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  • English Drama from Everyman to 1660: Performance and Print by Frederick Kiefer
  • Philip Tromans
English Drama from Everyman to 1660: Performance and Print Frederick Kiefer Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2015 £89 hb., xxiv + 930 pp. ISBN 9780866984942

Anyone who sets out to produce a descriptive catalogue of early modern English playtexts undertakes a daunting task. The author is not only committed to drafting hundreds of entries but to differentiating the result from authoritative past and present directories. W. W. Greg's seminal inventory of the material texts, his Bibliography of Printed Drama, is in four volumes and Martin Wiggins's comprehensive yet theatrically-oriented British Drama 1533-1642: A Catalogue will be in nine volumes. Kiefer, outlining the theatrical and physical origins and early modern reincarnations of English playtexts, squeezes 800 plus descriptive prose entries of various lengths into just 674 pages.

Kiefer's catalogue is arranged alphabetically by title. Entries are split into three parts: the play's known theatrical productions, its printing history, and, lastly, any contextual data, which ranges from information about the play's intentions, its dramaturgy and reception–much of which is gleaned from printed paratexts–to comparisons with other plays and scholarly judgements. As little is known about some of the plays the entries range in size from the five-line, fifty-five-word descriptions of the mid-seventeenth-century drolls An Equal Match and The Imperick, to the four and a quarter page entry for thomas Kyd's well-known The Spanish Tragedy.

Fitting all of the entries into a single book has its benefits and disadvantages. Even at £89 the book is much cheaper than a full set of Wiggins's British Drama will be. It is easier for libraries to acquire multiple copies of English Drama from everyman to 1660 for their student cohort. Students using Kiefer's book will not need to have two or three volumes to hand to refer to all of Christopher Marlowe's, Ben Jonson's or William shakespeare's plays, which, given libraries' limited budgets and shelf space, is rarely possible. Yet the aim to fit everything into one volume must explain the omission of indexes, which hinders students making connections between the plays: those written by the same playwright, those acted by the same company or those performed in the same theatre. Students wanting such cross-referencing tools should first refer to one of the books Kiefer hoped his catalogue would largely supersede: alfred Harbage's Annals of English Drama 975-1700. I suspect that the lack of space has also led to the unfriendly block-paragraph layout. Subheadings, capitalisation and different typefaces could have been used to structure the page and aid accessibility. Names of the author(s), performance dates and venues could thus have been demarcated, as they are in Wiggins's British Drama.

English Drama from everyman to 1660's point-of-difference is the number of scholarly sources its entries draw on. Most of Kiefer's entries are substantial and contain numerous quotations from [End Page 195] established scholars. The fifty-three quotations cited in the entry for marlowe's Dr Faustus cover everything from the likely time of the first performance to seventeenth-century revisions. All's Well that Ends Well has by comparison just ten citations, the fewest of any shakespearian play, but plenty to kick-start further reading. Even the drolls contain at least one reference each, though they nearly always refer the reader to John James elson's 1932 edition of Francis Kirkman's The Wits or, Sports upon Sports. The reference style is author-date and the 255-page bibliography is a formidable resource. So while not all the abbreviations are listed at the front of the book and not all of the technical terms are explained, Kiefer's integration of the best scholarship into his concise entries make English Drama from everyman to 1660 well worth regular consultation.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2051-8358
Print ISSN
0040-5523
Pages
pp. 195-196
Launched on MUSE
2018-12-04
Open Access
No
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