Queen始sMen Editions

About this text

  • Title: Performance Introduction
  • Author: Peter Cockett
  • General editors: Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich
  • Coordinating editor: Janelle Jenstad

  • Copyright Peter Cockett. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Peter Cockett
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Performance Introduction


    As the critical introduction establishes, critics始 historical objections to the play arise in response to a perceived lack of structural and thematic unity [LINK to Chris始 intro]. Formal unity, however, is an “anachronistic criterion” to apply to this play, as Matusiak acknowledges, and the SQM production adhered to McMillin and MacLean始s conviction that the dramaturgy of the Queen始s Men was more invested in variety and spectacle than in principles of unity or consistency. As the director of the SQM repertory productions, and under the influence of McMillin and MacLean始s arguments, I resisted the inclination to impose interpretative unity on any of the plays [LINK to Rep Intro]. The production of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay featured in this performance edition is the organic result of a rehearsal process that used Elizabethan theatrical practices to explore the work of the Queen始s Men. A full exploration of the system of rehearsal can be found on the Performing the Queen始s Men website. The relationship between the SQM repertory performance style and the individual texts is a complex one. The speed of the rehearsal, our emphasis on clowning and direct address, our use of men to play female roles, the company hierarchy created by the master actors, the casting of actors by type, and my relatively passive role as a director, all had an impact on the way Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay was staged. The Introduction to the Shakespeare and the Queen始s Men (SQM) Productions describes the way the rehearsal and performance techniques adopted by the project defined the performance style for the SQM company. As discussed in that introduction, our approach to rehearsing the plays resulted in a company style that created its own interpretation of the plays, even though offering a unified interpretation was not our principal objective. For all three of the plays in the SQM project, I did insist on two things that had a definitive effect on the performances始 interpretation of the texts: that the plays始 patriotism be taken seriously and that the actors should not parody the plays, mocking what appeared to them to be unsophisticated dramaturgy or archaic politics.

    Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay was the last play we prepared for performance in the repertoire and had the least rehearsal time (7 days). The personal and ensemble skills developed through the rehearsal and performance of the first two plays, King Leir and Famous Victories of Henry V, were the essential foundation on which the performance of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay was built. In the compressed time-frame of the rehearsal, there was little time to dwell on nuance and interpretive subtlety. By this point the company was operating almost as an independent entity and my influence on their choices was greatly reduced. The lack of time available for rehearsals had a striking effect on the work of the actors. The twenty-first century inclination to find complex motivations for characters that had haunted the production of King Leir was now acknowledged as inefficient by many of our actors who instead looked for ways to play the type of character they were charged to represent in this production. They identified the type of character they were playing and then looked for simple choices to represent that type effectively, often relying on character types they had developed for the other two plays. The master actors continued to offer leadership in the rehearsal room but in the heated, accelerated rehearsals for this play the full company rose up to take responsibility. Although the process demanded speedy decisions, those decisions were built on their experience with the other plays and benefited from the accumulation of knowledge of the Queen始s Men world and the particular skills we had developed to perform their plays, and they were able to bring more complexity to their characterizations while still working within the type system. Without applying ourselves systematically to an interpretation of the play as a whole, the staging still produced an interpretation, as any performance will. This introduction to the SQM performance of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and the annotations incorporated into the text will reflect on how the process created perspective on key issues of critical concern surrounding this play: the critical perception of contradictory attitudes towards Friar Bacon and his magic, the actions and character of Prince Edward, the sexual politics of the play and the character of Margaret, the debate over the play始s style and structure, and its alignment with protestant and nationalist politics.

