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Final Report Summary - SERMONS AND DRAMA (Sermons and Drama in Medieval England: Evaluating the relationship between allied genres of performance)

Sermons and religious drama were two of the major performative genres in medieval England, and it is generally assumed that they both constituted authoritative, didactic modes of discourse. Scholars have also taken for granted that late medieval English plays were strongly influenced by contemporary sermons. This project was the first to address in detail the question of the relationship and possible cross-fertilisation between preaching and drama in late medieval England and it has succeeded in challenging and considerably revising scholarly preconceptions in this area of investigation.
My research has demonstrated fundamental differences in the aims and objectives of late medieval English drama and sermons. In particular, I have shown that whereas sermons are essentially monologic, most plays opt for a dialogical relationship with the spectators that shies away from any authoritative claims. Likewise, I have demonstrated that the plays aim at a ‘performative didacticism’ that operates in a distinctly different way to the more direct and overt didacticism of sermons. One result of these relatively subtle differences is that the role and status of these two genres in the devotional culture in England during the later Middle Ages was clearly disparate. Moreover, I have argued that contemporary legislation and concerns surrounding preaching in the vernacular to the laity was influential in limiting the number of sermons included in late medieval English drama. This research enriches current scrutiny of the causes of the perceived dullness of fifteenth-century religious literature. Conversely, many plays are remarkably unscathed by contemporary religious struggles and reflect the realities of lived devotion, regardless of Church doctrine. Again, this work complements important advances in our understanding of the complex, multifaceted, and heterogeneous nature of late medieval English devotion.
Since commencing the Marie Curie Research Fellowship I have made significant progress with the plans for publishing the research as a monograph, entitled Drama and Sermons in Medieval England: Performance, Authority, Devotion. I am currently in the process of submitting a book proposal to the Early Drama, Art, and Music series at the Medieval Institute Publications. This is a highly reputable series, with publications by international leaders in these fields, including Clifford Davidson, Ann Eljenholm Nichols, and Elizabeth Baldwin. I hope to submit the manuscript to the publishers by May 2016. The project has also resulted in two articles in leading peer-reviewed journals and two book chapters in collections of essays by expert scholars. I have, moreover, presented my work at international conferences, both drama conferences and general medieval conferences, in North America and in Europe, ensuring a wide platform for this EU-funded research. I have two future presentations accepted for December 2015 and July 2016. I was also invited to contribute the annotated bibliography for Everyman to the Oxford Bibliographies in British and Irish Literature of Oxford University Press in 2015, recognition of my standing as a scholar of early English drama.
My strong interest in the non-didactic side of medieval drama has also grown out of my current project. This includes work on the tradition of secular romance drama in medieval Europe. I organised a one-day symposium, entitled Love, Sex and Romance in Early Drama, at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto in April 2014. In turn, this led to my becoming, with Professor Alexandra F. Johnston, the guest co-editor of a special volume of the journal of the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society. I also presented on this tradition, with Professor Joanne Findon, and co-authored the introduction for the journal volume. Importantly, these outputs were the outcome of international collaborations with fellow scholars at various Canadian institutions, enabled by the mobility of the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship.
I have also become interested in the use of emotions in medieval drama through the project on sermons and drama, which has resulted in a guided reading of the fifteenth-century Northampton Abraham and Isaac play at a conference looking specifically at the role of emotions in several medieval media. A book proposal based on this conference has been accepted by Brepols, one of the foremost academic publishers in medieval studies, and I have been invited to contribute to this volume. I have organised a conference session ‘Performing Emotions’ at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds (July 2015) with Dr Mary Flannery (University of Lausanne) and have submitted two proposed panels on contrition and compunction for the International Medieval Congress, Leeds (July 2016) with Dr Graham Williams (University of Sheffield) as well.
I have accrued considerable staging experience during the Marie Curie Fellowship through my apprenticeship at the Poculi Ludique Societas of the University of Toronto. I acted as consultant on the Poculi Ludique Societas production of a Flemish farce (The Farce of the Fisherman by Cornelis Everaert) in February 2013 and was assistant director for the Christmas production of several plays from the Towneley manuscript in December 2013. Finally, I directed a play for Poculi Ludique Societas (Lancelot of Denmark) in April 2014, which further enhanced my appreciation of the performative qualities of medieval drama and thus aided my research. This event presented an important and valuable outreach activity by making early drama accessible to an ever-increasing number of members of the general public.
As one of a new generation of scholars in the field, I was also actively involved in drawing up an educational and outreach programme for Records of Early English Drama. As Education and Outreach Coordinator for Records of Early English Drama I have been in charge of communication with fellow academics, students, theatre practitioners, and members of the general public through the use of social media, namely Twitter (REED_Project).
The Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship has therefore enabled me to shed light on the artistic and religious independence of late medieval English drama, on the divergent didactic aims of plays compared to sermons, on the distinct literary and performative qualities of the two genres, and on their different role and status in late medieval devotional culture, and to disseminate this research through various international channels. It has also allowed me to acquire invaluable skills and expertise in staging medieval drama, and to undertake significant outreach activities. This project has already significantly increased my status as a specialist of medieval drama and will continue to have an enormous impact on my future research and teaching career.

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