- Tudor Drama before Shakespeare, 14851590: New Directions for Research, Criticism, and Pedagogy.
Lloyd Edward Kermode, Jason Scott-Warren, and Martine Van Elk's edited collection of eleven essays, Tudor Drama before Shakespeare, 1485–1590, constitutes a welcome and rich effort to demonstrate that the period in question contains "a wealth of dramatic literature situated in a multilayered history" (1). In a short but astute introduction, the editors note that New Historicism has tended to favor familiar canonical works rather than noncanonical ones, such as Tudor plays. Arguing for the breadth, accessibility, and richness of Tudor drama, the editors identify several issues that allow for the groupings of the ensuing essays, written by both established and emerging scholars.
Part 1 ("Reform, Resistance and Tradition") begins with a deft essay by Peter Happé suggesting that the late history of the mystery cycles is more complex than generally acknowledged, for just as they were used to sustain the stability of community and society, they also "became vehicles for anticipating religious and social change" and "could also become vehicles for reform" (30). In one of the [End Page 631] collection's best essays, "Doctrine Evangelical," Karen Sawyer Marsalek argues that the mid-Tudor fragmentary biblical play, The Resurrection of Our Lord, adapts Erasmus's New Testament Paraphrases into a distinctly Protestant outlook. Thus the play represents a reformed version of material familiar from cycle drama, and it offers rich insight into cruxes of cultural and religious conflict, notably between Christ's body and his word. Marsalek concludes this fresh and exciting essay by speculating that the author of Resurrection may have been Erasmus's translator, Nicholas Udall. Paul Whitfield White closes out part 1 with a skillful argument that the character Robin Hood in Tudor plays and performances was closely identified with local parish activities and with the Catholic veneration of Mary. White's masterful scholarship troubles conventional wisdom by showing that a carnivalesque figure such as Robin Hood can bridge both popular and official cultures.
Part 2, loosely titled "Developments in Dramatic Practice," contains three empirically oriented studies. Michelle M. Butler argues that sixteenth-century use of the prologue figure achieves a blend of medieval and classical influences but that the prescriptive John Bale overuses such direct audience addresses in a way that suppresses dramatic vitality. Janette Dillon's chapter ("Chariots and Cloud Machines") provides a detailed investigation of entrances and exits of supernatural beings and demonstrates interestingly, against conventional wisdom, that "theatrical spectacle, including mechanically contrived spectacle, was well established long before the building of the permanent playhouses" (121). Using REED data, Alan Somerset points out the extensive activity of provincial touring companies, many perhaps temporary or short-lived, in a way that complicates our sense of a professional performer in the sixteenth century.
In the third part, three fine essays investigate "Pedagogy and Drama in Playhouse and Schoolhouse." Ursula Potter's "Performing Arts in the Tudor Classroom" lucidly develops the known but underappreciated fact that performative skills, relevant to drama, were a central feature of Tudor grammar-school learning; this piece is informative and rich in implication. In an outstanding essay, "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," Christopher Gaggero discusses Gascoigne's The Glass of Government as it negotiates the charged Elizabethan debate about whether or not poetic pleasure can induce virtue. Gaggero's study points deftly toward larger cultural interests, and his nuanced treatment of Gascoigne's too-neglected work is rewarding. Finally, Terry Reilly ("This Is the Case") shows how Gorboduc reflects education at the Inns of Court, moots, and contemporary issues of primogeniture. Gorboduc has attracted more varied criticism recently than Reilly allows, but his contextualizing of the play in relation to legal education helpfully and interestingly moves beyond the succession debate.
The volume ends with two essays under the amorphous heading, "Signs of Desire and Danger." In "Sex, Sin, and Scarring," Todd H. J. Pettigrew argues strikingly and credibly, concerning Wit and Science, that...