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REVIEWS Mediaeval Drama in England As the need for a new comprehensive treatment of the early English drama has been great for some time, the reader will turn with high hopes to Hardin Craig's large and attractively printed monograph, English Religious Drama 0/ the Middle Ages (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1955, pp. 421, $6.50). The need is great, for the book which has been the undisputed standard work on the subject, E. K. Chambers's The Mediaeval Stage, is at least partly out of date. Such a statement can be made without discrediting Chambers's in many ways admirable account, as it appeared no less than fifty years ago, since which time much has been added to our knowledge. Moreover, Chambers's own and more recent survey of the subject in English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, good as it is, is too brief and conservative to replace The Mediaeval Stage. As for Karl Young's monumental Drama oj the Mediaeval Church, the only work that can rival Chambers's in quality and scope, it covers a somewhat different area of the field, being concerned with the early dramatic compositions of the Church throughout Western Europe rather than with later developments in the vernacular. Craig acknowledges a great debt to Young in his early chapters, but the core of his new book deals, like Chambers's, with the vernacular drama of mediaeval England. The subject of English Religious Drama is a vast and complex one demanding unusual scholarship. For such a task, one would think Craig to be one of the very few men sufficiently qualified. In this study he returns to the field of his earlier research (see his edition of Two Coventry Corpus Christi Plays for the E.B.T.S.), having since become known rather for his books on the Renaissance, and more particularly for his one-volume edition of Shakespeare, one of the best of the century. Yet the great expectations with which one therefore reads English Religious Drama are not wholly fulfilled. I have suggested that the subject of this book is similar to that of The Mediaeval Stage. This is not entirely true, for Craig does not discuss folkdrama , to which Chambers devoted his first volume. True to its title, English Religious Drama confines itself to liturgical, mystery, miracle, and morality plays. Yet the intimation that the book must be judged with Chambers's work in mind was made purposefully, and even though Craig makes no extravagant claims. Whether small or large, there was undoubtedly some interplay between folk- and religious drama in the Middle Ages, and thus the omission 226 REVIEWS 227 of any real discussion of folk-drama in the book is a serious matter. The book has yet more serious weaknesses. It reads less well than Chambers's and covers the vast areas of its subject unevenly. Much as there is to admire in some of his chapters, Craig lets the reader down in others. Whoever intends to use his book as an extensive modern survey of the subject must do so with caution. For some of bis errors or inadequacies, Craig certainly deserves our sympathy; for seldom has a scholarly treatment of such scope been more unfortunately timed. It was in the press when Grace Frank's admirable Mediaeval French Drama appeared, and Craig was perhaps necessarily ignorant of F. M. Salter's startling discoveries relating to the Chester plays in particular but involving our view of many matters concerning the mediaeval stage as a whole, which he provided in his Alexander lectures (reviewed in April 1956). To cite but one example: on pages 168-70 Craig follows Chambers and others in linking Ranulf Higden, author of the Polychronicon , with the Chester plays. He does not believe that Higden was the author-for he generally adopts the sound view that mystery plays are, like bal1ads, of anonymous origin-but he regards him as a "translator or redactor ." Arthur Brown's article concerning Sir John Arneway. the mayor of Chester who has also been linked traditionally with the Chester plays, leads him to modify further Chambers's ingenious argument. How wrongly will appear when one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 226-228
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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