    A Strange Stratagem

    The play始s attitude towards magic was a source of concern for several of the SQM actors. Alon Nashman saw Friar Bacon as a powerful prestigitator comparable to Shakespeare始s Prospero, as the publicity for the conference suggested, but others felt the play was just one long extended joke. As Matusiak suggests, the play invites such contradictory responses and they presented a serious challenge to the company, especially to Jason Gray who played Friar Bacon, the “jolly friar” who is also a necromancer and a “wonder of the world” (TLN 212). Following the SQM research process and inspired by McMillin and MacLean始s conception of Queen始s Men dramaturgy [LINK], I encouraged the company to focus on playing their parts rather than worrying about their relation to the whole, and on finding ways to perform the scenes for local affect, embracing the idea that the play may be designed to provide variety rather presenting a unified political or aesthetic perspective. Our treatment of the magic illustrates how this approach played out in practice and created the production始s interpretation of magic in the play.

    From a technical point of view, the magic comes in two kinds: magic that can be achieved by the mimetic skills of the actors alone, and magic that calls for special effects – elaborate props and pyrotechnics. Bacon始s prospective glass is an example of the former. The prince looks at the prop used to represent the friar始s “glass”, we chose a mirror, and the characters he sees appear on the stage beside him. As long as he continues to look at the glass, the audience accept the illusion that they are seeing on stage what he is seeing through the “glass” which their imaginations infuse with magic. The affect is simple and quite charming, relying on a fundamental principle of Elizabethan staging; namely, that the audience can imagine the bare stage to be multiple locations. Another example of magic that relies on simple mimesis occurs earlier in scene 5, when the prince and his friends first meet Friar Bacon and he casts a spell on their swords. Here you can see how the company style arising out of the SQM rehearsal process exaggerated the comical affect of the magic. The text reads:

    Edward Gog's wounds! Warren, kill him.
    [Bacon charms them by magic, so that they are powerless to draw their swords.]
    Warren Why, Ned, I think the devil be in my sheath. I cannot get out my dagger.
    Ermsby Nor I mine. 'Swounds, Ned, I think I am bewitched.
    Miles A company of scabs. The proudest of you all draw your weapon, if he can.--
    [To the audience] See how boldly I speak now my master is by.

    The editor始s stage direction identifies the point where the magical effect begins and the form of stage magic is mimetic rather than technical: to represent it the actors need only mime the action of trying to pull out weapons that are stuck in their sheaths. The original Queen始s Men featured many comic actors and knowing this the SQM company creative process involved a strong emphasis on clowning and physical comedy [LINK]. By this point of the SQM process, the company were skilled at quickly developing comic business and were accustomed to the creative agency granted to them and, improvising in rehearsal, they exaggerated their characters始 physical struggle to remove their weapons. Enjoying this opportunity for physical comedy, they developed it further: Rafe dropped to his knees to help Warren pull out his sword in an action that simulated oral sex. The result can be seen in this video clip:


    The focus on clowning in the SQM productions and the creative freedom given to the actors thus resulted in a broadly comic representation of Bacon始s magic. There is textual justification for these performance choices in the play since weapons are regularly used as a euphemism for penises and Bacon is referred to as the “jolly” friar. However, it is not the only way the magic could have been performed. Warren and Ermsby始s two lines, taken at face value, could be used to represent fear, horror, or wonder at what was happening to them. Miles's sudden courage now he was safe from their weapons seems comic, as revealed in his aside, but the prince始s anger and subsequent violence could have been performed in a more chilling and less slapstick mode, building tension until the mighty and wondrous friar chose to reveal himself. In the SQM production, the comedy continued unabated until the friar spoke and Jason Gray (Friar Bacon) was charged, as he so often was, with the task of changing the mood from broad comedy to something more stately. Such sudden shifts in tone were a common affect in the SQM productions brought about by a commitment to playing the serious and the comic side by side and often simultaneously [LINK], but the broad comedy of much of Bacon始s magic made it harder for Gray to reconcile the jolliness of this street magic with the notion that he was a powerful necromancer and “wonder of the world.”

