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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
"Ill May Day" Rhetoric
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0862  Wednesday, 7 May 2003

From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Monday, 5 May 2003 00:17:45 -0700
Subject:        "Ill May Day" Rhetoric

On May 1, 1517, riots erupted in London against foreign merchants and
craftsmen from Flanders, Italy, France, and the Baltic.  They were
incited by a broker, John Lincoln, and a preacher, Dr. Beal (or Bele).
Hall's Chronicle (1550) narrates the background xenophobia, the Ill (or
Evil) May Day turmoil, and the repercussions.  (My query begins in the
4th paragraph; sorry.)

This event is well known in one context because Shakespeare's own
handwriting has arguably been detected as "Hand D" in the "Ill May Day"
speech in the MS of the play _Sir Thomas More_ , by Anthony Munday and
at least five others, written/rewritten/censored in the period
1590-1603.  As part of the effort to make the play acceptable to the
master of revels, Edmund Tilney, Hand D wrote two additions--More's "Ill
May Day" oration that subdues the rioters (Act II, Sc. 4) and a short
soliloquy (III, 2).  They uphold Tudor authority well enough but Tilney
still didn't like it, and _STM_ was not produced until 1964.)  The play
is online at Bookrags (http://www.bookrags.com/books/1ws47/index.htm)
and is downloadable as a zipped Project Gutenberg text
(http://www.abacci.com/books/page/download.asp?bookID=2265).  The Hand D
passages can be found in Wells & Taylor's Oxford Shakespeare, pp.
787-88, and elsewhere.

But I digress and don't intend to instigate any discussion about _Sir
Thomas More_ or the identity of Hand D.  My query is about something in
the historical background of the 1517 Ill May Day rioting.  Hall was
Holinshed's source and apparently a source for Munday et al.

Some phrasing in John Lincoln's rhetoric in Hall I find most
mysterious.  I have not been able to get a handle on it through OED2,
Brewer's Phrase & Fable, and other references, or Google.
Here's part of his complaint (addressed to Dr. Beal):

"And besyde this, they growe into suche a multitude that it is to be
looked vpon, for I sawe on a Sondaye this Lent .vi.C.  straungers
shotyng at the Popyngaye with Crosbowes, and they kepe suche assemblies
and fraternities together, & make suche a gathering to their common
boxe, that euery botcher wil holde plee with the citie of London."

From Hall's Chronicle, 1550 ed., f. 60r; Ellis ed., 1809, p.  587.
Grafton, 1569, p. 1020, and Holinshed, 1587, pp. 840-41, have the same
wording.  Fabyan, from whom Hall got a lot of his London history, has no
detail on the riots; 1542 ed., p. 485.  _STM_ doesn't reuse Lincoln's
rhetoric.  So we don't have much more than Hall to explain this
phrasing.

Now, the Popinjay was possibly a tavern with an adjacent archery range
or else simply a figure of a parrot on a pole as a target.  So the
foreign merchants and craftsmen amuse themselves by shooting arrows on a
Sunday--not exactly something to stir the London apprentices.  But the
foreigners "make suche a gathering to their common boxe, that euery
botcher wil holde plee with the citie of London."

--Gathering to:  gathering together *at*?

--Common box?  It's not common boxwood or common box turtle, so what is
it?

--Botcher (if not butcher) is a mender, patcher, repairer, or perhaps
specifically tailor who mends, or a cobbler.

--Hold plea means to to try actions at law, to have jurisdiction; to try
an action.  Why would a mender or cobbler take some legal action?

Ideas?

BTW Shakespeare's Henry VIII, set later than 1517, is no help here.

Al Magary

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