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Mummings and Entertainments: Introduction


1 See Lydgate, Dance of Death, ed. Warren, and, for the Clopton verses, Gibson, “Bury St Edmunds, Lydgate, and the N-Town Cycle,” pp. 80–81, and Trapp, “Verses by Lydgate at Long Melford,” pp. 1–11 (although Trapp mistakenly refers to the poem as “The Lamentation of Mary Magdalene”).

2 The 1445 entry was first identified as Lydgate’s by Stow in his Annales (1592), p. 624, based on Fabyan’s account, and subsequently attributed to Lydgate by a number of critics, including MacCracken, who later reversed his opinion, after finding the verses inconsistent with Lydgate’s style; Kipling argues that the use of two stanzaic forms suggests two separate poets, neither of them Lydgate (“London Pageants for Margaret of Anjou,” pp. 11–12).

3 Verses describing the London entry of Henry V in 1415 are no longer ascribed to Lydgate. The verses are reprinted as Appendix IV, pp. 191–92, at the end of the Gesta Henrici Quinti, a text that gives the fullest extant account of the 1415 pageants. For their attribution to Lydgate, see Withington, English Pageantry, 1:132 ff., and the references there.

4 For a discussion of “pageant” as synonymous with “picture,” see Edwards, “Middle English Pageant ‘Picture’?”; Pearsall, John Lydgate, p. 183, discusses tableau presentation.

5 See Hammond, “Two Tapestry Poems;” Pearsall believes Sodein Fal was intended for processional performance (John Lydgate, p. 180); and Robbins identifies it as a mumming (Secular Lyrics, p. 342).

6 Lydgate mentions on three occasions (Fall of Princes, VIII.195–96 and IX.3431–35, and Isopes Fabules, lines 31–32) that he was born in Lydgate (or Lidgate), a small village in Suffolk, eight miles southwest of Bury, where he was recruited as a boy to the abbey (see Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p.12).

7 Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, pp. 12–13.

8 Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, pp. 13–14.

9 See James, “Bury St. Edmunds Manuscripts,” and Thomson, “Library of Bury,” pp. 617–45; for Bury’s ownership of the Terence and Plautus manuscripts, see Gibson, “Bury St. Edmunds, Lydgate, and the N-Town Cycle,” p. 63.

10 See Pearsall, John Lydgate, pp. 56–57, for the letter from the Prince of Wales, probably written in 1406–08, to the abbot of Bury requesting that “J. L.,” of whom he has heard good reports from “R. C.” [Richard Courtenay], be allowed to stay at Oxford. Norton-Smith argues that Lydgate met Edmund Lacy at Oxford (Shirley says Lydgate wrote a translation of Gloriosa dicta sunt de te for him) and that along with the Prince of Wales, Lacy shaped “the direction and style of Lydgate’s religious verse” (John Lydgate: Poems, p. 195).

11 Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p.15. See also Dobson, “Religious Orders, 1370–1540,” pp. 546–48, and Pantin, Documents, 3:222.

12 The volume is Bodley MS Laud misc. 233, and contains what appears to be Lydgate’s autograph on the verso of the end flyleaf; Pearsall is skeptical of Shirley’s claim that Isopes Fabules was “made in Oxforde” since Aesop’s Fables was a popular Latin school text that Shirley on his own may have associated with Oxford (Bio-Bibliography, pp. 16–18).

13 Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p. 16.

14 Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, pp. 37–38, argues that since the king’s articles of 1421 recommended against receipt of money by individual monks, Abbot Curteys insisted on giving the grant a cloak of responsibility by having it paid jointly to Lydgate and Baret.

15 Burgh finished The Secrees of Old Philosoffres, on which Lydgate was apparently at work when he died; it is not known whether Burgh completed the work on his own or was commissioned to do so by the king or by Henry de Bourgchier, count of Ewe, who with his son John was admitted to the fraternity of the abbey of Bury in 1440 (see Ord, “Account of the Entertainment,” p. 70n1, and Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p. 40).

16 For discussions of East Anglian women as patrons and readers, see Hanna, “Some Norfolk Women” and McNamer, “Female Authors, Provincial Setting.”

