GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1964
C. Walter Hodges, author and illustrator
London: Oxford University Press, 1964
Ages: 10 + (?)
Interests: drama, theatre history, British history, Shakespeare, London
A rarity on the Greenaway list of winners, in that this is not a picture book for the young. It is a very informative, almost scholarly depiction of theatre history in England, from the time of the Mystery Plays to the building of the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare’s time. It’s at the level of a teen reader, excellent for anyone researching a class project or essay. This book presents its topic in an extremely disarming and breathless way. The author, an expert in his field, displays tremendous interest and enthusiasm for his subject. And the many illustrations amply display the changing face of theatrical performances in early times, from simple biblical stories presented by local amateur thespians on rolling stages for Corpus Christi festivals, to the sophisticated works performed by dedicated professionals in the first permanent ‘theatres’ to appear in England.
One sideline I enjoyed was the fact that in the biblically-inspired tales, the crowd favourites were always the villains – Herod, the Devil, etc. – because there was more opportunity for improvisational hamming and comedy with them than with the saintly heroes. (Still true today!) The church was not pleased with this, but its influence was waning as the craft guilds and other laypeople took on more of the funding – and therefore responsibility – for the plays.
For enthusiasts, definitely, but should be entertaining for all.