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  • Title: Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay: Critical Introduction
  • Author: Christopher Matusiak

  • Copyright Queen's Men Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Christopher Matusiak
    Peer Reviewed

    Critical Introduction

    1: First Impressions: Strangeness and Wonder

    Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay始s buoyant mixture of spectacular magic, erotic intrigue, royal pageantry, and anarchic clowning generated considerable enthusiasm when the play debuted circa 1588. The studiousness with which Greene assembles well-rubbed character types and tropes from popular genres such as medieval romance, chronicle history, and the homiletic interlude explains in part this positive reception (McNier 171-79; Hieatt, “A New Source” 182-86; Cartwright 222-23). But for all its familiar aspects, there is an undeniable strangeness to Friar Bacon that appears to have resonated strongly as well. Indeed, the word “strange” is uttered with conspicuous frequency in the play (thirteen times). In early modern usage, the term commonly referred, as it does today, to the enigmatic quality of things experienced as alien or inexplicable. But it carried more nuanced connotations, too, notably evoking the moral disorientation brought about by unorthodox or ungodly behavior, and characterizing events deemed providential and therefore tantalizingly beyond the grasp of human reason (OEDadj; Walsham 32-51, 167-224). Much of the strangeness of Greene始s most famous play may be traced to the playwright始s abiding fascination with the human desire for knowledge, its circumscribed nature, and the potentially dire consequences of its acquisition. The eponymous Bacon is an Oxford scholar turned legendary sorcerer, already renowned as the play opens for having performed “strange and uncouth miracles” (TLN 1790) and determined to complete his magnum opus, a prodigious head of brass whose speech promises to illuminate “strange doubts and aphorisms” (TLN 220, 229, 349, 1582, 1647). For his part, Friar Bungay squares off in a “strange dispute” with the continental magician Vandermast, exhilarating onlookers with his own “strange necromantic spells” (TLN 1160, 1235). Gradually, the friars始 uncanny marvels give way to the more profound mystery at the heart of the play—what Providence holds in store for England—a question brought into focus by the Plantagenet King Henry III, who muses, “what strange event shall happen to this land?” (TLN 2119)

    In response to such moments, characters exhibit “wonder,” another key word in the play始s verbal texture. Bacon has risen from humble origins to be reputed “the wonder of the world,” dazzling both friends and enemies alike with “wonders” that “pass the common sense of man” (TLN 212, 249). But when his occult power inevitably slips its harness and threatens to harm those in the friar始s orbit, shock and estrangement are revealed to be dimensions of wonder as well (TLN 1116): “O strange stratagem,” cries Bungay in horror, as the events of scene 11 take their grievous turn (TLN 1858). Deep-set Elizabethan anxieties surrounding religious transgression and its punishment were never wholly separable from the excited conception of magic as an instrument capable of penetrating nature始s secrets. The frisson that Friar Bacon始s earliest audiences seem to have experienced therefore encompasses at least two powerfully “strange” sensations: awed amazement at the apparent wondrousness of occult power; and the profound uneasiness of bearing witness to heresy.

    By the late 1580s, the prose romance The Famous History of Friar Bacon had familiarized the reading public with the magician始s legendary exploits, while stories of the real-life Franciscan circulated vividly in academic circles (see the Textual Essay for more on this background). Greene始s dramatization, however, seems to have most firmly seized the early modern imagination. The theater entrepreneur Philip Henslowe recorded respectable crowds visiting his Rose playhouse in Southwark to see Lord Strange始s Men perform “fryer bacone” in 1592 and 1593 (Foakes 16-20). This was for many years assumed to be Greene始s play, though it may also have been a sequel that survives today in the manuscript known as John of Bordeaux (Alnwick Castle MS. 507; Manley and MacLean 93-6). In any event, the existence of multiple productions featuring the character reflects strong cultural interest—indeed, perhaps, a cultural phenomenon. There is evidence the play remained a touchstone for decades to come: casual allusions to Bacon始s brazen head crop up regularly in the work of popular playwrights such as Jonson, Middleton, and Shirley (Ward clxiv-clxvi); countless friar pairings paraded across Jacobean and Caroline stages in conspicuous imitation (Matusiak 209-10, 224 n9); and well into the eighteenth century, audiences flocked to booth stages to see child-sized puppets (or ‘motions始) act out scenes adapted from Greene始s well-known play (Rosenfeld 12-3).

    Greene始s literary notoriety is likely to have stoked curiosity about Friar Bacon. Having stablished himself as an “Author of Plays and a penner of Love Pamphlets” by the later 1580s, Greene reportedly grew so “famous in that quality” that he mused: “who for that trade [had] grown so ordinary about London as Robin Greene” (The Repentance of Robert Greene C1v)? The best evidence for Friar Bacon始s contemporary appeal however remains its first appearance in quarto in 1594, the title-page of which identifies it as having been “played by her Majesty始s servants.” The Queen始s Men were the most beloved touring company of the late Elizabethan era and the ways in which Greene始s commercial and ideological designs were bound up with its actors and their royal sponsor will be explored in detail below; let it suffice for the moment to observe that while commentators have traditionally discussed the play as having been written for a purpose-built amphitheater in London (Seltzer 98-100; Lavin xvi-xxi; Leggatt 30-31), it is equally important to situate it in the context of late-Tudor theatrical touring. Londoners certainly knew the play: Henslowe始s accounts confirm that the Queen始s Men acted it on the Bankside during the Easter season of 1594 (Foakes 21); it was probably performed as well at city innyards such as the Bull in Bishopsgate Street and the Bell Savage near Ludgate (Kathman 68-75). But as recent scholarship has persuasively shown, the greater part of the royal company始s career was spent on the road, and dramatic scripts were necessarily adapted to the physical and social conditions of guildhalls, fairgrounds, and noble households in locales as distant from one other as Bristol, Norwich, York, and Dover (McMillin and MacLean 55-82). Friar Bacon may well have been exhibited more frequently beyond London than within, and was certainly a more dramaturgically flexible and multivalent play—a stranger one, we might say—than has previously been assumed.

    2: Coherency or Incoherency

    Modern critical opinion of the play, until recently, has stood rather awkwardly at odds with Friar Bacon始s prominent place in Elizabethan popular culture. Early twentieth-century commentators admired the “recognizably real” quality of Greene始s characters, especially his sympathetic portraits of women, the inspiration for which has been traced to the playwright始s troubled relationship with his own “wronged and forgiving wife” (Robertson 104-5). Bradleyan appreciation could not wipe away the stigma of being a “secondary” Elizabethan dramatist, however. Many came to regard Greene as an envious imitator of more chic and supple-minded university writers, particularly Marlowe, thus framing Friar Bacon as a tactful, if uninspired, response to the artistically superior Doctor Faustus (Churton Collins 2:2-3). At his best, Greene could be said to have planted seeds from which more refined artistry would grow, with Friar Bacon notably the bud of a species of romantic comedy that would flower fully into Twelfth Night and The Winter始s Tale. In seeking to keep pace with his fellow university wits, Greene, in effect, eked out modest innovations that critics found useful when constructing a teleology focused on the emergence of Shakespeare. In G.E. Woodberry始s memorable phrase, Greene was a “flitting bat in the slow dawn of our golden poet” (388-89, 394).

    With the rise of New Criticism, Friar Bacon attracted fresh attention as a formal puzzle to be solved. Establishing the text始s unity proved a vexing enterprise however as the play plainly exhibits contradictions and delivers paradoxical effects. Ambiguous, ambivalent, uncertain, and conflicting would predictably become standard terms of critical description, especially in discussions of the play始s characters. Friar Bacon and Margaret of Fressingfield, the two most prominent roles, are exemplary in this respect. Is Bacon properly a benevolent wizard of romance, or a damnable Faustian sorcerer (McNeir 176-79; Towne 9-13; West 499-500; Traister 72)? The answer, evidently, is both. Without question, the English court and academic community at Oxford appreciate the prestige the brilliant friar bestows upon his nation and university. King Henry and the doctors Clement and Mason commend Bacon warmly as “frolic” and “jolly” (TLN 319, 328), a “brave scholar” (TLN 98) and “England始s only flower” (TLN 505) worthy of “a coronet of choicest gold” (TLN 510). Merlin-like, the magus directs his art towards the welfare of England: his “prospective glass,” which brings distant events immediately before one始s eyes, is “free for every honest man” to use (TLN 1812); and Bacon始s professed purpose in pursuing the brazen head始s “strange principles of philosophy” is to surround his country with fortifications more impervious than those of ancient empires:

    I will strengthen England by my skill,
    That if ten Caesars lived and reigned in Rome
    With all the legions Europe doth contain
    They should not touch a grass of English ground.
    The work that Ninus reared at Babylon,
    The brazen walls framed by Semiramis,
    Carved out like to the portal of the sun,
    Shall not be such as rings the English strand
    From Dover to the marketplace of Rye. (TLN 232-240)

