There’s a lot of super early drama in England. It’s just not really in English. Some of it is only borderline drama. If you’re hunting through the archives from before the Norman conquest you can find some Latin tropes that are part of the church liturgy, and after the conquest, some plays in Norman French and the like – all of which material hints at the depth and breadth of pan European culture, but which is still pretty thin on the ground and… not much use to us as an English speaking podcast/theatre company. Or Podtre company as we are never called.
So, this list is mostly stuff we’ve not done, or not likely to do a lot on. But luckily others have been here before us. Which is, frankly, a relief.
Liturgical Drama – Latin Tropes
Harrowing of Hell – from the Book of Cerne – Liturgical drama from the 9th Century. You can look at the manuscript online if you like. It’s rather beautiful, if a tad difficult to follow. And you need to know Latin.
The Quem Quaeritis Trope or the Visitatio sepulchri – Liturgical drama from the 10th Century – Everyone knows this one, it’s the first thing a history of Western drama touches on. An… interesting film version of this trope can be found on this video out there in the wilds of the internet. As well as some other bits and bobs of early drama.
Convent Drama – the Barking Abbey Tropes – in April 2018, the Medieval Convent Drama project staged the Barking Abbey Elevatio and Visitatio ceremonies in the Cistercian Abbey of La Maigrauge in Fribourg. This is the video. Isn’t it great. They have more videos on YouTube and more about them can be found here. http://medievalconventdrama.org/
Ordo Representacionis Ade (Mystere d’Adam) – we haven’t done this play, but there’s a fantastic translation which has been produced and can be watched online. If you’ve seen any mystery plays, they’ll be survivals in English from the 14th Century onwards – this is an eye opening early work. It shows us that the format and style of the plays had exemplars hundreds of years earlier, suggesting a continuity of drama lasting nearly 500 years. Truly mindboggling. Pity about the Reformation really.
The video below was produced in 2016, from Professor Carol Symes translation of the play. Staged at the Met Cloisters in New York City, directed by Kyle A. Thomas, and recorded in Champaign-Urbana, at the Chapel of St. John the Divine. It really is fabulous and genuinely watchable.
La Seinte Resureccion – another French play that we at Beyond Shakespeare know very little about. See above.
The Harrowing of Hell – something in English! We have recorded a full cast audio adaptation plus exploring session, which is available on the podcast.
We know of one other production of this very early text by another company, directed and adapted by Dr. Jeff Dailey in 2019, with details here https://theharrowofhell.com/ as well as a video recording of the production which can be viewed below.
Maybe we should put the Shrewsbury Fragments somewhere around here. But we went for a later date. Go to the late Medieval page to look at the work we haven’t done on them yet.
The Cambridge Prologue (Fragment) – This is our official company prologue, it will be the warm up to many a show in the future. It’s rather fab. We’ve also looked at it as part of a more general YouTube exploring session here.
Dame Sirith – we’ve staged this a few times, because it’s really fun. It’s a play told with some storytelling. But it’s a play. This is a hill we are willing to die on. A recording of our work on this play will follow at some point.
Interludium de Clerico et Puella (fragment) – Full Cast Audio Adaptation available. Related to Dame Sirith, this is made up of just two brief scenes, and is well worth the listen.
The Rickinghall Fragment (fragment) – it is looked at as part of one of our general exploring session, the video can be followed here. Otherwise this super short bit of text, can heard below.
The Pride of Life (fragment). Full Cast Adaptations available – audio and video. From an earlier incarnation of the company, this work was produced for a community event in 2015. Pride is a large fragment of a longer play, leaving just enough to get into it. Below are all the various versions that came out of that work, and some other work as well. Audio, an annotated edited version, and a one shot recording of the composite show (we used a bit of N Town to finish the play off.)
We’ve also run an exploring session on the play, looking at the middle Englishness of the text – so, you can’t say we’ve neglected this play.
But there’s more! We’re not the only ones to find a bit of Pride love in our hearts. An alternative take on the text can be found via this project, which used improvisation to play around the gaps. Produced by
Matthew Sergi with PLS students.
And that’s it for this rough journey through the really early stuff. The Pride of Life acts as your bridge, your gateway drug for the late medieval drama we all know and love. And if you don’t know and love it yet, you soon will. Onwards to the Castle of Perseverance – CHARGE!!!!