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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.

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:


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.

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


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

Curiosities Exploration Shakespeare Stage

For keeping two white bears

While reading Ian Donaldson’s splendid new biography of Ben Jonson, Ben Jonson: A Life (OUP, 2011), I was fascinated to note his reference to two potential white polar bears on Bankside supposedly brought back from the Arctic by Jonas Poole in 1609. Donaldson cites an article by Tessa Grant (1) in which Grant poses the view that these bears could perhaps have been used on the London stage. While reading the Calendar of State Papers last autumn, I came across a reference to Henslowe being awarded a license to keep two white bears, prompting further investigations (which also led to Simon Leake’s guest blog post on the little known sport of Horse-Baiting on Bankside). The CSPD contains the following entry:

Warrant to pay to Phil.Henslow and Ed.Allen, Musters of the Game at Paris Garden, 42I.10s and 12d per diem, in future for keeping two white bears and a young lion (2)

Ultimately intrigued by the idea of polar bears appearing on the Jacobean stage, I decided to investigate a little of the life of Jonas Poole. Poole (bap.1566-d.1612) was an English sea captain who volunteered to travel to the arctic circle and beyond in order to further English understanding of exploration and commercial whaling. On 10th April 1603, he set sail for Archangel in the Grace under the leadership of Stephen Bennet, the Grace having been refitted for the journey at the expense of Sir Thomas Cherry, governor of the Muscovy Company. The ship returned in September of the same year, and Poole subsequently travelled to the arctic five more times before 1609. In fact, so successful were Poole’s trips, that he sailed with the first American colonists to Jamestown in 1607. Between 1603 and 1612, Poole sailed to walrus and whaling grounds in the waters of the arctic every single year bar 1607. His accounts of his travels were given to Richard Hakluyt in 1610, and were subsequently published in 1625 by Samuel Purchas (3).

The following is an early 17th Century polar explorer’s description of an encounter with a polar bear:

There came a great bear towards our house, which made us all goe in, and wee levelled at her with our Muskets, and as shee came right before our door, we shot her into the breast, clean through the heart, the bullet passing through her body, and went out againe at her tail, and was as flatted as a Counter, the Beare feeling the blow, leapt backwards, and ran twentie or thirty foot from the house, and there lay down, wherewith wee leapt all out of the house, and ran to her, and found her still alive, and when she saw us, shee rear’d up her head, as if she would gladly have done us some mischief, but we trusted her not, for that we had thread their strength sufficiently before, and therefore we shot her twice into the body again, and therewith shee dyed. Then we rip’d up her belly, and taking out her guttes, drew her home to the House where we flayed her, and took at least one hundred pounds of fat out of her belly, which wee molt’d and burned in our Lampe. This Grease did us great good service, for by that meanes we still kept a Lampe burning all night long, which before wee could not doe, for want of Grease, and eery man had meanes to burned a Lampe in his Cabbin, for such necessaries as he had to doe. The Beares skin was nine foot long, and seven foot broad (4)

Hair-raising stuff. Poole himself speaks of numerous encounters with polar bears while on Cherry Island (Svalbard) in 1609. His account contains references to the killing of bears, foxes, seals, and other wildlife. In one entry, he describes seeing a mother bear with her cubs and yet is unable to kill the cubs because they are only ‘of a month old: they skipped about their dams neck, and played with one another very wantonly’ (5). On 30th May he and his party

slue 26. Seales, and espied three white Beares: wee went aboard for Shot and Powder, and coming to the Ice again, we should see a shee-Beare and two young ones: Master Thomas Welden shot and killed her: after shee was slyane, wee got the young ones, and brought them home into England, where they are still alive in Paris Garden (6).

It’s shocking to imagine explorers like Poole surviving in the hostile environment of the arctic without GPS, modern protective clothing, and access to a plane and medical supplies, but it’s simply astonishing that he should risk bringing two live polar bears, albeit cubs, back to England. Of course, exotic animals were par for the course at court and at the Tower, but nevertheless, Poole’s decision does seem to modern sensibilities either slightly fool-hardy or quite mad.

In 1611, Poole suffered a broken skull and collar bone on Cherry Island while handling his cargo of walrus ivory and whale fat. He was brought home by a rival whaler and recovered sufficiently from his injuries to return to the arctic the following year. However, Poole’s career as a whaler was cut short in September 1612 when he was murdered in Wapping in August, having returned home from what became his final voyage. Poole was survived by his wife and two sons, and his grandson, Jonas, went on to have a successful naval career from 1652 to 1665 (7).

In an interesting addendum, Tessa Grant comments that the water poet John Taylor provides a list of the names of the bears at the Paris Garden (8). Taylor refers specifically to two white bears named Mad Bess and Will Tookey (9). Could they be the Jonas bears? A quick delve into the FAQ at Polar Bear International reveals that in the wild, polar bears live on average 15-18 years. However in captivity they may live well into their late thirties. If the Paris Garden bears are the Cherry Island bears brought back by Jonas, then in 1638 they would have been 29 years old. Grant suggest the Jonas bears retired from the stage in 1612 (9), but it is of course entirely possible they may have lived on as part of the spectacle at the bear gardens for many years to come. And most intriguingly, Simon Foreman records seeing The Winter’s Talein May 1611, just weeks after Henslowe and Allen were granted their warrant to keep ‘two white bears’. It’s a fanciful notion, but perhaps it was the Jonas bears that inspired Shakespeare to write his famous stage direction, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’

It is worth noting that there is a second scholarly article on the white bears; Barbara Ravelhofer, “Beasts of Recreation”: Henslowe’s White Bears, English Literary Renaissance, 32 (2002), 287-323
Unfortunately I have been unable to access the article due to the vagaries of the university server. I hope to read it soon, and perhaps update this post.

For more on bears on Bankside see Drunken Cocks and Bear-Baiting

1) Teresa Grant, Notes & Queries, 246 (2001), 311-13
2) CSPD, entry dated March 20th 1611
3) DNB, R C D Baldwin
4) cited in Samuel Purchas, His pilgrimes In fiue bookes (Vol 3), London (1625), 502
5) Ibid 560
6) Ibid 562
7) Baldwin
8) Grant, 312
9) John Taylor, Bull, beare, and horse, cut, curtaile, and longtaile. VVith tales, and tales of buls, clenches, and flashes. As also here and there a touch of our beare-garden-sport; with the second part of the merry conceits of wit and mirth. Together with the names of all the bulls and beares, London (1638),  E.v
10) Grant, 312

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Actor Stage Theatre

Puppit-plays are still up with uncontrolled allowance

This fragment comes from a text published in 1643 to protest the closure of the theatres by the Puritans. Not only does it reveal some interesting details about how actors and playhouses were regarded by the authorities, it also sheds charming light on the working practices and employees of a typical theatre in 17th Century London. It’s a really delightful text. I particularly love the bitter disparaging remarks about puppet shows.

The Actors Remonstrance or Complaint, for the silencing of their Profession, and banishment from their severall Play houses. In which is fully set downe their grievances, especially since Stage-playes, only of all publike recreations are prohibited; the exercise at the Beares Colledge, and the motions of Puppets being still in force and vigour.

Oppressed with many calamities and languishing under the burthen of a long and (for ought wee know) an everlasting restraint, we the Comedians, Tragedians and Actors of all sorts and sizes belonging to the famous private and publike Houses within the City of London and the Suburbs thereof, to you great Phoebus, and you sacred Sisters, the sole Patronesses of our distressed Calling, doe we in all humility present this our humble and lamentable complaint, by whose intercession to those powers who confined us to silence, wee hope to be restored to our pristine honour and imployment.

First, it is not unknowne to all the audience that have frequented the private Houses of Black-Friers, the Cock-Pit and Salisbury-Court, without austerity we have purged our Stages from all obscene and scurrilous jests such as might either be guilty of corrupting the manners, or defaming the persons of any men of note in the City or Kingdome; that we have endevoured, as much as in us lies, to instruct one another in the true and genuine Art of acting, to represse bawling and railing, formerly in great request, and for to suite our language and action to the more gentile and naturall garbe of the times; that we have left off for our owne parts, and so have commanded our servants to forget that ancient custome, which formerly rendred men of our quality infamous, namely, the inveigling in young Gentlemen, Merchants Factors, and Prentizes to spend their patrimonies and Masters estates upon us and our Harlots in Tavernes. We have cleane and quite given over the borrowing money at first sight of punie gallants, or praising their swords, belts and beavers, so to invite them to bestow them upon us; and to our praise be it spoken, we were for the most part very well reformed, few of us keeping, or being rather kept by our Mistresses, betooke our selves wholy to our wives; observing the matrimoniall vow of chastity, yet for all these conformities and reformations, wee were by authority (to which wee in all humility submit) restrained from the practice of our Profession.

That Profession which had before maintained us is now condemned to a perpetuall, at least a very long temporary silence, and we left to live upon our shifts, or the expence of our former gettings, to the great impoverishment and utter undoing of our selves, wives, children, and dependants. Besides which our extremest grievance that Playes being put downe under the name of publike recreations, other publike recreations of farre more harmfull consequence permitted still to stand namely, that Nurse of barbarisme and beastlinesse, the Bear-Garden, whereupon their usuall dayes those Demy-Monsters, are baited by bandogs, which dare not be seen in our civill and well-governed Theatres, where none use to come but the best of the Nobility and Gentry; and though some have taxed our Houses unjustly for being the receptacles of Harlots, yet we may justly excuse our selves of either knowledge or consent in these lewd practices, we having no propheticke soules to know womens honesty by instinct.

Puppit-plays, which are not so much valuable as the very musique betweene each Act at ours, are still up with uncontrolled allowance, witnesse the famous motion of Bell and the Dragon, so frequently visited at Holbourne-bridge these passed Christmas Holidayes, whither Citizens of all sorts repaire with far more detriment to themselves then ever did to Playes, Comedies and Tragedies being the lively representations of mens actions, in which, vice is alwayes sharply glanced at, and punished, and vertue rewarded and encouraged; the most exact and naturall eloquence of our English language expressed and daily amplified; and yet for all this, we suffer.

First our House-keepers, that grew wealthy by our endevours, complaine that they are enforced to pay the grand Land-lords rents during this long Vacation, out of their former gettings; in stead of ten, twenty, nay, thirty shillings shares which used nightly to adorne and comfort with their harmonious musique their large and Well-stuffed pockets, they have shares in nothing with us now but our mis-fortunes; living meerly out of the stock, out of the interest and principall of their former gotten moneyes, which daily is exhausted by the maintenance of themselves and families.

For our selves, such as were sharers, are so impoverished, that were it not for some slender helps afforded us in this time of calamitie, by our former providence, we might be enforced to act our Tragedies. Our Hired-men are disperst, some turned Souldiers and Trumpetters, others destin’d to meaner courses. Their friends, young Gentlemen, that used to feast and frolick with them at Tavernes, having either quitted the kin in these times of distraction, or their money having quitted them, they are ashamed to look upon their old expensive friends those Buxsome and Bountifull Lasses, that usually were enamoured on the persons of the younger sort of Actors, for the good cloaths they wore upon the stage, beleeving them really to be the persons they did only represent.

Our Fooles, who had wont to allure and excite laughter with their very countenances, at their first appearance on the stage are enforced, some of them at least to maintaine themselves, by vertue of their babbles. Our boyes, ere wee shall have libertie to act againe, will be growne out of use like crackt organ-pipes, and have faces as old as our flags.

Nay, our very Doore-keepers, men and women, most grievously complaine that by this cessation they are robbed of the priviledge of stealing from us with licence. Our Musike that was held so delectable and precious, that they scorned to come to a Taverne under twentie shillings salary for two houres, now wander with their Instruments under their cloaks, into all houses of good fellowship, saluting every roome where there is company, with Will you have any musike Gentlemen?

For our Tire-men, and other that belonged formerly to our ward-robe, with the rest, they are out of service: our stock of cloaths being a sacrifice to moths. The Tobacco-men, that used to walk up and downe, selling for a penny pipe, that which was not worth twelve-pence an horse-load, being now bound under Tapsters in Inns and Tippling houses.

Nay such a terrible distresse and dissolution hath befallen us, and all those that had dependance on the stage, that it hath quite unmade our hopes of future recoverie. For some of our ablest ordinarie Poets, in stead of their annuall stipends and beneficiall second-dayes, being for meere necessitie compelled to get a living by writing contemptible penny-pamphlets

To conclude, this our humble complaint great Phoebus, and you nine sacred Sisters, the Patronesses of Wit, and Protectresses of us poore disrepected Comedians, if for the present, by your powerfull intercessions we may be re-invested in our former Houses, and settled in our former Calling, we shall for the future promise, never to admit into our sixpenny-roomes those unwholesome inticing Harlots, nor any female of what degree soever, except they come lawfully with their husbands. The abuses in Tobacco shall be reformed, none vended, not so much as in three-penny galleries, unlesse of the pure Spanish leafe. For ribaldry, or any such paltry stuffe, as may scandall the pious, and provoke the wicked to loosenesse, we will utterly expell it. Finally, we shall hereafter so demeane our selves as none shall esteeme us of the ungodly, or have cause to repine at our action or interludes.

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