    Patriotic sentiment of this kind seems calculated to stir the hearts of Elizabethan Protestants, who by the later 1580s were alert to the subversive presence in England of seminary priests from Rheims, and awaited military invasion by Catholic Spain. But playgoers could hardly have overlooked the heretical means by which the friar pursues his patriotic ends. From the gloom of his study, Bacon claims to have “dived into hell / And sought the darkest palaces of fiends” (TLN 1570-1571), and poring over “dark Hecate始s principles” in forbidden books (TLN 1579), he has summoned the sulfurous agents Belcephon and Astaroth to do his bidding (TLN 230, 1259-1260, 1572). There can be no confusing such practices with ‘white始 or ‘natural始 magic: this is “necromancy” (TLN 228), the Greek and Latin roots of which (neckroi, ‘death始 / niger, ‘dark始) send disturbing shivers through the play始s otherwise festive proceedings. Bacon, moreover, is pathologically self-aggrandizing, claiming the right to “boast more than a man might boast” (TLN 1674). His Faustian habit of addressing himself in the third person betrays the fact that intellectual hubris motivates him as forcefully as altruism (Assarsson-Rizzi 38; Ettin 276-77). As in the case Faustus, too, Bacon始s nobly-expressed intentions tend to devolve into scenes of farce tinged with discontentment and malevolence; more than once, for instance, and with obvious self-satisfaction, he conjures horned and feathered devils to dispatch those who challenge or frustrate him (TLN 335-337, 807, 2072-2073). Moreover, an unmistakable hollowness characterizes even his greatest magical accomplishment, the alchemical enlivening of the brazen head. After weeks of patient labor and suspenseful anticipation, the head speaks nothing but a sparse epigram on worldly transience—“Time is … Time was … Time is past” (TLN 1616, 1626, 1638)—words (on their surface at least) anticlimactic for their obviousness (TLN 1582). Casting the darkest shadow over the friar is his failure to recognize, until it is too late, that magic “worketh many woes” (TLN 1861). Bacon始s enchanted glass proves especially dangerous, first in enabling Edward始s imperious schadenfreude at Bungay始s mute humiliation and the terrorization of Margaret and Lacy, and then in its facilitation of the violence that consumes the Lamberts and Serlsbys (TLN 1818). Scholars have read Bacon始s breaking of his glass as a redemptive and “educative” gesture—a sign that his descent into sin is only temporary and that his condition remains regenerative (Wertheim 274, 285). But the magnitude of his transgressions—which he confesses to be so foul and extensive that Christ始s wounds “oft did bleed afresh” (TLN 1888)—complicates attempts to impose a morality play pattern on the action and tends to dampen the comedy始s final articulation of optimism. “Sins have their salves” and “repentance can do much,” Bacon reassures himself (TLN 1885). But “the dew of mercy” remains very much in the balance as Bacon makes his final vow to “spend the remnant of my life / In pure devotion, praying to my God / That he would save what Bacon hath vainly lost” (TLN 1889, 1892-1894). Two opposing conceptions of magic are thus articulated. Neither may be factored out, nor are they reconcilable—the play simply holds them in tension (Assarsson-Rizzi 79-80; Crupi 119).

    After Bacon, Margaret speaks the most lines in the play, and she shares the friar始s Janus-faced quality. From one vantage point, she is a Sussex dairymaid who makes butter and cheese in her father始s lodge on a royal hunting ground; from another, she models a grand and ancient myth, embodying a second Helen of Troy whose suitors are driven to violent distraction by her rare beauty (Muir 49; Assarsson-Rizzi 72-3). The shifting register of Margaret始s speech neatly reflects this paradoxical nature. Among her rustic neighbors at Harleston Fair, she speaks unpretentiously, often with a passivity befitting her social status and gender in a conservative rural environment:

    When we have turned our butter to the salt
    And set our cheese safely upon the racks,
    Then let our fathers price it as they please.
    We country sluts of merry Fressingfield
    Come to buy needless naughts to make us fine,
    And look that young men should be frank this day
    And court us with such fairings as they can. (TLN 363-369)

    But upon encountering Lacy, the earl of Lincoln, Margaret始s rhetoric heightens, becoming more allusive and richer in its tropes:

    His words are witty, quickened with a smile,
    His courtesy gentle, smelling of the court;
    Facile and debonair in all his deeds,
    Proportioned as was Paris when in gray
    He courted Oenone in the vale by Troy.
    Great lords have come and pleaded for my love,
    Who but the Keeper始s lass of Fressingfield?
    And yet methinks this farmer始s jolly son
    Passeth the proudest that hath pleased mine eye. (TLN 420-428)

    Coercively pressured by Prince Edward to abandon her affection for Lacy, her classicism grows even more pronounced:

    Pardon, my lord. If Jove始s great royalty
    Sent me such presents as to Danae,
    If Phoebus, tired in Latona始s webs,
    Came courting from the beauty of his lodge,
    The dulcet tunes of frolic Mercury
    Nor all the wealth heaven始s treasury affords
    Should make me leave Lord Lacy or his love. (TLN 1013-1019)

    And amid the crisis of Lacy始s disavowal, Margaret speaks as though transplanted into a Senecan tragedy:

    Fond Atë, doomer of bad-boding fates,
    That wraps proud Fortune in thy snaky locks,
    Did始st thou enchant my birthday with such stars
    As lightened mischief from their infancy?
    If heavens had vowed, if stars had made decree,
    To show on me their froward influence,
    If Lacy had but loved, heavens, hell, and all
    Could not have wronged the patience of my mind. (TLN 1531-1538)

    The mosaic of Margaret始s speech habits might generously be interpreted as expressive of her changing emotional condition and a near-heroic struggle to shore up an integrity of self under various kinds of pressure. But her stylistic disjointedness has been criticized for muddying the play始s otherwise clear depiction of social distinctions and for confusing the audience始s sense of who she is and where she belongs (Muir 49). Compounding the issue is a degree of unpredictability in Margaret始s behavior, which can range from quiet and withdrawn humility to bold self-assertiveness. Her patience when Lacy abandons her, for instance, has been likened to that of Griselda, the implication being that it is through suffering that Margaret becomes entitled to the social eminence granted her by the comic finale (Seltzer xvi; Lavin xxiii-xxv; Mortenson 201). Others find the Griselda analogy strained, noting that Margaret has an active hand in orchestrating events and is “uncommonly articulate” when speaking out against the impositions placed upon her; from this perspective, she resembles more a dignified “lady in disguise” than an overtly deferential subject of patriarchy (Assarsson-Rizzi 71-3; Cartwright 235-41). It has even been suggested, with less generosity, that beneath the surface of her pastoral heroism lies a hard core of proud self-regard not unlike Bacon始s own. “Great lords have come and pleaded for my love, / Who but the Keeper始s lass of Fressingfield?” she muses in the aside quoted above, cognizant that she is considered Suffolk始s paramount beauty, and possibly gratified by the fact:

    Shall I be Helen in my froward fates,
    As I am Helen in my matchless hue,
    And set rich Suffolk with my face afire? (TLN 1483-1485)

    The challenge of reconciling Margaret始s inclination both towards diffident self-abnegation and proud self-determination has prompted conclusions that border on cynicism: does she knowingly exploit her “matchless hue” in the interest of upward social and political mobility? How calculated is her final breach of decorum when she advantageously marries a lord above her station (Hieatt 22)?

    In the face of such “strange” contradictions, there have emerged two broadly distinguishable strategies of critical explanation. The first understands the play始s contrarieties to be a consequence of incompatible personal or aesthetic investments on the part of the dramatist. Calling attention to details in Greene始s putative biography, David Bevington proposes, for instance, that the playwright始s disappointed social aspirations and dissolute lifestyle prevented him from depicting romantic comedy始s upward social mobility in an uncomplicated way. Sensing hints of mockery and caricature in Margaret始s remarkable rise from the low estate of a dairymaid to aristocratic luxury, Bevington asks: “Did Greene really warm to his task in creating Margaret, or did he cater to a pipe dream that he then passed off as faintly ludicrous and ineffably bourgeois? … One senses not that Greene was consciously cynical of his popular themes and morality, but that he concocted an unstable vision of goodness he yearned for and then mistrusted because it eluded him” (Tudor Drama 224). Kenneth Muir accounts for the same inconsistencies by arguing that Greene assembled his source materials recklessly. To compose Friar Bacon, Greene pressed together a remarkable array of stock characters and narrative elements from the genres of romance, chronicle history, and the moral interlude. Given the diverse nature of these sources, constituent components cannot be expected to align neatly in every instance, nor should we be surprised if they sometimes resist the artificial logic of professional stage comedy to resolve matters harmoniously. It is the uneven architecture of Friar Bacon始s underlying structure, Muir argues, and not any modern principle of psychological coherence that ultimately determines the nature and fate of its characters. Contradictions, on this view, are the result of “character sacrificed to plot” and merely require our “willing suspension of disbelief” (48-9).

