Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
The Essex Rebellion and Richard II
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0528  Wednesday, 25 February 2004

[1]     From:   Holger Schott <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 10:49:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0494 The Essex Rebellion and Richard II

[2]     From:   Holger Schott <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 10:51:19 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0494 The Essex Rebellion and Richard II


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Holger Schott <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 10:49:40 -0500
Subject: 15.0494 The Essex Rebellion and Richard II
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0494 The Essex Rebellion and Richard II

After brashly attacking Blair Worden in the early days of this thread, I
was away from my computer for most of the week and thus unable to
participate in the debate as it developed. I have a few comments to add
now, though -- especially since I've finally managed to actually read
Worden's piece (many thanks to John Price for sending me a copy).

I agree with Hugh Grady that the article contains little that's new.
Worden cites Leeds Barroll's 1989 _SQ_ article, whose points he claims
to "develop;" however, the substance of his argument is heavily indebted
to Barroll's, and with a few exceptions, he doesn't go beyond it.
Perhaps his most valuable observation is that Shakespeare seems
unusually uninterested in the figure of the favourite, and diverges from
the trend of the 1590s and later in portraying monarchs that "make their
own way to misgovernment." That struck me as relatively original (but
it's not a subject I've researched).

As for the argument that makes the piece newsworthy, Worden's claim that
the play performed on February 7, 1601, was not Shakespeare's, but a
dramatization of John Hayward's 1599 _Life and Reign of King Henry IV_,
I stand by what I said in my original post: Worden has not produced any
new evidence for this theory; it is unconvincing.

Worden relies on a number of extreme overstatements. For instance, he
claims that "no historical subject was of livelier interest in
Elizabeth's last years than Richard's overthrow; and there is no
likelier a subject of a missing play or plays." The first claim may hold
true, although it's by no means self-evident; the conclusion Worden
draws from it seems dubious. He argues elsewhere that the subject of
Richard's reign was politically charged after the publication, in
1593/4, of Robert Parson's _Conference about the Next Succession_; if
that is true (which again is not self-evident), surely the subject would
have been a _less_ likely choice for playwrights. Worden invokes Roslyn
Knutson's work in reminding us that many plays have been lost; however,
Knutson's own commercially-minded approach should surely make us
suspicious of a theory that argues that the Lord Chamberlain's Men,
reacting to the popularity of Hayward's book in 1599, paid for a new
play that covered exactly the same ground as a play that had been part
of their repertory (we assume) in 1595/6, if not later.  Reviving
Shakespeare's play seems like a much more economical proposal; we might
even speculate that the deposition scene was added at this point, to
increase the show's attractiveness. It is of course conceivable that
another company commissioned (or was offered) an adaptation of Hayward's
history; we know nothing of the commercial success of Shakespeare's play
on stage (it was popular in print), but if its success as a book is
anything to go by, a competing company might have liked the idea of
staging their own Richard.

Worden's confident assertion that "such a play existed, and it was not
Shakespeare's. It was the dramatization of a book" remains deeply
problematic, though. It is based on a single shred of evidence, an
abstract of the evidence against Essex assembled for Attorney General
Edward Coke in the summer of 1600 (in preparation for proceedings
against Essex in connection with his failure in Ireland). One of the
accusations against the Earl was "his underhand permitting of that most
treasonous book of Henry the fourth to be printed and published, being
plainly deciphered not only by the matter, and by the Epistle itself,
for what end and for whose behoof it was made, but also the Earl himself
being so often present at the playing thereof, and with great applause
giving countenance and liking to the same." Worden is sure that he knows
what this passage means: "In other words, Hayward's book had been
dramatised, and Essex - at what venue or venues, and in what company, we
cannot know - had watched, and given endorsement to, the dramatisation."
Other words indeed. "The playing thereof" poses something of a problem,
but if the phrase does indeed refer to a dramatic adaptation of
Hayward's book, I find it puzzling in the extreme that this fact was
never mentioned during any of the treason trials associated with Essex's
rebellion.

Another tricky issue is the chronology Worden proposes: he thinks that
the dramatized version of Hayward's history must have been mounted
before Essex left for Ireland on March 22, 1599. The book was published
in February of that year, which means that within a month, its
popularity had persuaded some company to commission a dramatic
adaptation, it had been allowed by the Master of the Revels, parts had
been copied out, costumes and props assembled, and _many_ performances
were mounted before Essex left the country. That's one scenario, highly
unlikely to my mind -- in fact, it virtually rules out performance by a
professional troupe of actors. A somewhat less unlikely scenario would
posit a series of private performances by an unknown group of actors
(most likely assembled for the purpose), written by an unknown author,
or perhaps even by Hayward himself, perhaps even before publication.
Such a performance, bypassing the Office of the Revels, might
conceivably have been thrown together before Essex's departure for
Ireland; alternatively, such a staging might have taken place after the
Earl's return from Ireland, at his house (a possibility Worden doesn't
consider). I don't know of any precedents for such a practice, but it's
not absolutely implausible. Again, though, I find it difficult to
understand why such a complex and labor-intensive undertaking would not
have figured more prominently in the trials and the literature
surrounding them.

