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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Questions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0574  Monday, 24 March 2003

From:           James Conlan <
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Date:           Friday, 21 Mar 2003 13:24:21 +0000
Subject: 14.0557 Re: Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0557 Re: Questions

In response to Sean Lawrence, I should explain incident in the _Gesta
Grayorum_.

The Prince of Purple sat the ambassador from the Middle Temple next to
him on the stage to watch the show as if he were another prince.  The
proper placement of an ambassador in a foreign court, if he is a
gentleman, is as a baron. The placement of an ambassador on the stage
next to the prince was a _de jure_ invitation for all those who were
"worshipful" in the audience (I believe "worshipful" signals baron or
above; "right worshipful" is appropriate for earls) to displace him to a
place of lesser precedence.  Not so well entertained as he had been
initially, the ambassador from the Middle Temple displayed exactly the
same behavior exhibited in court whenever the French and Spanish
ambassadors were placed above each other:  He left.

If the issue is whether Shakespeare understood the importance of
precedence or not, we can turn to the banquet scene in _Macbeth_, when
Macbeth opens the scene by saying, "You know your own degrees, sit
down.  At first / And last, the hearty welcome" (3.4.1), and Lady
Macbeth concludes the feast by saying to those attending, "Stand not on
the order of your going, but go at once"(3.4.118-9) when ushering them
out of the hall -- the first public act of tyranny.  If the issue is
whether Shakespeare's gentle audience (for instance, the gentlemen of
the Inns of Court) understood the rules of precedence, we can turn to
the banquet after the 1613 _Memorable Masque_ where the king himself
arranged the seating.  (I believe this is described by John Chamberlain
in his letters, reproduced in Alexander Brown's _Genesis of the United
States_).  If the issue is whether Shakespeare understood that
particular styles of address might be insulting or indicate political
allegiance, there is most obviously Gloucester's speech after receiving
the letter from the Duke of Burgundy in _2 Henry 6_ (one of
Shakespeare's earliest plays), where Gloucester rightly determines the
treason of Burgundy simply by reading the way the King is addressed:

What means his Grace, that he hath chang'd his style?
No more but plain and bluntly "To the King"?
Hath he forgot he is his sovereign?
Or doth this churlish superscription
Pretend some alteration in good will? (4.1.50-4)

Nor should we doubt that Shakespeare indulges in playing on the
political significance of precedence and styles of address until the end
of his career: in _Henry 8_, Katherine learns she has lost her appeal to
Rome as soon as she is announced by the crier as "Katherine, Queen of
England" rather than "Katherine, Queen of Aragon" (2.4.12).  Intimately
familiar with the political significance of the address, she seeks to be
judged in Henry's court; when Henry refuses to accept jurisdiction, she
retires to her own court before the Pope's doom is read and,
significantly, refuses to turn back when she is addressed only as queen
of England.

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