    J.A. Lavin始s influential New Mermaids edition of Friar Bacon conceives the play at cross purposes in yet another sense. Greene始s predilection for eye-pleasing spectacle, Lavin argues, contradicted his effort to impose on the action a pattern of orthodox morality condemning necromancy (xxvii-xxix). Few would dispute the first premise: Greene was unquestionably adventurous when devising visual displays for the stage. In Alphonsus, he indulged spectators始 eyes with a canopy topped with the severed heads of vanquished kings (G2v); in Orlando Furioso, his hero crosses the stage “with a leg” over his shoulder, grotesquely mistaken for Hercules始s club (D4v); Remilia is incinerated by lightning in A Looking Glass for London (C2v); and Jonah in the same play is “cast out of the Whale始s belly upon the stage” (F3v). Of a piece with arresting moments such as these is scene 8 of Friar Bacon, in which Bungay conjures the mythical tree of Hesperides and a “dragon shooting fire” (TLN 1198). As Greene was no doubt aware, the dragon had long been a hallmark of Tudor pageantry, a serpentine property fitted with tubes through which ignited powder was conducted to produce a shower of sparks from the mouth (Butterworth, Theatre of Fire 39, 86). Before the smoke from this spectacle clears, Vandermast summons a “fiend appearing like great Hercules,” complete with “his lion始s skin,” to tear the branches from the tree (TLN 1208, 1216). Bacon overmasters Vandermast in turn, ordering Hercules to spirit away both the tree and the necromantic challenger (TLN 1279-1280). Perhaps more impressive still is the spectacle then called for in scene 10. Indeed, Bacon始s talking brass head has become one of the most iconic moments in English Renaissance drama. Players appear to have adopted an existing technique of conveying sound through statuary of this kind; the head was probably brought to life by piping an actor始s voice into the property from offstage (Butterworth, Magic on the Early English Stage 98-112; and see the Supplementary Materials). Greene始s Alphonsus features a similar pyrotechnic head, as do others plays in the Queen始s Men始s repertory (e.g. The Old Wives Tale, the lost Orson and Valentine), and it seems likely the same property was employed across productions (Dahlquist 67). Yet by juxtaposing its version of the head with the comic improvisation of the actor playing Miles, Friar Bacon presented Elizabethan audiences with something original, a theatrical tour de force whose effects include ‘jump scares始 (each time the head makes its “great noise”), tense laughter at Miles始s comic fright, and wondrous awe as “a lightning flasheth forth” (likely an emission of flame from the head始s mouth, as in Alphonsus) and a mysterious hand suddenly appears to “breaketh down the head” (TLN 1614, 1633, 1635). Friar Bacon始s technical wizardry may well have been among its chiefest pleasures, but to Lavin it constitutes a case of “incomplete artistic integration”; to be absorbed and delighted by magical spectacle, he argues, is to remain oblivious to Greene始s point that necromancy is grounds for damnation; thus the “gleeful parade of magical tricks does not square with his didactic conclusion” (xxix).

    A second, distinct group of critics diverges from the arguments above by taking as its starting point Thomas Nashe始s well-known assertion that Greene was his “craft始s master” when it came to “plotting plays” (Have with You V3r). Rather than offering explanations for Friar Bacon始s apparent contrarieties, this second critical movement has sought to resolve ambiguities by identifying ways to unify the text at the levels of character, theme, and structure. In his seminal reading of the evidence, William Empson posits connections “insinuated powerfully and unobtrusively” between distinct plots involving Margaret and Bacon, each of whom shapes the action by exercising analogous powers—in Empson始s famous formulation, “the power of beauty is like the power of magic” (27-34). The dairymaid and the necromancer each stand to benefit socially from their respective influence, but to the extent their powers are “individualist, dangerous, and outside the social order” they also trouble the universe of comedy, an idea seemingly reinforced by scene 12 when Margaret始s physical attractiveness and Bacon始s magical glass conspire to erase two generations of Lamberts and Serlsbys. Empson始s insight would shape the discourse of critics for a generation, paving the way for further debate as to whether Bacon and Margaret—“England始s only flower” and “the flower of all towns” (TLN 505, 1424)—ought to be regarded as analogous, or as embodying a polarity of competing influences on those they encounter (Seltzer xvi; Mortenson 196-97). The power of Margaret始s ‘magic始 remains particularly controversial. In response to her exquisite beauty, distinctly male communities of courtly noblemen and provincial neighbors lose faith in each other and fall into conditions of violent sexual obsession. But should Margaret be held responsible for the behavior of men who react to her in these ways (Senn 547; Hieatt, “Multiple Plotting” 22-6)? Is restraint not precisely the responsibility of those thus affected (McAdam 37)?

    If Empson始s equation of magic and beauty usefully enables such questions, other critics have found it too reductive and so sought to bring additional aspects of the play始s internal logic into focus. Similarities have been detected, for instance, between Bacon and Edward: both men are proud and ambitious; both maintain irreverent servants (Miles and Rafe) who undercut their pretentions; and both must struggle to exert self-control after abusing extraordinary powers in self-serving ways (Senn 551-53; Dessen 32-5). At the same time, a contrast between Bacon and Bungay is implicitly drawn, grounded in each friar始s magical and moral efficacy: Bungay seeks to solemnize the union between Margaret and Lacy, but Bacon hinders it; Bungay is bettered in his showdown with Vandermast, but Bacon prevails; thir respective reactions to the outwardly rippling effects of the magical head and prospective glass are furthermore marked by differences (Cartwright 241). Empson始s double plot was thus gradually replaced by a conception of multiple threads of action, raveled carefully into sequential movements. A tone of festive misrule dominates the play始s first movement. Social and political norms are upended, for instance, when Edward and Rafe exchange clothes in scene 5. This sartorial switch provides Edward with a disguise in which to act upon his erotic desire for Margaret, while Rafe—one of the professional stage始s first court-licensed, or ‘artificial始, fools—enjoys the freedom to “prince it out” in silk with reveling courtiers above his station. The carnivalesque inversion is funny, but Greene uses the material trappings of costume to reinforce thematic meaning as well: putting on the fool始s motley signals Edward始s symbolic entrance into a condition of folly (i.e. his disruptive pursuit of Margaret), which must be relinquished by the play始s final movement. His return to the stage in princely attire in scene 8 figures a willingness to set the world aright, to re-establish social and political order by redirecting his erotic energy into an uxorious (and diplomatic) union with Eleanor of Castile (Mortenson 195-97; Hieatt, “Multiple Plotting” 19-21).

    While advocates of “rough unity” have done much to improve Friar Bacon始s critical reputation, it must be conceded that certain elements in the play stubbornly refuse to coalesce (Muir 48). Consider, for instance, its dualistic conception of academic life. Greene was awarded degrees by both Cambridge and Oxford, and he proudly broadcast his credentials on the title pages of his publications. In Friar Bacon, he praises his alma mater as a fount of intelligence and wealth, sustained by a fertile provincial landscape:

    … these Oxford schools
    Are richly seated near the river side,
    The mountains full of fat and fallow deer,
    The battling pastures laid with kine and flocks,
    The town gorgeous with high-built colleges,
    And scholars seemly in their grave attire,
    Learn茅d in searching principles of art. (TLN 1114-1120)

    Bacon boasts to Vandermast that the institution surpasses any in Europe: “None read so deep as Oxenford contains. / There are within our academic state / Men that may lecture it in Germany / To all the doctors of your Belgic schools” (TLN 1127-1130). The university is also a magnet for monarchs. In the manner of Tudor visitations such as those Greene likely experienced as a student, King Henry directs his entourage and foreign guests to “progress straight to Oxford” to “hear dispute among the learnèd men” (TLN 483, 501), endowing the university with the prestige of the royal court (Shuger 313-14; Knight 355, 358).

    Yet juxtaposed with this laudatory perspective is one more decidedly caustic, suggesting Greene was as intent to satirize the “academic state” as to celebrate it. While Bacon始s formal, book-bound scholarship leads him into the narrow and melancholy back alleys of necromancy, characters such as Lacy and Margaret are depicted reaping healthier rewards from the trial and error of experiential learning and intuition (Cartwright 224). The insular atmosphere of the university often appears to breed only tenuous happiness and success shot through with pride and envy. Peeling back the outward bravado of the all-male world of the doctors, Greene exposes a thin tissue of masculinity. Glory is routinely gained at others始 expense in the zero-sum game of academic reputation (McAdam 37-40). When Burden sniffs incredulously, for instance, at a proposal to commemorate Bacon “in characters of brass / And statues such as were built up in Rome” (TLN 215-216), Bacon puffs up his chest and subjects his colleague to brutal social humiliation. Magically summoning a tavern Hostess with a suggestively skewered piece of mutton in hand, he reveals her to be the extracurricular “book” with whom Burden secretly spends his nights “in alchemy” (TLN 266-294). By crude insinuation, we are to understand that his antagonist始s nocturnal experiments (drinking and mingling fluids with a prostitute) have left him ‘burdened始 with venereal infection.