17 See Gibson, “Bury St. Edmunds, Lydgate, and the N-Town Cycle,” esp. pp. 60–63.

18 Some of the N-Town plays may show the influence of Lydgate, and possibly some of the morality plays in the Digby and Macro manuscripts were at one time in the possession of the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds; there is also some evidence that the abbey hosted players or minstrels (see Gibson, “Bury St. Edmunds, Lydgate, and the N-Town Cycle,” for Lydgate’s influence on the N-Town plays).

19 For the dates of these manuscripts, see Connolly, John Shirley, pp. 77 and 152.

20 See Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, pp. 17–18.

21 See Connolly, John Shirley, pp. 191–95, for a discussion of competing views of Shirley’s scribal activities and his reliability.

22 Connolly, John Shirley, p. 191.

23 For Shirley’s biography, see Connolly, John Shirley, pp. 15–63. For Lydgate’s connections with Warwick, see Pearsall, John Lydgate, pp. 160–71.

24 The relevant passage reads:
“yet for all his much konnynge
which were gret tresore to a kynge
I meane this lidgate munke duan John
his nobles bene spent I leue ychon
and eke hus shylinges nyche by
his thred bare coule woll not ly
ellas ye lordis why nill ye se
and reward his poverte.”
25 Westfall, Patrons and Performance, p. 33n21, uses “mumming” to describe a dumbshow and “disguising” for a more elaborate performance; Wickham defines mumming as involving gift-giving and disguising as not (Early English Stages 1:204–05), but A. Lancashire argues convincingly that mummings and disguisings “are similar kinds of occasional entertainment, performed both at court and elsewhere” (London Civic Theatre, p. 275n17), and Anglo, “Evolution,” p. 7, notes that in the early sixteenth century the terms “mask,” “mumming,” “pageant,” and “disguising” are still being used interchangeably. Although Shirley seems to share that sense of interchangeability, I have followed his lead in labeling the performances at Hertford and London “disguisings,” since their length and use of iambic pentameter couplets set them apart from the other mummings. Tiner, Carnahan, and Peterson discuss Lydgate’s texts in performance (see “‘Euer aftir to be rad & song’”). For a consideration of the difficulty of knowing what medieval texts were performed and how, see Sponsler, “Drama in the Archives.”

26 A. Lancashire, London Civic Theatre, pp. 125–26.

27 For the existence of stagecraft professionals who worked on both city and court entertainments, see Streitberger, Court Revels, pp. 46–47 and 172–76; for use of the chapel royal, see Westfall, Patrons and Performance, pp. 34–37. According to Shirley, Lydgate was at Windsor sometime between 1414 and 1417, the years when his friend Lacy was dean of the chapel royal (see Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, pp. 21–22). In the 1420s, when Lydgate’s royal mummings were performed, the dean was Robert Gilbert (Griffiths, Reign of King Henry VI, p. 59).

28 The preface is in British Library MS Additional 29729 (presumably copied from a lost preface in R.3.20); for a transcription, see Connolly, John Shirley, pp. 208–211. For John Rikhill, see Lydgate, Dance of Death, ed. Warren, line 513. Tregetowre is defined by the Promptorium Parvulorum as a “mimus, pantomimes, joculator” (1.501).

29 A. Lancashire, London Civic Theatre, p. 272n116 and n117.

30 For the likelihood that Lydgate saw at least part of the 1432 entry, see Kipling, “Poet as Deviser,” pp. 87–88.

31 See the Anonimalle Chronicle, pp. 102–03, and the discussions in Chambers, Mediaeval Stage, 1:394–95, and Wickham, Early English Stages, 3:49.

32 For a sympathetic reassessment of Lydgate’s syntax, see Hardman, “Lydgate’s Uneasy Syntax.”

33 Mooney, “John Shirley’s Heirs,” pp. 183 and 195, and Connolly, John Shirley, pp. 170 and 173.
John Lydgate (c. 1371–1449), monk of the great abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, is best known today as the author of such large-scale works as the Fall of Princes, the Troy Book, and the Siege of Thebes, which established him as the preeminent poet of fifteenth-century England, but he also had an active career as a writer of verses for public and private ceremonies and entertainments. Although they have been eclipsed by his longer works, these verses are of great importance for literary and theatrical history. They offer an example — rare in this period — of dramatic texts by a known writer and thus provide valuable information about how performances were commissioned, created, and disseminated in written form. They also reveal the range of Lydgate’s poetic activities and his versatility, reminding us that artistic categories we now think of as discrete — writing, oral or mimetic performance, and visual display — overlapped in the fifteenth century. As Lydgate’s work shows, modern terms for theatrical events — “performance,” “play,” “drama,” and “theater” — are not particularly apt for a late medieval culture of literate orality, in which poetic verses might be read silently in private, recited aloud, painted on walls or panels, sung, mimed, or enacted — or even made part of the confectioner’s art.

