2017 Bevington Award for Best New Book

David Bevington Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Streitberger, W.R. The Masters of the Revels and Elizabeth I’s Court Theatre. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016.

This is the eighteenth iteration of the David Bevington Prize; David was the prime mover in founding our society. The first Bevington prize was awarded in the year 2000, about the time of his formal retirement, when he was 69. The trouble is, David never really retired; he continues to teach at the University of Chicago, and in his long and brilliant career, he has trained many of our members. His published books and editions, when placed together on shelves, outnumber all those red REED volumes. He epitomizes our Society in that he has written seminal works, and edited major editions or plays, of both medieval and Renaissance drama. I mention all this not merely to recall to mind a scholar and mentor that so many of us love and revere, but to point out that the different annual Bevington committees always take care to ask, “is this book Bevington worthy. Does it live up to the standards that David has always set for himself and for us.

After sometimes spirited discussions, the committee decided that W. R. Stretiberger’s Masters of the Revels and Elizabeth I’s Court Theatre (Oxford University Press) best deserved this year’s prize. This volume, which follows his Court Revels 1485-1559, completes Streitberger’s study of the Tudor Office of the Revels as a central institution to the development of Renaissance Drama in England. Together, these two works are leading a new scholarly interest in the Office of the Revels since the first half of the twentieth century It begins by taking E.K. Chambers to task for considerably misunderstanding the organization of the office in the household and the nature of it fostering of courtly spectacle. The 40 years of research and study of the revels that have produced this study have made Streitberger the leading scholar of the English court revels and have placed that Office at the center of the studies of English Drama of the Early Modern period in the way that, for instance, has inspired Richard Dutton to look on that office as central to Shakespeare’s career in Shakespeare the Court Dramatist.

Streitberger’s comprehensive biographical research into the Masters from 1558 onwards connects with an equally comprehensive study of the connections between way that the Revels Office interacted with the Childrens’ companies and the professional companies. The earlier Masters continued the tradition of mask-like spectacles like those that where characteristic of Henry VIII’s revels, and they reached the apogee under Thomas Benger, whose lavish shows introduced classical imagery rivaling continental spectacles. However, as Elizabeth’s government became more and more drawn into expensive international conflicts, such shows, however important for Elizabethan diplomacy, simply became unsustainable. This financial crash, Streitberger demonstrates, had the effect, particularly under Edmund Tilney, of encouraging the development of professional companies. In short, court spectacles became outsourced, at first to the children’s companies, but then decisively to the professional companies, who could provide not only highly artistic, literate theatre, but also spectacles, even if less lavish than the earlier ones. One of the most interesting propositions that Streitberger makes, indeed, is that the relationship between court and professional companies was based upon a traditional gift-exchange ethos. By presenting the queen with a gift of entertainments at a nominal price, the Queen protected the companies as they settled into theatres in London. Streitberger’s suggestion that the public playhouses, from the court’s point of view, were crucial for the honing and perfecting of plays to be presented at court revels.

Our committee recommends this book to you as the 2017 Bevington Prize book, a seminal study based upon extensive archival research in service of a new and important understanding that puts the Revels Office not at the margins of the drama of the period, but at its very center. It is a work, we believe, that defines what it means to be a “Bevington-worthy” book.

Honorable Mention: McCarthy, Jeanne H. The Children’s Troupes and the Transformation of English Theater 1509-1608: Pedagogue, Playwrights, Playbooks, and Play-Boys. Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017.

This year’s committee found the choice this year satisfyingly difficult. There were flashes of brilliance in several of the books we vetted. We liked, for instance, Jeanne H. McCarthy’s The Children’ s Troupes and the Transformation of English Theater 1509-1608, a book that argues that the children’s companies set a standard for literary drama and classicism that professional companies had to emulate if they were to compete for patronage at court and success in public theatres. We recommend this book to your bookshelves and to your university libraries.

Award Committee: Max Harris, Suzanne Westfall, and Gordon Kipling (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.