Tuesday, July 28, 2020

CFP: IARHS Sponsored Sessions for Leeds IMC 2021

CFP: IARHS Sponsored Sessions for Leeds IMC 2021

5-8th July, University of Leeds, UK

Session deadline 30 September 2020 (please send to Lesley Coote by September 20th to be considered for a session). Email address for submissions is: L.A.Coote@associate.hull.ac.uk, or coote081@gmail.com

Conference Theme: CLIMATES

The following topics have been selected from a list supplied by the IMC Leeds organising committee, and the full list is available on the Conference website. The two strands provide different emphases to cover the interests of IARHS members, and could form the basis for a series of session proposals. Each year the Leeds IMC board sanctions anything up to 5 sessions from research groups, and so it should be possible to present more than one ‘strand’ with success.

The suggestions in the brackets below each topic in Strand I represent a clarification of how these topics might be applied; they are inspirational guides only. Strand II needs very little additional clarification.

Any period may be covered, and any form of outlawry or rebellion.
(The full CFP can be viewed on the Leeds IMC website: www.imc.leeds.ac.uk)
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Outlaws, Rebels and Climates
Strand I: Climates of Rebellion and Revolt

Natural and other landscapes/settings as dynamic spaces (relationship of subject matter to natural and unnatural settings, their use and manipulation in literature, history and culture)

Agriculture, pastoralism, modification of landscapes, exploitation of resources, inequality, colonialism (‘issues’ and social/political considerations, relationship of subject matter/histories to social and natural change and transformation)

Environmental determinism, medieval histories of modern inequalities (‘isms’, post/colonial issues, ‘read back’ into the past, past origins of, or comparisons between then and now)

Societal organisation, hierarchy, law-making, governance (law, social organisation, class issues, legal and societal manifestations thereof)

Applying paradigms of adaption, resilience, and collapse (relation of subject matter to social and other transformations, its own transformations)

‘Climates’ of opinion, thought, feeling (medieval and later, and how they impact the subject matter)

‘Climates’ and interregional connectivities, interdependencies and disconnections (transmission of material, ideas, images and forms)

Fluctuations in migration, mobility, trade, exchange, and transmission (transmission and mobility, geographical or temporal, relation of the subject matter to economic issues)

Preservation of material remains amid growing climate and societal instability (issues surrounding material remains, their preservation and re/presentation, or not)

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Strand II: Medievalist Outlaw Fantasies and the Elements

Medieval concepts of ‘climes’ and ‘climate’

Cosmologies, world views, natural or supernatural causation

Medieval enquiry into weather, seasons, monsoon patterns

Astronomical and astrological observations and predictions

Agriculture, pastoralism, modification of landscapes, exploitation of resources, inequality, colonialism (includes prognostications, witchcraft/elemental magic, medicinal implications and use of elements)

Environmental determinism, medieval histories of modern inequalities

Seas, oceans, rivers, monsoon, floods as dynamic spaces

Friday, December 20, 2019

Reviews from the Greenwood: Stephen Knight on John Marshall's Early English Performance: Medieval Plays and Robin Hood Games (2018)


Marshall, John. Early English Performance: Medieval Plays and Robin Hood Games: Shifting Paradigms in Early English Drama Studies. Variorum Collected Studies. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2020. ISBN: 978-1138370937. $175.00. 367pp.

Reviewed by Stephen Knight
University of Melbourne

John Marshall is well-known to scholars and students of earlier English literature as a specialist on popular drama, notably the medieval town mystery cycles, and also the more elusive Robin Hood activities usually called “play-games.” He has published detailed explorations into the contexts and meanings of early English public theatre, combining his personal interest as an actor, producer and teacher of drama studies with a grasp of the scanty and often obscure financial and public records that offer the only real evidence for what went on, and why it went on, in the street theater of small English towns in the late medieval and early modern periods.

Now retired, a research fellow at Bristol University—at the heart of Robin Hood play-game country—he has co-operated with Routledge in their Variorum project to reprint the research essays of people recognized as specialists in their fields. This is one of a series named, the same as this book’s subtitle, “Shifting Paradigms in Early English Drama Studies,” edited currently by Philip Butterworth, a prolific early theater scholar based at the University of Leeds.

The collection offers nineteen essays published over thirty years up to 2017. Varying a good deal in length—some are short special analyses, others quite wide-ranging surveys of periods and contexts—they fall into four sections. First come five essays on the Chester Whitsun mystery cycle plays, including the long and influential essay from 1985 examining just how the Chester pageants were staged. The second section is on the non-cycle plays Wisdom and Mankind and their contexts and the third considers medieval depictions and modern productions of the plays discussed in the previous two sections. The fourth set of six essays is on “Robin Hood Games”: this material covers more than a third of the volume and provides close, and closely-considered, research from 1998-2017 on these intriguing performances which are still difficult to grasp fully, both in terms of their own functions and meanings, and also their place in the larger tradition of Robin Hood.