That blurring of boundaries poses some problems for deciding which texts should appear here, and while it would certainly be possible to expand or narrow the pool, I have decided to include in this edition only those texts that were mimetic in some way and that featured both oral and visual display. For that reason, the Roundel for the Coronation of Henry VI, which probably has no mimetic component, is not included, but the verses that accompanied the confectionary soteltes that were among the entertainments at the coronation banquet are, since they were tableau-like figures that included texts meant to be read — in all likelihood aloud as well as silently. Likewise, texts such as the Danse Macabre, which was requested in 1430 by John Carpenter, the town clerk of London, for inscription on the cloister walls of the Pardon churchyard at St. Paul’s, or the translation of the famous Marian lament “Quis dabit,” which was painted along the top of the walls of the Clopton chantry in the town of Long Melford, are omitted, since they seem to have been purely visual, without any spoken or mimetic component.1 All seventeen of the works on the following pages, then, seem to have involved some degree of mimetic activity and show signs of the use of impersonation, action or gesture, costuming, props, oral recitation, or visual display.

Most of Lydgate’s performance texts were written in a flush of energy in the late 1420s and early 1430s, when he was at the peak of his career as a public poet, with the Troy Book (1412–20) and the Siege of Thebes (1421–22) behind him and the Fall of Princes (1431–38) yet to come. Chief among them are seven mummings or disguisings, which were written for both royal and civic audiences. (The mumming for Margaret of Anjou’s entry into London in 1445 is no longer viewed as part of Lydgate’s canon, but is included in an appendix for interested readers.)2 Three of the mummings were designed as Christmas entertainments for the young Henry VI and his mother Catherine of Valois, while four were created for civic occasions in London. Not surprisingly, given the historical circumstances in which they were written, most of these performances share a concern with questions about the nature of sovereignty and authority, the right of succession and legitimacy of rule, standards of behavior, and proper governance. They characteristically range widely over classical and biblical history, offering an erudite and probably intentionally edifying mix of examples drawn from Greek and Roman mythology as well as Christian writings.

The ten other items in this edition are more miscellaneous in nature. A Procession of Corpus Christi describes a London Corpus Christi procession and, while undated, may also have been written in the late 1420s. In 1429, Lydgate was commissioned to write verses to accompany soteltes for the coronation banquet of Henry VI, one of four poems he produced for the occasion (the others included a prayer, a roundel, and a balade). A few years later, Lydgate wrote another poem for a civic audience when he was commissioned by the mayor of London, John Welles, to write a commemorative description of the pageants Londoners had devised to greet Henry VI on his return to England on 21 February 1432, after two years in France.3 At an undetermined date, Lydgate wrote the Pageant of Knowledge, so named by Henry MacCracken after the Latin term pagina that appears in the text. The meaning of the term pagina is ambiguous, but MacCracken thought it pointed to the presentation of the piece as a school play, like what he identified as its original by Ausonius.4 (The unattributed Mumming of the Seven Philosophers, which a later hand suggestively includes as among the “Poemata Anglicana Lidgati” and which appears to have been designed for a Christmas-king performance, possibly also by schoolboys, is included in an appendix for comparison.) Another poem, Bycorne and Chychevache, was made for a “werthy citeseyn of London,” apparently to be painted onto a wall-hanging or possibly as part of a dramatic presentation, perhaps a mumming. Of the Sodein Fal of Princes in Oure Dayes seems to have been similarly designed to accompany pictorial representations, processional presentation, or a mumming.5 The Legend of St. George was written at the request of the armorers of London to honor their brotherhood and for the feast of Saint George; like Bycorne and Chychevache, the verses were apparently created to be painted onto a wall-hanging along with pictures, and may possibly have included some sort of enactment. Mesure Is Tresour also seems to have been intended to accompany portraits of the various ranks of medieval society and ends with verses seemingly spoken by a shepherd figure.


