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The Coventry Corpus Christi Plays.

The Coventry Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Pamela M. King and Clifford Davidson, Early Drama, Art and Music Monograph Series 27 (Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, Medieval Institute Publications, 2000). xii + 326 pp.; 7 illustrations over 5 pp. ISBN 1-58044-055-X, $35.00 (hard covers); 1-58044-056-8, $15.00 (p/b).

This is an excellent new edition of the surviving Coventry Corpus Christi plays. It follows the principles of an EETS edition and incorporates a broad range of materials in an effort to surmount the difficulties presented by the fact that only two of the plays from the Coventry cycle survive, the Shearmen and Taylors' play and the Weavers' play respectively -- and the former only in a nineteenth-century transcription. The volume includes an excellent introduction to the Coventry plays, which is particularly strong on economic details. There are editions with full apparatus of both surviving plays, including two earlier surviving fragments of the Weavers' play. Pamela King and Clifford Davidson also present a great deal of data, ingeniously culled from multiple sources, about plays that do not survive. Supporting materials include discussions of royal entries, musical notation, materials from other play cycles (e.g. selections from Doctors plays), and extensive (and high-quality) notes and textual apparatus, as well as a short but well-chosen select bibliography.

This volume does much to shore up the notion that the Coventry cycle was one of the most significant and -- as King has argued previously -- ambitious of the cycles. The book deals well with the problem of the Coventry plays as a cycle in absentia, especially given the further problem that many guild records related to the cycle have been destroyed. The contents of the book represent a lot of painstaking work with manuscripts, account books, and archival materials of many sorts -- and of course a productive engagement with the materials collected on Coventry by Reg Ingram for the Records of Early English Drama volume. King is also preparing a digital facsimile of the Weavers' pageant and fragments in association with the British Library.

It must be noted that a significant amount of the introductory material on the Coventry plays is drawn from previously published works by King and Davidson, including King's monograph on the Coventry Mystery Plays and articles by Davidson in Leeds Studies in English and The Stage as Mirror (ed. Alan Knight). There is also some recycled material in the appendix, such as JoAnna Dutka's music of the songs for the Shearmen and Taylors' Pageant. However, there is certainly enough new data to counterbalance this and there is also the consideration that this volume brings together a great deal of useful material into one convenient package. King and Davidson have put together something that will be essential reading for anyone interested in the Coventry plays.

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Author:Tolmie, Jane
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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