The sub-title for Marshall’s “Robin Hood Games,” Section 4, is “Customary performance and raising funds” and he brings the recording data into full analysis. Robin Hood scholars will know that these events are elusive, in that no texts have survived, the records are intermittent, and commentators have regarded them variously over time. Occurring, or at least recorded, irregularly in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with a clear emphasis on appearances in the south-west of England and, somewhat later, in Scotland, they were first understood as ritualistic regular late-May events, not linked to May-day but usually to a late May Whitsun, when Robin would lead a procession from the nearby wood, or forest, to the center of a town where celebratory events would place. As David Wiles showed in his 1981 book, this was eagerly interpreted by Robin Hood mythicists like Margaret Murray and Robert Graves as Robin the Forest Lord, or simply the Green Man, enacting a genial engagement with urban culture. But a closer study of the surviving records, by Marshall and others, was to dismiss this mythic myth. Their analysis indicated firstly that the play-game events were by no means regular—intermittently occasional would be a better description. Then it was shown that the records had a dominating interest in finance: both how much costumes, properties and services cost, and also how much was raised to pay for local expenses, sometimes roads and the like, but usually for the cost of repairs and improvements to the local church.
Marshall’s work in the reprinted essays substantially elaborates the anti-mythic elements of the “Robin Hood Games.” He shows that the “Robin Hood Collections” were financially much larger than the usual everyday activities—the Robin Hood income was usually up to four pounds, while the Christmas “hogglers” (a term of mysterious origin and implication), men going round beating on doors, would raise less than ten shillings. The only financial rival he finds is the “St George Chapel Ale” held at Christmas—as the play-games were also called “Robin Hood Ales,” the two events were presumably parallel in structure, if temporally different.

Marshall is confident that the merely occasional citation of Robin Hood play-game records is not accidental, or a sign of casual record-keeping, but rather indicates that Robin Hood urban activity was organized only when there was felt to be special and substantial need for public money. This certainty is intriguing, and he develops a context for it in the first essay in the section, a thorough account of the records, especially financial ones, of the Robin Hood games in Croscombe, Somerset, 1475-1538. These are churchwardens’ accounts, and the wardens themselves usually were central in presenting the games—Marshall reports they were “neither the wealthiest nor the poorest parishioners” and “for the most part they were craftsmen of middling status” (260-1). Recent research has shown that the south-western towns with Robin Hood play-games were not those run by royalty or aristocracy, but by just those tradesmen and churchwardens who populate the Croscombe records—hence Marshall’s judgement that Robin was a “hero of communalism and autonomy, where the individual derives strength from the mutual support of fellowship” (267).

If the play-games in this way are not regular nature-myth activities, if in social terms they exploit “horizontal ties,” not a “vertical line of hierarchy” (267), and also are special and lucrative events for social purposes, there remains the question of how they link to the Robin Hood outlaw myth, which is itself clearly in operation at just the time when the non-outlaw play-game records begin to appear. This interface is not a central theme for Marshall, but some of his detailed evidence seems to cast new light on the issue. One link appears through his description of the events of 1497 when Roger Marshall (well-named) was charged with leading a riotous assembly in Willenhall, Staffordshire. To free two men charged with assault, he came as Robin Hood and had, it was alleged, two hundred followers. In his defense, he said they were imitating the people who on “fere day” [fair] would gather money “to the profight of the chirches” [profit], led by Robin Hood or the Abbot of Marham. (Marham was a real Norfolk place-name, but was used at times—no doubt ironically suggesting “Mar-‘em”—in what seem to have been church-satirical play-games.)
Other early play-games and outlaw contacts exist. By about 1475 the Paston family were sponsoring a short Robin Hood play which clearly involves freeing men from the sheriff’s arrest, and seems to be a source for the later-recorded ballad “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.” It seems an easy step from the play-game communal hero to the outlaw opponent of brutal law, especially after a period of human and social strain like the mid-to-late fourteenth century. Another revealing link is to be found in Richard Tardif’s essay “The Mistery of Robin Hood,” which argues that the original audience of the ballads and the model for the outlaws were “urban journeymen”—not now serfs, but not trade business owners either—they were free, and variously oppressed, urban workers imagining through Robin Hood about a near-town collective and resistant natural utopia. Tardif’s essay is in Words and Words, ed. S. Knight and S. N. Mukherjee, Sydney, 1983.

