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‘The trumpets sound: stand close, the queen is coming’

 
From the First Folio (1623)

 
 
Some Shakespeare scholars have dismissed suggestions that Shakespeare and Fletcher’s All Is True or Henry VIII (1) alludes in part to the royal wedding of James I’s daughter Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine in February 1613. However, during the course of my research I have noted some interesting parallels between the stage spectacle of the play, and printed accounts of the wedding, and what follows are a few of my thoughts.

At the close of All Is True, Henry announces the event of his new daughter Elizabeth’s christening as a day of holiday for all. Similarly, on 14th February 1613, the date of James I’s daughter Elizabeth’s wedding, England celebrated with a national holiday. During the Coronation of Anne Bullen in Act Four of All is True, two Gentlemen, meeting on the street, discuss the event:

First Gent: You come to take your stand here, and behold
The Lady Ann pass from her coronation?

Second Gent: ‘Tis all my business. At our last encounter
The Duke of Buckingham came from his trial.

First Gent: ‘Tis very true. But that time offer’d sorrow,
This, general joy.

Second Gent: ‘Tis well: The citizens
I am sure have shown at full their royal minds.
(4.1.3-9)

It is tempting to read in this exchange an echo of the celebrations on the streets of London on Valentine’s Day 1613. Prince Henry’s funeral in December 1612 had been a sombre and depressing event. Two thousand mourners followed his coffin from St James to Westminster; an event which caused ‘many tears and sighs’ (2). Officials recorded they had never beheld ‘so much sorrow’ (3). Yet by January, Sir Thomas Lake reported ‘The black is wearing out, and the marriage pomps preparing’ (4). In February, the very same crowds which had mourned Henry’s death were cheering for the royal wedding. The ceremony took place at the Royal Chapel, Whitehall, on a Sunday. However the celebrations began on Thursday 11th with a spectacular firework display on the river Thames, and continued into the weekend with mock sea battles, masques, and all manner of ‘triumphant sportes’ (5). The weekend culminated in the wedding itself:

The Court being placed full of people of many Estates, sortes, and Nations, first came the Bride-groom from the newe built Banquetting-house, attired in a white Satten sute, richly beset with Pearle and Golde, attended on by a number of young gallant Courtiers, both English, Scottish, and Dutch, all in rich manner, every one striving to exceede in sumptuous habilliaments, fitte for the attendants of so princely a Bride-groome. After came the Lady Elizabeth, in her Virgin-robes, clothed in a gowne of white Satten richly embroidered, led betweene her royall brother Prince Charles, and the Earle of Northampton. Upon her head a crowne of refined golde, made imperiall by the Pearles and Dyamonds thereupon placed, which were so thicke beset that they stood like shining pinnacles. Upon her amber coloured haire, hanging plaited down over her shoulders to her Waste, betweene every plaight Gold spangles, Pearles, Riche stones, and Diamonds, and many Diamonds of inestimable value embroidered upon her sleeves, which dazzled and amazed the eyes of the beholders… After them came another traine of gallant young Courtiers in sutes embroidered and Pearled… then the king of Heralds bearing upon his shoulder a Mace of Golde… After them four Seargiants of the Mace, bearing upon their shoulders foure riche Enamelled Maces.Then followed the right Honourable the Earle of Aundell carrying the kings Sword. And then in great Royaltie the Kings Majestie himself… Upon her [Elizabeth]attended a number of married Ladies, the Countesses and wives of Earles and Barrons, apparelled in most noble manner which added glory into this triumphant time and Marriage (6).

