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Reviewed by:
  • Lincolnshire
  • Victor I. Scherb
James Stokes , ed. Lincolnshire. Records of Early English Drama. 2 vols. Toronto: The British Library and University of Toronto Press, 2009. Pp. x + 913 + 4 maps. $425.00.

James Stokes's two substantial volumes of records of early music, dance, performance, ritual, ceremony, and entertainments have the virtues of the Records of Early English Drama series as a whole, bringing together an impressive array of primary documents, most of them previously unpublished and others only available in rare volumes, in a coherently organized, nicely produced, and attractive edition. Volume 1 contains the records themselves, while the second volume is comprised of a lengthy introduction, a select bibliography, four maps, six appendices, translations of the Latin records that appear in volume 1, a Latin and an English glossary, and a full index. As might be expected from such an experienced REED editor (his excellent Somerset volume came out in 1996), the bibliographic entries are meticulous, and the translations from the Latin and French (the latter by the late Graham Runnalls) expertly done, while the lengthy chapters at the start of volume 2 on the Historical Background, Drama, Music, and Popular Customs, the Documents, and Editorial Procedures, do a masterful job both of placing the records into significant contexts and in drawing out noteworthy patterns that a less experienced eye might easily overlook in the welter of detail.

Stokes's volumes offer a number of dramatic texts and documents that merit further study, including several that have already produced illuminating scholarship, often by Stokes himself. Particularly intriguing for future scholars are the sets of speeches "crying Christmas" by the mayor's officers from Lincoln in 1564-65, the quick (and expensive) response of Lincoln to King James I's visit in 1616-17, and the extensive account of the litigation between the Earl of Lincoln and Sir Roger Dymmock from the first decade of the seventeenth century. Some of the highlights achieve a remarkable immediacy, such as the terse but moving account from the 1566 Stallingborough Inventory of Heathenish Church Goods:

"the crose was meltid the said fyrst yeare and turnd to thuse yat the candestickes wear. And the crose clothe was sold to players, who defaced it" (1:315). Even after nearly four and a half centuries, the writer's sense of violation remains apparent.

In addition to many individual highlights, Stokes's Lincolnshire volume also invites readers to perceive larger historical patterns in the changing nature of [End Page 351] dramatic activity between c. 1235 and 1642 while emphasizing its variety. Early records, dating back to Robert Grossetesste's letters from the thirteenth century, prohibit clerical participation in "miracula," as well as the use of churches and churchyards for a diverse array of indecorous activities. The multifaceted nature of mimetic and musical activity from this large, highly varied, and populous region of England suggests a continuing and complex tradition. The volumes compile evidence about "religious drama, liturgy, and ceremony [often] co-produced by communities and church and combining elements of ritual, worship, and play" (2:404), but the collected documents also detail more secular forms, including tournaments, at least some with pronounced mimetic elements, wrestlings, bull and bear baitings, Rogation ceremonies, waits, wakes, ales, and other festive folk customs. As Stokes observes in his introduction, the wide range of evidence does not imply a straightforward evolutionary development. "Rather, from the earliest records on, one can see the simultaneous presence of festive folk customs, liturgical and quasi-dramatic ceremonies, church drama, and civic-sponsored rituals and enactments, all coexisting and influencing each other within the rich culture of Lincolnshire, until a perceptible decline in the later sixteenth century based on many different local and national factors" (2:404).

According to Stokes, the chief characteristic of much Lincolnshire town drama from the later Middle Ages was their processions, "following locally meaningful routes that served to connect parish church and town and often culminating in some combination of religious service, feasting, wrestling matches, baitings, plays, and other popular diversions" (2:406). What the surviving records do not support is the existence of the cycle play pattern familiar from Chester, Norwich, and York, or "the lord and troupe...


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