Richard Dutton, Alison Findlay and Richard Wilson,
eds. Region, Religion and Patronage: Lancastrian Shakespeare.
Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003. xiv+258pp. ISBN 0 7190 6369 8.
- This timely collection of essays both rides the wave of an upsurge of interest
in the cultural geography of the early modern period and makes a significant
contribution to the regional and provincial inflection of theatre history.
The collection is intelligently arranged, and allows fruitful internal echoes
and conversations to emerge across its pages. It is a collection that is undoubtedly
the sum of its parts. On first glance, some of the essays appear to sit oddly
in a collection that purports, at least in its subtitle, to be about “Lancastrian
Shakespeare”. There are several contributions with a specifically Lancastrian
theme, but many others interpret the remit of the main title, “Region, Religion
and Patronage” in a wider geographical context. Nevertheless, read as a whole
there is an admirable coherence to the collection.
- A genuine strength of the approaches represented is the surprisingly comfortable
blend of archival and theoretical methodologies offered: the work of Bordieu,
Foucault, Bachelard, and Geertz rests largely unproblematically alongside
calls for continued archival research. Suzanne Westfall, a pioneer in many
respects of the scholarship now being produced on the early modern household
as a theatrical site, asks for us to look for drama even where a dramatic
text is not extant. She suggests we seek for evidence in “financial accounts,
chronicles, archaeological digs, letters, biographies, local histories, legal
documents, paintings, and sculpture” (42) and many of the essays gathered
here put this call into practice. As a result, the considerable influence
of the ongoing findings of the Records in Early English Drama project on the
working practices of many early modern theatre historians is fittingly acknowledged.
- The value of this rich collection lies most obviously, however, in its
delineation of the various spaces and places by which early modern communities
understood themselves: household, region, county, neighbourhood, and “cultural
province” among them. There is a particularly eloquent articulation of the
latter in Mary Blackstone’s essay on Lancashire as a “cultural neighbourhood”
in the sixteenth century. She expertly details how a “cultural province” might
cut across more formally designated county borders, and indicates the resonance
of this for Shakespeare as a resident of the “Severn/Avon” province (the significance
of the river as an alternative geographical marker of identity is fascinating),
as well as being a “Warwickshire” man as so many recent biographies of the
“provincial playwright” have been anxious to stress. Elsewhere, this focus
on the micropolitics of the household or estate in this period starts to explain
the inclusion of those essays which seemed on first appearance to have strayed
beyond the remit of the collection. Essays on households in Shakespearean
drama, for example, reveal the shaping impact of calendrical and festive patterns
on household theatre in the period and in turn shed light on discussions of
that domain elsewhere in the volume. The discussions of touring players and
companies allows for the ways in which dramatists such as Jonson, previously
understood in a predominantly urban metropolitan context, might have had direct
access to provincial practices.
- Of course, the significance of Lancastrian cultural practice to Shakespeare
is an important undertow to this collection and to the conference in which
it found its own provenance. The hand of co-editor Richard Wilson is clearly
felt in the speculation on Shakespeare’s possible residency in the recusant
Catholic communities of the province during his so-called “lost years”. Several
essays have a predominantly Shakespearean focus, but this is complimented
by other sections of the collection that look at subjects ranging from Lancastrian
recusancy, to the familial contexts for religious communities in this period,
to aristocratic theatrical patronage.
- The patronage networks stemming from aristocratic households are explored
by means of the facilitating local example of the Earls of Derby and their
purpose-built Elizabethan playhouse, which operated at Knowsley, near Liverpool,
in the 1580s. The Derbys’ estate is described as “a northern equivalent to
a royal court” (8), and the interrogation of the regional politics of his
theatrical and cultural interests here provides an enabling template for current
scholarship on other regional magnates, including William Cavendish, 1st
earl of Newcastle, and his dramatic patronage in the East Midlands during
the 1630s. This is the enduring strength and academic value of the collection:
the essays stand in themselves as examples of insightful and, in several instances,
pioneering scholarship, but they also offer invaluable templates for future
work in the wider scholarly community. This serves as a timely reminder of
the intellectual value of essay collections per se at a time when publishers
– and occasionally funding bodies – appear to have a much diminished understanding
of the vital contribution to our research culture that they make.
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).