Darryll Grantley. English Dramatic Interludes, 1300-1580: A Reference Guide. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. xvi+427pp. ISBN 0 521 82078 2.

Scott Oldenburg
SUNY Buffalo

Oldenburg, Scott. Review of English Dramatic Interludes, 1300-1580: A Reference Guide. Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 9.1-5<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-3/revolden.html>.

  1. As a bibliography, Darryll Grantley’s English Dramatic Interludes, 1300-1580: A Reference Guide complements rather than supersedes D. Jerry White’s Early English Drama, Everyman to 1580: A Reference Guide, but Grantley includes in his bibliography articles written since the publication of White’s bibliography, and Grantley readily admits that he has not tried to create a comprehensive bibliography.  Instead, Grantley guides his readers through the historical, social, thematic, dramaturgical, rhetorical, and technical aspects of non-cycle plays up to the beginnings of London’s commercial theatres. Given the substantially different kind of guide Grantley has written, he has had to be selective in the bibliographical sections of the book.

  2. Grantley’s guide offers an overview of 104 early English dramatic texts and fragments organized alphabetically by title. Grantley uses the term interlude broadly and includes in the guide entries for interludes, moralities, histories, and saint plays, while omitting cycle drama, closet plays, and plays not in English. The omission of these sub-genres is justified in the Introduction, which would have benefited from a more detailed discussion of the various sub-genres and the conditions of their performance, but expanding the introduction may have taken Grantley further afield than he wanted to go, and much of that information is readily available in books like The Tudor Interlude: Stage, Costume, and Acting by T. W. Craik and, more recently, A New History of Early English Drama edited by John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan.

  3. What is left out by way of background material should not be much lamented, however, for Grantley offers a careful anatomy of each of the104 dramatic texts. Each play entry includes concise discussion under the following headings: “Date, Authorship and Auspices”; “Text and Editions”; “Sources”; “Characters”; “Plot Summary”; “Play Length”; “Commentary”; “Significant Topics and Narrative Features”; “Dramaturgical and Rhetorical Features”; “Place Names”; “Allusions”; and “Bibliography”. When appropriate, as in the entries for Magnificence and Gammer Gurton’s Needle, Grantley also includes headings for “Reports of Modern Productions” and “Recorded Productions,” and, in the case of Everyman, information on the concordance.

  4. Extraordinarily useful to anyone working on pre-Elizabethan drama, Grantley’s brief commentaries and lists of significant topics provide rich starting points for discussion of the way these plays engage in cultural debates regarding such topics as gender, Englishness, poverty, court corruption, primogeniture, and religion, all of which call out for the attention of current literary scholars who have tended to spend their time on the cultural valences of plays from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods. The lists of topical references also draw attention to the care with which Grantley has compiled his guide: in addition to broad issues like those listed above, Grantley lists, when appropriate, such colourful topics as “cooking with herbs” (159), “church ale” (297), and “demonic possession” (372). Likewise, the lists of allusions and dramaturgical and rhetorical features heighten one’s awareness of the too often overlooked sophistication of early English drama.  The bibliographical section of each entry also draws attention to those plays that await careful reading and analysis: while plays such as Fulgens and Lucres and Mary Magdalen (Digby) boast rather lengthy bibliographies, lesser known plays like Tom Tiler and His Wife, a play anxiously awaiting a feminist reading, has apparently laid claim to only one scholar’s attention since the 1970s.

  5. The end matter includes indices of characters and songs appearing in the 104 plays, brief biographies of known authors of the plays, a list of “Closet plays in English and non-cycle drama not in English,” an extensive general bibliography, and a list of books for further study.  This reader would also like to have seen the lists of significant topics and narrative features indexed, but the meticulousness of Grantley’s work should not be underestimated. The guide is well-organized, highly informative, and well-written, and will prove an asset to students and seasoned scholars alike.  It will hopefully spark new scholarship in pre-Elizabethan drama, for Grantley’s guide offers a road map to critical discussion rather than a list of articles; rather than show us where others have already been, it points in directions we might chart.  

Works cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).