Worden's supporting argument, that both Bacon and Coke refer to the
"story" of Henry IV as the subject of the play performed on the eve of
the rebellion, that Hayward's book was likewise called a "story," and
that "story" and "history" were used interchangeable, so that
_therefore_ the play in question must have been a dramatized version of
Hayward's book, is flimsy to say the least: any _history_ play "sets
forth" a "story" and most draw on chronicle histories to that end;
Shakespeare's play, in drawing extensively on Holinshed, dramatizes a
"(hi)story."

Citing John Manning, the editor of the Camden Society's 1991 edition of
Hayward's _Life_, Worden insists on the "dramatic" quality of Hayward's
writing, a quality that made the book "a work to tempt a dramatist."  If
it is true that Hayward's text is inherently dramatic, might the
"playing thereof" not simply have consisted in shared readings, with
members of Essex's circle reading aloud the speeches of characters from
the book?

In any case, the question whether Hayward's _Life_ was dramatized at all
or not is really secondary to Worden's central claim: that it was this
dramatization which was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men at the
Globe on February 7, 1601.  I have already pointed out the unlikelihood
of a commercial adaptation of the book within the timeframe posited by
Worden (a commercial staging of the text after Essex's return from
Ireland must surely be ruled out as impossible: a play based on a banned
book would not have pleased the Master of the Revels). This scenario
becomes even less likely when we add the Lord Chamberlain's Men into the
mix. And the idea that Meyrick et al. asked Augustine Phillips to mount
a performance of a play none of the actors had seen before within a day
is obviously absurd.

Worden's case for Hayward is painfully weak; his argument that the play
wasn't Shakespeare's _Richard II_, however, while also inconclusive, and
certainly very old news, stands, if only because no-one referred to the
play as Shakespeare's. That Augustine Phillips called it "old and long
out of use" hardly amounts to "greenroom bitchiness," as Worden thinks.
There is no positive evidence that the play wasn't the _Richard II_ we
know, but if we're willing to countenance the idea that the Lord
Chamberlain's Men in the 1590s owned two plays featuring the deposition
and killing of Richard II, we certainly can't rule out that Meyrick and
friends wanted to see the one that's lost. But that is all we can say.

A few quick responses to end this over-long contribution: Michael Egan's
notion that the entire episode was manufactured doesn't hold water. The
performance itself wasn't treasonable, it didn't play a large enough
role in the trials, and the surviving documents look, to my eye at
least, convincing. Don Bloom's theory that the Lord Chamberlain's Men,
"the queen's own acting troupe," might have been involved in an effort
to set Essex up similarly fails to persuade me, although it has a
certain romantic charm (of a dark kind). They weren't "the queen's own"
company; Essex wasn't closely associated with the performance (his
associates were, as Worden rightly points out), and the episode simply
wasn't important enough to carry such weight. Finally Gary Kosinsky is
very right to refer us all back the PMLA debate between Evelyn May
Albright and Ray Heffner from the 1930s, cited by Leeds Barroll, and
largely ignored by Blair Worden. I should also say that I find Hugh
Grady's argument, that the play put on at Meyrick's request was meant to
represent Hayward's history, shrewd and utterly persuasive.

Apologies for excessive length --

Holger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Holger Schott <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 10:51:19 -0500
Subject: 15.0494 The Essex Rebellion and Richard II
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0494 The Essex Rebellion and Richard II

Having already responded to recent posts in this thread at far too great
length, I will just briefly comment on the exchange between Hugh Grady
and Tom Rutter over Elizabeth I's infamous "I am Richard II" remark.

Regarding the queen's claim that "this tragedy was played 40tie times in
open streets and houses," I don't think Tom's suggestion, that
"Elizabeth wasn't referring to a stage play at all," and that she might
have been using "the theatrical metaphor that was so pervasive in
Elizabethan speech, a reference to the Essex rebellion itself maybe,
rather than to performances of a play," is "pushing it a bit" at all --
in fact, I find it completely persuasive.

I don't think, however, that Elizabeth merely refers to Essex: rather,
if we consider the context of the statement, what she seems to say is
that Essex's fate was sadly not unique: "He that will forget God, will
also forget his benefactors" (like the Earl); however, in her long
reign, she has seen that kind of thing happen frequently -- all over the
place. Hugh Grady objects "that the '40tie times' seems an odd phrase to
me in that context," but the OED records the indefinite use of "forty"
simply "to express a large number" ("forty," A. b) from the 17th century
(with its first citation from _Coriolanus_).

In fact, there is nothing in the exchange between Elizabeth and William
Lambarde to suggest that either of them was thinking of a play at all.
They talked about English history and its records, the queen "fell upon
the reign of King Richard II," compared herself to the monarch (_not_ to
a figure in a play, by Shakespeare or anyone else), Lambarde told her
that Essex's treason used the same conceit, and Elizabeth than picked up
the fallen favorite motif in Lambarde's response to lament the frequency
of such ingratitude. I fear the association of the conversation with
actual theatrical performances, and particularly with Shakespeare's
play, derives more from a critical desire that the stage and its
greatest author should have been on the queen's mind than from anything
in the text itself.

Best,
Holger

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.