A comparison with the stage directions in Act Four of All Is True reveals some similarities with the above description:

THE ORDER OF THE CORONATION

1. A lively flourish of Trumpets.
2. Then, two Judges.
3. LORD CHANCELLOR, with the purse and mace before him.
4. Choristers, singing. Music
5. MAYOR OF LONDON, bearing the mace. Then GARTER, in his coat of arms, and on his head a gilt copper crown.
6. MARQUESS DORSET, bearing a sceptre of gold, on his head a demi-coronal of gold. With him, the EARL OF SURREY, bearing the rod of silver with the dove, crowned with an earl’s coronet. Collars of Esses.
7. DUKE OF SUFFOLK, in his robe of estate, his coronet on his head, bearing a long white wand, as high-steward. With him, the DUKE OF NORFOLK, with the rod of marshalship, a coronet on his head. Collars of Esses.
8. A canopy borne by four of the Cinque-ports; under it, the QUEEN in her robe; in her hair, richly adorned with pearl, crowned. On each side her, the BISHOPS OF LONDON and WINCHESTER.
9. The old DUCHESS OF NORFOLK, in a coronal of gold, wrought with flowers, bearing the queen’s train.
10. Certain Ladies or Countesses, with plain circlets of gold without flowers.

Exeunt, first passing over the stage in order and state, and then, a great flourish of trumpets (4.1)

In one of the printed descriptions of the royal wedding, the bridesmaids attending the Princess are described as a ‘skye of Celestiall starres’ (7). The Second Gentleman, commenting on Anne Bullen’s procession in All Is True, refers to the countesses carrying the train as ‘stars indeed’(4.1.53). The Third Gentleman, commenting on the vast crowd watching the Coronation, evokes the spectators cheering Elizabeth, her new husband, and the court, as it processed from Whitehall to the Banqueting house: ‘when the people / Had the full view of, such a noise arose / As the shrouds make at sea in a stiff tempest, / As loud and to as many tunes; hats, cloaks – / Doublets, I think – flew up’ (4.1.70-74).

Similarly, the printed account of the royal wedding describes silver trumpets welcoming the couple into the Banqueting House with such melodious sounds it caused ‘thousands to say at that instant time, God give them joy, God give them joy’ (8). The Third Gentleman in All is True, remarks on the crowds: ‘Such joy / I never saw before’ (4.1.75-6). Likewise, Antony Nixon describes the mood in England on 14th February as one of joy: ‘The day of ioy, the day of iollitie, / That young and old, and all doe celebrate,’ in honour of the nuptials, ‘behold, / How young and old, and high and low reioyce. / England hath put a face of gladnesse on; / And Court and Countrie caroll both their prayse’ (9).

Stage directions in any early modern play present problematic issues. We cannot assume they were always written by the playwright, and thus it is possible that the stage directions in All Is True were penned by a scribe. However, given the specific order of the Coronation procession, the stage directions here do suggest a deliberate attempt to transpose the spectacle of the royal wedding onto the stage at the Globe. So if we accept the possibility for a moment that these stage directions are original and inserted by the playwrights themselves, some interesting questions begin to emerge. Did Shakespeare and Fletcher attended the royal wedding in February 1613, as passive spectators, or even active participants? Given the role of the King’s Men at this time, it is possible they were indeed invited to attend. Perhaps they were absent from London and simply read subsequent printed accounts of the wedding. Wherever they were on 14th February 1613, what is clear is that both playwrights appear to have had specific aspects of the royal wedding in mind when they composed All Is True in the spring of 1613.
 

 
This extract is taken from my original research paper on All Is True, which was submitted to the University of Sussex in 2011.
 
Notes

1) Originally entitled All Is True, its name was changed to Henry VIII in the First Folio, ‘to bring its title in line with those of all the other English history plays, which are named after the kings whose reign they dramatize.’ See Wells, Stanley, Shakespeare & Co (Penguin, 2007), 212
2) Green, Mary Anne Everett (ed), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I 1611-18 (Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, London, 1858), 162
3) Ibid
4) Ibid, 166
5) Anon, The mariage of Prince Fredericke, and the Kings daughter, the Lady Elizabeth, vpon Shrouesunday last VVith the shovves on land and water, before, and after the wedding, as also the maskes and reuells in his Highnes court, with the running at the ring, by the Kings Maiestie, the Palsegraue, Prince Charles, and diuers others of the nobilitie (London, 1613)
6) Ibid, Bv – B2r
7) Ibid, B2v
8) Ibid, B2r
9) Nixon, Antony, Great Brittaines generall ioyes. Londons glorious triumphes Dedicated to the immortall memorie of the ioyfull mariage of the two famous and illustrious princes, Fredericke and Elizabeth. Celebrated the 14. of Februarie, being S. Valentines day. With the instalment of the sayd potent Prince Fredericke at Windsore, the 7. of Februarie aforesaid (London, 1613), B4r

