At the End of the Road: An Overview of Southwestern Touring Circuits


  • Sally-Beth MacLean Records of Early English Drama



This essay analyzes the southwestern touring circuits used by medieval and Renaissance performers, drawing upon the dramatic records found in the region by REED editors. The most common source of information is the financial records kept by towns and parishes – especially the extensive records for Exeter, which attracted a remarkable range of touring entertainers from outside the immediate region. Clearly the southwest was not regarded as too remote to visit by entertainers coming from London or from other town or private household bases across England. The essay suggests some of the reasons why the southwest attracted touring performers: Exeter alone would have been a lure as the provincial capitol ranking fifth or sixth in the kingdom in wealth and population and at the hub of several major roads. A map traces the principal routes in the period to Bristol, Exeter and other populous regional centres.

The routes apparently preferred by touring performers are considered and a few broad patterns are identified. Touring by entertainers to prosperous towns along main roads in the southwest was evidently an established tradition by the later Middle Ages and Renaissance. Although Bristol must have been the most powerful lure to the region, Exeter, Barnstaple, and Plymouth drew many further south although few seem to have ventured beyond into Cornwall. But the southwestern circuit became one of the least rewarding early in the seventeenth century. It is possible that a hardening of attitudes to public entertainment on the part of local civic oligarchies contributed to this notable change. It would seem that in most of the important towns of the southwest suppression of longstanding entertainment traditions followed hard upon the success of Elizabethan reformation of the church.