It is always difficult to do justice in a review to volumes in the REED series, and there is a particular complexity in the present volume, which combines two counties, the second of which has dramatic traditions both in English and in Cornish. For each county this volume follows the pattern of earlier ones in attempting to present as fully as possible all records of play in its broadest sense. Thus after an historical introduction a listing is provided first of the relevant source documents, then the material itself is presented, and this is elucidated by end-notes, with translations offered separately of the Latin texts. Given this already complicated pattern, with texts arranged by diocese and boroughs and endnotes accessible by page number, it might have been more convenient to place at least the translations (if not also the notes) with the originals. The Dorset section has various appendices (on the Cobb and the Cobb ales). The Cornish section adds to this sequence what is effectively a separate section (in the form of further appendices) on the Cornish material proper, with a separate bibliography partly duplicating the main one.
Dorset is not a particularly rich source for records of early drama, nor are the records always very full. G. L. Gomme commented in 1886 (The Literature of Local Institutions, London: Elliot Stock, 1886) on the role of James Sherren in rescuing some of the Weymouth archives, but a lot is missing. Gomme notes too, however, that public records for Wareham (noted here as a significant lacuna) are at least described in the General Report of the Commissioners on the Public Records XV (1837). There are no guild records. One of the later major sources, however, is the diary of William Whiteway, a prominent Dorchester merchant. His diaries do record dramatic events within the county, such as the comedies performed in 1623 during the episcopal visitation (199) or the rejection of the puppet players in 1630 (200); but the diary entries often refer to incidents outside the county, so that their value as dramatic records can become somewhat tangential. Thus he refers (202) to the suicide on April 1,1632 of "Dr Buts Vicechancellour of Cambridge," referring this (with the qualifier "it is said") to the dissatisfaction of the king with a play. There are notes elucidating this on page 345f., but they misname the unfortunate Butts (Henry, not William) and misdate him as Master of Corpus (Patrick Bury's history of the college, revised for the Internet in 1997, has him as Master from 1626-32, in his second term as Vice-Chancellor). There is a cross-reference here to the Cambridge volume, but a note might have been useful to the effect that in spite of Whiteway, the performance of Hausted's play in Cambridge a week or so earlier probably had little to do with Dr Butts's sad end (on which the king sent a letter of condolence to the college); it also has little to do with drama in Dorset as such, apart from indicating the preoccupations of the Puritan Dorchester merchant.
The picture that we build up overall is, as with other REED volumes, patchy; nor could it be otherwise. From this somewhat sparse material everything that might be conceived of as public performance is adduced, but the lengthiest texts are Star Chamber cases concerned with the performance of libellous material, most relevantly Condytt v. Chubbe (173-198). The policy of exhaustive collection means that not all such cases demonstrate so clearly the Puritan antagonism towards players, although the detailed and bawdy poem cited in the Star Chamber case of Salter v. Cowper is of separate interest. Other bawdy songs are referred to and sometimes cited, and if the precise value as a record of drama is most questionable in the case of the drunken shoemaker fined in 1631 for singing "a fy[l]thy song" (200), the citing of a fragment of his text is noteworthy. There is also evidence (sometimes negative in the condemnation) of customs such as the christening of apples (224), or the use of the maypole. Whiteway notes how a falling maypole, albeit in Somerset, brained a child (205), and there are interesting sexual juxtapositions in a case in Spettisbury in 1635/6 (275). Of special significance for the history of drama in the county overall are the prologue for a school play from the start of the seventeenth century (171-2, translated 317-9); records of Robin Hood plays (in Dorset as well as in Cornwall) and of various kinds of traveling players between 1511-1636; and most significantly, perhaps, the various references (highlighted 47 as a Puritan victory) to monies disbursed to players that they should not play, as in Bridport in 1623 or Lyme Regis in 1621.
Cornwall is different in a number of respects, although in fact the duchy suffers from limited material as well. The (again excellent) historical introduction draws attention to the difficulties of travel in Cornwall, for example, inhibiting the routes of players. Cornwall as such (and Cornish literature) has been studied as an independent topic far more so than has Dorset, of course, so that some of the entries are relatively familiar: the reference to a `Mirable' play at Sancreed (520), for example, or the possession of `torme[n]teris cotes' in Bodmin (473). The matter of the plen-an-gwary is here discussed with due caution, as is the notorious description of poor players by Richard Carew. References to Egyptians (as traveling performers, Gypsies) and on one occasion (in error) to Jews are also interesting. The authors are more explicit in the justification of their use of Star Chamber material, and given that these are usually libel cases, one recalls Andrew Boorde's comments in the First Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge on the Cornish delight in playing at the law in 1547.
Separate attention is paid to the Cornish dramatic records and some relevant material is in the literature itself; the stage directions of Beunans Meriasek, for example, contain a player's name (547) and attention is drawn to the diagrams in the Ordinalia and Meriasek manuscripts, here included amongst the illustrations, together with the earlier engravings of the rounds. The problem, of course, is the absence of solid background material to do with the Cornish plays. In spite of Betcher's recent (but pretty well untenable) claims for Bodmin, the provenance of the Ordinalia is fairly secure, but the Glasney Collegiate Church records are not very helpful.
Occasionally one might consider that the authors are not cautious enough; the so-called "Charter Interlude" (a fragment on the back of a charter; details of the manuscript are not given here though the place, St Stephen-in-Brannel, might be relevant) may be from a play, but there is still a question mark over it; it is in verse and two different speakers seem to be involved. Beyond that, we can say nothing. Similar caution is required on the adduction of the stained Glass at St Neot, something on which Evelyn Newlyn has written in more detail elsewhere. It is possible that the windows reflect the Cornish mysteries in particular, but the precise role of iconography has been problematic since M. D. Anderson's Drama and Imagery appeared in 1963, and counter-arguments are possible. With the temptation window, only the serpent may echo the drama; the nudity of the protoplasts is unlikely (various strategies were adopted to overcome this problem, including costumes of white leather). Even so, the limbed and androgynous serpent in Hugo van der Goes' painting of 1470 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna or even some of those in the illustrated Bibles moralisees (as BL Harley 1527) are not dissimilar. The window with Seth at his father's deathbed is more problematic. The inclusion of the child in the tree points only to the Ordinalia. In the later play, Seth sees the Virgin with a child; moreover, the reference in the Creacion to Adam falling onto a bed (when Death smites him) is hardly appropriate to the window, in which he is already in it. In fact the window is matched by other iconography unconnected with the drama (the Viennese Lutwin manuscript has a similar picture, including accoutrements such as a chamber pot: see M-B. Halford, Illustration and Text in Lutwin's Eva und Adam, Goppingen: Kummerle, 1980, ill. 24). The best that can really be said is that the Ordinalia and the windows demonstrate a knowledge of the Vita Adae/Holy Rood complex which is unusual, but not unknown, so that using them as evidence for dramatic performance has to be treated very carefully indeed, and only after closer scrutiny of iconographic traditions. This is a programmatic question for the series.
As indicated, specialized appendices present parts of the Cornish plays and also the relevant passages from the Vocabularium Cornicum, plus material on hurling and on the plen-an-gwary. There are lists of groups of players, plus full Latin and English glossaries covering both parts of the work, and while minor criticisms are of course always possible, the usefulness of the whole remains unquestioned, and the volume as a whole constitutes a valuable addition to an established series.
BRIAN MURDOCH University of Stirling, Scotland
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2000|
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