Born in a small village in Suffolk, Lydgate spent most of his life as a monk in the nearby Benedictine abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, one of the wealthiest and most powerful monastic houses in England and a center for culture and drama.6 The town, with a population of around four thousand in the early fifteenth century, lay inside the monastery walls and the monastery controlled most town affairs. Relations between the town and the monastery were not always without conflict: in 1327 the citizens burned down and plundered the abbey and during the 1381 rising a crowd marched on the abbey and sacked the houses of monastic officials. By 1400, the abbey at Bury had around sixty to eighty monks, with up to two hundred servants and vast estates in Suffolk and beyond.7 Lydgate tells us in his Testament that he entered the abbey as a novice at the age of fifteen and was eventually ordained in 1397.8 As a student at Bury, Lydgate would have received a standard course of instruction in grammar, logic, and philosophy; he would also have had access to the monastery’s library, which held some two thousand manuscripts, including the complete comedies of Terence and eight plays by Plautus.9

Lydgate seems to have continued his studies at Oxford, as Derek Pearsall notes in his detailed biography of the poet, where he probably made the acquaintance of a number of eminent men — including the Prince of Wales; Richard Courtenay, chancellor of Oxford in 1406–08 and off-and-on again in 1411–13; and Edmund Lacy, the bishop of Exeter — all of whom appear to have influenced his writing.10 At Oxford, Lydgate would have studied at Gloucester College, the house for monk-students from the southern province of the Benedictine order; he appears to have stayed for a few years, but did not take a degree.11 A few tantalizing glimpses of Lydgate’s reading and writing from this period include a volume containing Isidore’s Synonyma, the sermons of Hildebert of Le Mans, “Versus circiter cxiv proverbiales” and “Versus lxxiv heroici proverbiales” that Lydgate may have brought with him from the library at Bury, and his Isopes Fabules, which the scribe John Shirley says was “made in Oxforde.”12 As Pearsall observes, Oxford would have afforded Lydgate a degree of freedom along with chances for meeting people, while also perhaps giving him a taste for the comforts and privileges of fame and money, and thus helps explain Lydgate’s subsequent career of writing on-demand for influential people on important occasions.13

Although it remains an open question how much time Lydgate spent away from Bury, he clearly lived an active and public life. His commissions and contacts suggest that he moved in a circuit that included the court, Oxford and its environs (such as the house of Thomas Chaucer near Oxford), and London, as well as Bury, and even traveled as far as France. During the years when most of his performance pieces for Londoners and the court were written, Lydgate held the priorate at Hatfield, a small Benedictine priory in Essex (c. 1423–30), putting him closer to London and the royal palaces of Windsor and Eltham than he would have been at Bury. Lydgate would also have had an opportunity to make contacts at Bury, which welcomed many powerful visitors and enrolled others as associates of the fraternity of the abbey (such as Richard Beauchamp, William de la Pole, and Thomas Beaufort). Henry IV and Henry V visited Bury, and Henry VI made a long stay in 1433, shortly before Lydgate finished his Lives of Sts. Edmund and Fremund, which was presented to the king as a gift from Abbot Curteys and the monks of St. Edmunds. Lydgate surely also knew prominent citizens from the town of Bury, such as John Baret, who was treasurer to the abbey and was designated co-recipient of an annuity granted to Lydgate by Henry VI in the last year of the monk’s life.14

Lydgate’s writing is usually thought of in relation to the royal court or to London, yet it should also be seen as a product of East Anglian literary and religious culture. During his lifetime, East Anglia was home to a literary scene that included the poet John Metham, author of the romance Amoryus and Cleopes (1448); Osbern Bokenham, the Austin friar and author of, among other things, a life of Mary Magdalene; the chronicler John Capgrave, an Austin friar and poet from Lynn; the mystics Margery Kempe (c. 1373–c. 1439) and Julian of Norwich (c. 1343–c. 1413); and Benedict Burgh, who seems to have met Lydgate in the late 1440s and admired the monk enough to finish one of his poems after Lydgate’s death.15 The work of these writers was encouraged and read by a thriving group of regional patrons of the arts and bibliophiles, to whom Lydgate must also have been known.16