    King Henry始s visit ironically brings about a further deflation of scholarly dignity. Burden, Mason, and Clement plan in advance of the court始s arrival “to welcome all the western potentates” with “stately tragedies / Strange comic shows such as proud Roscius / Vaunted before the Roman emperors” (TLN 833-836). Late sixteenth-century university scholars commonly staged Latin plays before courtly visitors, regarding it as an opportunity to praise and impart political wisdom especially to royal patrons. Yet when Henry arrives, he is not at all interested in the doctors始 “stately” exhibitions. The king demands instead feats of magical showmanship—spectacular sensation rather than intellectual stimulation. The luxurious banquet that Bacon promises after the magical competition is of a piece with this eagerness for spectacle:

    The basest waiter that attends thy cups
    Shall be in honors greater than thyself.
    And for thy cates rich Alexandria drugs,
    Fetched by carvels from Egypt始s richest straits,
    Found in the wealthy strand of Africa,
    Shall royalize the table of my king.
    Wines richer than the Gyptian courtesan
    Quaffed to Augustus始s kingly countermatch
    Shall be caroused in English Henry始s feasts.
    Candy shall yield the richest of her canes;
    Persia, down her Volga by canoes
    Send down the secrets of her spicery;
    The Afric dates, myrobalans of Spain,
    Conserves and suckets from Tiberias,
    Cates from Judea, choicer than the lamp
    That fired Rome with sparks of gluttony,
    Shall beautify the board for Frederick;
    And therefore grudge not at a friar始s feast. (TLN 1370-1387)

    The scholars始 idealized relationship to the court is effectively nullified, their political relevance downgraded. They occupy a position curiously like that of professional stage-players, whom Greene seemingly viewed with ambivalence, and with whom he may have worked only reluctantly (Shenk 21; Knight 359).

    If it was felt to be demeaning to subsume the gravitas of learning into sensational courtly entertainment, consignment to the commercial milieu of the public theater would seem to border on abjection. Rafe expresses this idea when he arrives at Oxford to revel and brawl in his mock-role as the prince. Likening the scholars始 “doting nightcaps” to his fool始s coxcomb, the jester threatens to exile the entire intellectual community in “a ship that shall hold all your colleges, and so carry away the Niniversity with a fair wind to the Bankside in Southwark” (TLN 893-897). The nonce concept of a “Niniversity”—which reduces the whole rarefied academy to a condition of humiliating folly—is then echoed in the scene of Miles始s damnation. Castigated as the “greatest blockhead in all of Oxford” (TLN 540), Miles is at once a figure deserving of ridicule and a scapegoat who elicits a degree of pathos. When Bacon expels him from his position as a student-servant, Miles initially is content to “roam and range about the world” with his book, gown, and cap in hand, confident that his learning will secure him “promotion” (TLN 1683-1690). But dim economic prospects beyond the university soon disabuse him of optimism. “I would I had been made a bottle-maker when I was made a scholar,” he says, “for I can get neither to be a deacon, reader, nor schoolmaster; no, not the clerk of a parish” (TLN 2024-2026). Lacking even the modest “pottage and broth” served for sustenance at Oxford (TLN 1339), he leaps at the opportunity to work as a “tapster” in the “dry heat” of hell (TLN 2049-2054). In spurred boots, atop the devil始s back, he exits roaring like the Vice, or the damned everyman of a moral interlude. The message delivered by Greene始s pastiche is secular, however, and bitterly ironic: Miles始 willing descent into hell for “a lusty fire … a pot of good ale, a pair of cards, a swingeing piece of chalk, and a brown toast” (TLN 2044-2046) emblematizes the self-deluding and self-corrupting condition of a scholarly underclass compelled to pursue professional work to avoid impoverishment. In effect, Miles is a dramatic re-iteration of the hapless public persona Greene developed in his prose pamphlets—that of the delinquent intellect given over to cravings of the flesh, selling his talent to publishers and actors, and taking small consolation in the fact that he is not the sole reprobate from the Niniversity to have tumbled into a modern urban inferno: Hell, quoth I, what talk you of hell to me? I know if I once come there I shall have the company of better men than myself; I shall also meet with some mad knaves in that place, and so long as I shall not sit there alone my care is the less” (The Repentance of Robert GreeneB2r).

    3: “If thou hadst seen, as I did”: The Eyes and their Discontents

    If Friar Bacon始s disjunctions ultimately defy the anachronistic criterion of formal unity, might they serve another purpose? Holding opposing points of view in tension creates, for instance, a mood that is interrogative rather than prescriptive. Questions are raised but no definitive answers are provided, an open-endedness that encourages active intellectual involvement on the part of playgoer. Do we easily condemn the arrogant necromancer when his professed intention is to protect the nation? May a dairymaid, if inherently noble, defy social propriety and marry a lord? Will academic prestige survive immersion in the solvent of professional labor? Greene始s habit of calling upon spectators to entertain multiple points of view hearkens back to the rhetorical training he received at Cambridge and Oxford (see the Textual Introduction). Regular participation in academic debate (disputatio) encouraged students to master the Ciceronian technique of argumentum in utremque partem—the taking up of alternative positions in relation to moral, ethical, and metaphysical controversies. Students engaged in this practice both formally and in impromptu ways many times a week, and in many it instilled a notion of truth that was more dialectical and paradoxical than absolute, one contingent upon the exigencies of time, circumstance, and prejudice (Altman 31-53; Shuger 313-20). “Ethical polyphony” is a feature of even the most propagandist drama written by humanist-educated playwrights, for whom the stage became “a kind of rhetorical gymnasium in which muscles could be flexed and imagined as if at full power” (Hunter, “Rhetoric” 113-16).

    By compelling an audience to grapple with contradictory points of view, Friar Bacon in effect replicates the intellectual challenge of academic debate and signals its preoccupation with the perspectival nature of human experience. To reinforce this idea, Greene notably foregrounds the operation of human sight. Playgoers hear the word eye spoken nineteen times over the course of the action, and watch, look and see recur twenty, thirty, and over sixty times respectively. Each of Greene始s three main settings—the pastoral countryside in Sussex, the university at Oxford, and the peripatetic Plantagenet court—is a place “to see and to be seen” performing amorous, academic, and political roles (TLN 141). Moreover, acts of seeing conspicuously motivate what characters do and say. The thread of erotic intrigue is spun when Prince Edward first catches sight of Margaret. “Tell me, Ned Lacy,” he asks his friend, the Earl of Lincoln, “didst thou mark the maid, / How lively in her country weeds she looked?” (TLN 41-42). It is her eyes especially that enrapture him:

    I tell thee Lacy, that her sparkling eyes
    Do lighten forth sweet love始s alluring fire,
    And in her tresses she doth fold the looks
    Of such as gaze upon her golden hair. (TLN 55-58)

    Lacy is no less profoundly affected by the sight of Margaret, later confessing to her that “when mine eyes surveyed your beauteous looks, / Love, like a wag, straight dived into my heart, / And there did shrine the idea of yourself” (TLN 713-15).

    For Elizabethans, eyesight was generally thought to offer the most direct access to knowledge, an idea inherited from ancient Graeco-Arabic scholars and passed down in the works of medieval philosophers like Roger Bacon (c. 1214-c.1296) (Lindberg, “Science of Optics” 349-54). The eyes were said to cast out a pair of luminous rays which coupled with the likeness (or species, from the Greek specmeaning ‘the appearance of a thing始) radiated from from every visible thing, from the ants to the stars. Impressing itself upon the beholder始s eye, the object of perception dematerialized, becoming a cognitive picture in the mind, a phantasm or fancy (Lindberg, Roger Baconxxv-lii; Tachau 336-59). The “alluring fire” that Margaret始s eyes emit in the quotation above invokes precisely this model, reaching out and holding Edward始s gaze long enough for the beauty of her hair to “fold” (or enfold) the prince始s own eye-beams. And what Lacy later describes as the “idea” of Margaret enshrined in his thoughts correlates with the second phase of perception outlined above, the creation of a mental phantasm or fancy. This faculty of the oculus mentis, or eye of the mind, was considered especially important: not only did it organize one始s conception of the external world, but it made comprehensible things divine and beyond the pale of everyday perception (Clark 10-18).