 

Books Playwrights Printing Shakespeare

Reader looke, Not on his Picture, but his Book

Close-up of fore-edge and battered binding
©Bodleian Libraries

Today’s post comes from Pip Wilcox, digital editor at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. She unveils exciting news about the digitisation of a rare copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which everybody will be able to download and read from 23 April 2013.

A Prodigal First Folio

In the winter of 1623, a copy of Shakespeare’s newly printed First Folio arrived at Oxford’s Bodleian Library from London. Some time later, it left the Library and for years it was lost from view.

But in 1905, Gladwyn Turbutt, an undergraduate at Magdalen College, brought a tattered copy of an early Shakespeare Folio into the Library for advice on its binding. The sub-librarian on duty, Falconer Madan, immediately knew it was the lost Bodleian First Folio, still in its original binding.

 

Cymbeline © Bodleian Libraries

Excited as he was, Madan publicized the discovery. Word of it reached America, from where an anonymous prospective buyer offered an enormous £3,000 for the book. Later the would-be buyer was revealed as the chairman of Standard Oil, Henry Clay Folger.

The book’s owners, the Turbutt family of Derbyshire, gave the Bodleian a chance to match Folger’s offer. Funds were scarce, but the book was particularly precious, and so the first public fund-raising campaign in its history was born. It needed an extension from the Turbutts and over 80 donors to raise the sum, but finally, in 1906, the First Folio returned to its first owners.

In the winter of 2011, Emma Smith gave a talk on her research into this copy of the book, rarely seen by scholars due to its fragility. Emma’s lecture, her generosity, and her passion for sharing knowledge sparked a new public fund-raising campaign, Sprint for Shakespeare. With support from champions led by Vanessa Redgrave, and hundreds of donors, colleagues from across the Bodleian are working to conserve, digitize, and publish the book online.

Vanessa Redgrave and Thelma Holt with the First Folio © Bodleian Libraries

Emma Smith (the academic whose research started the project) & Maev Kennedy (Guardian)
© Bodleian Libraries 

 

This book, lost and found, tells an extraordinary story of overwhelming generosity, recent and historic, intellectual and financial. We know an unusual amount about its past: who bound it, and when (William Wildgoose, in February 1624); we know its exact position during the first years of its life – through the theatre closures of the Commonwealth – chained to a shelf in the recently completed Arts End of Duke Humfrey’s Library. Thanks to the efforts of Falconer Madan and Strickland Gibson, we have a detailed description of its state in 1905. E W B Nicholson’s gift for administration has left us a complete archive of its first funding campaign.

 

Damage with 18th Century patching © Bodleian Libraries  

More surprising may be what we do not know of its history: how the book came to the Bodleian in 1623 – whether through the Library’s agreement with the Stationers’ Company or as a presentation copy; how and when it left the Library; who owned it before the Turbutt family.

But perhaps the best stories are the ones the book itself tells – its plays, of course, but also how it was printed, bound, kept, and above all read. It has plenty left to tell us, with its first-instance Droeshout engraving, the poor quality of its paper, an unidentified manuscript poem, an apple pip squashed flat in its gutter, of how King John appears barely touched while Romeo and Juliet has been read to tatters.

Conservation in action © Bodleian Libraries

 

We are delighted that public support and digital technology allow us to share, rather than compete for, this treasure of the Bodleian’s collections. On 23 April 2013 we will publish the digital facsimile online, freely available for study and download. We hope you will help us tell its stories.

