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    Not Peer Reviewed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.