    While there are always other approaches that could be taken the company始s physical clowning of the magic in scene 5 has plenty of support in the text and is in line with the playful side of the friar始s magic that we had already witnessed in scene 2 when he summons the hostess of the tavern to embarrass the pompous Burden. The comic treatment of the magic became more difficult to process, however, in the climactic brazen head scene (TLN ). Greene invested a great deal of rhetorical power in foreshadowing the power of this “head of brass” that will “yield forth strange and uncouth aphorisms” (TLN 346-347), and yet, at the climactic moment he gives the stage to the company始s principal clown in the part of Miles who is charged with guarding the head while Bacon sleeps. The verbal humor of jokes in the text are obscure and the quarto includes only minimal stage directions to guide the performer, thus requiring careful analysis to deduce the physical comedy it implies. Miles expresses his concern that he might “chance to slumber” (TLN 1611), he tells us he is “well-furnished with weapons” (TLN 1609), and refers specifically to his “brown bill” (TLN 1613-4) or halberd, he sets a “prick against [his] breast” (TLN 1622) presumably the point of his halberd, and then tells himself to “rest” (TLN 1623) Presumably at this point the character falls asleep only to be woken by the prick of his halberd set against his breast since in his very next line he cries out: “Lord have mercy upon me, I have almost killed myself!” (TLN 1625). From this evidence, we deduced that the basic lazziof the scene was of a clown, armed and charged to watch through the night, but who kept falling asleep. The SQM principal clown and master actor Alon Nashman played Miles and was given free rein to develop comic business for this scene. Watching him work on this scene was one of the highlights of the SQM production process for me. He knew Miles fell asleep twice, the first time he exclaims that he has almost “broke [his] pate” (TLN 1613) and the second time he nearly kills himself with his own halberd. Nashman therefore set about to develop comical ways to fall asleep while guarding the brazen head. He first used the frame of the entrance to the stage to lean against as he fell asleep, and the curtains of the stage became a blanket. The second time he lent instead against his halberd and as he fell asleep he dreamed the halberd was his lover, embracing and kissing it, and adding the line: “bouncing Bess ... jolly buttocks”– a reference to Famous Victoriesin which Bess was the object of Nashman始s character始s desire in that play. Aside from this invented reference across the SQM repertoire, Nashman was meticulous in building his physical comedy on evidence in the text. He turned that evidence into the following virtuoso piece of clown comedy:


    While the brilliance of his clowning technique is undeniable and its foundation in textual evidence sound, its impact on the audience始s consumption of the play as a whole is worthy of reflection. Nashman turned the 24 lines of the text into 8 minutes of stage action. Friar Bacon始s reaction to the failure of his magic, written in an elevated, stately rhetoric, in comparison lasted only 2 minutes. Jason Gray did his best to shift the tone once again and engage with the serious consequences of his failure but it was an uphill battle following the clown始s comic exigencies. Greene deliberately chose to set broad comedy beside tragedy at this point in the play but did the SQM staging shift the balance too far towards the comic mode? Should this performance be read as the consequence of letting clowns “speak more than is set down” for them, as Hamlet famously complains (TLN ??)? Each viewer will have a differing opinion on these questions, but the consequence of the freedom given to Nashman here and the SQM company始s general encouragement of clowning and physical comedy was undeniably a performance in which magic of the play was not something to be feared or taken too seriously.

