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Drama and Resistance

Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England

1997
Author:

Claire Sponsler

Drama and Resistance

Provides a cultural and historical context for medieval popular drama.

Claire Sponsler explores the intertwined histories of bodily subjectivity, commodity culture, and theatricality in late medieval England. In a fascinating consideration of popular drama in the period from 1350 to 1520, she argues that many types of performances during this time represented cultural evasions of the imposition of disciplinary power. “Lucidly written and powerfully presented, the arguments of Drama and Resistance will have profound impact on future study of medieval performance and will undoubtedly be important as well to medievalists across many disciplines.” --Kathleen Ashley, University of Southern Maine

After Drama and Resistance, medieval drama studies will never be the same! Claire Sponsler’s book undertakes a radical reformulation of the terms in which later medieval culture must be discussed. . . . Grounded in cultural studies methodology, Sponsler’s study brilliantly demonstrates the particular relevance of Michel de Certeau’s theories to the role of performance in late medieval society. . . . Sponsler argues that medieval theater provided a privileged space in which dominant social discourses could be variably appropriated, even resisted.

In Drama and Resistance, Claire Sponsler explores the intertwined histories of bodily subjectivity, commodity culture, and theatricality in late medieval England. In a fascinating consideration of popular drama in the period from 1350 to 1520, she argues that many types of performances during this time represented cultural evasions of the imposition of disciplinary power.

The medieval theater was a social site where resistance, masked from the full scrutiny of authority by theatricality, was practiced, articulated, and enacted. Sponsler examines three key discourses of authoritarian bodily and commodity control-clothing laws, conduct literature, and Books of Hours-and pairs them with three kinds of theatrical performances that enact resistance to disciplining codes-Robin Hood performances, morality plays, and Corpus Christi pageants. She considers the contradictions and inconsistencies in the repressive official discourses and analyzes the ways in which the staging of forbidden acts like cross-dressing, social and sexual misbehavior, and violence against the body challenged these discourses.

Drawing on a range of recent social theory, Drama and Resistance is an important contribution to medieval studies and the history of theater. It is a valuable resource for both students and enthusiasts alike.

Medieval Cultures Series, volume 10

Drama and Resistance

Claire Sponsler is assistant professor of English at the University of Iowa.

Drama and Resistance

After Drama and Resistance, medieval drama studies will never be the same! Claire Sponsler’s book undertakes a radical reformulation of the terms in which later medieval culture must be discussed. . . . Grounded in cultural studies methodology, Sponsler’s study brilliantly demonstrates the particular relevance of Michel de Certeau’s theories to the role of performance in late medieval society. . . . Sponsler argues that medieval theater provided a privileged space in which dominant social discourses could be variably appropriated, even resisted.

Drama and Resistance is an innovative study analyzing the construction of late medieval identities in a striking variety of texts and cultural practices . . . A richly provocative work of late medieval cultural history, this book also makes a strong case for the relevance of medieval studies to ‘contentious contemporary debates,’ in Sponsler’s words, ‘over identity politics, subjectivity , and processes of commodification.’ Drama and Resistance underscores the need for contemporary cultural studies to recognize the crucial historical perspective that medieval studies can contribute to cultural studies’ critique of representation.

Theresa Coletti, University of Maryland, College Park

At last a book that does justice to the complex interplay of drama and social order in late medieval England! There could be no better demonstration of the continuing significance of late medieval culture to our own postmodern lives than Sponsler’s dazzling revelation of the role commodification played in shaping the late medieval subject. . . . Cultural history at its best, Sponsler’s book will go far toward gaining drama the position it has long deserved at the center of medieval studies.

Pamela Sheingorn, Professor of History, Baruch College, CUNY and Professor of Theater and History, Graduate School and University Center, CUNY

Claire Sponsler’s book considers ways in which theatrical performances undo the work of discourses of discipline such as clothing regulations and conduct books in order to write different subjectivities than those the dominant culture promotes. She argues that regulation of dress attempts to control sexual identities and master-servant relationships in order to maintain masculine dominance, but these laws also encourage resistance and the development of one’s subjectivity. She treats Robin Hood as an example of the destabilizing power within drama, especially when Robin or others engage in cross-dressing. She counters the Foucaultian notion that conduct books are simply repressive with the observation that they are also presented as the means to fulfill desires.

Lawrence M. Clopper, Indiana University

In support of her central thesis about control of human behavior, Sponsler discusses clothing regulations, books of hours, and “conduct literature” (i.e., handbooks of manners). She also demonstrates that such disparate performances as Robin Hood plays, morality plays, and Corpus Christi pageants provoked serious disturbances or actual riots among the spectators.

Choice

An insightful book. Any reader should find much in this book to admire, and to use.

Essays in Theatre

The publication of Claire Sponsler’s Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England confirms what many scholars had already begun to suspect: the ‘Medieval Cultures’ series of the University of Minnesota Press is setting the agenda for contemporary medieval studies. Drama and Resistance is an important book. Bringing together a wide range of texts and genres, unafraid to employ contemporary critical theory, and always insightful in her excavation of what the body meant in the late Middle Ages, Claire Sponsler has demonstrated just how necessary medievalists are to the current scholarly debate about embodiment and subjectivity in their relationship to history.

Arthuriana

Claire Sponsler’s Drama and Resistance is a thoughtful and provocative contribution to the dialogue between medieval studies and the French critical theory of the last four decades....A well-written, effectively illustrated, and well-produced volume.

Speculum

This book offers a carefully structured and compelling reading of the late medieval drama and cultural practices in relation to techniques of domination and strategies of resistance.

Parergon

Sponsler’s approach to drama was new and unique: an analysis in how far the theater was part of the ‘disciplining’ of individuals in the late Middle Ages.

Fifteenth-Century Studies