The new Early English Text Society edition of The Towneley Plays will serve as a definitive edition for many years to come.
It replaces the edition by George England and Alfred W. Pollard, published nearly one hundred years ago by the Early English Text Society.
Apart from the corrections of errors in the transcription of the text, the new edition offers a comprehensive introduction, body of notes, and glossary.
It also presents the text in a new format, based on an examination of the manuscript, by expanding stanzas attributed to the so-called `Wakefield Master' from nine lines (with some internal rhyme) to thirteen lines.
The Townley Plays manuscript dates approximately to the year 1500.
The plays is contains are often considered the most interesting and stylistically intricate among all those surviving in extant cycles.
By both internal and external evidence they are traceable to the city of Wakefield, where they were apparently performed over much of the sixteenth century.
Most notable among the contents of the manuscript is `The Second Shepherds Play', which is widely known apart from the cycle and is included in many literary and dramatic anthologies. The cycle itself contains 32 plays on the subject of salvation history from the Creation to the Last Judgement.
This new and well-executed edition, based on a fresh examination and transcription of the manuscript and drawing on the extensive work on medieval drama that has been undertaken in the present century, is welcome and much needed. With the addition of this important work by Stevens and Cawley we now have sound and up-to-date editions of all four cycles of medieval English mystery plays.
George Jack, University of St Andrews, English Studies, Volume 77, Number 3, May 1996
This edition of the Towneley Plays is to be welcomed, for its appearance means that there are now modern editions of all four of the extant Mystery Cycles in English. Doubts about language, coherence, authorship and performance of the Towneley Plays will remain, but there are still many features of this edition which will make it an authoritative base for future scholarship.
Peter Happ, University of Southampton, Review of English Studies, Vol. XLVII, No. 188, 1996
The text ... is admirably uncluttered and minimally alterd, and can be read side-by-side with the notes.
Pamela M. King, Medium Aevum, LXV.2
The appearance of a long-awaited edition of an important text inevitably raises great hopes and expectations. That expectation is fulfilled. This is an excellent text.
Peter Meredith, University of Leeds, Modern Language Review, Vol. 92, Part 2