We here at Unknown Playwrights have found a wee Valentine’s Day play from 1916 from a writer who seemed to have led a much more interesting life outside writing children’s plays. More on that later. But now, the play’s the thing.
I can see this story has been influenced by the folklore of another commercial holiday.
It turns out there’s a Sir Valentine who lives nearby and is responsible for cruel tricks on Valentine’s Day. Like that time in junior high when I got a rose from someone who didn’t put their name on the card and all the kids made fun of me and said I ordered it myself. And my name was misspelled. That’s Sir Valentine’s fault.
I don’t like this Sir Valentine chap at all.
The elves ask the child to make a Valentine’s Day card for her mom which is sweet and touching and reminds me how confused I was as a kid when I learned kids got Valentine’s Day gifts for their moms. It kinda makes sense, considering where I grew up.
That’s kinda sweet.
Mom’s gonna love that massive valentine!
The author, Frances Gillespy Wickes, had an interesting career that went beyond children’s plays. Here are some basics:
The average lifespan of these friends was 83.8 years. The average lifespan of an American born in 2020 is estimated to be 78.93 years. Interesting, huh? If we factor in Wickes’ age with her friends’, it’s 84.45 years. Why did Wickes’ friends from over 100 years ago lived longer than an American born now? Obviously it’s because they were friends with a children’s playwright. Discuss.
Hello everyone and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. Someone just beat up NaNoWriMo, so I can write a little bit about our favorite theatrical genre: really bad children’s plays based on American holidays. And we’re throwing in some Thanksgiving postcards, too.
We covered a lot of the origins of Thanksgiving in last year’s post. Basically, it’s an excuse to eat as much turkey as humanly possible and write internet articles about getting into a knife fight with relatives over you-know-who:
Meanwhile, if you’re the president, you just go ahead and make stuff up.
Horrible Thanksgiving plays are a safer alternative to either one of these options. A Thanksgiving Dream may as well be a nightmare with all the madness going on here. The play was written by Effa Estelle Preston:
Let’s check out the characters:
Our hero Jack has just eaten “a dandy meal.”
And like any normal kid from 1922, his dream is full of Pilgrim Maids.
The maids have established that the Native Americans were their friends. But Fourth Pilgrim Maiden is a little psychopath:
“I shot him as he ran away. They found him just outside.”
The play also neglects to tell us how Native Americans in the area obtained firearms prior ro the arrival of said Pilgrims.
Fifth Pilgrim Maid is simply a watered-down version of the Fourth. Scaring people with “Jack-Lanterns.”
One advantage the Pilgrims had when they landed, was that they were greeted by a Native American who already spoke English, thus setting up their descendants to be too lazy to learn any foreign language forever.
Some turkeys show up.
They do have a point.
OMG. The turkeys are gonna eat plump Jack!
Again, they have a point.
And then the goblins show up:
Sorry, Jack. The damage has been done.
Told you it was a nightmare.
A word to the wise: Don’t devour your friends!
This video has the original song (sorta) for Old Black Joe. For a song about a slave’s dying last words, it seems awfully happy:
And there you have A Thanksgiving Nightmare Dream.
But seriously, the absolute best part of the play is the list of available monologues on the back cover:
As thrilling as Susan Gets Ready for Church sounds, as Hallmark Channel-ly I’m Engaged might be, as fun as Gladys Reviews the Dance obviously is, my money is on Ask Ouija when it comes to sheer wholesome entertainment.
Effa Estelle Preston wrote a lot of plays. Normally, I’d list every single play, but she had at least 91 published playlets. Some of the highlights follow:
I couldn’t find out much about Ms. Preston, except she was born in 1884 in New Jersey and also died there at age 91 in 1975. She seems to have spent her working life as a public school teacher. On various census records, she’s listed as living with her mother, up to at least age 45. At one point she and her mother took in other female teachers as boarders. She doesn’t seem to have ever married. She did take a trip to France in 1929. I’d love to know more about her life.
In case you thought Thanksgiving plays were a thing of the past, we now give you this from like a week ago:
The antidote to the deluge of Thanksgiving plays might be The Thanksgiving Play by Lakota playwright Larissa FastHorse. Here is Ms. FastHorse talking about her wonderful play:
Howdy all! Happy Halloween! Welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. This Halloween (just like last Halloween) we’re bringing you a Halloween play from the era of when tricks were given more than treats.
They also had cooler postcards, too.
Let’s see what we’re up against today.
Fair enough. I’ve done a lot of looking online and I can’t find a whole lot about the author. She was born in 1869 and died in 1947. She seems to have spent her whole life in Ohio. She had six brothers and sisters. The most interesting thing to me is that amongst 5 girls in the family only one seems to have married. And among all the sibllings, it seems only one or two married. I wish I knew what that was about. Even the Brontë sisters got married. More on Koogle later. Let’s meet our cast.
Tarrytown…yes, thatTarrytown. Let’s check out the scenes:
Poor Nell has been stuck in her room for a week. She’s been grounded – apparently seminaries could ground their female students back in 1906. She was grounded for a “prank” and she’s got three days left on her sentence. Her friends Verda, Bess, Gloria, Gail, Freida & Gwendolin show up. Nell has been “ill” with a headache. She tells them not to worry…
Don’t worry or them wrinkles will get you! Also, it’s wrong to be hypocritical and hypercritical.
The girls decide they should do something spooky for Halloween, but Bess sees a problem.
She has a point. I love that the boys they’re after are seminary boys.
Nell suggests they go to…Sleepy Hollow.
Bess reminds us of who lives in Sleepy Hollow.
These guys seem cool.
Take note: Fictional male characters in 1906 Halloween plays want a woman as handsome as she is venturesome.
Miss Noesome’s seminary gals are the finest! And Glo Gould is a whole sugarplum!
In what appears to be the prelude to a hazing ritual, the “ghosts” show up to obey their ghost master.
Moans, groans and hisses…
More hazing. Nell is then asked her name.
I like how the description of the ghost sounds devolve to “Moans, etc. (Emphatic)”
Time to tie up the girls (and Tom)! The boys/ghosts take them to the cave.
Did she say beautiful cave? I know the most beautiful cave in the world.
And hot damn! Napoleon shows up and so does Rip Van Winkle.
And amongst the ghosts of fictional and real-life people, a goddamned German doctor shows up. Because. Because? Oh, he wants their blood!
“Vat iss dies sch*t? Vat die aktuelle fock?”
And Major André shows up.
“Young folks laugh” = play was written by an old person. And that other inhabitant of Sleepy Hollow pops up.
Among the ghosts, the Headless Horseman is a loser. Hehe.
And for some reason a Native American female shows up. Maybe she’s a ghost because of all the Native Americans white Americans killed.
And I know “squaw” is an offensive term that isn’t even found in any Native American language. But it’s found in this sad little play.
Eventually, the girls get scared and go back to their seminary.
Unknown Playwrights is finally back posting about…unknown playwrights! Following a summer of deviant debauchery diligent study, the exciting world of unknown theatre comes alive.
This week we feature our first German-language playwright. No, it isn’t Schiller, Goethe or Brecht. I know, I know…Germany has actually produced more than three playwrights.
Our playwright’s name is Hennie Raché and she was born Hennie Fock in Hamburg in 1876. She married the writer Paul Raché in the early 1900s.
Finding any online works of hers was difficult. The extant one act play I found pretty much has one thing to recommend it: a very evil villain. In fact we could coin the word “evillain.”
The play is entitled Belsazar. It draws upon the Biblical story of Belshazzar. For those unfamiliar with the story, Belshazzar was a Neo-Babylonian king. Previously, the Babylonians had defeated Judah and looted the Temple in Jerusalem. In the book of Daniel, Belshazzar has a big party and uses the cups from the Temple. God doesn’t like this. A hand writes something the wall. Belshazzar freaks out. All his wise men can’t read it. But Jewish captive Daniel can. He saves the day by explaining the meaning.
“MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed … and found wanting;” and “PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
[And…”maybe I’ll succeed” – sure hope you don’t. Primo douchiness, right here]
Two soldiers bring in Rahel. She has magnificent flowing strawberry-blonde hair. Her loose robe is white. She stops a bit to the right of the canopy. The king waves for the two soldiers to leave.
Belsazar (looks at Rahel for a long time): Do you not know how to greet a king?
Rahel: Like every human. I bowed my head as I entered. (short break)
Belsazar: You are one of the Jewish women brought here from Judea?
Rahel: It’s as you say!
Belsazar: You do not like to be here?
Rahel (bitterly laughing): Like?! I curse the moment I had to leave home, and I curse the hour when my eyes saw Babylon. (short pause) The life of the captivity seems to me unbearable!
Belsazar (somewhat mocking): But – you live?
Rahel (rigidly): I live! I am waiting for the hour when the Lord God will redeem us out of your hands! I live and wait for the hour that will make you our servants!
[One way to make a tough villain is (obviously) to have a tough protagonist.]
Belsazar (smiling): You will have to wait a long time! The gold of your hair will bleach, your eyes will be closed for a long time, and still Judah will be a part of Babylon!
Rahel (heartfelt): Our God will not let his punishment last forever. He will be gracious to his children!
Belsazar: Your God? – You have been found sacrificing to your god.
Rahel: I did it.
Belsazar: Do not you know that the penalty for it is death?
Rahel: I know it. I do not fear death.
Belsazar (smiling): Maybe not death. But there are tortures that make even the most fearless shudder. Remember that, proud Jew!
Rahel: I’m not afraid of the pain either!
[Jeesh, you mean her strawberry blonde is gonna go full blonde because she’ll be dead and the sun will bleach her hair??? So cruel.
And if she isn’t afraid of death, I doubt she’s gonna fear pain. I mean, what’s the point?]
Here Belsazar tries out the “getting-to-know-you” routine. He learns her name is Rahel.
Belsazar: Rahel … Who is your father?
Rahel: Joshua, the rabbi – you killed him.
Belsazar: I remember. He also sacrificed to his god and was burned. (musing) What god is he for whom you suffer death and torture? Tell me, is he a god of love?
Rahel (loud, convinced): He is a god of revenge! And he will crush those who blaspheme and deny him!
So Belsazar, with all the smoothness of Donald Trump a creepy old dude who’s gotten his way his whole life tries to convince Rahel by pointing out the hedonistic virtues of Baal.
Belsazar: A God of Vengeance? A miserable god! (He gets up and walks down the two steps, stops in front of Rahel) Shall I tell you about our gods? Do you want to hear about Baal and Astarte? They are gods of love – shall I tell you, Rahel? Shall I tell you about the gardens of love in which Baal sits enthroned and gives a thousand joys to those who serve him? Would you like to become a priestess of the Astarte? Do you know how sweet the love is and how full of bliss the dizziness of the senses? – Look at me, Rachel, shall I tell you about love? Shall I teach you how to serve Baal and Baaltis, our gods? – I will be a good teacher, Rahel, for I have been in the gardens of love for a long time! – You will be a goddess in my arms, Rahel, we shall be like Baal and Astarte … my love shall warm you like the sun and you will desire her as you desire for the light of the sun … ( urgently) Look at me, Rahel … (he wants to take her hands)
[He wants to be her “teacher” because he’s hung out in the “gardens of love” for a long time. No thanks.]
Later he offers her to be his queen. Surprise, surpeise, she turns him down.
Rahel (with contempt): Do you believe that you can buy Rahel’s love for a throne and purple? Verily, you judge the pride of the Jew low! Are the women of your people for sale for a handful of gold? And me? O you, whom I respect no more than the dog that lies at the threshold of my house!
Belsazar (uttering a hissing sound of rage, slowly approaches Rahel and stops in front of her, hissing): If you do not fear death and pain, I will torment your soul until it dies in your womb. Should not my power be stronger than your defiance? (he approaches the curtain) Hey, Issar!
Okay, so “hissing sound of rage” might’ve been scarier in 1904 Hamburg than in 2019 Internet. But threatening to “torment your soul until it dies in your womb” is a bit much.
Belsazar (hissing to Rahel): Woman! I will defile the altar that you have built in the heart of your God!
Rahel wants to leave. [I do not blame her]
Belsazar: Stay! You should stay! I will look for the place where I can wound your proud heart! And if you do not want to give me your love, let your pain be my lust.
[Some women do like a “bad boy” but this is venturing into Idi Amin territory now]
So Belsazar has his little party.
He invites Rahel to sing. You can guess how that goes.
Belsazar: You don’t want to? Should I loosen your tongue so that it becomes as pliant as a snake’s tongue? – Should I pour molten lead into your throat to make it supple? Maybe you can sing then?
Rahel (proud): Do as you like!
Belsazar (to the people): Do you hear the Jewish woman? She has the courage of a lioness. Do you see how she shows the claws? Oh, I like that!
[Belsazar certainly is one vicious bastard. And he goes after emotionally unavailable women.]
Now the king drinks from the Temple cups. Rahel refuses to do so. One cool thing Rahel does is that when Belsazar orders his wives to drink from the cups, Rahel convinces them not to, thus sparing his wives from the God’s wrath.
The mysterious words are written. Belsazar freaks. He calls his wise men. They know nothing. The queen shows up. Doesn’t say anything about his rapey ways, but she does suggest Daniel can interpret the writing. Yes, that Daniel.
Daniel pops in and tells Belsazar what’s up. Belsazar doesn’t like what he hears (that he’ll lose his kingdom and die). He goes into a tizzy, lashing out at his minions, Daniel and Rahel. He also says:
“Oh Prophet, your words were cheap…Jew, I laugh at you”
A couple things here:
I dunno if it’s the zeitgeist, but in 1901 the German playwright Hermann Sudermann published a tragedy about John the Baptist. It contained this line: Herodias: You see, I laugh at you, you great Prophet! (She laughs) [Did German theatre had a thing for laughing at prophets then?]
This is the Charles Bronson moment in the play. The villain does something and you know he’s got approximately 10 seconds to live.
Rahel (drowning out the noise in a strong voice): Kill him! Kill him! He cursed God! (the peasants attack Belsazar, who extends his hands defensively) Kill him, kill him, the wicked man the Lord has marked! Kill the Blasphemer!
Belsazar (in a horrified voice): Rahel!
Rahel (again, drowning everything): Kill him!
Belsazar sinks to death on the steps of the throne.
Rahel lets out a loud cry of triumph.
Yay God! Yay Jews! Boo hissing rapey misogynistic anti-Semitic rulers of Neo-Babylonia.
This was the only play of Raché’s I could find online. It was performed in 1904 at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg (the theatre has been there since 1843!). It was then published in a theatre periodical, Bühne und Welt. This is really an amazing resource for early 20th Century German theatre.
Bio: adapted from her obituary.
Hennie Raché was born as Henni Fock on August 15, 1876 in Hamburg. She was an orphan by age 16 and worked as an educator and tutor.
She published some poems and short stories in her hometown’s Hamburger Fremdenblatt. This brought her to the attention of editor Paul Raché. They married at the end of 1900. She achieved success quickly. Her plays were performed in Hamburg and even overseas. She became sick in October 1904. The disease was pronounced incurable. She suffered with admirable patience and fortitude before succumbing on June 18, 1906 at the age of 30.
Meanwhile, the theatre in London’s mainstays were becoming less popular. While people are unsure of the reason (it could be that people’s tastes simply changed over a generation – how many people remember Kim Cattrall from Porky’s vs. that one show).
Carving out a living as a playwright was just as precarious as now, it seems. There were a few ways one could make a living as a playwright. One was to be the resident playwright with a yearly contract. John Dryden did this. Another was to get the elusive commission. Thomas Shadwell had a couple of these.
