The Earliest Middle English Interludes


The known interludes and non-cycle plays of medieval England are few: in a recent comprehensive survey, only two English-language dramatic texts predate 1400. These two texts, Interludium de Clerico et Puella and Pride of Life, survived in manuscript forms that clearly resemble a play-script, and such scripts are notoriously fragile. A singular focus on plays that, in their medieval form, look like plays has thus resulted in an extremely limited canon. Recently, Carol Symes and Allen J. Frantzen have each proposed methods by which additional early dramatic works might be identified. Symes has shown that manuscripts of Old French dramatic texts take various forms, while Frantzen has located inherent textual qualities in Anglo-Saxon poetry that point to drama. Drawing on both methods, I argue for the expansion of the canon of early English interludes. Specifically, I identify three additional early-fourteenth-century interludes: Dame Siriz, De Clerico et Puella, and Harrowing of Hell. Preserved in large miscellanies, these texts have long been classified not as drama but as poetry. Upon closer inspection, however, the medieval miscellanies themselves contain evidence that attests the performance of these works. Within the texts, features such as direct address and implied gesture make a compelling case for drama. My study thus yields an expansion of the theatrical canon, in terms both of the number of texts and of their antiquity, opening the door for the further identification of early dramatic texts.

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