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Corpus Christi "Cycles'7 in Yorkshire: The Surviving Records Barbara D. Palmer If one envisions an almost impenetrable boundary across the top third of England, a sort of Hadrian's Wall, one can better understand the state of early English drama studies without the collection of the West Riding, Yorkshire pre- 1642 dramatic records. Records collected from areas surrounding the West Riding (York, Chester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cumberland, Westmorland , Lancashire)1 served to highlight the centrality of this largest old county to understanding Northern patterns of theatrical presentation and entertainment. What already was known about West Riding drama—primarily from printed records, the extant Towneley text, and a 1989 preliminary survey,2—suggested that an enormous amount of material remained to be read for drama entries and that it was likely to yield much information. Although the importance of collecting the West Riding records never had been seriously challenged, neither had anyone underestimated the difficulty of the task, which was complicated by several dimensions peculiar to the West Riding. Those dimensions included the size of the old county, at 1,776,064 statute acres;3 the dispersal of records to numerous repositories when the old county was realigned in 1972; the abundance of gentry families who intermarried, interlitigated, and held multiple residences , thus scattering their records even farther; and, not peculiar to the West Riding, the effects of diminished archival funding during the Thatcher years and the current British recession. Based on the 1989 preliminary survey, the plan of work was a systematic examination of each record repository's holdings likely to yield drama or entertainment entries. Appropriate categories of documents included ecclesiastical, civic, and household accounts; letters; civic minute books; and almost any pre-1642 manuscript except those definitely indexed as title deeds or in218 Barbara D. Palmer219 dentures. What was sought, according to the Records of Early English Drama (REED) principles of selection,4 were all references to plays, pageants, playwrights, playhouses, pageant houses, players, fools, jugglers, itinerant entertainers, mummings, Robin Hood plays, summer games, Maypoles, lords and ladies of the May, plough plays, pace-eggings, morris dances, liturgical plays, boy bishops, lords of misrule, musical performances by secular musicians, choristers in secular performances, musical instruments for secular performances, waits or town musicians (performances, payments, livery, instruments, housing), formal visits by royalty or nobility with pageantic presentations, special civic processions with musical or mimetic elements, bull- and bear-baiting, cock-fighting, other animal exhibitions for entertainment , and special civic or parish events with elaborate ritual. Of these entertainment categories, only pace-eggings and Robin Hood plays are not represented by name in the surviving West Riding records. This is not the forum to rehearse the process involved in collecting those records, but it extended from May 1990 through August 1991 with the two co-editors reading documents in twenty-seven archives or private collections throughout England.5 The resulting drama or entertainment entries number over 1200, perhaps half of which are of the one-line "paid to the minstrels" variety but the other half of which extend in length among a paragraph, full page, several pages, or (in one instance) 144 folios.6 With the collection of West Riding documents essentially completed,7 early—albeit cautious—observations on their content would seem to be in order. Immediately remarkable is the diversity of activity, only representatively outlined here, which those documents record. Through the Savile of Thornhill, Ingram of Temple Newsam, Shrewsbury of Sheffield, and Wentworth of Woodhouse (later Earl of Strafford) family papers, a rich pattern of gentry household entertainment is documented. The records of three large institutions —Ripon Minster, Selby Abbey, and Fountains Abbey— confirm the variety of entertainment generated and patronized by Riding ecclesiastical establishments. The survival of Doncaster's records, as well as bits from other towns or boroughs, attests to the frequency of civic entertainment. Folk activity is found in the relatively large number of surviving village or rural records, particularly in the lengthy and detailed ecclesiastical court cause papers which narrate such local aberrations from propriety as dancing , rushbearings, May games, and the like. Remarkable, too, is the comparative specificity of the West Riding entertainment ma- 220Comparative Drama terial in named titles of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 218-231
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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