    Relying heavily on sight to convey the nature of reality and metaphysics, Elizabethans were understandably anxious about its potential for distortion. Even minor misapprehensions, they observed, might radically warp the phantasms of interior experience, creating biased and even wholly inaccurate conceptions of reality. The question of whether “the commodities of sight” outweighed the “great hurts it brings to men” was a matter for serious debate considering how susceptible eyes could be to “voluptuous delights … which daily end in bitterness, alienation of sense, provocation to envy, irritation, and commotion against the heart” (Estienne F1r-F4v). As Stuart Clark has argued, one of the defining aspects of the early modern period writ large was the way “vision came to be characterized by uncertainty and unreliability, such that access to visual reality could no longer be normally guaranteed” (2). Indeed, Friar Bacon expresses considerable skepticism about the integrity of sight as an epistemological basis and foundation of moral practice. Sight may be a powerful means of acquiring knowledge of the world, but as Lacy cautions, “Eyes are dissemblers and fancy is but queasy” (TLN 1522). We all too easily mistake “fond conceit” for objectivity, as Margaret observes, giving ourselves over to skewed perspectives on reality whose insubstantial “hap and essence hangeth in the eye” (TLN 1957-1958).

    Experiences of erotic melancholy and idolatry affect perception most prominently in Friar Bacon, and the distortions they create are represented as analogous. In Elizabethan medicine, the perturbations of melancholy were held to be as disruptive as those of devils or magicians (Clark 39, 53-4). Dullness was said to be induced “both in outward senses and conceit” when a “splenetic fog” prevented the eyes from providing a “true report” of reality; thus clouded, “uglie illusions” and “monstrous fictions” easily populated the mind, all “vayne, false, and voide of grounde” (Bright 101-3, 124). It is an apt diagnosis of the “malcontented” Prince Edward (TLN 1). Brooding for the better part of the play in a “melancholy dump” (TLN 15), the prince始s troubled emotions lead him down a dark path of sexual aggressiveness and threatened violence, and most disturbingly, so long as his vantage point remains inflected by his passion, he remains imperceptive of his own cruelty—a cognitive prisoner of himself. His attraction to Margaret, the “bonny damsel” in “stammel red,” is depicted as unwholesome and dehumanizing: he fills her father始s lodge with venison with the expectation of venery in return, a “dear” for the “deer” on his royal game reserve (TLN 1-23). When Margaret rejects the prince始s advances, his sexual frustration leaves the royal son/sun “like to a troubled sky / When heaven始s bright shine is shadowed with a fog” (TLN 1-2). The depth of his obsession is sounded by his Petrarchan blazoning of her “curious imagery” (TLN 66)—her hair, cheeks, teeth and lips—an impassioned exercise that transforms the Fressingfield laborer into a deity on earth:

    When as she swept like Venus through the house,
    And in her shape fast folded up my thoughts,
    Into the milk-house went I with the maid,
    And there amongst the cream bowls she did shine
    As Pallas 始mongst her princely huswifery.
    She turned her smock over her lily arms
    And dived them into milk to run her cheese;
    But whiter than the milk her crystal skin,
    Checked with lines of azure, made her blush,
    That art or nature durst bring for compare.
    Ermsby, if thou hadst seen, as I did note it well,
    How beauty played the huswife, how this girl
    Like Lucrece laid her fingers to the work,
    Thou wouldst with Tarquin hazard Rome and all
    To win the lovely maid of Fressingfield. (TLN 77-91)

    Edward may insist he has witnessed Margaret始s beauty for what it is (“if thou hadst seen, as I did note it well”) but the ironic distance between the figure his imagination has constructed and the woman herself is plain. Most ominously, in the concluding lines of his reverie he self-identifies with Tarquin, the legendary Roman king whose furtive and destructive rape of the matron Lucrece instigated both her tragic suicide and his political overthrow. The point of Greene始s allusion is clear: Edward must escape the prison of possessive lust, or similar horrors will follow.

    At the height of his infatuation with Margaret, Edward sends the disguised Lacy to “espy her loves” and woo by proxy, while enlisting Bacon始s magical aid to peer invasively into her private activity (TLN 144-145). His use of the words “plot” and “policy” to describe these designs imply rationality, but the emotionally reckless and despotic nature of his behavior is soon apparent: “it must be necromantic spells, / And charms of art that must enchain her love” (TLN 109, 121, 125-126). The involvement of Bacon始s mysterious glass helps to underscore the problematic nature of his “troubled” gaze. Staring into the instrument grants Edward a precise visual image of Lacy and Margaret始s intention to marry, but it does not permit him to hear their conversation. Sight alone prevents Edward from registering Lacy始s agonized deliberation over how to protect Margaret from the prince始s vexing lust and the prince himself from the stigma of dishonor. In Lacy始s own words:

    Recant thee, Lacy, thou art put in trust.
    Edward, thy sovereign始s son, hath chosen thee
    A secret friend to court her for himself,
    And darest thou wrong thy prince with treachery?
    Lacy, love makes no exception of a friend,
    Nor deems it of a prince but as a man.
    Honor bids thee control him in his lust.
    His wooing is not for to wed the girl,
    But to entrap her and beguile the lass.
    Lacy, thou lovest; then brook not such abuse,
    But wed her, and abide thy prince始s frown:
    For better die than see her live disgraced. (TLN 689-700)

    The prince始s reaction to Margaret and Lacy始s affection punctuates Greene始s point about the dangerous potential of solitary perspectival confinement. “Gog始s wounds, Bacon, they kiss!” the prince cries, raising his dagger, “I始ll stab them!” (TLN 762). Bacon始s response (“Oh hold your hands, my lord, it is the glass!”) tells us Edward directs his anger toward the simulacrum produced by the magical object, a vivid externalized metaphor for the capacity of interior phantasms to divert the subject from reason and objectivity (Senn 552-53). A timely moment of clarity and the exertion of will are all that prevent the precarious situation from tipping over into tragedy. Reining in his destructive caprice, Edward opens his eyes to the fact that his darkened state of amorousness has made him confuse “shadows” for “substances” (TLN 764-65).

    Edwards allusion to shadows and substances echoes language used in theological discourse of the era. The religious conviction that eyes were gateways to temptation and wickedness did much to further undermine Elizabethan confidence in visual perception. “The light of the body is the eye” pronounced the gospel, “when thine eye is evil, thy body is also full of darkness” (Luke 11: 34). For English Protestants, the glories of God were everywhere visible, but the universe was packed as well with vanities that threatened to beguile sensory and rational faculties corrupted by Original Sin. Calvinist clergyman such as George Hakewill (1578-1649) decried the world as a theater of misapprehension in which every spectator was prone to:

    the delusion of the sight by the subtlety of the devil, by the charms of sorcerers, by the spells and exorcisms of conjurers, by the legerdemain of jugglers, by the knavery of priests and friars, by the nimbleness of tumblers and ropewalkers, by the sleights of false and cunning merchants, by the smooth deportment and behavior of hypocrites, by the stratagems of generals, by the giddiness of the brain, by the distemper of frenzies, and lastly, by the violent passions of fear and melancholy; besides a thousand pretty conclusions drawn out of the bowels of natural philosophy and the mathematics; by the burning of certain mixed powders, oils, & liquors; by the casting of false lights, by the reflection of glasses, and the like (53-54)

    A generation earlier, the danger inherent in such delusions had been spelled out by the second Elizabethan Tome of Homilies (1563). Preached in parish churches as a matter of government policy, the official sermon “against peril of idolatry” denounced the worship of Catholicism始s material adornments, claiming that “if religion stand in godly things (and there is no godliness but in heavenly things) then be images without religion” (fol. 24r). To invest a fresco, a sculpture, or other hand-wrought image of “dead stock or stone, gold or silver” with spiritual power was to devote oneself to an ephemeral creation instead of the incorruptible Creator; it was a diverting exercise of eye-service in place of the ear-service and genuine comprehension of the Word considered necessary for salvation. According to the homilist, the “inclination to idolatry” was innate in human beings, leaving “infinite multitudes” entrapped in their adoration of images like “dared [fascinated] larks in that gaze”; indeed, “how should the unlearned, simple, & foolish scape the nets and snares of idols and images, in the which the wisest and the best learned have been so entangled, trapped, and wrapped?” (fol. 67r-v, 70r; Clark 163-66) The endemic nature of this idolatrous instinct thus motivated Protestant reformers to limit the use of images, and in some cases to remove them altogether, in the practice of worship.