    In spite of our best efforts, the lighthearted perspective created on Bacon始s magical powers continued with our performance of the second kind of stage magic, that requiring special effects. In preparation for the production, we attempted to live up to the spectacle promised by the extended stage directions for the destruction of the brazen head, “Here the head speaks and a lightning flasheth forth, and a hand appears that breaketh down the head with a hammer” (TLN 1635-6), and the magical appearance of the tree of Hesperides: “Here Bungay conjures and the tree appears with the dragon shooting fire” (TLN 1197). Stage directions are so rarely explicit in early modern texts that when they give such detail it can be assumed to represent action that happened during the original productions, or at least action the playwright imagined could happen. The stage directions are calling for the representation of spectacular magic and the SQM production invested design time and money to create special effects that could impress the audience and generate a sense of wonder. Unfortunately, in both instances, the impact on the audience fell short of our ambitions. The brazen head was unfortunately constructed only half as big as intended due to a misreading of design drawings by our prop-maker, but did feature a large mouth in which we could place flash paper to represent the lightning. The tree of Hesperides was a beautifully crafted set piece that also featured flash paper to make the dragon breathe fire and branches that could be broken by the spirit in the shape of Hercules. In both cases, however, the mechanics of the magic undermined the power of the effect in performance. Without access to a trap door, Bungay始s conjuring resulted in a devil running on with the tree and placing it stage center. The actor playing the devil set off the flash paper using a hidden switch but the pyrotechnic effect was fleeting and usually resulted in surprised laughter rather than awe. The “hand” that “appears” to strike the brazen head was represented by the arm of an actor reaching through the curtains and striking the head, while releasing a peg backstage which made the head swing down on a pivot. The action and the flash paper in the head始s mouth was sadly equally unimpressive. Perhaps here it was more the imagined image of the hand appearing that came to my mind when reading the text that lead to my sense of disappointment. In place of the gigantic, god-like hand of my imagination the mortal hand of the actor was mundane and bathetic, but perhaps comedy was always Greene始s intention? I still feel, however, that our modern capabilities with pyrotechnics, or at least the confines of our budget and modern safety requirements, limited our ability to capture to the sense of wonder Greene始s stage directions appear to be calling for. It is possible Greene wanted the affect to be comical and impressive simultaneously and with a more spectacular pyrotechnic this double affect would have been achievable. Evidence suggests that Elizabethan theatre was fully capable of mastering special effects of this kind (see Butterworth). This failure further shifted the production始s interpretation of the magic in the play towards the comic. Even the play始s most impressive moments of “necromancy” were funny in our performances.

    The comical interpretation of magic in the SQM productions gave little support to Jason Gray始s commitment to honor the more serious side of his character. Gray and others in the company felt the play could be performed as an epic fable, played in a more serious mode, depicting a proud scholar who practices evil art to gain power only to confront the error of his ways and recant his magic at the end. Jason was constantly looking for ways to construct his character始s arc in this way but the inconsistency in the tone of his scenes proved challenging for him. Early in the play, when he is deeply invested in his magic, he is not prideful, wicked, or dangerous, he is playful, fun, and the celebrated champion of English academia. The tone of his rhetoric shifts when he speaks of the necromantic powers he has employed to protect the kingdom but this tone will quickly shift back again and in the SQM production all the magic on stage was comical, whether intended to be so or not. Friar Bacon is both a proto-tragic hero and a comical trickster. The SQM production undermined the gravitas of his more serious moments and as with all of the repertory productions demonstrated that what might be a binary opposition between the serious and the comic for us, may not have been for the play始s original audience. Perhaps Friar Bacon should be partly understood in relation to the traditions of the morality play with Bacon as its lead Vice character - the primary agent of evil and the principal source of comedy. The SQM production, at least, invited the audience to enjoy the mischief created by Bacon始s magic even while it demonstrated the protestant moral lesson that magic should be rejected in the end. In the playfulness of the repertory productions, the two contrasting interpretations were not mutually exclusive but the intellectual impact of “holding opposing points of view in tension” [LINK TO CritIntro] may have been diluted.

    The Prince and the Fool

    Prince Edward is also a highly contradictory character [LINK to CritIntro] but in this case the type casting system adopted for the project made it easier to navigate. The prince was the third of the three leading male roles played by Paul Hopkins and his performance of Edward quickly developed into a fresh example of his line of charismatic and mischievous princes. The details of the play distinguished this character from his other princes but the pressure of the short rehearsal time (LINK TO INTRO) and the convention of playing a line of roles (LINK TO INTRO) encouraged the actor to embrace the similarities first and build from there. Like Prince Edward, the King of Gallia in King Leir has a mischievous quality and enjoys disguises, and as Prince Harry in Famous Victories, Hopkins had already learned to play a conversion scene (scene 6) that mirrored the dramaturgical structure of scene 7 in Friar Bacon. Harry begins his play committed to a wicked life of revelry but seeing his father始s tears repents his ways and, in an instant, becomes a model English king. In Friar Bacon, Edward始s illicit desire for Margaret drives his actions in the first half of the play but he is suddenly able to subdue “fancy始s passion” (TLN 1066) to “make a virtue of [his] fault” (TLN 1064) in scene 7. In Famous Victories the cause of the epiphany is explicitly Christian, Harry says expressly: “My conscience accuseth me” (TLN 614). The terms of the conversion have been secularized in Friar Bacon – the prince realizes his desires and threats are dishonorable not “princely” (TLN 1062) – but the structure of the dramaturgy is drawn from the sudden conversion scenes of morality drama and is founded on a Christian rather than psychological understanding of human nature. By this point of the process, Hopkins was familiar with this pattern of thought and action and could happily commit to the performance of a prince who within Christian ideology is not as contradictory a character as critical opinion has suggested.

