James Stokes, ed. Records of Early English Drama: Somerset. (Including Bath, ed. Robert J. Alexander). 2 Vols. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1996. xi+1141 pp. ISBN 0 8020 0459 8 Cloth.
James Cummings
University of Leeds

Cummings, James. "Review of Records of Early English Drama: Somerset." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.1 (May, 1998): 10.1-11 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-1/rev_cum2.html>.

  1. The REED: Somerset volumes are another valuable addition to REED's growing collection of volumes of edited dramatic records. As all those interested in renaissance entertainment should know, the aim of the project is "to find, transcribe, and publish external evidence of dramatic, ceremonial, and minstrel activity in Great Britain before 1642" (vi). In this case the editor, James Stokes, has gathered together all the records able to be found concerning Somerset, including Bath, whose records were collected by Robert J. Alexander.

  2. There are two REED: Somerset volumes. The first contains the acknowledgements, table of symbols, and the meticulously edited records. These records themselves are divided into sections on Boroughs and Parishes (from Ashcott to Yeovil), Households, the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and the County of Somerset. While these divisions clearly make sense, they are not indicated in the table of contents for that volume, which simply lists them as "The Records" and does not note the sections themselves. This might prove confusing for those not having read the ample introduction contained, unexpectedly, in the second volume. The records themselves are very carefully edited and all expansions are noted in italics. Although the "evidence about entertainment in Somerset begins in 1225" (475), the majority of the extant records are from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and seem to indicate that "bull- and bearbaiting must have been the most popular form of entertainment in the county" (594).

  3. Volume Two contains all of the editorial apparatus in order to enable its simultaneous use with the other volume. It begins with an introduction that contains a useful section on the historical background to the county during the period, including summaries of the civic histories of Bath, Bridgwater, Glastonbury, and Wells. This is followed by historical examinations of the 'Diocese of Bath and Wells' and well-known "Private Households." The introduction continues with a highly useful section on "Drama, Music, and Popular Customs." As these topics will be of interest to most readers, it is of great benefit to have a detailed examination of these activities by the editor since he is most familiar with the context from which the records have been extracted. This section draws attention to many of the interesting discoveries and trends noticed in researching the volume. If one is interested in early entertainment then this, and similar sections in other REED volumes, prove to be an invaluable aid in understanding the dramatic context of the period. It is broadly divided into discussions of the "Traditional Entertainment" mounted by communities and the "Touring Professional Entertainers."

  4. Within both of these sub-sections, various communities are surveyed for their amateur and professional entertainments. Moreover, in the discussion of "Traditional Entertainment" there are general examinations of "Playing Places," "Playing Conventions," and "Women and Performance," all of which add great detail to our knowledge of early drama not only in Somerset, but in England as a whole. "Playing Places" investigates the various locations in which entertainment took place discussing the use (and perceived abuse) of church property, guildhalls, inns, city streets, open fields, and baiting sites. "Playing Conventions" explores the techniques of representation and although they seem "to have been generated mainly by word, action and movement" (493), the properties, scenery, and especially the use of costume, are briefly surveyed. The discussion of "Women and Performance" indicates that, contrary to popular belief, women were indeed involved in early drama, and a variety of entertainments, at an early date. The sub-section discussing "Touring Professional Entertainers" examines a variety of travelling performers as they go through Bath, Bridgwater, and Wells. This is followed by a brief discussion of the "Waits and Local Musicians" in these same cities, and then the "Royal Visits" which concentrates on Queen Anne's visits to Bath and Wells.

  5. The next section of the introduction is entitled "The Documents" and is a detailed document description of all the documents from which extracts have been transcribed. The meticulous descriptions are organised in the same manner as the records themselves. Moreover, as all classmarks, as well as a variety of documentary idiosyncrasies, are provided, researchers are well equipped to return to the original documents if they choose.

