Winner: Symes, Carol. A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.
As the editor that published her 2002 Speculum article that won the 2003 Stevens Award, I take great pleasure to present the 2008 David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies to Carol Symes, for A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras, published by Cornell University Press in 2007. This original, engagingly-written, and cutting-edge study of the plays of medieval Arras in their historical context is not only of primary importance for bringing a superb group of plays to the attention of drama scholars beyond specialists who work on the drama of France and the Low Countries, but also of great significance for medieval studies in general, because it both facilitates the study of medieval drama within civic culture broadly defined and exemplifies the enormous rewards that ensue from such a project. Based on meticulous archival research, it closely analyzes the particular nature of the civic and ecclesiastical culture from which these remarkable plays emanated, providing a detailed account of each, and drawing convincing connections between dramatic text and context.
Particularly compelling are Chapter 3, an at times witty account of The Boy and the Blind Man that shows how civic legitimacy was dependent on manipulating the media, and Chapter 4, which carefully demolishes Bakhtinian over-simplifications of Adam de la Halle's Play of the Bower. More widely, the book breaks new theoretical ground in urging that the whole culture of medieval Arras be read as performative. It convincingly demonstrates that to study plays qua plays in isolation is to miss the point that the broader rituals of civic culture-for example, trials and punishments, manifestations of confraternal affiliation, ceremonies engaged in at the interface between the civic and the ecclesiastical, proclamations, and so forth-are all evidence of this fundamentally performative culture. Moreover the dense textual environment generated by the particularities of cash-rich Arras, contested by both political and ecclesiastical powers, represents a further dimension of performativity, audaciously early according to received understandings.
Likely to be of great and continuing influence for years to come, A Common Stage is a significant achievement. Its author, Carol Symes, a scholar noted for her own memorable performativity, truly deserves this year's David Bevington Award.
Citation by Richard K. Emmerson. Awards announcement and presentation took place during the annual MRDS business meeting in May at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.