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Textual Analysis of English Quack Doctor Plays: Some New Discoveries

Millington, Peter (2003) Textual Analysis of English Quack Doctor Plays: Some New Discoveries. In: Cass, Eddie and Millington, Peter, (eds.) Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002. Traditional Drama Research Group , Sheffield, UK , pp. 97-132. ISBN 0 9508152 3 3


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Many questions remain regarding the actual origins of English Quack Doctor plays now that pre-Shakespearean theories of origin have collapsed. While it seems likely that the plays were added to pre-existing house-visiting customs in the early- to mid-18th century, and that they were influenced by contemporary theatrical conventions, the ultimate source for the texts is still unknown.

With few notable exceptions, there has been a marked reluctance to analyse the texts of English folk plays. Partly this has been because key scholars believed the “actions” of the plays to pre-eminent and the texts to be irrelevant and partly because of the daunting enormity of the task. This paper breaks the impasse by reporting major analyses of the large collection of texts that are available online at www.folkplay.info. These have been done with the assistance of graphical methods and computerised techniques such as cluster analysis.

There are three main results. Firstly, evidence is presented for a single proto-text that was ancestral to all versions. The lines that this proto-text probably contained have been identified, and assembled into an initial tentative reconstruction. Secondly, the analyses yield a new classification for the plays that both confirms and extends the earlier schemes, but under two principal classes rather than three. The Hero-Combat Plays are divided into seven subclasses, of which one comprises the Sword Dance Plays that were previously regarded as distinct. The Plough Plays are divided into two subclasses – the Multiple Wooing Plays and the Recruiting Sergeant Plays. Lastly, the evolutionary relationships between the various classes are considered, which lead to a proposed genealogy of the plays.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: folk drama, folk plays, mummers' plays, textual analysis, cluster analysis, mesa graphs, distribution maps, proto text, classification, typology, traditional drama
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics (Sheffield) > Department of English Literature (Sheffield) > National Centre for English Cultural Tradition (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > University of Sheffield Research Centres and Institutes > National Centre for English Cultural Tradition (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Peter Millington
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2006
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2014 16:49
Status: Published
Publisher: Traditional Drama Research Group
Refereed: No
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/937

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