    The prince始s desire for Margaret is illicit but in the SQM production it was represented, much like the magic in the play, not as dark and destructive evil, but as folly. The connection between love and folly that is apparent in the text was cemented by the close working relationship developed by Hopkins and Matthew Krist who played his father始s fool Rafe. Greene invites the comparison directly by having the two characters change clothes and dressing the prince, while under the influence of his illicit desires, in the fool始s coxcomb. In the SQM production, the connection emerged earlier. In the opening scene, as the prince describes Margaret to the audience, Matthew Krist (Rafe) performed a parodic dumbshow of his description behind his back.


    Krist始s choice here made a mockery of the Edward始s desire, and the prince, catching him out, delivered a swift boot to the fool始s backside in recompense. The kick was the beginning of the combative relationship developed between the two actors/characters on stage: the Fool who played the prince battling with the prince who was a fool in love. Following ideas developed through SQM始s Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy [Link to SQM Intro], I asked Krist to explore the possibility that Rafe might be a natural fool, or, at least, that part of his performance was to create the impression that his mind was simple, or slightly unbalanced. The fool's license was traditionally granted on the basis that his lack of reason meant any insults uttered were not intentional. Even clever, artificial fools would have used a performance of idiocy as a cover for their satirical intents (Cockett, "Performing"). Matthew took this idea on board and created a fool that seemed incapable of rational thought or action and yet was quite specifically targeting the folly of his master始s son. The depth of his folly varies as does our awareness of its intent as he shifts in and out of a crafty performance of mental simplicity. Hopkins始s prince, in contrast, is less aware of his folly, indeed he is blind about it until his moment of revelation in scene 7. The two performances combined to playfully open questions about the construction of social identities and the extent of the license that should be afforded both to fools and to princes.

    Sexual Politics in Performance and the Fair Maid of Fressingfield

    Like Hopkins, Julian DeZotti (Margaret) played a line of women始s roles in the SQM repertory productions: Cordella in King Leir, Princess Katherine in Famous Victories. Unlike Hopkins, however, DeZotti resisted the creative implications of the type-casting system and looked for ways to individuate each of the female roles he played. Initially, he also felt confined by the patriarchal stereotyping I established as a framework for the company, finding ways that his characters were not defined as either virtuous virgins (Cordella/Margaret), seductive objects of desire (Kate), or shrews (Cobbler始s Wife). DeZotti始s creative process is discussed at some length on the Performing the Queen始s Men website, in the Performing Gender module [LINK] featuring video commentary from the actor himself. In developing the character of Margaret, DeZotti discovered a playfulness in the text that subverted conservative attitudes and liberated him to perform women who on some levels defied patriarchal norms. This freedom then fed back into his performance of Cordella, bringing out her mischievous engagement with Mumford and with her husband始s disguisings. So, while he was driven by a twenty-first century desire to individuate his characters, he also found stronger connections between them, or at least between the two more substantial roles. The rehearsal process thus had equipped DeZotti to play Margaret始s multifaceted character. He knew how to play a commitment to virtue from his work on Cordella, and he knew how to be more playful and flirtatious through his work on French Kate. As Matusiak establishes, Margaret operates in two linguistic modes that critics have struggled to reconcile [link]: sophisticated rhetoric full of classical references, and homespun colloquialisms that eroticize her rural life. In the SQM performance, DeZotti achieved a consistency by committing to both modes wholeheartedly and playing the social attitudes they inscribe with conviction: the complexity of his performance developed from a commitment to the contradictory and the integration of different character types.

