Richard Dutton, Alison Findlay and Richard Wilson, eds. Region, Religion and Patronage: Lancastrian Shakespeare. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003. xiv+258pp. ISBN 0 7190 6369 8.  

Julie Sanders
University of Nottingham

Sanders, Julie. Review of Region, religion and Patronage. Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 7.1-5<URL:>.

  1. This timely collection of essays both rides the wave of an upsurge of interest in the cultural geography of the early modern period and makes a significant contribution to the regional and provincial inflection of theatre history. The collection is intelligently arranged, and allows fruitful internal echoes and conversations to emerge across its pages. It is a collection that is undoubtedly the sum of its parts. On first glance, some of the essays appear to sit oddly in a collection that purports, at least in its subtitle, to be about “Lancastrian Shakespeare”. There are several contributions with a specifically Lancastrian theme, but many others interpret the remit of the main title, “Region, Religion and Patronage” in a wider geographical context. Nevertheless, read as a whole there is an admirable coherence to the collection.

  2. A genuine strength of the approaches represented is the surprisingly comfortable blend of archival and theoretical methodologies offered: the work of Bordieu, Foucault, Bachelard, and Geertz rests largely unproblematically alongside calls for continued archival research. Suzanne Westfall, a pioneer in many respects of the scholarship now being produced on the early modern household as a theatrical site, asks for us to look for drama even where a dramatic text is not extant. She suggests we seek for evidence in “financial accounts, chronicles, archaeological digs, letters, biographies, local histories, legal documents, paintings, and sculpture” (42) and many of the essays gathered here put this call into practice. As a result, the considerable influence of the ongoing findings of the Records in Early English Drama project on the working practices of many early modern theatre historians is fittingly acknowledged.

  3. The value of this rich collection lies most obviously, however, in its delineation of the various spaces and places by which early modern communities understood themselves: household, region, county, neighbourhood, and “cultural province” among them. There is a particularly eloquent articulation of the latter in Mary Blackstone’s essay on Lancashire as a “cultural neighbourhood” in the sixteenth century. She expertly details how a “cultural province” might cut across more formally designated county borders, and indicates the resonance of this for Shakespeare as a resident of the “Severn/Avon” province (the significance of the river as an alternative geographical marker of identity is fascinating), as well as being a “Warwickshire” man as so many recent biographies of the “provincial playwright” have been anxious to stress. Elsewhere, this focus on the micropolitics of the household or estate in this period starts to explain the inclusion of those essays which seemed on first appearance to have strayed beyond the remit of the collection. Essays on households in Shakespearean drama, for example, reveal the shaping impact of calendrical and festive patterns on household theatre in the period and in turn shed light on discussions of that domain elsewhere in the volume. The discussions of touring players and companies allows for the ways in which dramatists such as Jonson, previously understood in a predominantly urban metropolitan context, might have had direct access to provincial practices.

  4. Of course, the significance of Lancastrian cultural practice to Shakespeare is an important undertow to this collection and to the conference in which it found its own provenance. The hand of co-editor Richard Wilson is clearly felt in the speculation on Shakespeare’s possible residency in the recusant Catholic communities of the province during his so-called “lost years”. Several essays have a predominantly Shakespearean focus, but this is complimented by other sections of the collection that look at subjects ranging from Lancastrian recusancy, to the familial contexts for religious communities in this period, to aristocratic theatrical patronage.

  5. The patronage networks stemming from aristocratic households are explored by means of the facilitating local example of the Earls of Derby and their purpose-built Elizabethan playhouse, which operated at Knowsley, near Liverpool, in the 1580s. The Derbys’ estate is described as “a northern equivalent to a royal court” (8), and the interrogation of the regional politics of his theatrical and cultural interests here provides an enabling template for current scholarship on other regional magnates, including William Cavendish, 1st earl of Newcastle, and his dramatic patronage in the East Midlands during the 1630s. This is the enduring strength and academic value of the collection: the essays stand in themselves as examples of insightful and, in several instances, pioneering scholarship, but they also offer invaluable templates for future work in the wider scholarly community. This serves as a timely reminder of the intellectual value of essay collections per se at a time when publishers – and occasionally funding bodies – appear to have a much diminished understanding of the vital contribution to our research culture that they make.

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© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).