The other way was to simply submit the play to the theatre. This still didn’t guarantee payment, as the play had to run three performances before the writer got paid – from the profit of the third night. After the theatre’s expenses for that night had been cleared. In the beginning of the Restoration, they were paid ONLY on the third night. However, by the 1690s they had negotiated payment on every third night. One imagines they would’ve pressed their friends to go, kinda like when one’s playwright friends in New York send you a Facebook invite you to their play when you’re in, say, Bekasi.
After the play’s initial run, the play entered the theatre company’s repertory. Residuals and copyright fees were totally not a thing. All chances of making money from a new play died after the final curtain of the final performance. How depressing.
I should also mention that nearly all plays were written by dudes and the theatre, as with society, was dominated by men. True, women were allowed (gee, thanks) onstage after the Restoration, but their presence provoked more lurid rape scenes and of course the breeches role. Naturally, by the 21st Century everything is peachy in modern English-speaking theatre.
Mary Pix seemed to have the cards stacked against her simply by being born at that moment in history in 1666 in Buckinghamshire. As if living in a creepy, rapey, pre-electricity England wasn’t bad enough, her headmaster father died when she was “very young.” According to the gossip rag known as Wikipedia, she was courted by her dad’s successor, Thomas Dalby, at the school, but he left due to a smallpox epidemic one year after the schoolhouse mysteriously burned down. Slut-shaming Wikipedia was on the scene:
“Rumour had it that Mary and Dalby had been making love rather energetically and overturned a candle which set fire to the bedroom.” (You can seriously read the original here.)
Because, you know, banging dad’s replacement and burning down schools when you’re a teenaged girl go hand in hand.
I reckon she probably got pissed at creeper Tommy and burnt the damn thing down to be rid of him – or at least so he can’t have a work/creep-place.
Mary married (hehe) a merchant at age 18. She had a son who died young. The couple moved to London, had another son and BOOM Pix burst upon the literary scene in 1696 at the age of 30 when she published her only novel, The Inhumane Cardinal and two plays, Ibrahim, thirteenth Emperour of the Turks and The Spanish Wives.
Sadly, The Inhumane Cardinal isn’t an expose of birds committing war crimes.
But with success comes hatred, and for women, a particularly virulent, penis-having hatred. The success of these three ladies provoked a play, The Female Wits, which attacked them. Pix was portrayed as a fat, ignorant yet kind, oaf named Mrs. Wellfed. Things were less subtle back then. The play was written anonymously, because male bravery knows no bounds.
Pix was connected to The Theatre Royal (currently owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber) until that theatre produced The Female Wits, after which Pix took her talent to the theatre at Lincoln Inn Fields. She seems to have been mentored by the great William Congreve.
In 1697, Pix sent her play The Deceiver Deceiv’d to The Drury Lane Theatre run by rival playwright George Powell. Note to self: Do not send plays to rival playwrights. Second note to self: Find rival playwrights.
He rejected her play and totally produced a play with the same plot. Plagiarism, anyone? There was much “anonymous” letter writing to newspapers and a mini-scandal occurred. However, Pix’ reputation remained intact. But after that, she only attached her name to one other play, though we think she published seven more.
The first play we’ll review is the awesomely-titled Ibrahim, the thirteenth Emperour of the Turks.
Imitation Maltin summary: Spoiled brat/psychopath (and Ibrahim’s favorite mistress) Sheker crushes on stud-soldier Amurat who in turn loves winsome Morena. Sheker unleashes a wave of violence upon everyone in the story, including the titular Ibrahim.
You can also learn about the real Ibrahim. Never a good sign when historians dub you “the Mad.”
Relatively well-written female characters for the era.
Morena, despite being put upon a pedestal by Amurat, is more or less a fleshed out character, albeit a victim.
Satanic spitfire Sheker is a consistently evil character with clear motivation – she has more depth than the infamous Iago in Othello. She loves and she hates. Almost like a real person. And she ruins people’s lives, almost like my old boss.
Sheker’s slave (and apparently only friend) Mirva and Morena’s slave/buddy Zaida/Zada/Zayda (nobody used spell check back then) serve as brief foils to their mistresses – even they have a bit more depth than what one is used to seeing in the era.
Dialogue and pacing
In general, speech feels more natural than one would imagine. Much of the dialogue is effective – here is Amurat telling his friend Solyman how much he loves Morena, but also senses Sheker’s danger.
Oh Solyman! forgive the frailty of your Friend,
Forgive the follies that Imperious love creates,
Here the Mufti writes, that on earnest business
He craves my presence, if he hath discover’d
The Adoration that I pay his beauteous Daughter,
And then forbid it, how lost a thing is Amurat,
For I know well, though her poor Slave shou’d suffer
A thousand wracks, she’d tread the rigid paths of Duty,
And let me die, rather than forfeit her obedience.
Here is Sheker, all butthurt that Amurat has rejected her advances and left. Mirva is her slave and Achmet is Ibrahim’s eunuch.
Gone! O Devil!
Keep down, thou swelling Heart!
Or higher rise, that I may tear
Thee with my teeth! Mirva!
Break all the flattering Mirrors!
Let me ne’er behold this rejected Face again!
Have I seen Scepter’d Slaves kneeling
At my feet, forgetting they were Kings,
Forgetful of their Gods, calling alone on me;
Passing whole days and hours as if measur’d
With a Moments Sand, and now refus’d
By a Curst Beardless Boy! my Arms too
Open’d, all my Charms laid forth! (for
The Joys of Love are double, when our
Sex desires) heedless and cold he flew
From my Embrace; swift as I will do
To form his ruine—Achmet! I come!
‘Tis he must raise this raging Tempest higher,
Though cold to me, his Bosom’s sure on fire.
Finally, this is Solyman dishing it out to Ibrahim (who has done something terrible to Morena). Solyman truly is a great friend to Amurat. I love the simple stage direction at the end: “Fight.”
Traytors are ever loud—
And to colour their own detested sin
Rebellion; with impudence, and calumnies
Bespatter the Throne, they dare attack.
Was there a Slave throughout thy wide
Dominions, whom blind fate had cursed
With Wealth: His forfeit—Head
Pay’d for his crime: Whilst his extorted
Treasure fill’d thy coffers, and supply’d
New Luxury. Did vertue Reign in
Any Man, a life Austere; or active Valour
Like our great Progenitors: Strait you,
And your Minious thought, this lookt
With a Reflecting Eye on your Debauches:
Dispatch’d the pious Wretch, and sent him
To his Friends above; then Women
You monopoliz’d—let her be Wife
Or Virgin, fair as Heaven, or monstrous as Hell:
Witness your Armenian Mistress; all serv’d
As fuel to that consuming fire your Lust;
Nay, even the Relique of our late glorious
Emperour, was not free from your Attempt,
But that her Lion Resolution made your
Coward Heart shrink back.
Is there none to secure this Traitor?
I tell thee, Lost degenerate King,
There’s not a Soul will move a Tongue
Or Finger, in thy Defence; thou standst
Forsook by Heaven, and Human Aid—
Think now upon the fair Morena!
And if thy heart of Adamant unmov’d
Cou’d hear an Angel pray; if the angry Powers
So punish’d her spotless Innocence: What
Horrours must remain for thee; who bend’st
Beneath the weight of thousand thousand Ills?
Come on, thou Rebel!—
No Souldier sure thou art!
Thy Tongue’s thy sharpest Weapon—yet
If thou wer’t; and did thy acts excel the
Foremost of my Royal Race; thy Ignoble
Tomb must blush to hold thee, the name of Rebel
Wou’d blot out the H•ro, and leave thy Fame
Detest’d, to the honest World; as thou
Hast Represented mine!
My injur’d Friend, and that unhappy Beauty
Whom thy Lust hast ruin’d, gives Iustice to
My Javelin’s point, and sends it to thy heart!
Combined with well-placed dialogue, the action moves quickly.
The characters express their emotions well. I was going to include examples here, but I feel the above dialogue examples work well. It is a very emotional piece.
Even though The Merchant of Venice continues to be produced, for better or for worse, Ibrahim is basically “old English people pretending to be Turks” and as such would rightly be deemed offensive by pretty much everyone. However, considering its dramatic, tragic and emotional strength as well as historical significance, there are at least two ways the production could be successful.