The relative ease of movement from respectable small-town funding-collectors to forms of social resistance may well explain the sixteenth-century crack-down on Robin Hood play-games, as in Edinburgh in 1561, but there are other interesting products of Marshall’s research. His last essay, “Revisiting and Revising Robin Hood in Sixteenth-Century London,” offers a detailed account of three contexts. First, the activities of a robber who took the name “Greneleef” (also found in the Gest) and acted in Robin Hood pageants. Then comes the very elaborate 1515 royal pageant at Shooters Hill, near Greenwich. Finally he describes the mid-century account by Henry Machyn of Robin Hood pageants, including one for midsummer—time is shifting, as with the winter play-games in Scotland. Himself a tailor, Machyn probably produced some of the settings and costumes. London itself, like the south-western small towns, had its Robin Hood play-games/pageants that were intermittent, money-oriented and elaborate—and fascinatingly, and knowingly, Marshall reports that London itself was also not run by royalty or the aristocracy, but by its own churchwarden-like freemen.

Marshall’s long-standing interest in public pageants is recurrently informative in the collection—the genre has not in the past been linked enough with the play-games, and its special formality and importance may help to explain the irregularity and also the lucrative nature of the Robin Hood urban activities; the pageants too were far more than door-knocking. Marshall is also very interested in the elaborate play-games costumes, major elements in the financial records: he has a short essay on the appearance of Robin and others, including his compulsory “bycocket hat” and sometimes even ostrich feathers, and suggests that the finely-outfitted Robin had an impact not unlike that of Father Christmas.
Apart from the Robin Hood third of this collection, recurrently enlightening is the close study of the mystery plays. These are like the play-games church-oriented, but thematically meaningful rather than church re-building-linked: there seems to have been no special quest for income from them. They indeed have the regular role of mythic practice formerly and wrongly imagined for the play-games, and in general the mysteries have little overlap with the urban Robin Hood activities—apart perhaps from the use of the pageant wagons, which interest Marshall a good deal. They are one more item in the rich detail and searching analysis offered by this valuable collection of the essays of a major medieval scholar.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Reviews from the Greenwood: Renée Ward on Mark Truesdale’s The King and Commoner Tradition (2018)


Truesdale, Mark. The King and Commoner Tradition: Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature. Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture 4. New York and London: Routledge, 2018. ISBN: 978-0815364764. $155.00. 225pp.

Reviewed by Renée Ward
University of Lincoln

In his study, Truesdale traces the evolution of king and commoner tales in English and Middle Scots through the late medieval and early modern periods, with a brief foray into the eighteenth century. He suggests that the king and commoner tradition is highly adaptable, and that its mutable nature allows for it to be blended with other literary genres, including medieval romance, fabliau, outlaw ballads, and complaint literature. He also argues that this mutable nature renders the tradition accessible to a range of ideological positions, and that the previously understudied texts of his study reflect explicitly “on the nature of power, kingship, surveillance, revolt, and the commoner’s place in an often oppressive world” (1). The fifteenth-century comic texts in particular, he notes, provide a rare glimpse into the concerns of the commons, specifically into worries over the systemic and subjective violence (ranging in practice from excessive and exploitative taxes to physical abuse) that the lower classes suffered at the hands of the ruling elite. He then explores how the medieval texts give way to early modern ballads and chapbooks which increasingly rework the tradition as conservative and pro-monarchic propaganda. This shift, he notes, parallels the state’s increasing discomfort with and censorship of both carnival celebrations and printed materials. He thus shows how something once critical as a site of dissent becomes adopted and redeployed as part of official culture, consequently losing its revolutionary power.

Truesdale presents his argument chronologically, with an introduction, four chapters, conclusion, and appendices, and, overall, provides close-readings of a select group of texts using primarily Bakhtinian and Foucauldian lenses. The medieval king and commoner texts, he explains, typically self-identify as “bordes” or “bourdes,” short comedic ballads which include elements of revelry and mischief associated with the carnivalesque. Given this detail, and the study’s focus on power relations and inversions, the methodology is fitting, and Truesdale deftly demonstrates how Bakhtin, whose ideas have been less fashionable since the late twentieth century, still has a place in the critical realm. The introduction includes a thorough literature review of previous or related scholarship, highlighting the paucity of criticism on the king and commoner tales and the need for this study. It also includes a summary of the standard king and commoner narrative, noting key features such as the use of disguise by the king and his separation from peers, often while on a hunt; the frequently carnivalesque nature of the feasts within the story and their connection to inversions of the social hierarchy; and the reciprocal exchange between the king and his subject, with all of its inherent social obligations.