  6. The section following the document descriptions is, rightly, a discussion of the project's "Editorial Procedures." This describes their "Principles of Selection" for determining what to include as "dramatic, secular musical, and ceremonial or customal performances before 1642" (594). Recent REED volumes have seen a developing willingness to include more so-called "para-dramatic" activities that are not necessarily mimetic in themselves, but certainly were considered as entertainment during the period. Nevertheless, the principles of selection are one of the aspects that sometimes cause confusion for researchers and editors alike. In general, only entries which specifically mention something that falls under the guidelines have been included. Some less certain records have been gathered into the appendices; however, many references that might enable us to paint more fully a picture of the life of performers at the time have been omitted because they are not strictly references to dramatic activity in themselves. And yet, this provides a fruitful area of opportunity for later researchers who wish to return to the original documents. The section on "Editorial Procedures" continues with sub-sections on the problems and adopted conventions of "Dating," a section detailing the workings of "Ecclesiastical Court Cases," and concludes with a section on "Editorial Conventions" which explains the reasons for many decisions of presentation, transcription, and expansion. This introduction, which is really necessary reading before examining the records in volume one, is followed by the "Notes" for that introductory section. This should not be confused with the notes for the records or the appendices that are provided (together) after the translations. A "Select Bibliography" is provided as well as early maps for Somerset with Bath inset (1610), Wells (1735), and their own map of Somerset with locations mentioned in the records.

  7. There are eleven appendices of additional material that contain extracts and discussions of material which did not strictly belong in the body of the records. These include such divergent entries as poems about, and a chronology of, the Wells Shows of 1607, extracts from Royal Household Accounts, other songs and poems, as well as extracts of "Post-1642 Documents" indicating the continuation of various folk activities well into the commonwealth period. The fourth appendix is the largest (substantially so) and includes a discussion and the records concerning "The Somerset Hogglers." Hoggling is a gathering or fund-raising activity most likely similar to that of hogmanay found farther north in Britain. These extracts are included as an appendix because, although entertainment is known to have formed a part of the hoggling in Keynsham and it is most likely to have been the case in other locations, few documentary references have been found that explicitly connect them.

  8. The appendices are followed by translations (by Abigail Ann Young) of almost all of the Latin records in volume one. The translations are well done and save a great deal of time even for those well-versed in Latin. The only possible flaw is the overuse of their symbol "(English)" which is used to denote when the English section of mixed English and Latin documents is exempted; when reading some of the depositions it was highly confusing to look back and forth between the two volumes.

  9. The substantial translations are followed by the "Endnotes." These endnotes do not include the "Notes" for the introductory matter, and moreover are followed by the list of "Patrons and Travelling Companies" (by Arleane Ralph), the extremely helpful glossaries (by Abigail Ann Young [Latin] and William Cooke [English]), and a useful and intuitive index. Although in the "correct" place, it may seem strange to some readers to have over 154 pages of material following the endnotes, and for them not to include all the notes for the volumes.

  10. This confusion highlights one of my only problems with the volumes, and that is their organisation. There are many benefits to having only the records in the first volume and the entire editorial apparatus in the second volume - it allows simultaneous use of the introduction, glossaries, and notes, with the records themselves. Experienced users of REED volumes should have no problems in finding their way; nevertheless, it may prove mildly confusing to newer readers that the introduction is in volume two (starting on page 449), that there is a distinction between notes and endnotes, and that the bibliography is followed by 514 pages of editorial extras.

  11. The reasons for some of the decisions are abundantly clear, and the overwhelming desire to have this simultaneity of use for both volumes is laudable, but the division seems undone with the page numbering continuing from one volume to the other. Although saving the reader from flipping backwards and forwards in one immense volume, in some cases it only adds to the confusion of needing continually to consult the table of contents. Moreover, it would be an additional benefit if the table of contents in each volume also listed the contents of the other volume. And yet, the records are so meticulously edited, and of such benefit to any scholar interested, not only in the nature of Medieval and Early-Modern dramatic activity, but the culture of the period as a whole, that its mere existence forgives any minor failings. It is a noteworthy addition to the growing collection of REED volumes.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

1998-, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).

(LH, RGS, 9 March 1998)