Go all out on the Turkish/Islamic/Ottoman culture. Go find a cultural consultant and modify the Hell out of it to suit the 21st Century.
Re-set it somewhere else, for example amongst Mormon polygamists. Note to self: totally write “Ibrahim, 13th Emperor of Utah.”
The ending. The ending is harsh. It’s a tragedy and ends like a tragedy.
The title. It makes me want to see 12 prequels and a possible sequel.
There’s a weird song in the middle of the play, because. Just because.
The second play I planned to read was The Beau Defeated. This play was so impressive that the Royal Shakespeare Company thought it was the bee’s knees this year, so they renamed it and you know the rest. Except I tried to read The Beau Defeated and Bryan Defeated or TheBlogger Defeated would be more apt titles. You know those plays that are just people talking? Yep, it’s one of those. I’m assuming they chose the play because it’s been regularly produced elsewhere and it is rather tame – it’s like if Quentin Tarantino wrote an episode of Murder, She Wrote and then everyone would just watch that episode instead of True Romance. Anyways, I couldn’t finish The Beau Defeated. It finished me.
The Innocent Mistress is a multiplot play with several interwoven love intrigues. Sir Charles is married to an older woman, Lady Beauclair, supposedly a widow, who is very different from the witty heroines of other Restoration plays. In fact, she is presented in the Dramatis Personae, together with her daughter Peggy, as “an ill-bred woman”. Her marriage to Sir Charles cannot work since it is just the product of socio-economic interests. Being Sir Charles a younger brother with no estate, and Lady Beauclair a wealthy woman, Sir Charles’ friends and family induce him to marry her. At the end of the play, we learn that the marriage is not valid for two reasons. Because it has not been consummated and because Lady Beauclair’s first husband, Mr Flywife, is alive and back to London after several years of voluntary exile in Jamaica. The re-encounter of Mr Flywife and Lady Beauclair makes Sir Charles free to marry Bellinda, his niece’s friend, whom he has been courting throughout the play. Bellinda, whose real name is Marianne, lives at Mrs Beauclair’s (Sir Charles’ niece) under an assumed name after having escaped from a forced marriage. Mrs Beauclair, presented in the dramatis personae as “an independent woman”, fulfils and updates, together with Sir Francis Wildlove, the “happy couple” stereotype of Restoration comedies. The plot turns around Mrs Beauclair’s attempts to reform Sir Francis from his initial rakishness to his final “faithfulness”. His reform process is slow. The rake only changes his attitude and reveals his true feelings for Mrs Beauclair when, due to a misunderstanding, he thinks she has married another man. Another couple is formed by Beaumont and Arabella. The former is, like Sir Charles, a character with an “incorruptible” morality, whom Bellinda’s father has sent to find her after her brother’s death. Arabella, her father thinks, has her fortune and person controlled by Lady Beauclair and her stupid brother Cheatall. Once Arabella is liberated with the help of Lady Beauclair’s servant Eugenia, she can marry Beaumont. There is yet another marrying couple at the end, Lady Beauclair’s “ill-bred” daughter, Peggy, and the social parasite Mr Spendall, who tricks both mother and daughter into believing he is a man of quality with a fortune to inherit. Once Mr Flywife comes back and Peggy’s fortune –the only reason for Spendall’s interest in marrying her– fades away, Peggy is punished with a lazy husband with no fortune. Likewise, Mr Spendall must deal with an ill-bred girl with no properties so far. Finally, even the servants Eugenia and Gentil marry just the way their “betters” do, thus following Roman comedy tradition. Only Mrs Flywife (the mistress of Mr Flywife while in Jamaica) is left outside the marriage fair. We learn that both have been living together, but Mr Flywife, after his first experience, prefers not to marry again. Thus, when they are back in London, the former has to live with Lady Beauclair again, and the second becomes the odd one out in the comedy happy ending.
This play is beyond funny. It’s kinda like a 17th Century pervy sitcom taking satire pills. That is the beauty of this work – it comes on the heels of the anonymous attack on Pix, Trotter and Manley. A heck of a punchback against the misogyny of the theatre. In punching back, it cranks the hyperbole up to “atomic” and KA-Boom! The bombs fall.
The dialogue carries the play. Especially put downs and what have you. Here are some examples of the dialogue.
This is a dialogue between Sir Francis Wildlove and Beaumont when they first meet up. Subtle it ain’t.
Get me some Small Beer, and dash a little Langoone in it; else ’twill go down my burning Stomach ten degrees colder than Ice: I should have met my old Friend and Collegian Beaumont,who came to Town last night, but Wine and Women drove it clear out of my Head.
Sir, he’s here.
Welcome dear Friend, I prithee pardon my omission, faith ’twas business that could not be left to other hands.
Women I suppose, and that excuse I know a Man of your kidney thinks almighty.
Even so well by my Life, I am heartily glad to see you, why thou hast been an age consin’d to barren Fields and senceless Groves, or Conversation stupid and dull as they: How canst thou waste thy Youth, happy Youth, the very Quintessence of Life from London,this dear Epitome of pleasure?
Because excess of drinking cloys my Stomach, and Impudence in Women absolutely turns it; then I hate the vanity of Dress and Fluttering, where eternal Noise and Nonsence reigns; this consider’d, what should I do here?
Not much in troth.
But you, my Friend, run the Career your appetite directs, taste all those pleasures I despise, you can inform me what humour’s most in fashion, what ruling whim, and how the Ladies are.
Why faith there’s no great alteration, the Money is indeed very much scarcer, yet what perhaps you’l think a wonder, dressing and debauchery increases; as for the Damosels, three sorts make a Bushel, and will be uppermost: First, there’s your common Jilts will oblige every body.
These are Monsters sure.
You may call it what you please, but they are very plentiful, I promise you: The next is your kept Mistress, she’s a degree modester, if not kind to each, appears in her dress like Quality, whilst her ogling eyes, and too frequent Debauches discovers her the younger Sister only to the first.
This I shou’d hate for Ingratitude.
The third is, not a Whore, but a brisk airy, noisy Coquette, that lives upon treating, one Spark has her to the Play, another to the Park, a third to Windsor,a fourth to some other place of Diversion; She has not the heart to grant ’em all favours, for that’s their design at the bottom of the Treats, and they have not the heart to marry her, for that’s her design too Poor Creature. So perhaps a year, or it may be two, the gaudy Butterfly slutters round the Kingdom, then if a foolish Citt does not take compassion, sneaks into a Corner, dies an Old Maid, despised and forgotten. The Men that sit those Ladies are your Rake, your Cully, and your Beaux.
Here’s another bit between husband and very unhappy wife:
Well, well, thou art a good Boy, prithee no more wrangling Fubby;I vow and swear to morrow I’ll be as great a Slattern as ever was, if that will please you, so I will.
Ay, and want to go out to day, for all the gazing Fops to ad∣mire, tho’ I have told you, I can’t appear till I have enquir’d into my affairs, then to morrow, if you stay at home with me, Sackcloth will serve turn.
Lord, you are so froppish, if I was your Wife, sure Fubby,you would not be so jealous.
My Wife quotha! no, no, I was once bewitch’d, but I found such a Plague, that—No more Wives, I say.
Well, I’ll be any thing to please Fubby;Will you go in? Our Breakfast will be cold.
Note: “Bottle of hay” seems to refer to a bushel. The phrase is used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well.
Finally, there’s this joyous bit of dialogue. Lady Beauclair is angry at Mrs. Peggy.
Ye ye, ye damn’d Quean, he is here,—ha!—and his Minion with him!—let me come at her—
Leaps, and catches hold of her.
Hell and Furies! my Wife!—Madam, why all this Rage? Don’t you see my Neice? the other is a Friend of hers, a Woman of Honour.
Your Neice is a Pimp, and she’s a Whore! I’ll mark her—Sirrah—Villain! Oh, oh my Fits! my Fits!
“Your niece is a pimp” really isn’t used so often these days.
