Queen始sMen Editions

About this text

  • Title: Shakespeare and the Queen's Men (SQM) Repertory Productions
  • Author: Peter Cockett
  • Textual editors: Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best

  • Copyright Peter Cockett. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Peter Cockett
    Editors (Text): Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich
    Peer Reviewed

    Shakespeare and the Queen's Men (SQM) Repertory Productions


    In 2006, as the climax of three years of research-creation work, the Shakespeare and the Queen's Men Project (SQM) staged three Queen's Men plays in repertoire: King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Videos and photographs of the production are integrated in the performance editions on this site. Further records, pedagogical modules and a more detailed exploration of the rehearsal process can be found on the Performing the Queen's Men (PQM) website.

    The production annotations for Queen's Men Editions are designed to encourage users to explore the complexities of the relationships between the texts of these plays and their SQM productions. They are informed by the research agenda of the SQM project, which drove my work as stage director, and guided the decisions made in the rehearsal room. SQM used performance as a means to investigate theater history. The object of our research, the Queen's Men, was the premiere theatre company in England during the 1580s and continued to perform through to the death of its patron in 1603. Inspired by Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth Maclean's book, The Queen's men and their Plays, we aimed to test their hypotheses and discover what else might be learned by staging three of the company's plays in repertoire in conditions that approximated their original performance practices as best we understood them. Producing a play forces practitioners to make clear and finite decisions about staging and interpretation. Although our decisions were guided by our understanding of original theatrical and political contexts to a degree uncommon in modern productions, the evidence available to scholars and theatre practitioners is incomplete and inconclusive. Our production choices were therefore provisional; there are an infinite number of ways these plays may have been performed, and our choices should not be seen as definitive or authoritative. As with any argument on matters of theatrical history, whether presented in journal article, book, or on stage, the video record of the SQM productions presented on this website offers no definitive argument, but we hope will prompt further discussion and exploration of this fascinating subject.

    Historical Distance

    Our adoption of ‘original practices始 arose from a desire to maintain a sense of historical distance and to avoid treating the Queen's Men plays as if they were designed to be performed on the twenty-first century stage and risk judging them by twenty-first century theatrical norms. In the preface of their book The Queen's Men and their Plays, Scott MacMillin and Sally-Beth Maclean provided the inspiration for this approach to our subject:

    Shakespeare was not our contemporary, and one way to insist on that fact is to study the things which he had to deal with and which our age is free to ignore. Shakespeare had to deal with the Queen's Men. We are free to ignore them - the first summer festival of Queen's Men plays has yet to be held. But if measuring the difference between Shakespeare and ourselves makes for good history, and if the Elizabethans are to be thought of as not another version of ourselves but as strangers from the past, and if things nearly forgotten are the proper objects for historians to keep in view anyhow, then we think the plays of the Queen's Men are worth careful consideration (xvi).

    In the spirit of McMillin and MacLean we wanted to explore the differences between the way the Queen's Men composed and performed their plays and the way we approach the writing and production of plays today. The SQM project focused on elements McMillin and MacLean identified as central to Queen始s Men dramaturgy (aside from versification since the verse structures of the plays chosen for the project did not display the variety of versification identified in the repertoire of the Queen始s Men as a whole). The book始s argument that “clowning is at the centre” of Queen始s Men dramaturgy (122), however, was deeply influential and aligned itself with my own research interests in the performance of early modern comedy (Cockett, Incongruity). The Queen始s Men featured the period始s most famous clown, Richard Tarlton, the first Elizabethan star actor, but five other Queen始s Men, Adams, Garland, Latham, Singer and Wilson, were also “known for their comic acting, jigs and improvisations” (128). McMillin and MacLean coined the term the “‘literalism of the theatre始” to describe the company始s “visually-oriented style of acting” and defined the clown as a “literalist of the theatre.” The term is a little confusing since in theater scholarship, literalist can be used to refer to realist theater in which the actor is imagined to ‘literally始 be the character. McMillin and MacLean始s position is actually referring to the opposite, the idea that clowns on stage are perceived as performers rather than characters. They are primarily part of the performance environment, although they can also have referents in the fictional world of the play and in the working world outside the theater. Tarlton was always recognizably Tarlton but his most famous stage persona, referred to the second meaning of the term ‘clown始 in Elizabethan society: namely, a rustic or country bumpkin. McMillin and MacLean use the term literalist theater to denote the company始s commitment to theatrical presentation: the plays of the Queen始s Men are always performances primarily, rather than illusions of reality. The authors also propose that their dependence on clowning led to an interactive relationship with the audience as indicated by the characters frequent use of direct address (127).

