Douglas W. Hayes

title.none: Davidson and Happe, eds.,The Worlde and the Chylde (Hayes)

identifier.other: baj9928.0011.001 00.11.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Douglas W. Hayes, University of Toronto at Scarborough,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Davidson, Clifford and Peter Happe, eds. The Worlde and the Chylde. Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series, 26. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. Pp. vii, 130. $30.00. ISBN: 1-580-44051-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.11.01

Davidson, Clifford and Peter Happe, eds. The Worlde and the Chylde. Early Drama, Art, and Music Monograph Series, 26. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. Pp. vii, 130. $30.00. ISBN: 1-580-44051-7.

Reviewed by:

Douglas W. Hayes
University of Toronto at Scarborough

A propre newe interlude of the Worlde and the Chylde, otherwyse called Mundus & Infans, as it is entitled in the unique extant quarto printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1522 and now held in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin (shelf mark Press A.4.8), is a remarkable specimen of early English drama. Among its more interesting features is the fact that its several roles can be played by just two actors, making it a dramaturgical virtuoso piece and a rarity in the extant corpus of early English plays; it also has the distinction of being, as the editors point out in the Acknowledgments, "one of the earliest plays to be published in England" (ix). Perhaps due in part to the interest it has generated as a play for performance, a number of modernized editions appeared in print (and subsequently went out of print) throughout the twentieth century. What was lacking, however, was an old-spelling critical edition of the play for scholars of early drama and late medieval English culture. This void was filled, in part, with Mallory Chamberlin, Jr.'s 1969 unpublished University of Tennessee doctoral dissertation "The World and the Child, Otherwise Called Mundus et Infans: A Critical Edition." The old-spelling critical edition of the play that I prepared as my unpublished 1994 University of Alberta MA thesis, "Mundus et Infans: A Dramaturgical Edition", also aimed at providing a more scholarly text. Unfortunately, both editions were only available in microfilm or through interlibrary loan.

The publication of this edition by Clifford Davidson and Peter Happe thus deserves praise at the outset for making this play more widely available than it has ever been in a critical edition. Their respective reputations as editors and scholars of early drama will no doubt draw many specialist readers to consult the book and thereby serve to reintroduce the play to many who have neither taught nor written on it due to the lack of a scholarly text.

The first paragraph of the Introduction sets out the theoretical premises upon which the edition is based: "The present project will also involve attention to the iconographical culture which, along with the current theatrical traditions, informs the play under consideration" (1). This approach is entirely in keeping with the aims of the Early Drama, Art, and Music (EDAM) Project, of which Davidson is the Executive Editor, and it is as part of the EDAM Monograph Series that this edition is published. Certainly, the extent to which visual culture influenced the structure and performance of early drama is far from being a settled question for some scholars, but the editors are clear about the approach they take in discussing the play, and the approach, with its attendant apparatus, seems particularly helpful in this context.

The section of the Introduction entitled "Text, Date, and Auspices" (1-6) begins with a brief but thorough discussion of the state of the quarto, conjecturally but reasonably identifying it as "unquestionably one of the very earliest printed plays, and its printer [Wynkyn de Worde]" as possibly "the first to have undertaken any such enterprise in England" (2). The editors wisely avoid speculating on a specific year as the date of composition, but they do note that most suggestions put the play's writing and first performance some fifteen years before de Worde's printing of it, and they note further that there is possible internal evidence of a composition before 1508 in potential references to Henry VII's fighting in France in 1489-92 (4). The many references to London and London life in the play do not escape their notice, and while they do not confirm a London author, "the point of origin may well be only a day's journey from the metropolis" (6).

