restricted access Holy Deadlock and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English ed. and trans., by Jody Enders (review)
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Reviewed by
Enders, Jody, ed. and trans., Holy Deadlock and Further Ribaldries: Another Dozen Medieval French Plays in Modern English ( Middle English), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017; cloth; pp. x, 542; 12 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. US $65.00, £56.00; ISBN 9780812248746.

Six years ago, Jody Enders published 'The Farce of the Fart' and Other Ribaldries: Twelve Medieval French Plays in Modern English (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). This was the first of three projected editions of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century French farces, each anthology containing plays revolving around a similar subject-matter. Holy Deadlock (Volume 2 as it were), as the pun in the title implies, focuses on marriage, for this topic is, Enders declares, a 'cultural obsession' (p. 3). More pointedly than this, however, 'farce was preoccupied with rendering unsacrosanct the sanctity of marriage and the family' (p. 3). The author's contention is vividly illustrated by the twelve plays found in this volume, rigorously selected as they were from over two hundred extant texts. It is clear that the choice of which comedies to include was given a great deal of thought, as was the actual structuring of the material. After considering 'such options as the original order of appearance in the Recueils or the date of publication', Enders eventually opts for 'a kind of chronology of marriage itself' (p. 27). In this way, the structure of the anthology is made to mirror its content.

Holy Deadlock goes a long way towards helping the reader to understand the centrality of marriage and the popular preoccupation with 'the battle of the sexes' in medieval France, and the variety of ways in which these topics were portrayed on the stage. Indeed, Enders displays a keen awareness of the three-dimensionality of play texts, and she asks the kinds of questions about her material that any director or actor would when approaching it. Where, for example, does the action of each farce take place? What specific props, costumes, and music are needed to lift these stories from the page to the stage? Music in particular looms large in Enders's thinking, and she makes 'a large number of time-sensitive suggestions regarding post medieval songs' (p. 428) that might be suitable to particular farces, a genre in which much singing and dancing is to be found. This in turn is related to the author's larger goals: to persuade her readers of the contemporary relevance of these plays and their potential to be successfully and imaginatively performed on the modern stage. Enders's idea of relevance is, however, perhaps a little too exclusive. When speaking specifically about her feminist approach to translation, for example, the author states that she desires 'to import or hand over (traduire) a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century French universe to a contemporary American one' (p. 20). This begs a very big question: where does this leave readers living outside of the United States and, as a consequence, possibly unfamiliar with the legions of references in this volume to American music (Broadway in particular), films, commercials and television shows? One does not expect [End Page 195] to have to take a crash course in American culture in order to understand a collection of medieval French farces in English.

Returning to the plus points of Holy Deadlock, of which there are many, it should be said that the volume, like 'The Farce of the Fart' before it, is extremely user-friendly (though its sheer size would make it difficult for the collection to be used by actors in rehearsals for a production). The brief plot summaries provided for all twelve of the texts found in the anthology are very helpful, including as they do remarks on how 'stageable' these plays were (and are), as well as indications of the number of actors needed for each farce. It is music to any theatre-practitioner's ears that not one of these comedies requires more than six actors to perform. The small cast numbers (several of the plays contain just two characters), along with minimal costumes and props, show just how portable these farces are and how readily accessible they were, and remain, to...