David M. Bergeron. English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642. Revised Edition. Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 2003. x+313pp. ISBN 0866983104.

Kevin Curran
University College, Dublin

Curran, Kevin. "Review of David M. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 8.1-5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-2/revberge.htm>.

  1. Since its inception in 1978, the publishing program of the series Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies has upheld a high scholarly standard. This is maintained with one of the series' most recent instalments, a revised edition of David Bergeron's landmark study of English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642, originally published with University of South Carolina Press in 1971. English Civic Pageantry was, and still is, the only comprehensive overview of early modern pageantry. The book has exerted a formative influence on criticism devoted to occasional drama and renaissance performance culture more generally. In its revised form, English Civic Pageantry includes a new introduction, updated footnotes and bibliography, and, in places where the discovery of new evidence has problematised conclusions drawn in the 1971 edition, considerable rewriting. The reappearance of Bergeron's seminal work is a welcome event for early modernists, and one that will, hopefully, provoke new investigations into the politics, aesthetics, and social conditions of civic pageantry.

  2. English Civic Pageantry is divided into three sections. The first section looks at summer progresses and royal entries, with separate chapters dedicated to the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline periods. Bergeron lays out detailed historical backgrounds for well-known festivities, such as Elizabeth's 1559 entry (for which we have Richard Mulcaster's famous narrative text); but also brings to light less familiar events, such as the 1561 entry of Mary Queen of Scots into Edinburgh, astutely reconstructed from Edinburgh city records (28-9). A perceptive reader encounters numerous invitations for further research in the first section of Bergeron's book. One is struck, for example, by the author's account of the entertainments mounted during Queen Anna's 1613 progress to Cawsome House, Bristol, and Wells, an episode that has received hardly any critical attention, despite increased scholarly interest in Anna and her cultural milieu (96-8).

  3. Part II deals with the London Lord Mayor's Shows, primarily (though not exclusively) an early Stuart form of public spectacle. Individual chapters are devoted to the major writers of Lord Mayor's Shows: Anthony Munday, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, and Thomas Heywood. Another chapter examines the shows scripted by minor pageant-poets, John Squire, John Webster, and John Taylor. As well as illuminating the subtle stylistic differences of these writers, Bergeron perceptively locates correspondences between the civic pageantry and other areas of the authors' canons, particularly the drama. This comparative approach is a characteristic of the book as a whole. In the last chapter, for example, the discussion of the pageants' use of emblem-book imagery offers ample opportunity for comparison with the markedly emblematic theatre of Shakespeare. Bergeron encourages just such cross-genre thinking in his new Introduction, pointing out that "Glynne Wickham has persuasively argued that the Shakespearean stage was emblematic as opposed to photographically real; we may add with him that the pageant theatre stands as the quintessence of emblematic theatre" (2).

  4. It is, no doubt, Bergeron's ability to keep his very focused area of enquiry in constant communication with other aspects of early modern culture that has made English Civic Pageantry endure as a text of central importance in renaissance studies. Not only are parallels consistently drawn between civic pageantry and the drama, other forms of occasional spectacle, such as court masques, are also included in the analyses. At other times, we are asked to consider English pageantry in a European context, as in Part I when Bergeron looks at elite entries in the Low Countries. The penultimate chapter of the book, 'Body: Men and Machines', situates civic pageantry within the social and economic networks of the early modern English city. It examines various forms of collaboration between carpenters, painters, guild officials, and writers. As well as elucidating the methods of pageant production, this chapter serves as a valuable case study in the shifting hierarchies of local governance between 1558 and 1642.

  5. In his opening Acknowledgements, David Bergeron says that he has "found these pageants to be rich in accomplishment and crucial in understanding English culture of the Tudor and Stuart periods" (x). The chapters that follow certainly persuaded this reviewer to partake of Bergeron's view. English Civic Pageantry is unstintingly shrewd in its textual analyses, always meticulous in its use of documentary evidence, and persistently responsive to the socio-political world within which civic pageants were conceived. It is unlikely that this book will wane in significance anytime soon.

    Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

    © 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).