Records of Early English Drama is a long-running initiative maintained by an international cast of theatre historians and housed at the University of Toronto. Over the past thirty years, it has revolutionised the study of the history of performance in Britain and Ireland by discovering and publishing a vast wealth of records of performance from almost every part of England and Wales; this has enabled historians of performance to reinterpret the study of dramatic texts with a factual knowledge of contexts and practical details.  However, much of its work has been concerned with politically important centres such as London and Oxford, which tend to over-represent the dramatic and musical interests of a small social elite.

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North-East Focus

reed_ne_front_mapA thorough study of the  hitherto largely neglected records of the North-East of England, for which REED has so far covered only the (rather untypical) cities of York and Newcastle, will, among its other objectives, inform the scholarly debate by redressing this imbalance. Areas covered include:

We will make available a wide range of material which is poorly represented elsewhere, including traditions of folk performance, detailed descriptions of religious ceremonies and processions, and extensive evidence for illegal recusant drama. The period range will run from the earliest surviving records in the 8th or 9th century to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. As well as surveying the Ridings of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, REED North-East will publish newly discovered material on York and Newcastle.

All future surveys of performance in England will have to take REED-NE’s rich haul of evidence into consideration.

Research Questions

We shall concentrate on these questions:

  • What is the full extent of the surviving records, and how should they be interpreted?
  • Can the information gleaned from each county throw light on that gathered from the others, both within the North-East and more widely in England as a whole?
  • What differences in genres, extent and range of performance can be seen between the North-East and other parts of England, and to what extent are these differences attributable to the region’s remoteness from the centre of royal and economic power?
  • How did the Reformation affect performance in the region? Did theatre have an impact on the religious outlook of the period, before and after England’s break with Rome?
  • What can new research methods, such as GIS mapping, bring to studies in literature and drama, and how might they change the discipline?

We will test the following hypotheses:

  • That while the York mystery cycle was particularly elaborate, the Corpus Christi plays of other north-eastern towns (Beverley, Doncaster, Durham and Newcastle) each had their own distinctive character.
  • That Corpus Christi plays were linked to a pre-existing tradition of liturgical ceremonies.
  • That the dramatic traditions of the North-East tended to be Catholic and conservative; after the Reformation they included an important recusant element which enjoyed wide popular support at various social levels.
  • That the North-East had circuits of travelling performers, usually under patronage, by the 14th century; these circuits did not usually rely on London companies.
  • That there was a lively tradition of town waits.
  • That by the 14th century, the North-East possessed a distinctive tradition of folk performances, some types of which were still recorded in living tradition in the 19th century.