Music of the Travelling People || European Drama of the Early Middle Agesby Richard Axton

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  • European Drama of the Early Middle Ages by Richard AxtonReview by: E. C. CawteFolk Music Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Music of the Travelling People (1975), pp. 89-90Published by: English Folk Dance + Song SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4521973 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 16:22

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  • amalgam. In addition, "folk plays" of some kind may have contributed to the development of stage drama. Such considerations by E. K. Cham- bers made him study the ritual drama in his Medieaval Stage (1903) and English Folk Play (1933).

    The book under review might be considered an updated Medieval Stage, but much shorter, and more readable. It is largely freed from Chamber's multiple polyglot foot notes, so that the reader is able to concentrate on Dr Axton's lively descriptions of the actions of the medieaeval dramas. The clerical perspective, implicit in the nature of many of the records, he tries to balance by a wide range of evitIence from several countries, and the mediaeval performers and audiences come to seem more like real people. They tease and joke, love and fight, and even wifbswapping and exploits similar to some in the Clockwork Orange are not twentieth century . , .

    nventlons.

    The author argues that there are three traditions of secular drama which contributed, with ecclesiastical drama, to plays from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. These three traditions are mimicry by profes- sional entertainers, the courtly dancing game, and combat, "the predominant pagan form of drama among the 'folk' of northern Eu- r ope" (pp. 11-12). The last is the tradition that will principally interest readers of this Journal. Chapter 2 is devoted to it, and several pages are about English traditional customs of the last hundred years or so. Here the author is much less satisfactory for two reasons. First because he assumes that these customs are ancient; it is true that he refers to this as a hypothesis, which he criti- cises by implication, but at once he drops the question to ponder "quite simply, why the plays continue to be performed" (p. 37). When resem- blances are found between nineteenth

    amalgam. In addition, "folk plays" of some kind may have contributed to the development of stage drama. Such considerations by E. K. Cham- bers made him study the ritual drama in his Medieaval Stage (1903) and English Folk Play (1933).

    The book under review might be considered an updated Medieval Stage, but much shorter, and more readable. It is largely freed from Chamber's multiple polyglot foot notes, so that the reader is able to concentrate on Dr Axton's lively descriptions of the actions of the medieaeval dramas. The clerical perspective, implicit in the nature of many of the records, he tries to balance by a wide range of evitIence from several countries, and the mediaeval performers and audiences come to seem more like real people. They tease and joke, love and fight, and even wifbswapping and exploits similar to some in the Clockwork Orange are not twentieth century . , .

    nventlons.

    The author argues that there are three traditions of secular drama which contributed, with ecclesiastical drama, to plays from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. These three traditions are mimicry by profes- sional entertainers, the courtly dancing game, and combat, "the predominant pagan form of drama among the 'folk' of northern Eu- r ope" (pp. 11-12). The last is the tradition that will principally interest readers of this Journal. Chapter 2 is devoted to it, and several pages are about English traditional customs of the last hundred years or so. Here the author is much less satisfactory for two reasons. First because he assumes that these customs are ancient; it is true that he refers to this as a hypothesis, which he criti- cises by implication, but at once he drops the question to ponder "quite simply, why the plays continue to be performed" (p. 37). When resem- blances are found between nineteenth

    all was meant to be a singing book and not an academic study of Cana- dian folksong.

    The song notes are informative and guitar chords have been pro- vided where they were felt appro- priate. The songs themselves are an interesting cross section of British and native Canadian, including a number, by now, well known in the British Isles through the Folksong Revival, pieces like the superb, "Plains of Waterloo". This number can be heard, sung by its source singer Mr O. J. Abbott, on the Leader Record, companion to the book. The album contains sixteen of the Penguin songs, talcen from Edith Fowke's own field recordings, and contains interesting biographical notes, and even an outline map of Eastern Canada. All the singers represented are well worth hearing, but two of my personal favourites were the man and wife duo Mr and Mrs Albert Simms, who sang beautifully in unison, and reminded me of two of my other favourite singers the Findlaters from the Orkneys.

    All in all a very successful project by Leader Records and Penguin books, and recommended.

    DAVE ARTHUR

    European Drama of the Early Middle Ages. RICHARD AXTON. HutcSl is1- son University Library, 1974. 227 pp. 2.45 (paperback edition). If the English Ritual Drama

    originated from a pagan ritual, then historical records are of great im portance, for there is a wide historical gap, and a cultural gap which is perhaps wider, between the earliest records of this drama and the period when pagan religion was practised in this country. On the other hand, if this drama arose at a much later period as an amalgam of dramatic art with innate human behaviour patterns, then historical records can hint at some of the elements in the

    all was meant to be a singing book and not an academic study of Cana- dian folksong.

    The song notes are informative and guitar chords have been pro- vided where they were felt appro- priate. The songs themselves are an interesting cross section of British and native Canadian, including a number, by now, well known in the British Isles through the Folksong Revival, pieces like the superb, "Plains of Waterloo". This number can be heard, sung by its source singer Mr O. J. Abbott, on the Leader Record, companion to the book. The album contains sixteen of the Penguin songs, talcen from Edith Fowke's own field recordings, and contains interesting biographical notes, and even an outline map of Eastern Canada. All the singers represented are well worth hearing, but two of my personal favourites were the man and wife duo Mr and Mrs Albert Simms, who sang beautifully in unison, and reminded me of two of my other favourite singers the Findlaters from the Orkneys.

    All in all a very successful project by Leader Records and Penguin books, and recommended.

