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    Not Peer Reviewed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

    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.