The chapters follow a tight structure, starting with a brief synopsis of their specific arguments and an overview of each text’s provenance and plot summary. These are followed by detailed synchronic and diachronic discussions of the text or text group upon which the chapter focuses. In Chapter 1, Truesdale establishes King Edward and the Shepherd (c. 1400-1450) as the pinnacle example of the king and commoner tale, suggesting that its inclusion of the greatest selection of traits from the wider tradition demonstrates how firmly established the genre was by the fifteenth century. In Chapter 2, he expands his discussion to include the contemporaneous John the Reeve (c. 1450), a tale that epitomizes the subversive nature of the king and commoner tradition. These early texts, he posits, contain content that threatens hegemonic structures. They operate primarily as sites of resistance, reveling in carnivalesque feasting and violence, with comedic moments arising from the violence inflicted upon the king’s body and the body politic, and, at the feast table, from the collapsing of boundaries between the commons and the elite. These elisions, he suggests, reflect the very real social upheavals of the period and the decline of feudalism.

In the next chapter, Truesdale examines groups of texts that demonstrate how, once established, the king and commoner tradition blends with other genres and ultimately anticipates the uses to which it will be put in the sixteenth century. He presents his texts in two groups, the first of which includes the only extant Middle Scots example of the tradition, Rauf Coilȝear (c. 1460), and what is, perhaps, the most examined of Robin Hood tales, A Gest of Robin Hood (c. 1495). These narratives embody all of the elements established in earlier texts but now blend these with other literary traditions—Carolingian romance and outlaw ballads, respectively—demonstrating the king and commoner tradition’s ability, once firmly established, to transgress generic boundaries in a way that enhances its carnivalesque identity. The next grouping, however, reveals what he considers the tradition’s “restlessness” (81) with its established identity. Both King Edward & the Hermit (c. 1500) and The King and the Barker (c. 1468), he suggests, demonstrate movement towards a less radical position than their antecedents, as their source of comedy shifts. Truesdale reveals how audiences previously invited to laugh alongside the fool, often at the king, are now instead invited to laugh at the fool alongside the king. The social inversions that threatened social hierarchies become subdued or subsumed by more conservative elements, a move he suggests anticipates the ideology of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts.

The final chapter has considerable breadth, exploring texts from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Truesdale breaks his discussion into three smaller sections, starting with broadside ballads from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—King Henry II and the Miller of Mansfield (1624), King Alfred and the Shepherd (1578), and King Henry VIII and the Abbot of Reading (c. 1680). He likens these narratives to the last text group in Chapter 3, identifying them as examples of the king and commoner tradition in transition. These texts ultimately favour the maintenance of social or class difference even if they hint at the possibility of boundary transgressions. Their radicalism, he remarks, is countered with conservativism. Truesdale then turns to ballads and chapbooks from the seventeenth century—King Edward IV and the Tanner of Tamworth (c. 1600), The King and the Cobler (c. 1680), The Royal Frolick (c. 1690), and King William III and the Loyal Forrister (c. 1689-1702)—arguing that these texts respond negatively to the radicalism of their predecessors, often eliminating core features considered potentially seditious in the seventeenth-century political climate, especially episodes of violence against the monarch’s body and, by extension, the body politic. Further, he unpacks how, especially in the latter two texts, the king and commoner narrative is redeployed after the Glorious Revolution and the ascension of William III explicitly as a form of pro-monarchic propaganda. Yet, in the final pages of the chapter, he also reveals how, in the same period, the king and commoner tradition takes on a different meaning in the north. Here he demonstrates how King James I and the Tinker (c. 1745) and several late Scottish tales concerning James V constitutes a form of nostalgia for the pre-union Scottish realm. While he concludes that King James I and the Tinker is a pro-English narrative, he simultaneously gestures to the king and commoner tradition’s ability to adapt yet again, returning to its roots as site of resistance, even if only subtly, in the Scottish stories of James V.

The volume closes with a brief conclusion that restates its major arguments, noting that the study only scratches the surface of the king and commoner literary tradition. Truesdale invites further examination not only of the texts he includes but also of their afterlives and of Bakhtinian approaches to the wider corpus. He rounds out the volume with three appendices that present analogues to and studies of the works in his volume. The temporal, geographic, and generic breadth of the material included in these appendices speak to his call for further study of the king and commoner tradition.

Overall, Truesdale’s clear structure, detailed outlines, and analyses render the volume a solid introduction to the king and commoner tradition and to the specific texts under examination. Individuals wanting to further their knowledge of these texts or of literary reflections of late medieval and early modern culture will benefit from the study, while those thinking of teaching these texts for the first time will find it a valuable resource. Individuals already teaching specific texts included in the study—A Gest of Robin Hood, for instance—will appreciate the fresh insight Truesdale offers. Further, the volume reminds readers that older methodologies do not necessarily amount to dated methodologies. His use of Bakhtin’s theories of the carnivalesque are particularly compelling. In short, he offers a sound critical framework and thorough exposition of his materials that is accessible to specialists and non-specialists alike.