The religious drama that flourished in East Anglia provides another important context for Lydgate’s performance pieces. The N-Town plays, along with various saints’ plays and moralities — including the Digby Mary Magdalene, Mankind, Wisdom, and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament — are evidence of the region’s interest in theatrically and thematically ambitious performances that show a tolerance for reformist religious positions while also supporting orthodoxy and that speak with particular directness to the spiritual preoccupations of the prosperous middle classes. Some of these plays have been linked to Bury St. Edmunds and a number share the concerns and themes of Lydgate’s dramatic writings (such as Marian devotion).17 Although Lydgate’s involvement in local dramatic activities remains undocumented, it would have been hard for him to be unaware of the region’s performance traditions. His own aesthetic differs — perhaps deliberately — in a number of ways from that of the extant East Anglian plays, but his performance pieces for courtly and urban audiences nonetheless share some common ground with them, including a tendency to bend religious material to secular ends.18


The significance of John Shirley (c. 1366–c. 1456) for Lydgate’s performances is hard to overstate. Shirley’s role as a preserver and disseminator of literary texts is well known. A number of Middle English poems survive only in his manuscripts, and attributions and contexts are available for other works solely on the basis of information contained in his headings and rubrics. Shirley is especially crucial for establishing the Lydgate canon and is the sole authority for a number of the poet’s minor poems, including the mummings and disguisings. Two of Shirley’s anthologies are the source for almost all of the performance pieces included here. Trinity College MS R.3.20, which was compiled in the early 1430s, contains six of the mummings and disguisings as well as the Procession of Corpus Christi, the Sodein Fal of Princes, The Legend of St. George, and Bycorne and Chychevache, making it the single most important source for Lydgate’s performance pieces. The Mumming at Bishopswood was copied into Shirley’s last anthology, Bodley MS Ashmole 59, which is datable by internal evidence to between 1447 and 1449.19 Only the Pageant of Knowledge, Henry VI’s Triumphal Entry into London, and the Soteltes are not extant in manuscripts copied by Shirley (the two poems included in the appendix are also not found in Shirlean manuscripts).

Besides preserving a record of what would otherwise be ephemeral performance pieces, Shirley also provides valuable — in many instances, almost the only — information about the auspices of the texts he copied. For Lydgate’s mummings and other entertainments, Shirley usually attempts to identify the nature of the text, describe its occasion, and give whatever other details he appears to have known about it. Recent assessments agree that, despite a few errors, Shirley’s rubrics are for the most part reliable and usefully help situate Lydgate’s verses in their cultural and performance contexts.20

Some scholars have thought that Shirley was a commercial publisher who ran a scriptorium in London, but Margaret Connolly has recently demonstrated that his scribal work was an extension of the “culture of service” formed by his career in the household of Richard Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, with which Shirley had been associated since at least 1403.21 As he states in the preface to the first of his three anthologies, Shirley assumed that the primary audience for his anthologies would be “bothe the gret and the commune” of that household.22 When he copied Lydgate’s verses for performance, he presumably had in mind the pleasure and instruction of those household readers, a few of whom may have seen some of the original performances for which Lydgate wrote his verses, if they had happened to be at court or in London, as would not have been unlikely given Warwick’s movements and duties in the 1420s and early 1430s.

Shirley seems to have been especially eager to disseminate and support Lydgate’s poetry: British Library MS Additional 16165, compiled in the late 1420s, contains fourteen pieces by Lydgate, out of some forty-five texts; Trinity R.3.20 in its current form contains twenty-six poems by Lydgate, out of approximately seventy-five (twenty-seven of the non-Lydgatian pieces are short, anonymous poems in French; the other named authors in the anthology include Chaucer, Suffolk, Hoccleve, and Brampton); and Shirley’s last anthology, Bodley Ashmole 59, contains thirty-five works by Lydgate as well as verses by Gower, Scogan, and Chaucer. The high percentage of poems by Lydgate in Shirley’s manuscripts may simply reflect Lydgate’s literary prestige, but it may also signal a deeper attachment to the writer and his work.

