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The Origins and Development of English Folk Plays

By Peter Thomas Millington


This thesis concerns those English folk plays whose plots are centred on the\ud quack doctor character. Earlier researchers proposed three possible origins for\ud these plays: a non-specific mystery play from the time of the crusades, some pre-\ud Christian fertility ritual, and primitive shamanism. All three proposals were based\ud on over-general comparisons, and relied on the key assumption that a continuous\ud history can be traced back from before modern plays to the relevant era. However,\ud in contrast with other customs, no evidence can be found for these plays before\ud the 18th century, despite diligent searching. These theories are therefore disproved.\ud \ud Instead, it is proposed that the plays were attached in the early to mid 18th\ud century to existing house-visiting customs. These were probably the source of the\ud non-representational costumes that are sometimes worn. There is also evidence for\ud the influence of the conventions of the English Harlequinade. The provenance of\ud the scripts is unknown, but similarities between them suggest they ultimately\ud derived from a single proto-text.\ud \ud \ud A full-text database of 181 texts and fragments was built for investigation\ud using cluster analysis, distribution mapping and other computerised techniques,\ud some of which are novel. The cluster analysis has generated a new classification\ud for the play texts that both confirms and extends the established typology.\ud Comparison of the attributes of the clusters, aided by distribution mapping, has\ud resulted in a putative genealogy for the plays that is presented for discussion.\ud \ud Trellis graphing has revealed a core of common lines that can be assembled\ud into a viable script. This represents a reconstructed proto-text, although it requires\ud consolidation with further evidence. Bibliometric analysis suggests that more\ud archival research is needed in the century ending about 1750, which is the key\ud period for the genesis of the plays

Publisher: School of English (Sheffield)
Year: 2002
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