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Friday 5 April 2024

7:00pm – Optional meal at a local restaurant. (See 'Food and Drink' for more information.)  

Saturday 6 April 2024 – The Boiler House, Newcastle University

10:00am - Registration, with refreshments
10:45am  - Welcome and Opening of METh2024
11:00am - 12:30pm – Session 1: Illuminating the Margins 

12:30pm - 1:30pm – Lunch (at venue) 
1:30pm - 3:00pm – Session 2: Drama on the Margins

3:00pm - 3:30pm – Break with refreshments
3:30 - 5:00pm – Session 3: Pre-Dramatic Theatre Panel

    • Pre-Dramatic Theatre’, Eleanor Rycroft (University of Bristol), Clare Wright (University of Kent), Greg Walker (University of Edinburgh)

5:00pm - 5:30pm – Closing Break with refreshments
5:30pm - 6:30pm – Medieval English Theatre Society AGM (all welcome)
6:30pm – End
[Possible additional evening meal]



Please find below the abstracts in running order. 

Session 1: Illuminating the Margins

Dramatic Margins

Speaker: Charlotte Steenbrugge (University of Sheffield)
Abstract: Dramatic margins (prologues, epilogues, outer plays) very rarely feature women; a fact which is rarely commented on in scholarship. In this paper I want to offer an overview of when and where women are used. Using one or two plays as a text case, I will offer further insight into reasons why playwrights may have opted to use women in order to frame their play, and what the effects of female presenters for the overall play may be.
Bio: I work predominantly on Dutch, English, and Italian drama and work at the University of Sheffield.

Christ Riding the Stang

Speaker: Philip Butterworth (University of Leeds)
Abstract: 'Riding the Stang' is an English custom first recorded in the eighteenth century. The purpose of the event was to punish a man or a woman (usually a man) for beating his wife. A version of this practice was known as 'The Skimmington' and in this case it was usually a woman who was made to ride the stang for beating her husband. The stang was a pole or a beam of wood upon which the guilty person was made to ride as a form of punishment by being carried throughout the village while being subjected to the torment and ridicule of the villagers.

In the Beverley Corpus Christi Play, the pageant of the Crucifixion was replaced by two pageants referred to as 'The Streynynge' and 'The Stangynge' and it is 'The Stangynge'  that refers to that part of the Crucifixion with Christ on the Cross. Chist's Cross is sometimes referred to as the 'beam' which is also a word for the 'stang'. Christ is referred to in the Towneley Crucifixion as riding his 'palfrey' (his Cross). He too may be therefore seen to be riding his stang.

This potential relationship between Christ riding his cross and the custom of Riding the Stang will be discussed.

Bio:  Philip Butterworth is visiting scholar in the School of History at the University of Leeds.

Narrating from the Margins

Speakers: Sarah Grandage (University of Nottingham) and Dana Key (University of Nottingham)
Abstract: Contemporary performances of Middle English plays [are relatively infrequent, beyond a limited range of contexts]. When performances do occur, they must contend with many challenges, from audiences and student actors meeting the language for the first time to time, performance space restrictions and budgetary constraints.  This paper discusses the innovative ways through which we  approached these challenges to perform two plays from the York cycle at Nottingham Castle as part of the nation-wide ‘Being Human’ Festival in November 2023.  The concept was to ‘bring to life’ through drama scenes related to the Castle’s collection of medieval alabasters, Nottingham’s main industry during the late medieval period.  Given two weeks from audition to performance, working with student actors, on a very limited budget, we adapted our plays (Joseph’s Trouble about Mary and The Nativity) in various ways.  Firstly, we edited the texts, combining two handmaidens into one role and had one actor doubling that role with the role of the Angel Gabriel.  We also gently modernised the language, offering the student actors dialogue with some more natural, modern English speech patterns , whilst still endeavouring to preserve the rhyme scheme to signal their cues.  The final and most innovative of the strategies was to create a new role, that of a narrator. We reallocated a considerable number of more descriptive lines to this narrator. This served a pragmatic purpose of reducing the amount of time required of the actors to learn their lines.   The narrator was positioned at a podium on the margins of the performance space from where they delivered the script.  This obviated the less-desirable alternative of a ‘staged reading’ with scripts in hand, allowing the actors to move freely around the space when actively speaking, and, whilst the narrator spoke, to position themselves in tableaux vivant echoing the intricate carved alabaster scenes projected on a large screen behind the stage.

The narrator at the margins, therefore, facilitated the performance work of the actors, as well as guiding the understanding of the audience of Being Human festival visitors and those passing through the Castle’s art gallery. 
Bios:  Dr Sarah Grandage is an actor, theatre maker and Associate Professor in Drama and Performance in the University of Nottingham’s School of English. / Dr Dana Key holds a PhD in Medieval and Early Modern English drama from University College London and is a Teaching Associate in Medieval Literature in the University of Nottingham’s School of English.


Session 2: Drama on the Margins 

Reconsidering the Ludic Figures in Kuperstichkabinett MS 78 D5 

Speakers: Nadia van Pelt (Delft University of Technology) and Olivia Robinson (University of Birmingham)
Abstract: Kupferstichkabinett MS 78D5 (Staatliche Museen Berlin) is a manuscript sized 35,6 by 25 cm, containing 60 extant images drawn with pen and ink and coloured in with watercolours. Short texts in Latin are presented on the verso sides of the preceding pages, facing the images, and explaining and interpreting them. The manuscript presents an account of the Joyous Entry of Juana of Castile in Brussels on 9 December 1496, following her marriage to Archduke Philip the ‘Handsome’ on 20 October of that year. The manuscript has been studied intensively through different lenses, in particular with a focus on the tableaux vivants that had been presented to Juana. Attention has also been given to the ludic figures depicted as joining the civic procession but they have been interpreted as figures of ‘humour’ or ‘parody’. In this paper, we follow up on an important but hitherto unexplored observation made by Gordon Kipling in 2001, and offer an alternative reading to the procession documented.
Bios: Nadia van Pelt is a lecturer at Delft University of Technology. Her book Intercultural Explorations at the Court of Henry VIII (OUP, 2024) is out now. Olivia Robinson is a lecturer in late-medieval literature at University of Birmingham and works on the Medieval Convent Drama Project. She is the author of Contest, Translation, and the Chaucerian Text (Brepols, 2020)

The Drama of the Scaffold: Punishment and Performance in Medieval France.