    In Edward始s case, the iconoclastic act a psychological one that becomes apparent to him in a critical moment in scene 7. As he menaces the kneeling Margaret and Lacy with his dagger, a timely moment of self-reflection permits him to recognize the nature of his false adoration; “subduing fancy始s passion,” he acknowledges the earnestness with which is friends love each other, and the deified idol—the false construction of a woman— enshrined in his imagination relinquishes its hold on him. In the wake of the Reformation, as Huston Diehl has observed, equating religious idolatry with an obsession for feminine beauty became a standard rhetoric trope: “whatever entices the eyes, beguiles or enchants the mind, fires the imagination, or captivates the heart is idolatrous, and according the Renaissance theories of eros, women do all of these things” (164). Adjusting his perception of Margaret is thus more than a matter of honor for Edward; it is a spiritual victory:

    Edward art thou that famous prince of Wales
    Who at Damascus beat the Saracens
    And brought始st home triumph on thy lance始s point,
    And shall thy plumes be pulled by Venus down?
    Is it princely to dissever lovers始 leagues,
    To part such friends as glory in their loves?
    Leave, Ned, and make a virtue of this fault,
    And further Peg and Lacy in their loves.
    So in subduing fancy始s passion,
    Conquering thyself, thou get始st the richest spoil.-- (TLN 1058-1067)

    An even more direct engagement with the theme of idolatrous perception becomes apparent in scenes involving the brazen head. Greene始s interest in the theme had already been signaled by his earlier staging of an Islamic head of brass in Alphonsus (see the Supplementary Materials). In Friar Bacon, the property is again figured as a graven image, “contrived and framed” with infernal assistance (TLN 229-230). Bacon, overwhelmed by fascination for the artifact, places the entirety of his faith in its promise of knowledge, power, and protection. Diverging from his prose source, Greene lengthens the duration of the friar始s devotion to the object: after seven years spent fashioning it, he watches it for “threescore days” as if “Argus lived and had his hundred eyes” (TLN 1584, 1586). Protestant polemic regularly indicted the illusory or “magical” thinking that enabled idols to be treated as though vibrant with miraculous power, deeming the encouragement of such thinking on the part of Catholic authorities an act of “conjuring” or “juggling” (Clark 166, 174-89). To the Elizabethan homilist idols were “dead” things destined to perish in time. The same message is articulated in Greene始s allegory by the brazen head始s famous utterance—“Time is. Time Was. Time is past.” Even brass, that common symbol of endurance (as in Shakespeare始s 65th sonnet), will be reduced to dust eventually by the deprivations of time. Greene makes the point emblematically when the brazen head is finally broken into pieces like an eggshell, exposing its ultimate hollowness and insubstantiality. Notably, it is a moment Bacon fails to see. Drowsy after weeks of staring at his idol, he has closed his eyes to sleep, a standard means of signifying spiritual vulnerability in early English drama.

    The play始s festive resolution depends upon the acknowledgment of idolatry始s perils (Dalhquist 70). Edward must set aside his voyeuristic imaginings of Margaret and attend to the political duties that await him at the court of his father, King Henry; Bacon must abjure delusions of magical grandeur and humble himself before another father, God. But before these iconoclastic acts disrupt the excitement stirred in these characters by their idols, Greene始s dialectical mindset, his habit of engaging with controversies in utramque partem, leads him to impress upon the audience the powerful claims of the perspectives rejected. Turning from Margaret proves a genuine challenge for Edward because it means stifling desire that, while morally anarchic, is nevertheless authentic. He surrenders autonomy over his erotic future as he pivots toward Eleanor of Castile and a diplomatic union arranged by his father (TLN 1094-1095). Bacon, too, upon awakening from his literal and figurative sleep, must ensure the shards of his smashed prospective glass are added to the pile that was once the brazen head: “So fade the glass, and end with it the shows / That necromancy did infuse the crystal with” (TLN 1867-1868). In breaking the glass, he signals his willingness to forego ambitiousness that, while misguided, is understandably seductive because rooted in the familiar desire to transcend human limitations, and to fend off the dread of mortality with the shield of worldly fame.

    We will never know the extent to which Greene was personally invested in advocating for iconoclasm. Some argue that his rehearsal of moral conventions onstage amounts to no more than lip-service, a superficial and opportunistic appropriation of earlier moral drama essentially emptied of its original import (Peterson 78-80). Others sense in Greene始s work an authentic and even vigorous moralism, possibly instilled in youth in the orbit of the charismatic Calvinist preacher John More (Greene, Repentance C1r-C4v; Ide 432-36). Even these critics, it should be noted, remain divided as to whether Friar Bacon始s iconoclasm exhorts specifically against Catholic religious practice (Sager 86) or against an emergent atheistic devotion to scientific technology (Dahlquist 67-73). The view expressed in the present edition of the play is that calculation indeed lurks in Greene始s ambiguity. The disembodied hand that destroys the brazen head with its accompanying thunder and lightning evokes a distinctly supernatural agent, hinting at the generally Calvinist conception of a divine presence beyond the meagre capacity of human comprehension. When Bacon breaks his prospective glass with his own hands, it is arguably the figurative rather than the literal dimension of the moment that is most striking. The glass has been described as an instrument that shows its users “what so their thoughts or hearts始 desires could wish” (TLN 1809-10). The view it affords is telescopic, but not a more objective: true objectivity, the play asserts, inheres in knowing that perception is partial, situated, and easily warped. The smashed glass is thus emblematic of the radical interior transformation of the oculus mentis that Protestant reformers considered necessary for salvation: the repudiation of a technologically-enhanced view of the world, and with it the false assumption of god始s-eye omniscience, connotes a decisive break with intellectual pride. To perceive less with the bodily eye is to be better oriented in relation to spiritual reality.

    This generalized pattern of broken idols aligns neatly with the ideological aims of the acting company that first performed Greene始s play, the Queen始s Men. Although the government of Elizabeth I sought to inculcate an iconoclastic attitude with its prescribed homiletic discourse, it did not generally favor the indiscriminate destruction of church fabric by more fervent Puritans intent on root-and-branch religious reformation. In this context, Friar Bacon始s specific emphasis on idols of the mind and its downplaying of zealous idol-breaking by human agents, appears to reflect the more moderate stance of the players始 nominal patron. And as the final section of this essay will show, it one of several aspects of the play calibrated to suit the actors who represented Queen Elizabeth and her interests.

    4: “Three-formed Luna” and “Diana始s rose”: a Play for the Queen始s Men

    Friar Bacon was written to serve the commercial and ideological ends of a specific acting company, the Queen始s Men. Until recently, this all-star troupe was thought to have fallen casualty to professional resettlements in the early 1590s that enabled selected companies such as the Chamberlain始s and Admiral始s Men to thrive in London. But over the past two decades, in response to the seminal work of Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean, theater historians have considerably revised this narrative. The profile of a stagnated company relegated to the outermost reaches of the county after failing to compete in the capital始s burgeoning theatrical marketplace has been replaced by an understanding of the Queen始s Men as a troupe purpose-built for commercial touring, one that from the time of its inception in 1583 to its last recorded performance in 1602/3 remained “quite simply, the best known and most widely travelled professional company in the kingdom” (McMillin and MacLean 67). And as the royal actors rode from venue to venue along established touring circuits, their engagement in commercial playing served to facilitate another, more complex objective. Two powerful sponsors of the company from the queen始s privy council, Sir Francis Walsingham and Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester (from whose earlier company several of queen始s players had been drawn) were united in their opposition to both Catholics and radical Puritans in the heated religious and political climate of the 1580s. The involvement of these two elites in the founding of the Queen始s Men suggests the company may have been mandated “to increase the prestige of their patron throughout the land, to harness the theatre in the service of moderate Protestant ideology, and to add a vivid group of travelers who might serve the council始s needs for secret information about recusants or foreign visitors” (McMillin and MacLean 24). Viewed in this light, any playbook commissioned by the company would need to appeal to diverse audiences across the kingdom, while at the same time enabling the players to fulfill their role as emissaries on behalf of Elizabeth I.

    Friar Bacon satisfies both criteria. The text as we have it appears deliberately tailored to the dramaturgical needs of touring actors. The play始s insistence on narrative variety rather than organic unity becomes less puzzling when we consider the practical need for touring performers to double their parts. By alternating character groups and settings onstage, players were given time to change their costumes and prepare any properties, effects, or music required in scenes to come. Greene始s interspersing of pastoral, academic, and courtly scenes, punctuated by space in which clowns could extemporize adheres closely to this pattern (McMillin and MacLean 97-120, 124-54). That Greene wrote with the theatrical economy of touring in mind is also evident in his habit of calling for costumes and properties used elsewhere in the Queen始s Men始s repertory. Some stage attire was obviously customary and easily repurposed: the crowns and regalia worn by King Henry and the European dignitaries, for example, are likely the same employed in The Famous Victories of Henry V, The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard III and King Leir. Similarly, Bacon and Bungay始s mendicant habits probably to dress the raucous friars in The Troublesome Reign. Rustic attire, too, worn in scenes set in the Sussex countryside could have doubled as the disguises donned by Cordella and Gallia in Leir (after being acquired initially perhaps for the company始s lost pastoral Phyllida and Corin). Many weapons and other hand-held items—daggers, rapiers, halberds, books, bags of money, and so on—will have been reused in the same way. Even rarer properties appear to have been recycled: the lion始s skin used to dress the spirit of Hercules in Friar Bacon is presumably the same seized by the Bastard from Austria in The Troublesome Reign; and the brazen head itself was perhaps a modified version of the speaking head in the well from The Old Wives始 Tale and almost certainly the brass head featured in the Queen始s Men始s lost adaptation of the romance Orson and Valentine.

