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  • Performance and Theatricality in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance ed. by Mark Cruse
  • Eleanor Bloomfield
Cruse, Mark, ed., Performance and Theatricality in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 41) Turnhout, Brepols, 2018; hardback; pp. xiii, 207; 23 b/w illustrations, 1 b/w table; R.R.P. €75.00; ISBN 9782503579870.

The ten essays of this volume range in focus from the performative aspect of late medieval confession and penitence to early eighteenth-century polemical Russian drama intended to bolster the reform of the Russian Orthodox Church. This wide and eclectic range is loosely held together by the individual essays' collective dealing with the volume's overarching themes of drama's engagement with religion and faith, the performative aspects of individual and communal piety, [End Page 205] and the relationship between spectator and spectacle. This last is explored not only in relation to drama and theatrical performance but also takes into account medieval visual imagery, specifically manuscript illuminations, and what clues or insights these may offer into medieval performance. Lofton Durham, writing on the mid-fifteenth-century Paris, BnF, MS fr. 12601 illustrations of the Istoire de la Destruction de Troie la Grant, helpfully includes several images within the essay text, as does Catherine Schulz McFarland, writing on sixteenth-century Pieter Bruegel's The Dirty Bride and The Masquerade of Valentine and Orson. Claire Sponsler's examination of the late fifteenth-century Beauchamp Pageant does not, which is a pity; some visual evidence to support her argument would have been helpful.

The editor's introduction is rather short and less detailed than might be expected. It takes the form of brief summaries of the individual chapter topics rather than a coherent and sustained overview of the volume as a whole and how the essays relate to this and to each other. Mark Cruse limits himself to observing that the 'volume is intended as a contribution to the increasingly cross-cultural and globally orientated study of theatre and performance in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance' (p. ix) before rather blandly suggesting that 'underlying all of these essays is the understanding that performance seeks to shape reality' (p. ix).

The essays are arranged by the chronology of their subject matter, moving forwards from the thirteenth century. Marisa Galvez's discussion of 'performative modes of intersubjectivity' (p. 1) opens, focusing on 'the outward manifestation of contrition' (p. ix) and the corresponding 'spectacle of penitence' (p. ix) in Le Chevalier au barisel and Fornication imitée. This is followed by Candace Hull Taylor's exploration of the Prudence figure's role as expositor in Sawles Warde and the Tale of Melibee. Both these works are non-dramatic, and the intended audiences of the two texts 'could not be more different' (p. 17), but Hull Taylor argues that 'Prudence's performativity in each reveals both the didactic and affective promise, as well as the allegorical limitations, of her depiction in medieval literature' (p. 17).

Jenna Soleo-Shanks offers an intriguing exploration of Siena's fifteenth-century Saint Catherine plays, persuasively suggesting that the play performance chronicled in a 1446 account and ostensibly depicting St Catherine of Alexandria was instead probably a 'thinly veiled memorial' (p. x) to Catherine Benicasa or St Catherine of Siena. As she was not canonized until 1461, Catherine of Siena could not at this time be publicly revered as a saint, but—Soleo-Shanks argues—this play allowed 'a celebration of shared civic identity and history' (p. 54) as well as the 'legitimiz[ation of] the city's political goals' (p. 36).

The two essays following this are Durham's and Sponsler's work on imagery, illustrations, and how these may (or may not) be useful in trying to determine 'certain kinds of performance configurations and practices' (p. 55), a question which Durham notes 'is neither new nor settled' (p. 55). Interrupted by Albrecht Classen's vigorous and rather entertaining study of gender relationships in German [End Page 206] Shrove plays and verse narratives, the discussion of imagery continues with the essay by Schultz McFarland. The two Bruegel prints discussed are both 'depictions of broad farces performed at...


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