2016 Palmer Award for Best New Essay

Barbara Palmer Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Stokes, James. “The Ongoing Exploration of Women and Performance in Early Modern England: Evidences, Issues, and Question.” Shakespeare Bulletin 33, no. 1 (2015): 9–31.

Among a very competitive group — resulting in much deliberation, since each contender’s approaches and merits were so distinctly different from the others — James Stokes’s “The Ongoing Exploration of Women and Performance in Early Modern England: Evidences, Issues, and Questions” emerged as our clear winner. An exemplary, important addition to recent scholarship on women’s participation in performance before and during the Elizabethan reform, Stokes’s article delivers a thorough summation and assessment of what we know so far, while at the same time contributing a wealth of new data. Rich in detail culled from the archives — the primary sources on which Stokes depends are largely the fruit of his own work for upcoming REED volumes — it offers a coherent, complex argument, entertainingly and accessibly presented. Too often, the exciting discoveries of archival research, particularly when they demand a revision of standard understandings, do not have the effect that they should on subsequent non-archival academic writing on early drama, which tends to lag behind the evidence, even to retain faulty assumptions. Stokes, in relentlessly drumming home that the evidence for women’s participation in medieval and early modern drama is already well-known, and with his new contributions indeed “overwhelming,” fires off a bold and inspiring feminist salvo, demanding that obsolete misunderstandings of the topic be finally retired. Stokes’s smart rhetorical framing of the issue, deftly dissecting the very idea of “traditional” performance and turning perceived marginalities on their heads, seems like it should be impossible to ignore even by the most obstinate scholars. One of our judges has already worked quotations from Stokes’s article into his early drama course. Each committee member independently commented on Stokes’s lively, accessible writing style. We are convinced that Barbara herself would love this article, and that it stands as a fitting tribute to her work.

Honorable Mention: Twycross, Meg. “‘They Did Not Come out of an Abbey in Lancashire’: Francis Douce and the Manuscript of the Townley Play.” Medieval English Theatre 37 (2015): 149–65.

Twycross brings the same relentlessly curious joy to the experience of the archives that Barbara Palmer did. This work is highly professional, witty, entertaining, and so experienced in its handling and interpretation of records that it can effortlessly deliver a “bombshell” (to use Twycross’s word). The clear, witty tone, again reminiscent of Palmer, is of a skilled raconteur sharing her latest new discovery with friends — a deeply detailed and exciting detective story that traces the provenance of a most important manuscript.

Award Committee: Suzanne Westfall, Max Harris, and Matt Sergi (chair). Awards announcement and presentation took place during the MRDS business meeting in May at the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.