If pervy humor and insults aren’t your bag, then I don’t recommend the play.
Characterization and plot take a back seat to dialogue and humor – the plot seems to be a series of complicated situations thrown together to stir conflict and humor.
There’s a mystery that’s bugging me. The play mentions an Indian woman who is variously named Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum – and who, it is implied, runs a brothel called the India House. To add to the confusion, one character has been away in “the Indies” for a long time. Now this usually referred to what is now Indonesia and thereabouts. And Banten is a city on Java. Where cute little bantam chickens come from.
Despite (or because of?) her notoriety, Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum NEVER appears. A sequel, focusing on the adventures of an Indian madam in 1690s London might be pretty cool.
I’d love to see a modern production of this complicated, yet hilarious play. Here’s a trailer from a modern production with Pachelbel, too!
Mary Pix succeeded in a world much more difficult than our own. She beat each and every odd to give us a strong canon of plays, poetry and a novel. She should be admired and remembered for her skill as a writer as well as her tenacity.
Her plays deserve to be remembered, studied and performed just like that one dude whose plays seem to have a stranglehold on English-language theatre four centuries after his death. Instead of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, maybe we can have the Utah Pix Festival. Ibrahim couldn’t be any worse than what they’re doing. (Note to Utah Shakes: It’s 2018 and the only play you figured you could produce is an anti-Semitic English play from a time when Jews weren’t even allowed in England? Cool story, bro. Check out Mary Pix, please).
What do you think of Mary Pix? Would you like to see more of her work?
This week brings us to the exciting world of Korean theatre. The reason Jo Jung-hwan’s name is written three times in the header is because there are a couple of Romanization systems for Korean. “Jo Jung-hwan” is the one preferred by South Korean government.
“Jo” is the family name and “Jung-hwan” is the given name. For those who are really interested, 趙重桓 are the Chinese characters that make up his name. We’ll get back to Mr. Jo in a bit, but let’s take a brief look at the history of Korean theatre.
Apparently as early as 1,000 BCE Korean shamans were singing and dancing, which brought deities from the heavens to the earth. Shamans (mudang/무당) are still active in Korea, despite the efforts of the South Korean government in the past.
There are some decent Youtube videos covering shamanism and their performances better than I can explain it.
This is looking at the life of a shaman:
This dance started as an exorcism ritual but now is just considered as a cultural performance:
This is a shamanistic ritual for the dead…note the blending of shamanism with traditional instruments…
Much later, masked dances (talchum/탈춤), which had started as something religious, became secularized and a vessel of social satire and comedy. These are called narye (나례) and they look something like this:
Sadly, the masked comic characters only appeared briefly in the above video. For a more ritualized masked dance, there’s this video:
This evolved into an art form called sandaegeuk (산대극)which I think is a bit more well known. This involved the masks, but had a range of stock characters, such a pervy Buddhist monks, greedy government officials and dancing girls. A bit of sandaegeuk from Gyeong-gi Province can be seen below:
Around this time, Korean puppet plays appeared. Their origin is obscure and the haven’t had the staying power of the other forms of traditional Korean drama, but try telling that to the monks and ladies in this play:
There weren’t a whole lot of Youtube videos featuring Korean puppet plays, but that one was awesome. And yes, the lascivious monk trope seems to as old as monkdom itself.
During the Joseon Dynasty two other major forms of performing arts emerged:
Pansori is an intense art that makes opera look like a bunch of Cub Scouts. It started in the 17th Century.
Pansori is storytelling with simply a singer and a drummer. And they go for a long time. Since this was an oral tradition, many stories were added on to. These stories were codified in a way in the 18th century into a pansori cycle. The stories became so long that they lasted 10 hours. In fact, as late as 1969, a famous performance of the renowned Chunhyangga lasted 8 hours. Modern pansori sadly doesn’t go that long.
There aren’t a whole lot of pansori videos on Youtube with English subtitles, but here’s the finale of Shimcheongga with English subtitles:
“I sold my daughter for nothing” has to be one of the more painful lines delivered in theatre.
If you want to see a full, modern pansori, there’s always this:
And for those with a hankering for five hours of nonstop pansori, we got ya covered:
Our final traditional Korean performing art form is changgeuk, which evolved from pansori – it’s like a full-on operetta with pansori models of storytelling.
Here’s a modified version of the same story. Putting it here because it has English subtitles:
All of the above information isn’t intended to be exhaustive – it’s intended as a jumping off point. If you knew nothing about traditional Korean performance art, now you know slightly more than nothing. Hopefully.
And finally, because Korea has a thing for fusion stuff, apparently there was a changgeuk put on in Singapore of The Trojan Women mixed with K-Pop and pansori because Greek and Korean tragedy mix well with a genre that sounds like what would happen if plastic surgery became music.
Supposedly these art forms were all in decline at the end of the 19th Century. Long known as The Hermit Kingdom, the US signed a trade agreement with Korea in 1882. Japan was a bit more direct and simply took the country over.
With various (forced?) cultural exchanges through the elites and mostly filtered from Japanese translations and Lamb’s book, Western drama became known in early 20th Century Korea. Again, this focused on the elites of the day [Huh, theatre really hasn’t changed…snark, snark].
With the increasing influence of Japan over its colony, Western drama filtered through. This was modified by Japanese (and then Korean) sensibilities as shinpageuk.
This was a result of several factors, but the forced “modernization” carried out by the Japanese government had some effect.
Here’s a quick chronology of the introduction of Western-style theatre in Korea:
1902:The first Western-style indoor theatre was Heopyeulsa, opened by Korean court officials who had served overseas. Changgeuk evolved here.
1906: Heopyeulsa is closed for violating public morals.
1908: A new theatre is opened on the site by 이인직/Lee In-jik, a court official who had studied in Japan. He introduced a play, The Silver Age, based on a local corruption case. The acting style was still similar to pansori.
1910; 임성구/Im Sung-gu opens a shinpa-style theatre. 혁신단/Hyeok-shindan. Shinpa literally means “new wave” and comes from Japan. That country was inspired by the realism of Western drama and sought to replicate the same.
1911: Im produces a play entitled Undutiful Must be Punished, which was an adaptation of a Japanese shinpa. This was common at the time. Hardly anyone shows up, but Im discovers advertising and his next play is a success.
Much of this information comes from a wonderful paper by Lee Mee-won, which will download if you click here:
1912: The very first published Western-style play script, Three Sick People (병자삼인) is published in installments in the 매일신보Mae-il shin-bo newspaper. That’s our play.
Fortunately the play is a comedy. It was written about and for the emerging “educated” classes that were attending Western-style schools, attending Western-style physicians and slowly adopting Western-style religion.
The plot concerns three men who are outshone by their wives. Jeong Pil-su (정필수) is a guy who attended teachers’ school with his wife, Kim Won-gyeong (이옥자). He failed the teachers’ exam. She passed. She works as a schoolteacher and he works at the same school as what the play calls “servant” (하인) – kinda like a janitor. He resents not having passed the exam and his wife treats him as a servant at home too. He has to cook. OMG.
The second man is Ha Gye-sun (하계순) who is a traditional Korean doctor, but supposedly not a very good one. His wife Gong So-sa (공소사) is a renowned Western-style doctor.
The third man is Park Won-cheong (박원청). He’s the school accountant. His wife Kim Won-gyeong (김원경) is the principal.
The plot kinda runs like a sitcom. Jeong stays home and must cook all by himself. He flirts with the lady delivering his rice. It seems she feels sorry for him more than anything. His wife Lee sees the rice lady leaving and Jeong catches hell for it. Later Lee tries to teach him Japanese, but he gets so frustrated that he feigns deafness. She makes him go to the doctor (Ha) who gives diagnoses him as deaf. The women kinda know something is up. When Ha’s wife Gong (the better doctor) interrogates her husband about the diagnosis, he pretends to be mute.