    Writing for the royal actors, Greene sought to entertain as broad a base of playgoers as possible. His emphasis on eye-catching emblematic spectacle has already been discussed, though it is worth noting how visual displays such as Bungay始s conjuration of the Hesperidian tree and dragon need not have been sacrificed when the play was staged on the road. Numerous proposals have been made for how the play may have worked within the structural conditions of London始s sixteenth-century amphitheaters: the tree and dragon are typically imagined, for instance, rising and disappearing through a trapdoor in the stage platform, while the delineation of Bacon始s study is said to have been achieved using a fixed traverse and curtain upstage. But the players were obviously capable of creative alternatives to these techniques. Stage directions such as “the tree appears with the dragon shooting fire” and “Exit the spirit with Vandermast and the tree” are sufficiently elastic to allow for major properties to be whisked about by hand or on wheels (TLN 1279-1280). A similar flexibility marks the staging of “curtains” (TLN 1561, 1600): several plays assigned to the repertory of the Queen始s Men explicitly call for their use (The Old Wives始 Tale, Selimus, A Looking Glass for London), which means the company may have traveled with a portable canopy, possibly large enough to house the bed in which Bacon falls asleep. But the versatility of the players suggests they may also have simply made do with the conditions encountered in their various venues, exploiting, for instance, the tapestries suspended in the entranceways to great halls to curtail drafts, or simply moving about the playing area to represent distinct locations (McMillin and MacLean 139-40).

    Conviviality is an important feature of Friar Bacon, another notable sign of Greene始s intention to appeal to a broad audience. Although the play at times dances on the precipice of tragedy, it sustains its holiday tone through the repetition of words expressing happiness (“frolic”, “jolly”, “merry”) and cumulative images of commensality: “Butter and cheese, cream and fat venison” (TLN 440), “a lusty bottle of wine” (TLN 1105), “viands such as England始s wealth affords … ready set to furnish the boards” (TLN 2149). The world of the play is one of pastimes—the sportive pursuit of game, fairing, and reveling. No less than nine of the play始s scenes conclude with invitations to carouse or attend a feast (Lavin xxx-xxxi; Mortenson 197).

    Essential to the overall mood of merriment are the play始s clowns. Greene understood the need to fashion roles suitable for the Queen始s Men始s comic talents, especially perhaps its most beloved comedian Richard Tarlton, if indeed the production was underway before the actor始s death in September 1588 (see the Textual Introduction). The courtly fool Rafe Simnell and the academic delinquent Miles are creatures of enormous energy and appetite, not unlike other comic pairings in the company始s repertory, such as Derrick and John Cobbler in The Famous Victories. Rafe始s surname gestures toward Lambert Simnell, the notorious youth who posed as a Yorkist claimant to the Tudor crown a century earlier before being judged harmless enough to serve as a spit-turner in the king始s kitchen (Holinshed 765-67). Rafe, the licensed wit, is likewise a pretender, roistering in Plantagenet clothes and temporarily upending the decorum of the prince始s entourage. Miles, too, overturns formalities with ritualized irreverence, calling out the hypocrisies of his Oxford masters with an intellectual and verbal dexterity lacking in the prose-source namesake from which he is adapted. Much like Tarlton, the performer Greene may have envisioned in the part, Miles sings in different voices, shifting effortlessly from earthy, innuendo-laden prose to Skeltonics, the East Anglian verse form popularized by the courtly satirist John Skelton (1463-1529): “Salvete omnes reges, that govern your greges in Saxony and Spain, in England and in Almain; for all this frolic rabble must I cover table, with trenchers, salt, and cloth, and then look for your broth” (TLN 1326-1329). Essential to the appeal of these roles is their physicality, and Greene wisely assigns opportunities to each for comic improvisation. Rafe始s mock-haughtiness as he impersonates Edward (TLN 513-525) and public drunkenness in his “company of rufflers” (TLN 863); Miles始s tumbling when boxed about the ears (TLN 551,575) and his juggling of books, dishes, and weapons (TLN 172, 1325, 1563)—the eye may pass easily over such moments on the page, but an energetic performance renders them instantly and profoundly funny. The laughter generated by such moments does much to explain the Queen始s Men始s commercial success. Moreover, the pleasure seems to have been integral to the company始s larger ideological goal of strengthening communal bonds in a nation sorely divided by politics and religion.

    McMillin and MacLean have argued that each surviving Queen始s Men play centers on an “image of the queen or themes of the queen始s political interests” (166). One example of such thematic foregrounding—the staging of iconoclasm in a manner consistent with the crown始s moderate brand of Protestantism—has already been discussed. But the play始s multivalence becomes apparent if we consider the telescopic powers of Bacon始s prospective glass in the context of a holiday performance at the queen始s court, where concerns about political and religious subversion by foreign and domestic adversaries were especially acute. In the two decades after Elizabeth始s excommunication by Rome, members of the queen始s inner circle tasked with protecting her brought to light numerous plots intending her harm, some real, others imagined. Courtiers such as Walsingham and William Cecil aimed to neutralize the danger by cultivating networks of “spialls,” or intelligence gatherers, throughout the realm and abroad, a practice that fueled the growth of modern espionage. The belongings of strangers were searched at ports, private correspondence was intercepted, houses were ransacked, and anyone suspected of disaffection was at risk of being violently interrogated (Alford passim). The impact of the state始s growing surveillance apparatus is frequently reflected in the arts of the period, vividly for instance in the so-called Rainbow portrait of Elizabeth (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cf/Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_Portrait.jpg) which depicts the queen cloaked protectively in a bright orange mantle embroidered with human eyes and ears—emblems of the vigilant watchfulness she depended upon to maintain sovereignty (Strong 195 n65; Dedijer 12-15, 20-8, 42-3). It has been suggested the Queen始s Men themselves participated in the Elizabethan trade in secrets, reporting observations to the crown about the people and events they encountered while on tour (McMillin and MacLean 22-9).

    Bacon始s glass, with its panoptic capacity to detect the perceived disloyalty of unsuspecting subjects, may have raised the eyebrows of those engaged in this shadowy activity, and perhaps those of the queen herself. Whether staged as a fantastical mirror, a crystal, or a no less wondrous prototype of the telescope (see the Textual Introduction), the glass raises challenging questions about the desirability of a technology that exercises so much power. Greene始s recourse to the dialectic between “comedy” and “tragedy” when describing the glass始s use for spying is telling (TLN 683, 1818). A courtly intelligencer accustomed to intruding upon the private lives of others might presumably see the glass as a fabulous tool with which to root out dissidents, and his or her response to its condemnation and destruction might reasonably then involve a measure of regret. But quite a different response can be imagined on the part of playgoers watching Friar Bacon at a local guildhall or pleasure fair: for the great majority of the public, the pervasive culture of Elizabethan surveillance was shadowy and frightening for its capacity to ensnare the innocent. Particularly when the Queen始s Men brought the play to communities more heavily populated by recusants, where the atmosphere might be headier with distrust and fear, a spy glass directed suspiciously toward the private lives of subjects was liable to interpreted as an instrument of tyrannical governance. Indeed, would it not seem the more menacing because the information it provides is incomplete and easily misinterpreted? Topcliffean pain was administered to the innocent as freely as to those guilty of conspiracy, as subject mistakenly suspected of treason knew only too well. The interpretation of the glass, then—whether as pragmatically useful spy-tool begrudgingly relinquished, or an implement of authoritarianism reassuringly broken—was significantly dependent on where, and for whom, the play was performed. Rather like an anamorphic painting, composed of distinct and incompatible images visible only when the viewer shifts her vantage point, the representation of the glass indulges a fantasy of political surveillance in a moment of perceived existential threat while, at the same time, insinuating that no such power can be tolerated because of the social division it brings about.

    When Margaret suddenly reverses her decision to enter a convent in the play始s final scene, we sense another moment seemingly calculated to appeal to different constituencies of the Queen始s Men始s audience. After exchanging her red woolen dress for the pale habit of a nun, she causes her father and friends distress by asking: “Is not heaven始s joy before earth始s fading bliss, / And life above sweeter than life in love?” (TLN 1972-1973) Presumably, a minority of those originally attending the play would have approved of her intention to retire from the world to the cloisters of an institution officially suppressed a generation earlier. But the moment is not without complexity: Greene is meticulous in providing some justification for Margaret始s contemptus mundi posture, having already shown us her intense emotional suffering in response to Lacy始s broken affiance and then underscoring the callousness of his premarital ‘test始 of her loyalty by depicting him as surprisingly blunt and impatient when he returns “booted and spurred” with his chauvinistic clique of aristocratic friends:


    Why then Margaret will be shorn a nun?


