"This game wel pleyd in good a-ray": The N-Town Playbooks and East Anglian Games


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

When scholars discuss an integral play text, they usually envision a performance much like that text. When we read a dramatic anthology, however, we suspend our notions of textual dramaturgical integrity. In the latter case we think instead of staging only the discrete dramatic units (whatever selections are there), not about how the entire collection would play together. We face an analogous problem when we approach the N-Town manuscript, one of the four major English cycle texts. It is a cycle that includes most of the expected plays from Creation to Doomsday, and yet it is a manuscript that the compiler transformed through his various interpolations. What began as a modest cycle ended up as an agglomerative manuscript that exhibits the rich variety of East Anglian drama and its theatrical organizations. I do not argue with Timothy Fry, Rosemary Woolf, and Martin Stevens, who say that the manuscript has its own type of integrity.1 I do expect, however, that the manuscript's eclecticism should inform not only a "New Criticism" reading of the text but also eclectic dramatic interpretations as well. The recent editions by Peter Meredith and Stephen Spector will certainly invite re-examinations of the text and East Anglian records. When we begin with paleographic analyses and the manuscript's own claims about the drama, we find the N-Town codex more an elegant compilation of different East Anglian games than a single organization's dramatic cycle.

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