Finally there is the school accountant (Park). He is confronted at work one day over an unpaid gisaengbill by the owner of the house. I’m making a very, very rough equivocation, but gisaeng were kinda like Japanese geisha. Anyways, the owner of the gisaeng house comes to collect last month’s bill. He doesn’t want to pay. She promises him a letter from his favorite gisaeng Mae-hwa in exchange for payment. He pays using school funds. His wife, the principal, confronts him about the missing money. And the letter. Suddenly he goes blind. Doctor Gong threatens to cut out his eyes and everything goes haywire.
The men try to escape/rebel against their Amazonian overlord(esse?)s and reclaim their freedom and manhood. The women chase them. A fight ensues. The women end up in a ditch or in the sewer (if that was a 하수 back then). A policeman shows up and the women accuse the men of doing horrible things [much more horrible than what they actually did]. The policeman can’t believe his luck and threatens to detain the men, but then the women have a change of heart and beg him to release their husbands. The women admonish their husbands to not act stupid again [like that ever works] and everyone holds hands at the end. So it’s better than that one show….
[KIM] What’s the difficulty? Stop complaining and do it. If you disobey the order, you’ll be fired.
(하릴없이 뒤로 돌아와서 어깨를 주무른다. 이때에 하인이 들어오는지라 박원청은 머뭇머뭇한다.)
(He has no choice but to go behind and rub her shoulders. Now the servant is hesitant to enter)
[하인] 지금 여기 공소사께서 오셨는데 교장마님을 잠깐만 조용히 뵈옵겠답니다.
[SERVANT] Kong So-sa is here and she’s waiting quietly to see the principal.
[김] 그러면 이리 들어오시라 하려무나— 그런데 어깨는 왜 안 주무르고 가만히 있어.
[KIM] Then ask her to come in —- Why doesn’t she get her shoulders rubbed?
Ah, the blind masseuse trope…which leads us to reason #2:
2. The women definitely rule over the men.
When Park pretended to go blind, his wife asked for a massage! And then her friend (Kong) showed up…and Kong should get a massage, too!
Quick culture note: the play was written in 1912. In 1913 the Japanese rulers passed a law limiting massage therapy to the blind. That law is still on the books in Korea and emotions run high about it (several blind masseuses killed themselves in protest last year).
These are modern (for then), accomplished women. A school principal, a teacher and a doctor. Remember, this was not far removed from a time when brides’ eyes were glued shut with rice paste at their wedding. The photo in that link is from around 1900. Our play is from 1912.
The women definitely are sharper than the guys here. A production would allow us to see an idea of a “modern” woman in 1912 Korea in a comedic context.
3. Historical significance
As previously stated, this is the first Western-style play published in Korea (though several shinpa were produced prior to this play’s publication). This might be interesting in a Korean theatre festival.
The play feels more modern than you’d imagine a 1912 Korean play. I think this is due to the professions of the characters and the themes.
And now the reason against a modern production:
The ending. Seriously? These guys lie and act like buffoons simply because their wives are more successful than them. And the one guy is a regular customer at the local gisaeng house. Not much commentary is made on this fact. And at the end all is forgiven. The ending is too easy (even for a comedy).
Despite not being produced back then [or if it was, there is no record] – the play gets produced every now and again…
This is from an adaptation that ran at the Busan Theatre Festival a few years back:
(they translate the title as “Triple Fool” which is plausible, but I prefer “Three Patients”)
Jo Jung-hwan’s life is not well-documented. Some places claim he was born in 1863. Others claim he was born in 1884. He apparently attended a Japanese-language school in Seoul. If we look at his work, he really is known for novels. His first novel was published in 1906. It is also considered one of the first Western-style Korean novels. He remained active for at least ten years.
In addition to the novels, he wrote for a newspaper for 11 years, co-founded the theatre group 문수성/Munsu-seong. He passed away in 1947. Except sometimes his name is given as Jo Il-jae/조일제 and he died in 1944.
I don’t know of any available English version, except what I translated.
I know American playwrights who’ve added lines from another language (usually Spanish) into their play by feeding them into an online translator. For the love of all things holy, don’t ever do this.
Papago is marginally better, yet infinitely more hilarious.
According to the online translation, hedonism was an integral part of Korean theatre in 1912. Who knew?
Here are some links:
This might be the full play from a drama class. The video is “1” and there are a bunch more. All are from the play, but I don’t know if it’s the entire play. This is the first scene where Park flirts with the rice lady: https://tv.kakao.com/channel/3088090/cliplink/386167810
Gorboduc’s plot is listed pretty thoroughly at the onset on the original printing:
Gorboduc, king of Britain, divided his Realm in his lifetime to his Sons, Ferrex and Porrex. The Sons fell to division and dissention. The younger killed the elder. The Mother that more dearly loved the elder, for revenge killed the younger. The people moved with the Cruelty of the fact, rose in Rebellion and slew both father and mother. The Nobility assembled and most terribly destroyed the Rebels. And afterwards for want of Issue of the Prince whereby the Succession of the Crown became uncertain. They fell to Civil war in which both they and many of their Issues were slain, and the Land for a long time almost desolate and miserably wasted.
I can imagine modern theatre companies rejecting this because it either isn’t an entire page or a one sentence tagline. And it doesn’t speak to the company’s mission at all. Unless your compny is England and the mission is to land a man on Queen Liz (more on this later).
How Gorboduc can make you a better parent:
Don’t divide your kingdom between your loser sons Ferrex and Porrex.
Also, don’t name your children after metals.
If your advisors say “don’t divide your kingdom because when it happened before everyone died” you should pay attention.
If Ferrex hangs out with a parasitical spank-shaft named Hermon, you should stop all that.
Ferrex will die.
Your wife Videna will be so pissed off about this she’ll murder Porrex. You should maybe stop this.
The British people will rise up kill you and her. You might want to be in another country at the time.
After you’re dead, you don’t need parenting advice.
Why Gorboduc is important:
It is the first English blank verse play. The iambic pentameter here doesn’t give up.
Murders, mischief, or civil sword at length,
Or mutual treason, or a just revenge,
When right-succeeding line returns again
See? 10 syllables to each line. Stressed-unstressed. The whole dang play is like this.
Let’s take a look at the dialogue speeches that make up Gorboduc. The text comes from this site.
From Act I:
40 Madam leave care and careful plaint for me;
Just hath my Father been to every wight,
His first injustice he will not extend
To me I trust, that give no cause thereof,
My brother’s pride shall hurt himself, not me.
There resteth all, but if they fail thereof,
55 And if the end bring forth an evil success
On them and theirs the mischief shall befall,
And so I pray the Gods requite it them,
And so they will, for so is wont to be
When Lords and trusted Rulers under kings
60 To please the present fancy of the Prince,
With wrong transpose the course of governance
Murders, mischief, or civil sword at length,
Or mutual treason, or a just revenge,
When right succeeding Line returns again
65 By Jove’s just Judgment and deserved wrath
Brings them to civil and reproachful death,
And roots their names and kindred’s from the earth.
Mother content you, you shall see the end.
The end? thy end I fear, Jove end me first.
Seems Videna is rather fatalistic. Remember that speechiness?
Here’s Arostus in Act I, Scene 2:
And this is much, and asketh great advice,
But for my part my Sovereign Lord and king
This do I think your Majesty doth know,
80 How under your Justice and in peace,
Great wealth and Honour, long we have enjoyed
So as we cannot seem with greedy minds
To wish for change of Prince and governance,
But if ye like your purpose and device,
85 Our liking must be deemed to proceed,
Of rightful reason, and of heedful care,
Not for ourselves, but for our common state:
Sith our own state doth need no better change
I think in all as erst your Grace has said:
90 First when you shall unload your aged mind,
Of heavy care and troubles manifold,
And lay the same upon my Lords your sons
Whose growing years may bear the burden long
And long I pray the Gods grant it so:
95 And in your life while you shall so behold
Their rule, their virtues and their noble deeds,
Such as their kind behighteth to us all,
Great be the profits that shall grow thereof,
Your age in quiet shall the longer last
100 Your lasting age shall be their longer stay,
For cares of kings, that rule as you have ruled
For public wealth and not for private joy,
Do waste man’s life and hasten crooked age,
With furrowed face and with enfeebled limbs,
105 To draw on creeping Death a swifter pace.
They two yet young shall bear the party reign
With greater ease, than one now old alone
Can wield the whole, for whom much harder is
With lessened strength and double weight to bear
110 Your eye, your Council, and the grave regard
Of Fathers, yea of such as father’s name,
Now at beginning of their sundered reign,
When it is hazard of their whole success
Shall bridle so their force of youthful heats,
115 And so restrain the rage of insolence,
Which most assails the young and noble minds,
And so shall guide and train in tempered stay
Their yet green bending wits with reverent awe.