    Alongside the literalism of their dramaturgy, McMillin and MacLean argue that the company depended on the Tudor theater始s “system of acting by brilliant stereotype” (127). An actor playing Playful Penury, for example, would not “think in terms of social realism and the psychology of the poor,” he would “think in terms of the bent-over body and the raspy voice, in order to demonstrate his own name instantly” (126). McMillin and MacLean propose that the demonstration of truths is central to Queen始s Men dramaturgy: “[t]o show things as they are is the fundamental dramatic conception of the plays of the Queen始s Men,” which is contrasted with Marlowe始s dramaturgy that “concerns activity, what characters do rather than what they are” (123). The distinction is a fine one and drawn from the contrast between the predominance of active verbs in Marlowe始s verse and the Queen始s Men始s dependence on the verb ‘to be始 and its relative “linguistic passivity” (122). The SQM productions did not attempt to examine this comparison as it was working solely with Queen始s Men texts but the idea that the actors worked through stereotype and that the core of the dramaturgy was about demonstration of truths rather than the exploration of human complexity through enactment of action was very influential in our process. The dominant performance style of our day, theatrical realism, stands in polar opposition to McMillin and MacLean始s concept of Queen始s Men performance style, with its ideals of complex and fully-individuated characters, and its desire to hide truths between the surface illusions of everyday reality. Imagining productions built on a system of character types therefore provided an obvious opportunity to maintain historical distance in our performative investigation of theatre history.

    McMillin and MacLean始s characterization of the dramaturgical structure of the Queen始s Men plays was also explored through the productions. Cutting text from a play always involves the application of specific ideals, decisions about what should be valued and what can be discarded. As a modern director, the temptation to cut the Queen始s Men plays in order to create greater narrative economy and unity of action was strong. However, since our focus was on historical distance and cultural difference, we decided the plays for our project should not be cut. This decision allowed us to explore McMillin and MacLean始s idea the company relied on “narrative over-determination,” a repetition of story points designed to lead inattentive audiences through their stories (133-7). Sections of action that might seem redundant to a twenty-first century director were left in to allow us to experience this aspect of the plays始 dramaturgy. In practice, this theory proved to have some relevance to King Leir but had little impact on the productions of Famous Victories and Friar Bacon. The idea of the company始s “medley style” (124-127) however proved far more important. “The heart of the dramaturgy,” they argue, “lies in the interplay between the lowly and the powerful” (124). They define a dramaturgy that mixes the “stately” and the “pleasant” without trying to integrate the two: slapstick comedy is set beside regal politics, elaborate flights of rhetoric are juxtaposed with spectacular pantomime. Of Three Lords and Three Ladies of London, they say: “it is medley, or it is nothing.” The notion of the medley is in direct opposition to the classical ideal of the coherent whole that has been retroactively imposed on early modern drama. McMillin and MacLean始s theory, therefore, offered a potentially clear point of distinction between the theater of the Queen始s Men and our own, presenting another opportunity to explore exactly how the Queen始s Men are not our contemporaries.

