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REVIEWS Jerome Taylor and Alan H. Nelson, eds. Medieval English Drama: Es­ says Critical and Contextual. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1972. Pp. vii + 351; 24 illustrations. $14.00. Two decades of aggressive reappraisal and rebuttal have brought the study of medieval drama to a point where this closely-edited volume achieves a purpose well beyond the usual and often trifling justifications for anthologies of criticism. Though we hardly need a further assault on the moribund Darwinist conceptions of the drama, we do need to put our lands in order—to consider the products of recent scholarly activity and to have at hand a convenient point d’appui for continued study. In these respects Professors Taylor and Nelson make a just claim for the four new and fourteen reprinted essays they have compiled: in concert, these es­ says “build toward a less partial interpretation and a more plausible his­ tory of medieval English drama than those offered in interpretations and histories still widely read.” This new perspective is set forth in a superior introductory essay by Taylor: History of medieval drama “tells not of the evolution of a form . . . [but] constant in its application of a single systematic analysis, it compares the analyzed constituents of finished products of art, and it leaves to the curiosity of psychologists and sociologists of art all inquiry into the productive process.” Accordingly, the essays in this volume have in common the rejection of previous theories which retard a sense of conscious artistic invention or adaptation in the medieval drama. The monuments of Chambers, Young, and others are everywhere cited and esteemed, but their critical-historical theories are vigorously dispatched along with all their evolutionary and developmental metaphors. Some of the newer studies are likewise found to be vulnerable, and here both the contributors and the editors practice a salutary caution in pursuing alternatives to earlier theories. This concern prevails especially in the essays on the early liturgical drama, an area in which O. B. Hardison’s Christian Rite and Christian Drama is now preeminent. The reprinting of Mary H. Marshall’s “Aesthetic Values of the Liturgical Drama” (1951) rejects Hardison’s view that “religious ritual was the drama of the early Middle Ages” and charts for the entire volume a stable understanding of such vexed terms as “representation,” “impersonation,” and “drama” itself. E. Catherine Dunn’s previously unpublished “Voice Structure in the Liturgical Drama” reconstructs Marius Sepet’s theory that the true origin of the drama lay in early experiments to “free” the dialogue in the Matins readings through the lector’s voice-modulations and assignment of the dialogic chant to 247 other cantors. Dunn herself sees residual aesthetic uses of the basic lectio-responsorium pattern even as late as the cycle plays. “The Melo­ dies of the Medieval Church Dramas and Their Significance” (cropped from its 1968 printing in Comparative Drama) is one of several recent attempts by William L. Smoldon to stimulate greater attention to the musical evidence in and adjacent to the texts of these plays. Here he analyzes the melodic structure and environment of the early quern quaeritis dialogues and finds that Hardison errs in his theory that the trope originated as a ceremony associated with the Easter vigil Mass. (Smoldon’s data support the Easter Introit origin.) The next two selections turn to French performances, in particular to their characteristic uses of musical and visual effects. Howard M. Brown’s “Musicians in the Mystéres and Miracles” (1963, book excerpt) shows that in these plays music “served merely as an adjunct to the often brilliant spectacle.” The late Laura Hibbard Loomis’ “Secular Dramatics in the Royal Palace, Paris . . .” (1958) reviews in detail the elaborate theatrical artifice of the French history plays, especially of the welldocumented royal entremés of 1378 and 1389. Informative as these essays are, however, their contribution to the present volume falls short of Taylor’s claim that they “supply the grounds of illuminating contrasts with the English cycle plays.” The contrasts themselves are fairly selfevident from what we do know of the English plays, and it is not clear just how much more is being illuminated. On the other hand, John R. Elliott...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 247-250
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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