chapter  2
Playbooks in the Henrician Era: Test Cases for a School and Chapel Auspice
Pages 30

John Rastell’s The Four Elements (1515) is but one of many early printed interludes that have been swept up in a narrative suggesting continual universal literacy and reliance upon play texts within the artisanal tradition. Others include the even earlier Henry Medwall’s Fulgens and Lucres (c. 1496) , and the main focus here, the anonymous interludes Youth and Hick Scorner (c. 1513-14), and John Skelton’s Magnyfycence (1519). Informing the supposed alliance of these plays with touring artisanal players is, of course, the presumption of precedent in the earlier relationship between printed interludes and players. Prior to the sixteenth century, players could be literate church-trained “clerks,” monks, or chaplains, educated school or chapel boys, local tradesmen and women filling roles in local civic productions, itinerant patron troupes, or even professionals hired from the court. Were all of these various performers or entertainers, as early as the late fifteenth century to 1510s, equally accustomed to performing texts? If they were, that might indeed seem to point to a precedent of a relatively high degree of literacy among artisanal troupes. As it remains in studies of the stage generally, however, evidence of a link between specific early performers and extant playbooks is maddeningly elusive. Which players met the challenging performance demands raised by most early texts remains, to say the least, uncertain, even problematic. 1 Though a skeptic might argue that neither a learned player nor a learned audience is necessary for a successful performance of almost any given play, it is worth considering what kind of literacy and degree of textual fidelity would have been required for these interludes.