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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Essex/Bolingbroke
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1881  Thursday, 5 October 2000.

From:           Hugh Grady <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 Oct 2000 12:47:35 -0400
Subject: 11.1857 Re: Essex/Bolingbroke
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1857 Re: Essex/Bolingbroke

This request from Essex's party to the Chamberlain's Men to perform a
play referred to in the depositions as a play of Richard II or a play of
Henry IV has become the most cited piece of new historical lore as an
example of the political connections of Shakespeare's theater. I don't
see any reason to doubt that there were political connections involved.
However, a number of Shakespeare scholar-writers have re-examined the
particular issue of this request for a play of Rich. II and concluded
that there is less there than meets the eye. I agree that, since it was
the Chamberlain's Men, the play in question was very likely
Shakespeare's--but the fact remains that there is no specific
identification of the title of the play, nor (no surprise here) of its
author. If you read through the various depositions connected with the
case in the Calendar of State Papers, it is clear that prosecutors most
often cited Heyward's book "Henry IIII) as the source of parallels
between Elizabeth and Richard and that it was he who had been imprisoned
for the supposedly treasonable actions of implicitly allegorizing
Elizabeth and Essex as Richard II and Bolingbroke. No one from the
Chamberlain's men, however, was ever accused of anything, just
questioned as to who had commissioned the play.

As for Elizabeth's oft repeated quote to Lambarde, "I am Richard II,
know ye not that?" it came six months after the Essex trial, 5-6 years
after the premier of Shakespeare's Richard II, and mysteriously refers
to the performance of a tragedy (it seems to suggest a play about
Richard II) some forty times in streets and homes.  In the trial Essex
himself was accused of attending performances of a play based on
Heyward's book and of applauding ostentatiously at it.  Neither of these
references can be tied to Shakespeare with any certainly. Indeed, the
idea of Shakespeare's plays being acted in streets and homes is quite
counter to what we know of his company's theatrical practice. I had the
idea, and, as I learned, so had a couple of previous critics, that this
mysterious play might be connected to "the Earl of Essex's Men," a
provincial touring company for which a few records of visits to
provincial towns exist. But Andrew Gurr told me he thinks this is highly
unlikely--the group apparently never performed at Court, for
example--and I have no reason to question his judgement.

--Hugh Grady
 

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