    The dialectical tension between the two Margarets, -- the virtuous and articulate woman of scene 7, and the homespun milkmaid of scene 3 -- threatened to break the seams of the theatrical illusion at the climax of the love test (scene 13). Margaret begins this scene committed to life in a convent and determined to dedicate herself to God but when she discovers Lacy told her he was abandoning her only to test her virtue, she rejects the convent and agrees to marry him. Asserting a conservative patriarchal ideology, I asked the company not to parody the scene but play it as a testament to Margaret始s virtue rather than as a critique of patriarchy. Robert Cushman始s review of the play singles out this moment and his commentary is revealing:

    [Margaret] is all set to get her to a nunnery, when her betrothed appears and says, with no appearance of remorse, that it was all meant as a jovial test of her fidelity. She swallows it. Now I wouldn't claim that this is charming, though the original audience probably took it in their stride.

    What is notable is how Julian De Zotti, a young actor with a knack for playing virtuous and spirited maidens (he's Cordella in the same team's King Leir) manages to play both the hurt and the acceptance without fuss and with the slightest hint of a twinkle. I doubt that many contemporary actresses would bring that off, or would want to try. De-sexualizing these plays, though I wouldn't want to see it become the rule, certainly solves some problems.

    Cushman始s term “[d]e-sexualizing these plays” refers to the fact that the SQM company was all male. This choice had a major influence on the sexual politics of the production. I would have been very uncomfortable asking a female actor to passively accept Lord Lacy始s explanation. Reading Cushman始s review makes me uncomfortable today, since the “problems” solved were examples of the ongoing challenges of performing plays today in which sexist attitudes are treated as normal. As Cushman acknowledges, a woman playing Margaret would have important questions to ask about the representation of female agency in this play and would likely want to find a performance solution that satisfied her own politics, and rightly so. To my knowledge, the male SQM actors were all liberal-minded individuals with progressive attitudes towards sexuality, supporters of feminism and women始s equality. I would include myself under these descriptors. However, it cannot be denied that the exclusively male company of actors produced an atmosphere that was more permissive than it would have been had there been women in the company. Matthew Krist, who played female roles in the productions, had to ask the company to refrain from pinching and slapping his backside [link to PQM]. This behavior was meant in fun, and I am sure it was not something these actors would have done to a female actor, but it was unsettling enough for Krist to make a complaint. Looking back at this production from the perspective of 2017, I feel the sexual politics of the company and our production of Friar Bacon deserve interrogation. The underlying current of sexual aggression in the text that Matusiak始s notes highlight so well was normalized by the playful way the male characters始 desires were treated in performance. In bringing attention to this issue, I am not trying to point fingers at the cast, or absolve myself from my role in the politics of the production; it is just particularly striking to me, looking at it from the perspective of only 11 years, how many patriarchal assumptions contained in the play were treated as normal, even while I was trying to emphasize the historical distance between the Queen始s Men and ourselves, or perhaps because I was doing so.

    In all the SQM productions, the acknowledged reality that maintaining historical distance was an impossible task from the outset became openly apparent through the act of performance itself. While I pushed the company to make choices that I felt aligned the production with the politics of the Queen始s Men, in the moment of live performance the audience would often pull them in other directions. The love test is an excellent example of the way the audience affected the performance as it developed. Through repeated performances, the conservative, ideological perspective witnessed by Cushman proved impossible to maintain. The audience response let us know that they found the patriarchal assumptions of the love test to be ridiculous and it proved impossible for DeZotti to play the moment of reversal without an acknowledgment of the distance between the politics of Margaret始s decision and his own. DeZotti始s “slightest hint of a twinkle” turned into a more open acknowledgment of the problematic politics of Margaret始s willing submission to Lacy始s will.


