Article Title

Staging Disorder: Charivari in the N-Town Cycle


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

The N-Town cycle's "Trial of Mary and Joseph" has several problematic passages, not the least of which is the lengthy speed delivered by Den the Summoner at the beginning of the play. The general consensus among editors and critics is that the list of alliterating names called out by the Summoner is a nonsensical joke. Joseph Bryant has argued that "[w]e are not to imagine, of course, that there were thirty-four supernumeraries present to receive Den's summons. It was simply addressed to the audience of the play."1 However, even if we accept that thirty-four actors is probably too large a crowd for the medieval stage, we need not assume that no one mounted the scaffold in response to Den's summons, or that the names are merely nonsense. Rather, I wish to argue that Den's list is carefully chosen to enumerate the members of a riding, and that some of the names were represented by people on stage. This interpretation of the Summoner's speech will also clarify several other problematic passages in the "Trial."


1 Joseph Allen Bryant Jr., "The Function of Ludus Coventriae 14," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 52 (1953): 341. Colin Fewer argues that "Den's inventory of the members of the 'rowte,' Sawdyr Sadelere, Thorn Tynkere, Perys Pottere, and so on, is of course an allegorization of the network of occupations that constitutes the East Anglian civic polity" ("The 'Fygure' of the Market: The N-Town Cycle and East Anglian Lay Piety," Philological Quarterly 77 [1998]: 130), and Cindy L. Carlson assumes that Den is summoning those called to court: "His victims, judging by their names that include.'Thorn Tynkere' and 'Symrne Smalfeyth,' are small fry indeed" ("Mary's Obedience and Power in the 'Trial of Mary and Joseph'," Comparative Drama 29 [ 1995]: 355). Both of these interpretations, however, account for a very limited number of the names called.

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