17.04.13, Carpenter et al., eds., The Best Pairt of Our Play

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Alasdair A. MacDonald

The Medieval Review 17.04.13

Carpenter, Sarah, Pamela M. King, Meg Twycross, and Greg Walker, eds. The Best Pairt of Our Play: Essays presented to John J. McGavin, Part One. Medieval English Theater, 37. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2015. pp. vi, 166.. ISBN: 978-1-84384-416-7 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Alasdair A. MacDonald
University of Groningen

This publication is actually only Part 1 of a book, and it simultaneously counts as Vol. 37 (2015) of the journal, Medieval English Theatre; Part 2 will count as Vol. 38 (2016). The two parts, taken together, comprise the Festschrift presented to Professor John McGavin on the occasion of his retirement. Appropriately, the first ten pages contain affectionate and celebratory tributes from the scholarly colleagues closest to the Festschrift-ee at the universities of Edinburgh and Southampton; these are accompanied by a bibliography of John McGavin's writings.

There are ten contributions. Three--by Janet Hadley Williams (27-40), Greg Walker (41-56), and Peter Happé (57-72)--are concerned with the Satire of the Thrie Estaitis of Sir David Lyndsay, the huge Scottish morality play given a memorable staging in 2013 in a project led by Greg Walker. Three others--by Garrett P. J. Epp (119-133), Alexandra F. Johnston (134-148), and Meg Twycross (149-165)--are concerned with the Towneley Plays. In addition to the essays on Lyndsay, two others deal with Scottish topics: Sarah Carpenter, on reflections of Edinburgh in Robert Armin's 1600 Foole upon Foole (11-26); and R. D. S. Jack, on the dramatic voice of William Dunbar (73-89). Finally, two contributions are focused on the physical and practical aspects of theatre: Bob Godfrey, arguing that the Digby Mary Magdalen is best performed with the audience "in promenade" (105-118); and Tanya Hagen and Sally-Beth MacLean on how one can use new, dedicated computer programs to extract historical evidence (in this case, relating to the Bear Gardens of Southwark) from the records of early drama (90-104).

Despite their many points of intrinsic interest, the essays by Carpenter and Jack cannot really be said to deal with medieval English drama. Armin presents six famous fools, but they do not play out their roles upon the stage; Dunbar may evoke the comedy of situation and of linguistic register, but he remains (mostly) in the realm of the lyric. Nonetheless, both Armin and Dunbar can be viewed in their relation to Lyndsay, and can thus be seen as relevant to the work of McGavin, who is the editor of the REED volume for Scotland: it is from Lyndsay that the quotation in the title is taken.

While all the essays in this volume are in various ways commendable, the following deserve particular mention. For (re-)considerations of fundamental issues concerning the essential nature of plays: Walker, who argues the case contra R. J. Lyall, for a close relationship between the 1540 Linlithgow interlude and Lyndsay's Satire of the 1550s; and Johnston, on the role of the Second Shepherds' Play as essentially a work written for Christmastide. Two contributors offer important discussions of textual matters: Hadley Williams, on how the interludes extracted from Lyndsay's Satire fit in to the section of merry poems in George Bannatyne's famous poetry anthology (1565-1568); and Twycross, on the provenance of the manuscript of the Towneley Plays. (The latter is rather a tease, since it anticipates a longer discussion in a forthcoming volume.) Though this volume is only half of a Festschrift, it contains much of value.

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