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REVIEWS THE MEDIEVAL ENGLISH STAGE' Professor Alan H. Nelson's recent book, The Medieval English Stage, does a real service to the study of medievalstage history since it brings firmly into the open a scholarly controversy which has existed since the presentation of his thesis, purporting to prove the impossibility of 'true-processional' staging of the York Cycle, to the Medieval Drama Seminar of the Modem Language Association in 1968. This argument was published in Modern Philology 67 (1970) and reappears as chapter two of his book. With the help of a computer, Professor Nelson proved, to his own satisfaction, that the existing York manuscript of forty-eight separate pageants1 could not have been performed in one day (as the traditional view has always held) from individual pageant wagons at twelve or more separate stations. He makes this study the keystone of his present work and although he deplores quite properly the propensity of earlier scholars to take the (to him) erroneous method of production at York as the norm for medieval drama in England, he himself falls victim to this tidy-minded principle and his work is marred throughout by his desire to make all the other evidence from all over England conform to his own view of the way in which the York Cycle was perfonned. His work is encyclopedic, dealing with the methods of production in York, Wakefield, Beverley, Lincoln, Norwich, Coventry, Chester, London and, in his final chapter, 'Miscellaneous Towns and Cities,' including glances at twenty-seven separate locations all over the British Isles. For each of the cities he treats in separate chapters, he has gone back, as far as he was able to do in such an all-inclusive work, to the original documents. In each chapter, he discusses the processional and dramatic activities peculiar to that city. This in itself is a valuable contribution to the field since it emphasizes the wide variety of types of ceremonial and mimetic activity in England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries . Unfortunately, while he has been working on this book, new and more detailed work than he was able to do has been in progress on York by Margaret Rogerson (nee Dorrell) and myself, on Lincoln by Stanley Karhl, whose edition of the Lincolnshire records has just been published by the Malone Society, on Norwich by JoAnna Dutka and David Galloway, on Coventry by Reg Ingram, and on Chester by L.M. Clopper. Furthennore, the authenticity of the documents upon which he arid many other scholars have based their arguments for Wakefield has recently been challenged.2 Because my own work has, of recent years, been exclusively concerned with the dramatic records of York, I do not feel •Alan H. Nelson, The Medieval English Stage: Corpus Christi Pageants and Plays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press '974. Pp 288. $12.50 THE MEDIEVAL ENGLISH STAGE 239 that I am competent to discuss in detail the arguments for other cities. I shall, therefore, confine myself in this review to the discussion of the performance at York. Professor Nelson's starting point, that there was not time to perform aU fortyeight pageants in one day at twelve stations, has already been chaUenged by Margaret Rogerson. Dr R8gerson used Professor Nelson's own figures for the length of time it would take to speak the lines and worked, as he did, on the assumption that the complete cycle was performed every year. There is, however , no evidence that in anyone year all forty-eight pageants as they come down to us in the register of the York Cycle were ever performed. Indeed, Dr Rogerson has pointed out elsewhere4 that in the only year for which we have definite evidence (1535) only thirty-five guilds were preparing their pageants for the play. The episodes performed by these thirty-five guilds include those incidents necessary to make a complete cycle of salvation history. I do not intend to repeat her arguments concerning the Biblical cycle, or my own in support of the public and processional performance of the two other great plays ofYork, the Creed Play and the Pater Noster Play.s Nor do I intend to take issue with Professor Nelson...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 238-248
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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