    As witnessed in the video, at the climactic moment DeZotti pauses and turns his head, an action that acknowledges and encourages the audience始s reaction to Lacy始s revelation and Warren始s suggestion she needs to choose between God or Lord Lacy. Even Lacy始s gesture with his hand has a hint of knowing irony behind it. For a moment, it appears DeZotti steps out of character and when he steps back in to say, “The flesh is frail,” his delivery is heavy with an irony that creates a Brechtian double vision in which we can see Margaret始s choice inscribed by the play and by the actor始s opinion of that choice in the moment of performance. It is impossible for us to know how Greene intended this moment to be performed or received. Cushman始s assumption that it was meant to be played straight may be inaccurate, or the irony arising in our performance may have been part of his original conception. It is also possible, however, that the target of Greene始s humor may have been the frailty of women rather than the ridiculousness of the love test. Either way this moment in the SQM performance is a telling example of the power the audience has over interpretation. In all our performances, despite the company始s efforts to maintain commitment to the cultural politics of the Queen始s Men as we saw them, the performances would inevitably be changed by the response of the audience. The patriotism of Famous Victories became semi-ironic [LINK], in the same way that Margaret始s submission to Lacy did here. The formation of the Queen始s Men as a tool for national propaganda presupposes a nation where political loyalties could not be assumed. It seems likely that the skilled and experience set of performers that constituted the company would have also been sensitive to the performative demands of the heterogeneous audiences they encountered on their travels.

    5Performing Merry England

    As with Famous Victories, the company felt that the patriotism of Friar Bacon was so extreme that it must be intended ironically and was ripe for parody, and to maintain the project始s commitment to the politics of the Queen始s Men [Link], it was necessary to resist the actors始 inclinations. While the play has complex attitudes towards magic, towards its prince, and towards Margaret, it is inescapably pro-English. It shows how England “glories ... over all the rest.” In the SQM production, the protestant, nationalistic politics of the play operated on a “have your cake and eat it” policy. Bacon始s magic played a role in creating the image of jolly old England, was used to defeat the Germans, but then it became a sign of evil and was rejected in favor of an English protestant understanding and used to prophecy national glories to come under the guidance of and the protestant English rose, Elizabeth. Prince Edward was a hedonistic youth, enjoying the bucolic pleasures of the English countryside, swapping roles with a fool, but then became a symbol of aristocratic honor and national courtesy. Margaret represented the idea of England appealing in a variety of ways: the erotic, the funny, the intellectual, and the powerful. The multiplicity of different perspectives offered by the play were subsumed in the playfulness of the performance: the shared agreement between actors and audience to pretend and enjoy fictions together.

    The charm of the SQM production stands as a sign of the power that Walsingham and Leicester were trying to harness when creating the Queen's Men. Friar Bacon was the performance that speaks to me now most powerfully about the role theater can play in the (re)imagining of a society, in creating and playing with national myths. The SQM production created a patriarchal picture of England that was playfully permissive: where magic could be a cause for English pride, but also silly and immoral; where princes could act like fools and fools like princes; where scholarship could be idealized and scholars mocked; and where women could be virtuously resistant to men始s desires but ultimately submissive to desire for men. The intellectual power of the dialectical tensions identified in the play by Matusiak were diminished by the commitment to clowning and local affects rather than the careful development of conceptual connectivity. This representation does not mean, however, that those tensions did not remain, but rather that they were subsumed within the general comic spirit of the production. While its ideology in relation to protestant attitudes towards magic remained unresolved, the production aligned itself with the Queen始s Men始s nationalistic agenda by generating a patriotic image of a jolly old England that would likely have been inclusive of Elizabethans from a range of political perspectives. The play produces many complexities that it refuses to synthesize on the page but the comic spirit of the SQM production brought a ‘rough unity始 by resolving the multiplicity of perspectives within the shared folly of political performance itself: the act of shared pretense which was also implicitly an act of allegiance. Like the court fools, the Queen始s licensed players took the liberty to direct a degree of criticism to the establishment while entertaining the people. Through this play, the company promoted protestant, monarchist nationalism but partly by presenting it with an implication of healthy limitations to its power.