It in fact seems likely that Shirley’s interest in Lydgate’s writing was based on personal acquaintance. They were of the same generation — Shirley was roughly the same age as Lydgate — and both men had ties to the Lancastrian affinity and to London. Records show that Shirley was in Warwick’s retinue in France and England from 1403 until the late 1420s; when Warwick was appointed tutor to Henry VI in 1428, Shirley appears to have settled in London where, while still maintaining connections with the aristocratic world of Warwick, he gradually developed associations with the city’s merchant class.23 At any number of places in these years Shirley could have met Lydgate and perhaps have seen some of the performances featuring his verses. John Stow’s copy of what was presumably Shirley’s preface to Trinity R.3.20, now missing from that manuscript, suggests that Shirley was concerned with solidifying Lydgate’s reputation and with helping him gain financial reward for his poetry, efforts that would be especially understandable if they were motivated by firsthand knowledge of the poet.24


Aside from a few internal clues in the poems themselves and the details contained in Shirley’s rubrics, we have little information about how Lydgate’s mummings and other entertainments were performed. In most cases, we do not know who organized and acted in them, or how they employed props, costuming, and music. We also do not know what role, if any, Lydgate played in the performances or how spectators reacted.

Exactly what form the performances took is complicated by Shirley’s use of a variety of terms for the verses Lydgate wrote and the performances in which they were used, terms that include scripture, bille, devyse, lettre, balade, ordenaunce, momyng, and desguysing. In some cases Shirley uses several different terms to describe one text and he appears to have used some terms — including mumming and disguising — interchangeably.25 Interestingly, in no instance does he refer to Lydgate’s verses with the words commonly used in Middle English to designate dramatic performance — pley and game — nor does he use the related Latin terms ludus and spectacula. Whatever Lydgate’s performance pieces were, they apparently did not suggest “play” to Shirley, as Anne Lancashire has noted.26 But contemporaries made fewer distinctions among various kinds of performances than we do, and it is probably best for us to think of Lydgate’s verses as fitting into a broad generic category that included various combinations of music, spoken word, impersonation, gesture or action, and special effects.

Complete information is lacking, but we can make some reasonable guesses about who organized and performed in Lydgate’s entertainments. Although records show that traveling players were present for Christmas entertainments at court in the late 1420s and that a group of stagecraft professionals based in London was apparently involved in court entertainments, the royal mummings may also have been written for performance by members of the household, possibly by the chapel royal, as Suzanne Westfall argues, to which Lydgate may have had a connection through Edmund Lacy.27 Shirley tells us that the Disguising at Hertford was commissioned by John Brice, the controller of the royal household; Brice was actually the cofferer, an assistant to the controller, but would nonetheless have been responsible for organizing household entertainments. Whether or not Lydgate was present for these performances, or participated in them as presenter — as Shirley’s preface to Trinity R.3.20 with its description of Lydgate as a maker of “many a roundeel and balade” that he has “sayd” “with hys sugred mouthe” suggests — he appears to have been familiar with court entertainments, as we can infer from the reference by name to the king’s “some tyme tregetowre,” or conjuror, John Rikhill, in the Lansdowne manuscript of Lydgate’s Dance of Death.28

The entertainments Lydgate wrote for Londoners may have been performed by either hired professionals or members of the companies. Guilds seem to have encouraged some of their members to become theatrically expert, and records from the sixteenth century show professional players/minstrels as members of various London companies; parish clerks were also available for hire and were sometimes members of companies other than the Parish Clerks’ Company.29The 1432 entry for Henry VI was probably overseen by Carpenter, the town clerk, with whom Lydgate was apparently acquainted, perhaps along with advice from the mayor and the city council as well as the royal household; it would have drawn on the expertise of artisans and entertainers in London, including a group of professionals who worked on both civic and court revelry; while Lydgate did not supply original verses for the pageants in the 1432 entry, he may have been present for the event, as is suggested by details in his commemorative description of it.30

Whether written for the royal household or for Londoners, Lydgate’s verses were designed for festive and ceremonial occasions such as Twelfth Night, Candlemas, Christmas, and May Day. Many of the verses were apparently spoken by a presenter of some sort (sometimes described as a herald), presumably to accompany mimed action; in some cases, while the verses may have been spoken they were also visible in written form as part of the pageant, confection, wall-hanging, or mural. Songs and dancing are mentioned in some verses, suggesting an opening for musical entertainment as part of the performance. A number of Lydgate’s verses also point to the inclusion of ritual gift-giving of the sort associated with mummings such as the one Londoners performed at the palace of Kennington for the young prince Richard in January 1377, before he became king, in which the prince was given gifts after playing a game of dice with the costumed mummers.31 The festive and ceremonial contexts of Lydgate’s mummings and entertainments remind us of the social and communal purposes for which so many early vernacular plays were designed and of their role in cementing social relationships and suggesting proper courses of action, while also providing pleasure.