 

The battered binding © Bodleian Libraries

 

Title Page © Bodleian Libraries

Pip Willcox is a digital editor at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Books Curiosities Death Murder Playwrights Poison

‘Thou’rt poisoned with that book’

I wanted to share this fascinating object which I stumbled upon on Friday. It is a bible dating to 1600 which contains a secret arsenal of poison. Given its nature, one might assume it was used by travelling assassins, or kept hidden in the library of a large house to dispatch unwanted guests. It was for auction at the Hermann Historica auction house in Germany, and is described, in translation, as follows:

Original book cover in 1600 with finely embossed parchment-related covers. Close book intact, the pages glued to a solid block, and cut out rectangular. Inside, finely crafted device with eleven different sized drawers and an open compartment. The individual drawers with colored paper glued on, the front frame and knobs flame strips of silver and ebonised wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names for various poisonous plants (like Rhicinus, datura, belladonna, valerian, etc.). The greenish glass bottle labeled “est. Statutum hominibus semel mori” (It is given to man to die). In the book cover [is] glued old engraving depicting a standing skeleton, dated “1682″. Dimensions of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm.

John Webster, in his play The Duchess of Malfi, has the Cardinal kill Julia with a poisoned bible, and it’s fascinating to speculate that rather than coming from his imagination, Webster had instead either seen or heard of an object similar to the one above.

I originally found the image here and the auction house details are here

Bankside Entertainment London Playwrights Propaganda Stage Theatre

A Game At Chess

The following is an extract from a letter written by the Spanish Ambassador, in which he outlines the performance of a play at the Globe written by Thomas Middleton. A Game at Chess is a notoriously anti-Catholic play. It was licensed for performance on 12th June 1624, but was not performed by the King’s Men at the Globe until 6th August, by which time James I was out of London. It ran for nine days before being closed by the authorities. In addition to the rabid anti-Catholic slant the ambassador so objects to, and it is important to remember the play was performed at the height of English anxiety about the Spanish Match, his account reveals some fascinating details about production and performance styles on the London stage at this time

The actors whom they call here ‘the King’s Men’ have recently acted, and are still acting, in London a play that so many people come to see, that there were more than 3,000 on the day that the audience was the smallest. There was such merriment, hubbub and applause that even if I had been many leagues away it would not have been possible for me not have taken notice of it…

The subject  of the play is a game of chess, with white squares and black squares, their kings and other pieces, acted by the players, and the king of the blacks has easily been taken for our lord the King, because of his youth, dress and other details. The first act, or rather game was played by their ministers, impersonated by the white pieces, and the Jesuits, by the black ones. Here there were remarkable acts of sacrilege and, among other abominations, a minister summoned St Ignatius from hell, and when he found himself again in the world, the first thing he did was to rape one of his female penitents; in all this, these accursed and abominable men revealed the depths of their heresy by their lewd and obscene actions.

The second act was directed against the Archbishop of Spalatro, at that time a white piece, but afterwards won over to the black side by the Count of Gondomar, who, brought onto the stage in his litter almost to the life, and seated in his chair with a hole in it (they said), confessed all the treacherous actions with which he had deceived and soothed the king of the whites, and, when he discussed the matter of confession with the Jesuits, the actor disguised as the Count took out a book in which were rated all the prices for which henceforwards sins were to be forgiven…

The last act ended with a long, obstinate struggle between all the whites and the blacks, and in it he who acted the Prince of Wales heartily beat and kicked the ‘Count of Gondomar’ into Hell, which consisted of a great hole and hideous figures; and the white king [drove] the black king and even his queen [into Hell] almost as offensively.

It cannot be pleaded that those who repeat and hear these insults are merely rogues because during these last four days more than 12,000 persons have all heard the play of A Game at Chess, for so they call it, including all the nobility still in London. All these people come out of the theatre so inflamed against Spain that, as a few Catholics have told me who went secretly to the play, my person would not be safe in the streets; others have advised me to keep to my house with a good guard, and this is being done.

Don Carlos Coloma to the Count-Duke of Olivares, 10 August 1624.

Cited in Houston, S J., James I, Second Edition (Longman, 1995), 128-9

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