude of Youth and Hick Scorner, which have escaped ‘focused critical attention’ (p. 465). Rycroft highlights how Youth is the first English comedy to use the prodigal son. An essay...