As now inured with virtues at the first.
120 Custom, O king, shall bring delightfulness
By use of Virtue, Vice shall grow in hate,
But if you so dispose it, that the day
Which ends your life shall first begin their reign,
Great is the peril, what will be the end,
125 When such beginning of such liberties
Void of such stays as in your life do lie,
Shall leave them free to randon of their will.
An open prey to traitorous flattery,
The greatest pestilence of noble youth:
130 Which peril shall be past, if in your life,
Their tempered youth with aged father’s awe
Be brought in ure of skillful staidness.
And in your life, their lives disposed so,
Shall lengthen your noble life in joyfulness.
135 Thus think I ý your grace hath wisely thought
And that your tender care of common weal,
Hath bred this thought, so to divide your Land
And plant your sons to bear the present rule
While you yet live to see their ruling well,
140 That you may longer live by joy therein.
What further means behooveful are and meet
At greater leisure may your Grace devise
When see have said, and when we be agreed
If this be best, to part the realm in twain,
145 And place your sons in present government;
Whereof, as I have plainly said my mind,
So would I hear the rest of all my Lords.
So Philander starts a speech-measuring contest.
In part I think as hath been said before,
In part again my mind is otherwise.
150 As for dividing of this Realm in twain
And lotting out the same in egal parts,
To either of my Lords, your Grace’s sons,
That think I best for this your Realm’s behoof,
For profit and advancement of your sons,
155 And for your comfort and your honour eke:
But so to place them while your life do last,
To yield to them your Royal governance,
To be above them only in the name
Of father, not in kingly state also,
160 I think not good for you, for them, nor us.
This kingdom since the bloody civil field
Where Morgan slain did yield his conquered part
Unto his Cousin’s sword in Camberland
Containeth all that whilom did suffice,
165 Three noble sons of your forefather Brute;
So your two sons, it may also suffice,
The moe the stronger, if they agree in one:
The smaller compass that the realm doth hold
The easier is the sway thereof to weld,
170 The nearer Justice to the wronged poor,
The smaller charge, and yet enough for one.
And when the Region is divided so
That Brethren be the Lords of either part,
Such strength doth nature knit between the both,
175 In sundry bodies by conjoined love
That not as two, but one of doubled force,
Each is to other as a sure defense,
The Nobleness and glory of the one
Doth sharp the courage of the other’s mind
180 With virtuous envy to contend for praise,
And such an egalness hath nature made,
Between the Brethren of one Father’s seed,
As an unkind wrong it seems to be,
To throw the other Subject under feet
185 Of him, whose Peer he is by course of kind,
And nature that did make this egalness,
Oft so repineth at so great a wrong,
That oft she raiseth by a grudging grief,
In younger Brethren at the elder’s state:
190 Whereby both towns and kingdoms have been razed
And famous stocks of Royal blood destroyed:
The Brother that should be the Brother’s aid
And have a wakeful care for his defense,
Gapes for his death, and blames the lingering years
195 That brings not forth his end with faster course
And oft impatient of so long delays,
With hateful slaughter he prevents the fates
And heaps a just reward for Brother’s blood,
With endless vengeance on his stock for aye:
200 Such mischiefs here are wisely met withall:
If egal state may nourish egal love,
Where none has cause to grudge the other’s good,
But now the head to stoop beneath them both,
Ne kind, ne reason, ne good order bears.
205 And oft it hath been seen, that where Nature
Hath been perverted in disordered wise
When Fathers cease to know that they should rule
And Children cease to know they should obey,
And often our unkindly tenderness,
210 Is Mother of unkindly Stubbornness:
I speak not this in envy or reproach,
As if I grudged the glory of your sons,
Whose honour I beseech the Gods to increase:
Nor yet as if I thought there did remain,
215 So filthy Cankers in their noble breasts,
Whom I esteem (which is their greatest praise)
Undoubted children of so good a king.
Only I mean to show my certain Rules,
Which kind hath graft within the mind of man
220 That Nature hath her order and her course,
Which (being broken) both corrupt the state
Of minds and things even in the best of all.
My Lords, your sons, may learn to rule of you
Your own example in your noble Court
225 Is fittest guider of their youthful years,
If you desire to seek some present Joy
By sight of their well ruling in your life,
See them obey, so shall you see them rule,
Who so obeyeth not with humbleness
230 Will rule with outrage and insolence
Long may they rule I do beseech the Gods,
But long may they learn ere they begin to rule.
If kind and fates would suffer, I would wish
Them aged Princes and immortal kings:
235 Wherefore, most noble king, I well assent,
Between your sons ý you divide your Realm.
And as in kind, so match them in degree
But while the Gods prolong your Royal life
Prolong your reign, for thereto live you here,
240 And therefore have the Gods so long forborne
To join you to themselves, that still you might
Be Prince and father of our common weal:
They, when they see your children ripe to rule,
Will make them room, and will remove you hence,
245 That yours in right ensuing of your life
May rightly honour your mortal name.
BTW, “ý” = that
Scenes get are cushioned with “dumb shows”
The Order and signification of
the dumb show before the second Act.
First, the Music of Cornets began to play, during which came in upon the Stage a king accompanied with a number of his Nobility and Gentlemen. And after he had placed himself in a Chair of estate prepared for him: there came and kneeled before him a grave and aged Gentleman and offered up a Cup unto him of Wine in a glass, which the king refused. After him comes a brave and lusty young Gentleman and presents the king with a Cup of Gold filled with potion, which the king accepted, and drinking the same, immediately fell down dead upon ý stage, and so was carried thence away by his Lords and Gentlemen, and then the Musick ceased. Hereby was signified, that as Glass by nature holdeth no poison, but is clear and may easily be seen through, ne boweth by any Art: So a faithful Counsellor holdeth no treason, but is plain and open, ne yieldeth to any undiscreet affection, but giveth wholesome Counsel, which the ill-advised Prince refuseth. The delightful gold filled with poison betokeneth Flattery, which under fair seeming of pleasant words beareth deadly poison, which destroyeth the prince ý receiveth it. As befell in the two brethren Ferrex and Porrex who, refusing the wholesome advise of grave Court fellows, credited these young Parasites and brought to themselves death and destruction thereby.
[more on the dumb shows later]
Gorboduc rightly freaks out when his whole “let’s divide my kingdom amongst my sons” plan doesn’t work out too well.
1 O Cruel fates, O mindful wrath of Gods
Whose vengeance neither Simois’ strained streams
Flowing with blood of Trojan Princes slain
Nor Phrygian fields made rank with Corpses dead
5 Of Asian kings and Lords can yet appease,
Ne Slaughter of unhappy Priam’s race
Nor Ilion’s fall made level with the soil,
Can yet suffice: but still continued rage,
Pursue our lives, and from the farthest Seas
10 Doth chase the issues of destroyed Troy:
Oh no man happy, till his end be seen
If any flowing wealth and seeming joy
In present years might make a happy wight,
Happy was Hecuba the woefullest wretch
15 That ever lived to make a Mirror of
And happy Priam with his noble sons
And happy I till now, alas I see
And feel my most unhappy wretchedness:
Behold my lords, read you this letter here
20 Lo! It contains the ruin of our Realm
The poetry gets so much more vivid, bloody and better in the later acts.
Act IV, Scene 1. Videna gets all vengeful.
