2016 Stevens Award for Best New Essay

Martin Stevens Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Sergi, Matthew. “Beyond Theatrical Marketing: Play Banns in the Records of Kent, Sussex, and Lincolnshire.” Medieval English Theatre 36, no. 2014 (2014): 3–23.

This essay achieves that rare feat of making scholars completely reassess a critical commonplace previously thought settled and uncontroversial. It had seemed so obvious that theatrical banns were for advertising, but Sergi convincingly demonstrates that they were not primarily marketing tools for plays but rather fundraising appeals. Sergi makes a clear case for why such a difference matters, showing the ways in which the “community of communities” producing drama and its banns participated in mutually supportive economies. His illuminating reading of primary evidence, including REED records, is undergirded by a theoretically informed understanding of economics of gift exchange. Early drama, he contends, was not so much a capitalist venture in which actors competed for spectators, but a social practice enmeshed in networks of local identity, hospitality, and fellowship. Sergi’s work serves as a model for ensuring we understand the evidence of past times using the contexts that mattered then, rather than our own. What’s more, he achieves all this in lucid and engaging writing: his prose style is energetic, personal, and plainspoken, and his argument is precise and tightly crafted. Fascinating in its subject matter and truly significant in its implications, Sergi’s essay is a major contribution to early drama scholarship that will be important for years to come.

Award Committee: Lofton Durham, Tina Fitzgerald, and Erika T. Lin (chair). Awards announcement and presentation took place during the MRDS business meeting in May at the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.