Since its inception in 1978, the publishing program of the series Medieval
and Renaissance Texts and Studies has upheld a high scholarly standard. This
is maintained with one of the series' most recent instalments, a revised edition
of David Bergeron's landmark study of English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642,
originally published with University of South Carolina Press in 1971. English
Civic Pageantry was, and still is, the only comprehensive overview of
early modern pageantry. The book has exerted a formative influence on criticism
devoted to occasional drama and renaissance performance culture more generally.
In its revised form, English Civic Pageantry includes a new introduction,
updated footnotes and bibliography, and, in places where the discovery of
new evidence has problematised conclusions drawn in the 1971 edition, considerable
rewriting. The reappearance of Bergeron's seminal work is a welcome event
for early modernists, and one that will, hopefully, provoke new investigations
into the politics, aesthetics, and social conditions of civic pageantry.
English Civic Pageantry is divided into three sections. The first
section looks at summer progresses and royal entries, with separate chapters
dedicated to the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline periods. Bergeron lays
out detailed historical backgrounds for well-known festivities, such as Elizabeth's
1559 entry (for which we have Richard Mulcaster's famous narrative text);
but also brings to light less familiar events, such as the 1561 entry of Mary
Queen of Scots into Edinburgh, astutely reconstructed from Edinburgh city
records (28-9). A perceptive reader encounters numerous invitations for further
research in the first section of Bergeron's book. One is struck, for example,
by the author's account of the entertainments mounted during Queen Anna's
1613 progress to Cawsome House, Bristol, and Wells, an episode that has received
hardly any critical attention, despite increased scholarly interest in Anna
and her cultural milieu (96-8).
Part II deals with the London Lord Mayor's Shows, primarily (though not
exclusively) an early Stuart form of public spectacle. Individual chapters
are devoted to the major writers of Lord Mayor's Shows: Anthony Munday, Thomas
Dekker, Thomas Middleton, and Thomas Heywood. Another chapter examines the
shows scripted by minor pageant-poets, John Squire, John Webster, and John
Taylor. As well as illuminating the subtle stylistic differences of these
writers, Bergeron perceptively locates correspondences between the civic pageantry
and other areas of the authors' canons, particularly the drama. This comparative
approach is a characteristic of the book as a whole. In the last chapter,
for example, the discussion of the pageants' use of emblem-book imagery offers
ample opportunity for comparison with the markedly emblematic theatre of Shakespeare.
Bergeron encourages just such cross-genre thinking in his new Introduction,
pointing out that "Glynne Wickham has persuasively argued that the Shakespearean
stage was emblematic as opposed to photographically real; we may add with
him that the pageant theatre stands as the quintessence of emblematic theatre"
It is, no doubt, Bergeron's ability to keep his very focused area of enquiry
in constant communication with other aspects of early modern culture that
has made English Civic Pageantry endure as a text of central importance
in renaissance studies. Not only are parallels consistently drawn between
civic pageantry and the drama, other forms of occasional spectacle, such as
court masques, are also included in the analyses. At other times, we are asked
to consider English pageantry in a European context, as in Part I when Bergeron
looks at elite entries in the Low Countries. The penultimate chapter of the
book, 'Body: Men and Machines', situates civic pageantry within the social
and economic networks of the early modern English city. It examines various
forms of collaboration between carpenters, painters, guild officials, and
writers. As well as elucidating the methods of pageant production, this chapter
serves as a valuable case study in the shifting hierarchies of local governance
between 1558 and 1642.
In his opening Acknowledgements, David Bergeron says that he has "found
these pageants to be rich in accomplishment and crucial in understanding English
culture of the Tudor and Stuart periods" (x). The chapters that follow certainly
persuaded this reviewer to partake of Bergeron's view. English Civic Pageantry
is unstintingly shrewd in its textual analyses, always meticulous in its use
of documentary evidence, and persistently responsive to the socio-political
world within which civic pageants were conceived. It is unlikely that this
book will wane in significance anytime soon.
Responses to this piece intended for
the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.