The Medieval Review 14.08.01

Beadle, Richard. The York Plays: A Critical Edition of the York Corpus Christi Play as recorded in British Library Additional MS 35290, Volume 2. EETS . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. 600. $135.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9780199590360 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Roger A. Ladd
University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Having reviewed Volume I of this two-volume Early English Text Society (EETS) edition in 2011, it seems appropriate to begin the review of Volume II with a brief recap of my earlier conclusions, which have not changed substantially. The first volume of this substantially revised and expanded second edition of Beadle's 1982 edition of the York Plays presented updated introductory material, considerably different appendices, and some updates and changes to the edited text throughout; it presented a text more in tune with the Register manuscript from which it is taken (and a facsimile of which Beadle coedited in 1983), and also acknowledged in more detail the few cases where other versions exist. My main concern in 2011 was that one could not tell from Volume I exactly what the explanatory notes would look like, or how detailed they would be.

It was also not clear whether the later sections of the 1982 introduction not revised for Volume I would make it into Volume II. Beadle's discussion of the "Development of the Cycle" and its "Mode of Performance" has indeed been revised and updated for Volume II of this new edition. Beadle has replaced the larger headings about the history and performance with what were for the most part the subheadings of this discussion in the first edition. Volume II thus has detailed discussions of "The Origins and Early Development of the Play," "The Ordo Paginarum of 1415," "Preparations for the Play," "Corpus Christi Day and the Performance," "Later Years, Demise, and Afterlife," and "Language." These sections are somewhat rearranged from the 1982 edition, and all substantially expanded. Particularly welcome is the translation of the 1399 petition of the commons of the city asking the city's government to manage the production more directly (xix-xx). This petition is also edited in its original Latin and French as an appendix to the Introduction (xxxix-xlii). Unfortunately, although the 1982 edition did present a translation of the Ordo Paginarum taken from the edition of it in the York Records of Early English Drama volume, and also in the 1983 facsimile edition, this edition does not lay out the entire list in one place. Instead, it opts to reproduce the entries from the Ordo in their original language with footnoted translations as part of the extended headnotes to the individual plays in the Commentary section. This approach does allow Beadle to address the editorial history of those entries a bit, particularly when he compares the current state of the A/Y Memorandum Book (badly damaged by flooding in 1892) to the transcription made by Lucy Toulmin Smith for her 1885 Oxford edition of the York plays. Although Beadle presents more information by putting the entries in the headnotes, his reader misses the chance to see the list laid out as a list; a second appendix to the introduction might have been worthwhile here, despite some duplication of his later notes.

The bulk of Volume II is then taken up by the extended commentary and notes on the individual plays. Here Beadle follows a logical overall pattern, and provides a wealth of useful information about the individual plays. Each play receives a sometimes detailed discussion of its sponsoring craft, which includes various names for the individual craft or crafts tied to the play, explanations of what those crafts actually do, and detailed discussions of any changes or development that might have occurred in the play's attribution. The headnote to "The Coronation of the Virgin," for example, outlines the movement of that play between the Mayor and the Hostelers or Innholders (441-443). This section reproduces the Ordo Paginarum entry for each play, and in many cases addresses other documentary evidence for the play. The headnotes then have a section on The Text of each play, and in the cases where leaves are missing, such as the "Sacrificium Cayme et Abell," they outline the situation with the missing leaves, and provide an update to the discussion of the missing portions that had been placed in the lacunae in Beadle's 1982 edition. This material makes more sense as part of the notes than it did as digressions into the layout of the plays. Editorial emendations from the Register are also listed at the end of the Text section, and the listing of the earliest editions or suggestion for each emendation, which had been included at the bottom of the page in the 1982 edition, is here part of the emendation lists. Each headnote then has a section titled The Play, which provides a brief (or occasionally not-so-brief) discussion of major thematic issues with that individual play. They are typically a page or two long, but some are merely a long paragraph ("The Expulsion"), and others, such as "The Road to Calvary" or "Crucifixio Christi" are somewhat longer; plays in the crucifixion sequence tend toward longer notes. A Versification section following the discussion of The Play then outlines the stanza and meter of the individual play; these are generally short, though some are more substantial than others. They are cross-referenced, and would be very helpful to anyone analyzing versification of the whole cycle. Occasionally, as with "Abraham and Isaac" or "The Shepherds," the versification is combined with the discussion of the text. In cases, such as "The Marriage at Cana" or "The Funeral of the Virgin," where the play text is lacking, Beadle does not provide subsections about the craft, text, play, and versification, but instead he provides a note discussing the play's omission from the register, and what we do know about it.

Following these fairly consistent sections, each play receives detailed line notes, which vary in content from translations of difficult phrasing, indications of Biblical references in the passage, or comparison to other related texts such as versions in the Towneley manuscript, or comparable text in the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament. This was a feature sorely lacking in the 1982 edition, and one that will reward anyone attempting a detailed close reading of the plays. This edition also provides a 74-page glossary somewhat expanded and updated from the 1982 edition, and an index of proper names as well. More useful will be the index of Biblical references, which make it quite easy to see when different plays invoke the same Biblical passages.

Although this extensive apparatus does constitute a series of detailed readings of the plays, Beadle noticeably makes an effort to be even-handed when addressing potentially controversial questions related to the plays. For example, in his introductory discussion of the role of the crafts, he touches only lightly on the debate over whether the guild structure had been imposed from above or not, simply stating that "historians of the city are divided" (xxi), and concluding that the "evidence is complicated, and sometimes contradictory" (xxii). The notes on the plays' sponsoring crafts then address that contradictory evidence throughout. Beadle is also very thorough in grounding all of this supporting material in scholarship on the plays, to the point where he at times seems to be almost attempting a quiet variorum. Like any variorum, the value of this approach will not last forever, but this edition would undoubtedly be a very helpful place for anyone to begin serious research on these plays.

There then remains the question of the audience for this edition. Although when volume I appeared, there had not been a scholarly edition of the play since Beadle's own 1982 edition, in 2011 the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages (TEAMS) released a one-volume edition of the plays edited by Clifford Davidson. Davidson's edition does not attempt the degree of thoroughness that Beadle achieves in this two-volume edition, with modernized orthography, shorter headnotes for the plays, fewer line notes, and a less detailed glossary, but Davidson's edition is fairly solid, and it is more directly aimed at the needs of most student or even graduate-student readers. Price is also a major issue here--the two volumes of the EETS edition total $245 (though perhaps the price will come down in time--not all EETS editions are this expensive), while the TEAMS edition is textbook-priced at $35. As a result, though Beadle's edition offers a great deal more supporting material, it seems likely that it is fated to be primarily a library book, too expensive for a significant number of working scholars of these plays, especially beginning ones.

Aside from this concern, however, Beadle's edition fits nicely into the growing group of editions of medieval drama published by EETS (including relatively fresh editions of the Chester, Towneley, and N-Town plays), and in its detail and consistency it seems poised to guide a new generation of scholars of the York plays. There are not many things an edition of these plays could have that this edition lacks, and the supporting apparatus is consistently thoughtful and thorough--Beadle really has spent a lifetime on these plays, and it shows. As I concluded in 2011, one cannot recommend that serious scholars of these plays work from any other edition now that both volumes have been published.

Copyright (c) 2014 Roger A. Ladd

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