The Donington Cast List: Innovation and Tradition in Parish Guild Drama in Early Elizabethan Lincolnshire

James Stokes, Stephen K. Wright

Abstract


The Donington cast list (Lincolnshire Archives, Donington-in-Holland, Parish, 23/7) is a one-page fragment dating from around 1563 that lists the dramatis personae and the names of the performers for a lost parish play. The purpose of this article is to provide an accurate transcription of the document and to determine what it has to tell us about the nature of the play, the reasons for its performance, and the identities and social relations of the actors. The list of roles indicates that the play dramatized a unique subject, namely, the biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar and the Three Hebrew Children. In terms of both theme and stagecraft, the work apparently resembled the typical parish plays of rural Lincolnshire, but one can also argue that the story of the rescue of the young martyrs from persecution may have been understood as an oblique commentary on the controversial religious policies of Edward VI or Elizabeth. Finally, archival evidence indicates that the play was produced by a prosperous group of parishioners with many of the characteristics of a religious guild. Although such guilds had been abolished and their properties confiscated by the Chantries Act of 1547, the Donington cast list demonstrates that parish drama, and the guilds that sponsored it, may have been far more resilient than traditional histories suggest.


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