A Common Stage
Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras
•Cowinner, 2011 John Nicholas Brown Prize (Medieval Academy of America)
Medieval Arras was a thriving town on the frontier between the kingdom of France and the county of Flanders, and home to Europe's earliest surviving vernacular plays: The Play of St. Nicholas, The Courtly Lad of Arras, The Boy and the Blind Man, The Play of the Bower, and The Play about Robin and about Marion.
In A Common Stage, Carol Symes undertakes a cultural archeology of these artifacts, analyzing the processes by which a handful of entertainments were conceived, transmitted, received, and recorded during the thirteenth century. She then places the resulting scripts alongside other documented performances with which plays shared a common space and vocabulary: the crying of news, publication of law, preaching of sermons, telling of stories, celebration of liturgies, and arrangement of civic spectacles. She thereby shows how groups and individuals gained access to various means of publicity, participated in public life, and shaped public opinion. And she reveals that the theater of the Middle Ages was not merely a mirror of society but a social and political sphere, a vital site for the exchange of information and ideas, and a vibrant medium for debate, deliberation, and dispute.
The result is a book that closes the gap between the scattered textual remnants of medieval drama and the culture of performance from which that drama emerged. A Common Stage thus challenges the prevalent understanding of theater history while offering the first comprehensive history of a community often credited with the invention of French as a powerful literary language.