Bevington Award - 2004
David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies
Meg Twycross and Sarah Carpenter's Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England immediately captured the award committee's attention as a well researched, clearly organized, eminently useful, and engagingly written contribution to the study of medieval and early modern drama. A book of value to both newcomers and experts in many fields, the authors explore the mask in all its variety, revealing masking as a key practice in pre-modern culture. Although their study centers on England, often drawing upon archival sources, Twycross and Carpenter also demonstrate an easy familiarity with continental material wherever it is relevant to their discussion. The book's elegant writing, copious illustrations, and scholarly documentation make a large variety of evidence widely available for the first time. The authors' overall focus is pragmatic but nuanced, Twycross and Carpenter always being careful to acknowledge the ways in which performance is simultaneously creative and collaborative. The presentation finds order in apparent chaos, as the authors divide their material into four categories, "Popular Masking," "Courtly Masking," "Theatrical Masking," and "Theory and Practice," and then expertly lead their readers through the many variations in practice, context, and mode involved in masking. Although empirically based, Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England moves fluidly from marshalling of evidence to an examination of its theoretical ramifications, showing a fine sensitivity to some of the unspoken implications of masking practice. For example, the authors examine how the desire to escape identity through masking is often neatly balanced by a desire to impose it, a tension that could be powerfully exploited in highly charged cultural contexts like Henry VIII's court. While theoretically engaged, the authors also carefully note how "the local and immediate meanings and functions of particular masking customs" work to reduce masking to a single intention, the book being a powerful example of the kind of historically grounded interpretive study that the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society has always encouraged. In their ambition, attention to detail, pragmatic focus, and informed critique of theory, Meg Twycross and Sarah Carpenter have made a significant contribution to medieval and renaissance drama studies, and have more than earned their Bevington award.