    DAVE ARTHUR

    European Drama of the Early Middle Ages. RICHARD AXTON. HutcSl is1- son University Library, 1974. 227 pp. 2.45 (paperback edition). If the English Ritual Drama

    originated from a pagan ritual, then historical records are of great im portance, for there is a wide historical gap, and a cultural gap which is perhaps wider, between the earliest records of this drama and the period when pagan religion was practised in this country. On the other hand, if this drama arose at a much later period as an amalgam of dramatic art with innate human behaviour patterns, then historical records can hint at some of the elements in the

    89 89

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  • century mummers' plays and the Chester cycle, for example, they are used to suggest a "common tradition of popular acting" (p. 39). It could as well represent a common human reaction to similar circumstances, in the absence of any evidence to bridge the gap of four hundred years, or it could even be argued that on the contrary, the mummers' play arose from performances like the Chester cycle. Similar assumptions are made elsewhere (e.g. pp. 149, 176-7, 186). Presumably mediaeval villagers had their traditional customs, but there is little firm evidence of their nature, and even less to suggest that they resembled those of more recent times.

    Secondly, the author is ill-informed on traditional customs, and makes some mistakes. Olaus Magnus does not describe a "battle play" (p. 33). If the mediaeval fool plough was drawn about the village by plough- lads dressed in white (p. 40) the author does not mention his source, and this reviewer has not traced evidence for a single element in this description which could be attributed to the mediaeval period. The Abbot's Bromley horn dance does not include a wooing action between a clown, a "woman" and hobby horse (p. 51) (or even between only two of them !). The Papa Stour text of 1788, copied from a copy, can hardly be accepted as a source for "technical terms" (p. 167).

    The theory that the English drama- tic ritual originated from pagan ritual is based entirely on circum- stantial evidence. Though that evi- dence seems convincing, and no alternative theory has been co- herently argued, it is at its weak point that Dr Axton depends on it, or at least on the parallel assumption that the drama is of considerable an- tiquity.

    Anyone who depends on this book for information about traditional customs or their interpretation will

    century mummers' plays and the Chester cycle, for example, they are used to suggest a "common tradition of popular acting" (p. 39). It could as well represent a common human reaction to similar circumstances, in the absence of any evidence to bridge the gap of four hundred years, or it could even be argued that on the contrary, the mummers' play arose from performances like the Chester cycle. Similar assumptions are made elsewhere (e.g. pp. 149, 176-7, 186). Presumably mediaeval villagers had their traditional customs, but there is little firm evidence of their nature, and even less to suggest that they resembled those of more recent times.

    Secondly, the author is ill-informed on traditional customs, and makes some mistakes. Olaus Magnus does not describe a "battle play" (p. 33). If the mediaeval fool plough was drawn about the village by plough- lads dressed in white (p. 40) the author does not mention his source, and this reviewer has not traced evidence for a single element in this description which could be attributed to the mediaeval period. The Abbot's Bromley horn dance does not include a wooing action between a clown, a "woman" and hobby horse (p. 51) (or even between only two of them !). The Papa Stour text of 1788, copied from a copy, can hardly be accepted as a source for "technical terms" (p. 167).

    The theory that the English drama- tic ritual originated from pagan ritual is based entirely on circum- stantial evidence. Though that evi- dence seems convincing, and no alternative theory has been co- herently argued, it is at its weak point that Dr Axton depends on it, or at least on the parallel assumption that the drama is of considerable an- tiquity.

    Anyone who depends on this book for information about traditional customs or their interpretation will

    be led astray, but for those who are familiar with the customs it provides a revealing arld comprehensive view of drama when the customs may have been developing. It is a stimulating and interesting book.

    E. C. CAWTE

    The History of Street Literature. LESLIE SHEPARD. David and Charles, 1973. 238 PP. 3.50.

    The Story of Strcet Literature. Forerunner of the Popular Press. ROBERT COLLISON. Dent, 1973. 182 PP. 3.50. Any new book by Leslie Shepard

    is a welcome event, and The History of Street Literature can only add to this writer's already impressive repu- tation. Mr Shepard calls his book a "framework", rather as A. L. Lloyd called his Folksong in England a, "book for beginners", which is misleading. The book certainly can be read by the novice, who will discover much that is stimulating and fresh. Experts will, I believe, also value this book for the erudite opinions which grace so many pages. Mr Shepard's love for his subject is reflected in his writing and seldom has history been presented in so enjoyable a fashion.

    As in The Broadside Ballad (1962) Leslie Shepard dwells at length on the origins of balladry and not just street balladry at that and makes good use of his own researches into Indian mythology and folk- music. One may disagree with some of Mr Shepard's conclusions on ballad origins-one cannot, however, quarrel with his integrity, and his view must, I feel, be given fair con- sideration.

    By comparison the chapters de- devoted to "Printers and Publishers" and "Pedlars and Patters" are un- questionable models of their kind, packed full of useful facts and anec- dotes concerning both black and white-letter broadside printers and

    be led astray, but for those who are familiar with the customs it provides a revealing arld comprehensive view of drama when the customs may have been developing. It is a stimulating and interesting book.

    E. C. CAWTE

    The History of Street Literature. LESLIE SHEPARD. David and Charles, 1973. 238 PP. 3.50.

    The Story of Strcet Literature. Forerunner of the Popular Press. ROBERT COLLISON. Dent, 1973. 182 PP. 3.50. Any new book by Leslie Shepard

    is a welcome event, and The History of Street Literature can only add to this writer's already impressive repu- tation. Mr Shepard calls his book a "framework", rather as A. L. Lloyd called his Folksong in England a, "book for beginners", which is misleading. The book certainly can be read by the novice, who will discover much that is stimulating and fresh. Experts will, I believe, also value this book for the erudite opinions which grace so many pages. Mr Shepard's love for his subject is reflected in his writing and seldom has history been presented in so enjoyable a fashion.

    As in The Broadside Ballad (1962) Leslie Shepard dwells at length on the origins of balladry and not just street balladry at that and makes good use of his own researches into Indian...

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