The civic religious drama of late medieval England—financed, produced, and performed by craftspeople—offers one of the earliest forms of written literature by a non-elite group in Europe. In this innovative study, Nicole R. Rice and Margaret Aziza Pappano trace an artisanal perspective on medieval and early modern civic relations, analyzing selected plays from the cities of York and Chester individually and from a comparative perspective, in dialogue with civic records. Positing a complex view of relations among merchants, established artisans, wage laborers, and women, the two authors show how artisans used the cycle plays to not only represent but also perform their interests, suggesting that the plays were the major means by which the artisans participated in civic polity.
In addition to examining selected plays in the context of artisanal social and economic practices, Rice and Pappano also address relations between performance and historical transformation, considering how these plays, staged for nearly two centuries, responded to changes in historical conditions. In particular, they pay attention to how the pressures of Reformist governments influenced the meaning and performance of the civic religious drama in both towns. Ultimately, the authors provide a new perspective on how artisans can be viewed as social actors and agents in England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Nicole R. Rice is professor of English at St. John’s University, author of a number of books and essays, and co-author of The Civic Cycles: Artisan Drama and Identity in Premodern England (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015).
Margaret Aziza Pappano is associate professor of English at Queen's University.
"Nicole R. Rice and Margaret Aziza Pappano present the most powerful argument to date about the ways that cycle plays allowed artisans to perform their changing socioeconomic identities in English towns over several centuries. Their impressive and detailed knowledge of the craft cultures of both towns supports a fascinating new comparison between York’s and Chester’s versions of biblical history." —Kathleen Ashley, University of Southern Maine
"The Civic Cycles is an outstanding take on the urban dramas of medieval York and Chester, complementing previous historicist scholarship on these plays while expanding the political frame of reference. This volume is poised to become a major book in early English drama studies, a text that coordinates and assimilates all of the revisionary historicist work on the cycles from the previous two decades even as it takes that historicism to the next level of complexity." —Robert W. Barrett, Jr., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Suitable for undergraduates and advanced scholars alike, this lucidly written and solidly documented analysis of the Chester and York cycles offers a welcome return to questions of urban commerce and social identity in civic religious drama. It convincingly shows the central place of artisanal aspirations and concerns and the complex and, at times, combative relationship of the artisan companies with their mercantile superiors, on the one hand, and the underclass of unskilled laborers and urban poor, on the other. Rice and Pappano offer a fresh reappraisal of the decline and cessation of the cycles, taking an original approach to economic factors (e.g., new poor laws) intersecting with political and religious opposition. The book is an important contribution to early English drama studies." —Paul Whitfield White, Purdue University
“This heady and poignant volume gathers and revises a number of important essays on the Civic Cycles by Nicole R. Rice and Margarete Aziza Pappano, peers and pioneers in studying the social history of the genre. . . . The chapters progress with consistent rhetorical energy, as the voices of these critics blend harmoniously, displaying what must have been some substantial collaborative effort at crafting a unified tone and rhetoric.” —Comitatus
“This detailed, nuanced historical material allows them to make strong, equally nuanced claims about how the guilds made use of the various plays they produced. From the ways artisans used the drama to differentiate themselves from merchant, to the ways in which servants and women were treated as unruled labor in need of control, Rice and Pappano show how the civic plays offer a rich understanding of the complex world of work, city life, and, most important, the interactions between different levels of society.” —Choice
"As is fitting for a book about the collaborative work that was medieval drama, this study of the York and Chester cycle plays over the longue durée of their performance history is itself a joint venture by two scholars whose voices blend seamlessly into the final product: a fascinating, finely executed monograph that should become essential reading for all who study and teach medieval and early modern drama in general and the English cycle plays in particular." —Speculum
“It is therefore with considerable pleasure that I opened Nicole Rice and Maragaret Pappano’s new study . . . Rice and Pappano have built the structure of their argument on the work of the scholars who are principally responsible for the changes in our understanding of the field; it is also heartening to see that they have incorporated the work of a number of younger scholars who have been nurtured on this new understanding.” —Renaissance Quarterly
“Nicole F. Rice and Margaret Aziza Pappano . . . [engage] closely with the texts to tease out social attitudes and contrast the messages presented in two differing structures of urban government. . . . The authors draw on an extensive range of primary and secondary material to present a closely argued case.” —Sixteenth Century Journal
“For the first time, we have a well-researched and helpful study of the place of the artisan class in the production of the civic religious drama.” —Early Theatre
The David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies