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:
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.
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
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