The Elizabethan Country House Entertainment: Print, Performance, and Gender.
Elizabeth Kolkovich's Elizabethan Country House Entertainment contributes extensive new understanding of a subject that had seemed well explored by twentieth-century scholars of pageantry and by considerable recent work on English royal entertainments and on Elizabeth I herself. In part Kolkovich applies methods established by her predecessors to demonstrate how particular entertainments both promoted and resisted royal power. Through careful and comprehensive reading of records and texts, she discovers the agendas--sometimes collaborative, sometimes competing--of the events' "devisers": among them the host family, paid performers and artisans, and the queen herself. But what is especially new here is how Kolkovich contextualizes those agendas by attending to the tensions between localized and national concerns, questions raised by book history, and the entertainments' aesthetic and formal literary qualities.
This study is less a cohesive monograph built around a central argument than it is three extended composite essays. The introduction and epilogue convincingly argue that the "entertainment"--as labeled by contemporaries and including its full range of shows, sports, and rituals of hospitality--is a distinctive dramatic form. In all its manifestations, specificity of site and occasion influenced audience perceptions while physical movement across space and time affected messaging and power dynamics. (Over two or three days at Kenilworth, for example, there were on-the-spot revisions to a planned script.) All entertainments relied on stable literary cousins and ancestors in mode and genre, but were also subject to the unanticipated and unscripted--whether queen's response or weather. The "entertainment" flourished when Elizabeth's post-marriageable Virgin Queen persona was on the rise and when budget cuts in the Revels Office and licensing of roving companies increased off-site performances. Though the form resonates still in Milton's attempted persuasion of an articulate virgin at Ludlow, it declined with Stuart preferences for preserving natural settings for hunting and for more scripted and hierarchical indoor pageantry. (Undoubtedly, changes to the patronage system also effected this shift, with writers loyal to particular households being displaced by itinerant professionals.)
"Part I: Performance" analyzes how queen and anxious hosts negotiate their relationships by manipulating conventional tropes for expressing service or authority. The pastoral mode employed at Theobalds and Kenilworth drew attention to boundaries. The Cecils relied on the tropes to meld regional and national identity and share power with Elizabeth while Leicester recast them to draw attention to her outsider status on his estate. (Notably Kolkovich recasts the little known "Congratulatory Poem of the House of Cecil," translated in an appendix, as a dramatic performance presented upon the queen's arrival.) Petrarchan service was useful for likely suspects such as Leicester and Henry Lee in the 1570s. But in the 1590s with Elizabeth's virginal persona more firmly intact, expressions of devotion expanded. They included alternatives such as military duty at Rycote or female courtiership offered by educated and chaste young women at Bisham and Sudeley. At Elvetham, Mitcham, and Harefield the rhetoric and rituals of hospitality established reciprocal relations between queen and subjects, functioning, for example, to apologize for the Seymours' past alliance with the Grey family or to remind the queen how a host's role as Master of Requests kept order in the provinces.
"Part II: Print" considers how publisher-devisers packaged entertainments for new audiences and offers the book's most significant contributions. Whereas publication of continental festival books preceded pageants and represented nationalist sentiments, English accounts could be printed years and sometimes decades later, occasionally in excerpts, and reflected local concerns. Moreover, they were packaged to appeal to markets for aesthetics, news, or politics where their publishers had demonstrated records of success. Unlike previously published English coronation entries that tended to historical description, for example, print accounts of Kenilworth and Woodstock were materially designed to resemble literary forms that appealed to courtly readers of both sexes: poetic miscellanies, prose romances, and court drama. Editorial choices minimize the original entertainment's popular dramatic modes (such as the farce of a country marriage). Instead, they showcase verse forms and poetic intent, carefully including worthy material cut from the actual performance, and they fashion the personas of Gascoigne and other "humble courtier-poets unaware of their advertisement in print" (148). Similarly, a 1592 Oxford collection of entertainments at Bisham, Sudely, and Rycote Park targeted a less courtly but still educated local market by differentiating regional interests in hawkish international Protestantism from national ones. A rather weak concluding chapter minimally adds to scholarship on the equivocal dialogue of Philip Sidney's Forester and Shepherd in Lady of May or on Mary Sidney's creation of her brother's literary reputation. The chapter's truly revelatory pages concerning the literary and political implications of various print editions of Mary's never performed entertainment for Wilton following Elizabeth's death might have had more impact better integrated with material in the rest of the section.
There is one caveat to issue to prospective readers of this commendable study. The "gender" territory staked in its tripartite subtitle is misleading. To be sure, Kolkovich deserves credit for discovering greater involvement of female devisers than has been previously acknowledged. Among those functioning as writers, hosts, and even performers were Mildred Cecil, Elizabeth Russell and her daughters, Elizabeth Brydges, and Margery Norrys. But readers seeking to get beyond "females" and "males" to analysis of gendered words or behavior and their effects will be disappointed in all but (arguably) the chapter on Petrarchan tropes. Differences between entertainments for Elizabeth or James are attributed mostly to the rulers' personal styles and preferences, for example, while Kolkovich's assertion that Alice Egerton successfully took on a male role of host is undercut by how her husband's formal complaints about her lavish spending (referenced in the chapter) conform to stereotypical gender conventions. If one can squint and recast the title's "gender" into "genre," however, this book truly delivers scholarship worth reading. And it does so in highly accessible form. Kolkovich writes with energetic lucidity and provides just enough descriptive narrative of the entertainments (for those who have not read them or read them recently) that her account should be interesting to a very wide audience.
Reviewer: LISA CELOVSKY
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|Publication:||Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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