- Mummings and Entertainments
The desire to read or teach John Lydgate can be challenging because there are no current critical or student editions of much of his work. The Middle English Texts Series (METS) sponsored by the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages (TEAMS) has improved this situation with recent editions of Troy Book selections, The Temple of Glas, The Siege of Thebes, and now from Claire Sponsler [End Page 355] the Mummings and Entertainments. This edition is not purely a critical edition, as the Middle English Texts Series remains accessible to a student reader, but it has a reasonably complete textual apparatus, excellent and well-researched notes, and a thorough bibliography. Mummings and Entertainments effectively shows the growth of this series to an interesting compromise between student accessibility and scholarly thoroughness, while avoiding the incomprehensibility of many critical editions. Sponsler presents as readable a text as is possible, and there is no question that this particular group of documents might fit nicely into a number of possible courses—certainly this book would supplement an anthology in a medieval drama class, or could be more central in a course looking at the discourse of the Lancastrian affinity. If METS/TEAMS publish much more Lydgate, a dedicated seminar on the poet will also become possible. This edition will support further scholarship on these verses: the notes and bibliography provide an effective orientation to critical work on Lydgate's occasional poetry.
Putting together this particular selection of mummings and entertainments represents interesting critical work on Sponsler's part, and it is clear from the quality of her supporting materials that she was a good choice to edit this volume. As she explains in her introduction, modern generic terms for performance do not align well with the "literate orality" (1) of the fifteenth century, and none of these selections are exactly plays in the sense the N-Town plays, Mankind, or the Digby Mary Magdalene (5), would be. In order to explain how this volume holds together, Sponsler creates her own definition: these verses all "seem to have involved some degree of mimetic activity and show signs of the use of impersonation, action or gesture, costuming, props, oral recitation, or visual display" (1). This volume includes recitations or inscriptions to go with decorative hangings ("Bycorne and Chychevache," "Legend of St. George," possibly "Mesure Is Tresure"), royal entertainments ("Disguising at Hertford," "Mumming at Eltham," "Mumming at Windsor"), entertainments for civic or other groups ("Disguising at London," "Mumming at Bishopswood," "Mumming for the Goldsmiths of London," "Mumming for the Mercers of London"), a poetic description of a royal entry or a procession ("Henry VI's Triumphal Entry into London," "A Procession of Corpus Christi"), and even verses to go with a course at a royal banquet ("Soteltes at the Coronation Banquet of Henry VI"). Some texts, like "Of the Sodein Fal of Princes in Oure Dayes" or the "Pageant of Knowledge," defy clear categorization. This selection replicates no existing anthology, and gives the reader a clear vision of the variety of occasional verse that could be commissioned from a well-known public poet in the fifteenth century. Sponsler gives us a selection of Lydgate's occasional work worth reading, and she should be praised for making this material available for scholarly and classroom use. [End Page 356]
While perhaps some Lydgate specialists might have chosen a slightly different selection, the only aspect of this volume that invites critique is the inherent contradiction of a combined student and critical edition. Because it includes so many works that lack current critical editions, the Middle English Texts Series has increasingly embraced this contradiction, and Sponsler effectively seeks a manageable middle ground. The textual apparatus is thorough: the textual notes (135-56) methodically record every major manuscript variant of each text and articulate editorial choices. The textual notes also act as a strong corrective to the previous edition of most of this material, Henry Noble MacCracken's 1934 two-volume Minor Poems for the Early English Text Society (EETS). Sponsler...