    Margaret hath made a vow which may not be revoked.


    We cannot stay, my lord, an if she be so strict;
    Our leisure grants us not to woo afresh.


    Choose you, fair damsel. Yet the choice is yours:
    Either a solemn nunnery or the court,
    God or Lord Lacy. Which contents you best?
    To be a nun, or else Lord Lacy始s wife?


    A good motion.-- Peggy, your answer must be short. (TLN 1974-1982)

    “God or Lord Lacy. Which contents you best?” Charles Crupi calls this “perhaps the most remarkable question in all of Elizabethan drama” (128). In a play brimming with questiones customized to generate debate, it is certainly the most provocative. How to interpret the tone of Margaret始s response?

    The flesh is frail. My Lord doth know it well
    That when he comes with his enchanting face,
    Whate始er betide I cannot say him nay. (TLN 1983-1985)

    Does she deliver her proverbial answer immediately and with exuberance while casting her nun始s attire to the ground? Or is she more deliberative, pausing and weighing the stakes before selecting the option she considers less imperfect? Different dramatic effects seem possible, and we cannot help but anticipate that natural shocks will be endured in the future.

    Placing the moment in the Protestant context of marriage resolves some, though not all, of its tension. According to Mary Beth Rose, the sixteenth century saw the cultural ideals of virginity and celibacy gradually displaced by a new respect for sexual love and companionship in marriage. There was growing conviction that conjugal affection and loyalty strengthened marital bonds, thereby solidifying society始s foundation. The ideals proved so transformative, in fact, that they helped to erode traditional delineations of social rank (4, 32-40). Rose reads Margaret始s decision to shed her nun始s apparel and marry a man to whom she is physically attracted as “a final farewell to the medieval ideas of love and sexuality” (33-4). This is certainly consistent with the Queen始s Men始s mandate to endorse their Protestant patrons in government, and those harboring strong anti-Catholic prejudices presumably took comfort in Margaret始s casting aside her nun始s attire. And yet, as mentioned above, a feeling of tension lingers. In having Margaret declare her intention to lead a life of perpetual virginity, Greene depicts her reasons for doing as perfectly comprehensible. He also makes plain what would be sacrificed in pursuing that ideal to the end. We might wonder how such a scene played out before the monarch herself at court. Queen Elizabeth was interested in securing for herself an emotionally satisfying marriage, as her pained verse concerning the Duc of Anjou始s leave-taking in 1582, “On Monsieur始s Departure,” makes clear. But when no suitable negotiation could be arranged, the effort was made instead to enshrine her in the public eye as a deified and virginal queen (Strong 16; Hackett, Virgin Mother 73, 95, 201). By suggesting that Margaret始s decision is a difficult one emotionally, Greene may have been offering a subtle gesture of respect to a patron whose experience was ostensibly similar, though it resulted in a radically different outcome.

    Friar Bacon始s concluding scene exhibits an even more unconcealed effort to shape a positive image of Elizabeth. By this point in the action, Greene has established a consistent pattern of allusions to powerful classical goddesses that poets of the 1580s had assembled into a coded vocabulary for praising the queen. Identifying Elizabeth with deities of the ancient world, Helen Hackett explains, “helped to negotiate the challenge of asserting that she was God始s anointed and his earthly agent to advance the true faith, while avoiding forms of praise of her sacredness that might smack of idolatry and the Catholic cult of saints” (“A New Image” 240). A prominent figure in this discourse of political mythography was Hecate, the diva triformis, or triple-bodied goddess who incorporated aspects of Selene (or her Roman equivalent Luna), Artemis (or Diana), the Erinys (or Furies), and Pallas (or Minerva). The powerful “three-formed Luna,” as Greene calls her (TLN 1575), wove together traditions of veneration for feminine wisdom, chastity, and self-sufficiency against male violence and unfaithfulness. Importantly, she was endowed with powers of enchantment. There can be little doubt that Greene meant learned audiences to recognize Elizabeth when alluding to this figure (and especially to the constituent deities Luna and Diana). In so doing, he quietly articulates an argument about the efficacy of the queen始s own political magic. For much of the play, Bacon始s “strange” necromantic powers are said to be limitless. But late in the action, he boasts of once having so torn the skies of the earth that:

    … three-formed Luna hid her silver looks,
    Trembling upon her concave continent,
    When Bacon read upon his magic book. (TLN 1575-1577)

    Literally, Bacon is saying he obscured the moon with darkness, but the provocatively ironic nature of the statement was not likely lost on its original audience: metaphorically, Bacon claims that his masculine powers were so terrible as to fright the queen herself. The friar notably utters the lines in a moment of shame, humility, and repentance, for, as Greene carefully implies, there is in fact no basis for comparison. Bacon始s magic has been exposed as dangerous and dis-unifying, not the patriotic and protective force initially promised. And it is precisely at this moment that Greene refocuses attention on the queen始s more substantial power to defend the English nation.

    The final scene opens with members of the growing English court marching in pomp across the stage, showing off a variety of emblematic properties—“a pointless sword” (mercy), a “globe” (earthly political power), and “a rod of gold with a dove” (equity, peace, the holy spirit) (TLN 2074-2079). Processions of this kind were a signature aspect of the Queen始s Men始s aesthetic (McMillin and Maclean 140), a direct response to their royal patron始s delight in pageantry and the intellectual game of decoding allegory. King Henry invites Bacon to demonstrate his “deep prescience” by sharing a glimpse of what the future holds in store for England: “what strange event shall happen to this land?” (TLN 2219) The friar始s vision of things to come remains partial, his goal of God-like omniscience having by now been proven illusory. But in a cryptic revelation he succeeds in gleaning a “royal garden” destined to be disturbed by “stormy threats of war” before “peace from heaven shall harbor in these leaves.” He proceeds to catalogue an array of magnificent flowers, each embodying a deity of the past—“Venus始s hyacinth”, the “gillyflowers” of Juno, “Pallas始s bay”—harbingers all to the growth of a singular “matchless flower”—“Diana始s rose”—beneath which all must “stoop and wonder” (TLN 2124-2141). From the vantage point of the play始s thirteenth-century characters, Bacon始s prophecy is incomprehensibly “mystical,” but for Greene始s audience “Diana始s rose” was instantly intelligible.

    The rose of the Tudor dynasty had become a poetical commonplace, familiar to courtly consumers of culture in literary works such as Edmund Spenser始s The Shepheard始s Calender, which figures its “mayden Queene” as “the flowre of Virgins” whom “No morall blemish may … blotte” (C4v). In Bacon始s prophecy, then, Elizabeth was encouraged to recognize herself. Greene始s relation of a floral pageant featuring Venus, Juno, and Pallas participates also notably participates in the contemporary fashion among panegyrists of incorporating Elizabeth into narratives of the mythological Judgment of Paris (Hackett, “A New Image” 225-30, 254). When Paris was tasked with awarding a golden apple to whoever among Venus, Juno, and Pallas Athena he judged to be the fairest, he selected Venus because she promised him the affection of the world始s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. The consequences of the decision proved disastrous, setting in motion the death and destruction of the Trojan War. Greene始s version of the contest is distinct in that it judges Diana/Elizabeth to be superior to all three contestant goddesses in beauty, authority, and wisdom. In this respect, it constitutes blatant flattery. But it also cleverly alters the outcome of what was conventionally understood to be tragic narrative, thereby reinforcing the association that Bacon始s prophecy makes between the English queen and a state of peace.

    In its rich final conceit, the play figures Elizabeth as a self-sacrificing protector of the realm. In addition to praising her enchanting beauty, Greene始s calculated allusion to Diana ascribes to the queen an otherworldly constancy; like Diana, she remains unmarried, an icon of chastity and virginity, concepts that her shrewd propagandists had crafted into a political narrative insisting she had restrained all personal passion to become the mystical spouse of her nation (Wilson 134-35, 213-19). Imbricated, too, among these potential meanings, and perhaps most impressively, is the assertion that Elizabeth occupies a privileged place in an unfolding providential history, an topic of central concern in other history plays acted by the Queen始s Men, such as The True Tragedy of Richard III and The Troublesome Reign of King John. Wars may blight the garden of England始s past and present, Bacon始s speech insists, but the “fair bud” of the house of Tudor—Eliza Triumphans—holds the promise of peace to come. Greene thus endows the queen with protective magic that is at once stranger than Bacon始s and more powerful for its connection to the mysterious authority of Providence. Although more carefully coded than the encomia articulated in The True Tragedyand The Troublesome Reign, Friar Bacon始s implicit message about Queen Elizabeth始s sanctity must have been perfectly comprehensible to both players and playgoers as they joined in collective prayer for her health after each performance. The beauty of Margaret (“the flower of all towns”) may be splendid and the power of Friar Bacon (“England始s only flower”) awesome; no one however was to be understood as richer in beauty or power than Diana始s strange and wondrous “rose.”