Speaker: Margaret Pappano (Queen’s University, Canada)
Abstract: In the high and late Middle Ages, the issue of whether condemned criminals were entitled to penitential and eucharistic succor varied widely. In England, Italy and parts of Germany, for instance, criminals routinely received the eucharist after their last confession. The French decision to administer penance without communion introduced a certain ambiguity into the execution ritual, for the sign that the sinner was reintegrated into the Christian community and a subject for salvation was thus marked by the body of the priest, not the body of God. In the spectacular theatre of pain, punishment, and judgment that characterized premodern public executions, the attending priest was positioned to act as the guarantee of the criminal’s status as saved or damned, and therefore the truth of the scaffold was ultimately tied to his performance. Yet, the audience went to the scaffold to interpret the criminal’s action for themselves, seeking signs of repentance or defiance, making the execution potentially a site of crisis in which the criminal might challenge state and church power. There has been much scholarship on late medieval and early modern public executions; however, there has been little focus on the priest on the scaffold in these studies. Although glimpsed in visual art and mentioned in chronicles, the priest in the execution ritual remains undertheorized. I will focus on an example of how the priest’s body “interpreted” or “performed” the criminal’s penance for him in relation to the case of the renegade priest, Jean Langlois, from 1493, a case in which the condemned man refused to repent. By examining a number of accounts from chronicles and judicial records, I will discuss how the attending priest, Jean Standonck, attempted to control the crisis of the scaffold by transforming his own body into a penitential spectacle. 
Bio: Margaret Pappano is an Associate Professor of English at Queen's University in Canada and the co-author of The Civic Cycles: Artisan Drama and Identity in Premodern England


Henry Adamson’s The Muses Threnodie as Para-drama  

Speakers: David Parkinson (University of Saskatchewan) and Pamela King (University of Glasgow)
Abstract: Post-Reformation Scotland was not a hospitable environment for theatre, and yet it is rich in para-dramatic texts. This paper will introduce the meeting to a curious example rather later  in date than the maelstrom of polemical dialogues that characterised religious debate. Henry Adamson's _The Muses Threnody_, published in 1638, with prefatory commendations from, among others, William Drummond of Hawthornden, reconstructs the voices of two citizens of Perth, Monsieur George Ruthven and Master James Gall, two known Perth eccentrics. The narrative voice is that of the ancient Monsieur George, lamenting his younger but now deceased companion Gall. Monsieur George recollects and reconstructs the conversations of the two friends, as they wandered the environs of Perth and, in particular, the banks of the River Tay. Adamson, the author, presents his readers with the spry Monsieur George as the narrator, with his exhaustive ‘cabinet' of classical learning applied somewhat bathetically to his native city, and the pompous windbag young Gall for whose opinions George is full of admiration. The matter, in rhymed verse that dips in and out of Scots and English, defies genre, but may best be described as a chorography covering the highlights of Scottish history as they apply to Perth and its current interests, particularly the hoped-for reconstruction of the bridge over the Tay destroyed in the flood of 1621. 
Bios:  David Parkinson is Professor emeritus in English at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. His work concerns literature in premodern Scotland. Recently he was awarded a British Academy Visiting Fellowship to complete an edition of Henry Adamson's The Muses Threnodie for the Scottish Text Society (forthcoming 2024). Under the title 'Walking Perth's Past', this award is also supporting postdoctoral work on a podcast and research workshop. 

Pamela King is Professor Emerita of Medieval Studies in the University of Glasgow. Her most recent work is a chapter on sixteenth and seventeenth Scots drama for the forthcoming Oxford History of Drama in Scotland, edited by Randall Stevenson and Greg Walker. As a member of the Board of the Scottish Text Society she has been supporting David Parkinson’s work on the edition of The Muses Threnodie.  

Session 3: Pre-Dramatic Theatre Panel

Pre-Dramatic Theatre

Speakers: Eleanor Rycroft (University of Bristol), Clare Wright (University of Kent), Greg Walker (University of Edinburgh)
Abstract: Medieval performance tends to occupy a marginal role in terms of theatre and performance studies as a discipline, despite the fact that applying its techniques, conventions, practices and genres to postmodern and postdramatic theory is critically generative and historically sound. This panel will showcase the research currently being undertaken by the authors of the forthcoming book 'Predramatic Theatre' – Eleanor Rycroft, Clare Wright and Greg Walker - and their efforts to resituate medieval performance as a crucial part of theatre history and historiography. They will demonstrate the value of using the frameworks of thinkers such as Hans-Thies Lehmann, Jo Machon, Mike Shanks and others to medieval performance, while arguing that a failure to historicise theatre in contemporary performance studies leads to lacunae and unevidenced leaps from critics who wish to continually claim for twenty-first theatre an unparalleled capacity for 'newness' and innovation.
Bios: Eleanor Rycroft is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at University of Bristol; Clare Wright is Senior Lecturer in English at University of Kent; Greg Walker is Regius Professor of English Literature at University of Edinburgh