The section on "Sources and Analogues" (6-10) provides some of the most significant observations to be found in the Introduction. After having noted the link between the play and the fifteenth-century poem The Mirror of the Periods of Man's Life identified by Henry Noble MacCracken in 1908, Davidson and Happe also point to links with a poem entitled Of the Seven Ages from the fifteenth-century Carthusian manuscript British Library MS. Add. 37,049 (7). The editors see the manuscript illustrations for this poem, which show "a progressively aging mankind figure from birth to death", as suggestive of the iconography of the play (7); they lend support to this observation by pointing out that poem and play are occasionally quite similar in the content of their lines. These observations allow the reader to develop a sense of the possible verbal and visual intertextuality of the play. This is where the edition's seventeen illustrations prove themselves very useful, such as fig. 6 which reproduces the relevant page for Of the Seven Ages. This same topic is taken up again later in the Introduction under the heading of "Iconography" (16-20) where various illustrations of the Ages of Man motif are discussed in an effort to give the reader "pointers about how the text might have been intended or indeed how it might have been received by a readership or an audience already acquainted with and influenced by the implicit and explicit significance of the visual arts" (16). The editors draw two important implications from Ages of Man iconography that seem to bear upon the play: "One involves the manner in which Man, as time unfolds in his lifetime, comes to be represented as a king at his most triumphant moment" (18); the second implication is that the passage of time or ages brings a sense of the vicissitudes of life and hence of despair, while another iconographic strain suggests that the passage of life brings wisdom and hence the possibility of salvation (19). Both these implications of the iconographic tradition are directly connected to the content of the play, as is the discussion of the iconography of fools (19-20), and regardless of whether or not a reader shares the editors' views of visual culture as a major influence on dramatic representations, these observations can only further a sensitive reading of The Worlde and the Chylde. The Introduction is rounded out with discussions of allegory (10-16), language and versification (20-24), staging (24-26), performance history (26-27), previous editions (27-28), and editorial principles (28). All sections are well-written, engaging, and generally accurate discussions of their topics (I note only the section on prior editions, where the editors incorrectly list Chamberlin's dissertation as "the only previous edition with full critical apparatus" (28) and pass over my own edition). The play itself is clearly printed and lightly edited. Perhaps the most striking visual difference between this old-spelling edition and previous editions is the division of the text into verse forms. This is a welcome departure from the quarto that underscores the poetic structure of the play and foregrounds the deliberate nature of the versification. The textual notes are thorough and reflect the fact that the editors had recourse to the quarto itself rather than just the facsimile printed in the Tudor Facsimile Texts series and so were able to provide clearer readings in a number of places where letters are obscured in the facsimile. The critical notes are likewise thorough and free from error. The Glossary (122-30) is helpful, especially for readers who are comparatively unfamiliar with sixteenth-century English, without being needlessly exhaustive; brief definitions, line numbers, and occasional citations from the Middle English Dictionary provide all the assistance the reader requires to understand the play. Appendix I: Verse Structures divides the verse forms in the play into three groups (abab, aaabcccb, and other) and Appendix II: A Doubling Scheme usefully demonstrates how all the roles in the play may be divided between just two (very good and quick-changing) actors. Appendix III: The Dialect of The Worlde and the Chylde, by Paul A. Johnston, Jr., is useful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, dialect in playtexts of this period is all too frequently ignored, so any analysis of it at all is welcome. Secondly, and much more importantly, Johnston is able to quite convincingly locate the play in East Anglia, a location that is interesting for its high level of dramatic activity throughout the late Middle Ages and for the number of plays thought to be from that region that are still extant. In fact, Johnston, using linguistic evidence, sees the play as having "conceivably come from Cambridge city itself, or smaller centers nearby like Ramsey, Chatteris, or Newmarket" (120). Armed with these considered suggestions, researchers now have a potentially more narrowly defined search for references to the play itself or analogous entertainments. If there is one desideratum suggested by this edition, it is that there are not more editions like it. English drama of the early to mid sixteenth century lies in a comparative neglect brought about in equal parts by the residue of an outmoded Darwinian model that saw it as merely "pre-Shakespearean" and by the continued prioritization of scholarship on later Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. The most important contribution this edition makes is that it treats The Worlde and the Chylde as a serious, well-wrought and intelligent play worthy of sustained study. It is to be hoped that the careful preparation that went into this edition will inspire not only that sustained study of the play, but also equally well-crafted editions of other sixteenth-century plays that also deserve such focused attention.