The style of Lydgate’s performance pieces will be familiar to anyone who has read his longer works. Most of them (the notable exception is the Disguising at Hertford) are written in Lydgate’s characteristic “aureate” manner that depends on the use of Latinate vocabulary and elaborate syntax to achieve an elevated artistic effect. While the pieces are sometimes difficult for modern readers and often criticized as deficient in poetic qualities, recent reevaluations have shown that Lydgate’s style was eminently well suited for his aims and involves a sophisticated use of language.32 It was also widely admired by those contemporaries who repeatedly commissioned works from him and it influenced later English writers, including the Scottish Chaucerians, and early modern poets, including Spenser and Dryden.

Nearly all of the performance pieces in this edition are short poems in rhyme royal, although two (Hertford and London) are longer compositions that feature rhymed couplets.


Most of Lydgate’s performance pieces were included by MacCracken in his 1934 edition of Lydgate’s shorter poems, but only a few have been reprinted or reedited since then. While MacCracken’s edition is for the most part reliable (although his collations are sometimes confusing or inaccurate), I have in all cases used the manuscripts as my source, checking them against MacCracken. My editions of the Procession of Corpus Christi, Bycorne and Chychevache, the Sodein Fal of Princes, The Legend of St. George, the Procession of Corpus Christi, and all of the mummings and disguisings except for the Mumming at Bishopswood (which is based on Bodley Ashmole 59) follow the readings found in Trinity R.3.20, with the exception of emendations recorded in the Textual Notes. For those pieces that were never copied by Shirley, I have been guided by MacCracken in choosing a base text: the text of the Soteltes at the Coronation Banquet follows British Library MS Cotton Julius B.i; Henry VI’s Triumphal Entry into London is based on British Library MS Cotton Julius B.ii; the Pageant of Knowledge, on Trinity R.3.21; and Mesure Is Tresour, on British Library MS Harley 2255 — in all cases, emendations are indicated in the Textual Notes. In those instances in which a text exists in multiple manuscripts, I have noted substantive variants in the Textual Notes.

A few characteristics of spelling and punctuation in Shirley’s manuscripts are worth noting. Shirley seldom includes punctuation at the ends of lines, although sometimes a period or dot appears between words in mid-line, where it may signal a pause or indicate emphasis; when punctuation appears, it is usually a virgule or slash. Shirley occasionally uses a tilde at the end of headnotes and a number of poems feature an n (or m) periodically in the left margin, which is usually disregarded by editors as a scribal device since it does not always seem to indicate a break, or at least not one signaled by the sense of the text. Superscript bar lines sometimes appear to signal double letters (e.g., ro? e = ronne), but at other times seem not to have a purpose. Abbreviations include wt for with, þt for that, and omission of -ro as in pcesse for processe. Shirley’s characteristic spellings include nexst, filowyng, heer, yee, reedethe, use of -eo in words such as beon, eorlle, neode, and weoping, and the periodic doubling of consonants in words such as englisshe, frensshe, and affter. His ornamental flourishes on occasion include descenders in the bottom line that are enlarged and crisscrossed; ascenders in the top line that are exaggerated in large, bold loops; and decorated running titles.33

In accordance with the conventions of the Middle English Texts Series, I have transcribed the scribal ampersand as and, thorn as th, and yogh as y, g, or gh, depending on the modern spelling of a word. The spellings of u/v/w and i/j have been regularized (e.g., devise rather than deuise). Words ending in a single -e have been marked with an accent, as in charité. When it refers to the second-person pronoun, the has been transcribed as thee, so as to avoid confusion with the article. Except where it conforms to modern usage, double ff has been transcribed as single f (e.g., MS giffte appears as gifte). Abbreviations and suspension marks have been quietly expanded and scribal errors corrected, but for the most part Shirley’s spelling has been retained. Capitalization, word division, and punctuation follow modern practice.

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