15 So had my bones possessed now in peace
Their happy grave within the closed ground
And greedy worms had gnawed this pined heart
Without my feeling pain. So should not now
This living breast remain the ruthful tomb
20 Wherein my heart yielded to death is graved:
Nor dreary thoughts with pangs of pining grief
My doleful mind had not afflicted thus,
O my beloved son: O my sweet child,
40 Thy cruel tyrant’s thought but death and blood
Wild savage beasts mought not (your) slaughter serve
To feed thy greedy will, and in the midst
Of their entrails to stain thy deadly hands
With blood deserved, and drink thereof thy fill?
45 Or if nought else but death and blood of man
Mought please thy lust, could none in Britain land
Whose heart he torn out of his loving breast
With thine own hand, or work what death thou wouldest
Suffice to make a Sacrifice pease
50 That deadly mind and murderous thought in thee?
But he who in the self-same womb was wrapped
Where thou in dismal hour received life?
Or if needs, needs this hand must slaughter make
Moughtest thou not have reached a mortal wound
55 And with thy sword have pierced this cursed womb?
That thee accursed Porrex brought to light
And given me a just reward therefore.
So Ferrex, yet sweet life might have enjoyed
And to his aged father comfort brought,
60 With some young son in whom they both might live
But whereunto waste I this ruthful speech
To thee that hast thy brother’s blood thus shed
Shall I still think that from this womb thou sprung
That I thee bear or take thee for my son
65 No traitor, no; I thee refuse for mine,
Murderer I thee renounce, thou are not mine:
Never, O wretch, this womb conceived thee,
Nor never bode I painful throes for thee:
Changeling to me thou art, and not my child
70 Nor to no wight, that spark of pity knew,
Ruthless, unkind, Monster of Nature’s work.
Thou never sucked the milk of woman’s breast
But from thy birth the cruel Tiger’s teats
Have nursed, nor yet of flesh and blood
“greedy worms had gnawed this pined heart”
Good Lord. Note the old use of “ruthfull,” which we have lost, but still use “ruthless.”
“Changeling to me thou art, and not my child
70 Nor to no wight, that spark of pity knew,
Ruthless, unkind, Monster of Nature’s work.”
Wight = person. She really doesn’t like her son. Probably because he killed her other son.
Act IV, Scene 2
25 Even Nature’s force doth move us to revenge
By blood again: But Justice forceth us
To measure Death for Death, thy due desert,
O silly women I, why to this hour,
Have kind and fortune thus deferred my breath
180 That I should live to see this doleful day
Will every wight believe that such hard heart
Could rest within the cruel mother’s breast,
With her own hand to slay her only son
But out (alas) these eyes beheld the same,
185 They saw the dreary sight, and are become
Most ruthful records of the bloody fact.
Porrex, (alas) is by his mother slain,
And with her hand a woeful thing to tell,
While slumbering on his careful bed he rests
190 His heart stabbed in with knife is bereft of life.
O Eubulus, oh draw this sword of ours,
And pierce this heart with speed. O hateful light,
O loathsome life, O sweet and welcome Death,
Dear Eubulus work this we thee beseech.
Perhaps one reason the 2nd part is more appealing is that another writer scribbled it. The division between writers is right on the cover:
He also carried the title Rack-master and tortured Catholics. Because he sucked. This also opens up a debate about art vs. the artist. Norton’s play started Tudor/Elizabethan drama as we know it – but he tortured his fellow human beings for being the wrong religion….
So if you torture people on a rack and people call you “Rack-master” and you throw a hissy, you got some serious white privilege.
Thomas Sackville was a statesman and writer. In his role as statesman, in 1586 he was chosen to tell Mary, Queen of Scots she was gonna get executed. He also got locked up in his own home for being a crappy diplomat. I don’t think he tortured any Catholics.
One More Fascinating Thing
Hot damn, we have a review of the initial performance!!!!! How wild is that????
The play served as some sort of warning to Elizabeth about marriage. This is interesting because the printed version of the play doesn’t talk much of marriage. Concern about Elizabeth’s marital state was totally a thing. But it does emphasize the civil war Britain suffers in the play.
The reviewer is more impressed with the dumb show than the speeches/dialogue. Probably because it the static action is broken up by pantomined pageantry.
Just one more thing….
Gorboduc has been revived recently up in Soviet Canuckistan Canada (home of previously profiled playwright Makrenna Sterdan).
“Shakespeare BASH’d is an actor initiative that seeks to take ownership of their own creativity by producing Shakespeare’s plays in social settings, creating a relaxed, exciting environment for the audience.
Their mission is to present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language, and an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.
Shakespeare BASH’d seeks to synthesize the traditional with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, fun, excitement, truth, professionalism, and love.”
The reading’s director Daniel Briere as well as actor David Mackett (Gorboduc) were kind enough to answer some questions for us!!!
1. How did your opinion of the play change from before to after the reading?
Briere: I was struck by how powerful and emotional the play can be. Videna’s speech after she discovers Porrex has murdered his brother is full of such gloriously earthy, rich language, as she vows to kill her son. At the same time, I also came to love how the characters’ thoughts are ordered, how linear and logical their arguments.
Mackett: I initially viewed the play as a bit of a curiosity and I thought it would be a hard slog for the audience – it’s a very wordy play, with lots of rhetoric and long speeches. There’s not much action: if I recall correctly, all the deaths happen off stage. As a result, the characters can come across as a bunch of “talking heads.” It might have been a bit of a slog, but I found the audience was fully engaged and right with us to the end, which gave me a greater appreciation for the writing and the play.
2. What was your favorite line or scene?
Briere: “Know ye, that lust of kingdoms hath no law.” Possibly the worst piece of advice ever given.
Or when Marcella enters, having seen Videna murder Porrex–
“Oh where is ruth? or where is pity now?
Whither is gentle heart and mercy fled?
Are they exiled out of our stony breasts,
Never to make return? Is all the world
Drowned in blood, and sunk in cruelty?” How beautiful and haunting an image is that?
Mackett: “Divided reigns do make divided hearts”
3. How did you explain Gorboduc to your friends and/or family?
Briere: I usually mentioned it was the first play written in blank verse in English. That the story is similar to King Lear–a King divides the Kingdom for his sons, and then everybody dies.
Mackett: I told them it was the first English play written in blank verse, so it was interesting from a historical perspective, and also mentioned that Shakespeare used it as a basis for King Lear. Plot wise, I told them it was a story about an ancient British King, who decides to take early retirement, and divides his kingdom between his two sons, who don’t get along. Then bad things happen.
4. What is it about Gorboduc that can connect to a modern audience?
Briere: With our workshop reading, we were attempting to highlight the verse in hope that it would make the language more clear and accessible to a modern audience. I think we were relatively successful. But as in any of Shakespeare’s plays, or other playwrights to follow Norton and Sackville, the themes of this play are all still very human: ambition, jealousy, family, right, influence.
Mackett: Certainly the problems associated with succession are relevant to a modern audience. I’m the thinking mostly about family-run businesses. How often do we see a successful business, which was started by the parents, left to the children, who then make a mess of things – either because they weren’t qualified or as a result of infighting?
5. What was the audience’s reaction to your reading?
Briere: People joked that it was a bit dusty, but it is tough to get away from that when pretty much every speech in the play is three pages long. We took advantage of the dumb shows written in between scenes to have some action and movement. Maybe even a bit of comedy. I think generally, though, people were excited to hear a play that no-one in the room had ever heard, let alone knew much about.
Mackett: See answer to Question #1.
6. What parenting advice would you give Gorboduc and Videna?
Briere: Be careful who your kids make friends with; peer pressure is a real thing.
Mackett: Choose your heirs wisely.
7. Besides Gorbodork and Gorbodouche, what would be some fun parody titles?
Briere: We were calling it Gord the Duck and the Adventures of ManDude (our favourite duke).
Mackett: Gord the Duck
8. How can we rescue Gorboduc from obscurity?
Briere: Read it, talk about it, do it. Things only go into obscurity when they are forgotten.
Mackett: Stage a full production. Casting it with high-profile actors would help.