A Play of Isaac

Written by Margaret Frazer
Review by Mary K. Bird-Guilliams

This is a spin-off from the author’s Dame Frevisse mystery novels, set in 15th century England. You may be inspired, as I was, to read The Servant’s Tale, which introduces the players who are the subject of A Play of Isaac. Dame Frevisse befriended the players because they reminded her of her youth as a traveler, and it causes the nun some heartache to wrench her wandering mind back to her existence at the abbey. We the readers, however, can now follow the players as they prepare for the Corpus Christi Festival in Oxford. Part of medieval celebrations was a series of plays with religious themes; the title refers to the depiction of Abraham’s sacrifice, complete with ram bursting from the thicket. Drama in the medieval period was moving from inside the church to a public form of entertainment, and the productions, although following a sacred form (mystery, morality or miracle), did not miss the opportunity to entertain the crowd with some humor and special effects. It is this showman’s urge that caused the church authorities to frown on the players, plus a distrust of any persons who traveled around, unattached to an estate like normal people. In the medieval version of “round up the usual suspects,” the players are always going to be included. Since a troupe’s survival depended upon patronage by those wealthy enough to support the arts, if your host has a murder or two in the household, it adds up to real problems for Thomas, Rose, Piers, Ellis and Joliffe. A great start to a promising series.