Drama, Performance, and Polity in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland. By Alan J. Fletcher. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000; 520 pp.; illustrations. $110.00 cloth

Milla Cozart Riggio
2001 TDR: The Drama Review  
Press, ;  pp.; illustrations. $. cloth. It is hard to get past the reviewer's cover sheet for Alan Fletcher's Drama, Performance, and Polity in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland. How-one must initially ask-can anyone justify charging more than $ for a study of medieval drama, in Ireland or elsewhere? The answer lies in the realities of supply and demand, which for academic publishers work in inverse proportion to cost and price. Presses like the University of Toronto charge outrageous
more » ... rge outrageous prices because their costs are high and potential buyers are few. Whatever its merits (and they are great), this book will be purchased mainly by university libraries or senior scholars able to afford the cost. Within a year or so, it may no longer be available. This economic reality impacts the book itself. On the one hand, this study provides the first reliable, coherent documentary history of early Irish drama. Defining "performance" broadly, it traces Irish theatrical activity through the myriad realms of the profane and the sacred. It ranges, for example, from the activities of th-century "druiths" or jesters who occupied various social positions; through th-century "carrowes" or dice and card players who sometimes gambled away their clothes, allowing themselves to be "tethered by the genitals" (); to the more conventional Corpus Christi and Visitatio Sepulchri plays of the th and th centuries. No other scholar has searched out the records of Irish theatrical activity buried among far-flung national, city, and ecclesiastical archives-in places like Dublin, Belfast, Cork, London, Uppsala, Oxford, Brussels, Durham, Kilkenny, Edinburgh, and Kent. Years of painstaking research have allowed Fletcher to fill in a picture of Irish performance history that will not soon be matched. On the other hand, long quotations from the records overburden the text of a book that-given the costs-inescapably serves the functions of two volumes in one: simultaneously preserving previously unavailable records and interpreting them. That the interpreter sometimes trips over the archivist reflects, in part, Fletcher's association with the Records of Early English Drama (REED) project. Initiated in the late s under the general editorship of Alexandra Johnston, REED uses the available scraps of historical evidence (often in the form of payments to players, receipts for specific masks, civic proclamations, etc.) to link late medieval drama to the evolution of urban and civic hierarchies in places like York, Cambridge, Chester, and now-by extension-Dublin (see Johnston and Rogerson ; Nelson ; Clopper ; and Louis ). The project has not only led to an increased interest in preserving and editing hitherto neglected plays (for guidelines see Johnston and Husken ; for an Irish example, see Mills ); it has also helped to stimulate performances of medieval play cycles and other forms of civic and social drama in Toronto, at Leeds University in England, and elsewhere. Overall, the REED project reflects and has helped to further the th-century rediscovery of medieval drama. This has resulted not only in historically reconstructive performances of medieval plays, but also in modern adaptations like Tony Harrison's three-part production of The Mysteries staged by the Royal National Theatre of Britain, which played to sold-out London audiences in ; or Benjamin Britten's  setting for Noye's Fludde (a one-act opera for children adapted from the Chester Mystery plays, first performed in Suffolk, England, in , and frequently produced ever since, including a Portland, The Drama Review ,  (T), Winter .
doi:10.1162/dram.2001.45.4.165 fatcat:v3aby3vwxfc2vphhpc4umilygu