    The challenge for the research project was to create a process that tested these interpretations. It would have been relatively simple to direct productions that simply validated the theses of the book, but this rationale would not have allowed for the possibility that McMillin and MacLean始s conclusions, drawn from close analysis of the text, might be misplaced. Equally, we felt that productions determined by the interpretive authority of a modern theatre director would lead to the plays either being judged according to the assumptions of twenty-first theater practice, or being made to mean things that could never have been intended by the original company – a valuable practice in and of itself but not one that would speak to the issues of theater history we wished to address. Since our field of study was theater history and the potential difference between the Queen始s Men始s theater and our own, it was decided that the company should adopt elements of Elizabethan stage practice in order to alienate the actors and audience from their own assumptions and create a space in which the audience and researchers could imagine the theater of the Queen始s Men as historically and ideologically distant from our own practices.

    5A Disruptive "Experiment"

    To serve the goals of our research project the SQM team designed a theatrical "experiment" that engaged with the historical evidence of original rehearsal processes and performance environments in which their work was produced. Our project began after the great flowering of original practice research inspired by the construction of Shakespeare's Globe in London, and the Blackfriars始 Theatre in Staunton, Virginia, and was able to benefit both from that body of work and the critical response to it that questioned the pseudo-scientific approach implied by the term “experiment” and challenged the very idea that a modern performance of a play could tell us anything substantial about the theatrical past (eg. Menzer, 223-230). As Chrsitie Carson and Farah Karim-Cooper have argued, when taken in the artistic sense, "experiment" defines a process in which ideas are tried out, risks are taken, in the hope that connections might be made and future work might be inspired (1-12). The SQM project was conceived in this spirit. We deliberately avoided the terms "reconstruction" and "recreation" (despite our marketing departments attraction to presenting our work in that way). The SQM productions embraced the limits of our endeavor, knowing full well that the discoveries of our experiment would not stand as proof, but believing still that that the procedural and embodied experience of our rehearsal and performance process might give us insight into the plays of the Queen始s Men, their company, and their theatrical milieu.

    The experiment was flexible and organic and worked through a rehearsal and performance process designed to put modern practitioners and audiences into a dialectical relationship with performance techniques that approximated early modern theater practice. The process borrowed from Tiffany Stern's research on Elizabethan rehearsal but made allowance for the fact that our modern actors, unaccustomed to the speed and independence of Elizabethan rehearsal, would need support to produce a performance for our modern audience that could give insight into the work of the Queen始s Men. The key factors of Elizabethan rehearsal practice necessary to understanding the annotations in this edition are:

    • the actors worked from parts memorizing their lines alone and did not rehearse as an ensemble at length;
    • the actors were specialists in certain kinds of roles.
    • all the actors were male;
    • the company was hierarchical, containing master actors who would instruct apprentices;
    • the plays were performed in universal lighting and could always see the audience;
    • the Queen's Men did not work with directors;
    • the company was a touring company and would perform in a variety of different spaces=, likely without rehearsal.

    A more detailed description of our system of rehearsal can be accessed on the Performing the Queen's Men website.

    The elements of original practice introduced to the production process served to disrupt normative assumptions about theatrical creation and create a critical space in which we could reflect on the process and politics of making theatre and apply those reflections to the Queen始s Men and their plays. My official title for the project was stage director, but I redefined the nature of that role. I adopted a conventional directorial approach in certain aspects: I insisted that the company did not parody the plays, and pushed for an interpretation of the politics of the plays that adhered to McMillin and MacLean始s premise that the original company was formed for the purpose of nationalist, protestant propaganda. In other aspects of the rehearsal process, however, I worked to gradually reduce my creative agency. I took on the role of facilitator: introducing the actors to the unfamiliar rehearsal practices, assisting with textual references that were obscure to them, and generally encouraging them to develop a collaborative, creative independence as they brought the texts to the stage. Each of the original practices we adapted for our process presented a challenge for the actors that disrupted their usual way of working. Working from parts, for example, encouraged them to focus only on their own character and not assume responsibility for interpreting the play as a whole. In the initial stages, they would look to me as director to make final decisions on staging, but I refused to fix blocking and instead collaboratively developed protocols the company could use to effectively improvise their blocking in the variety of different performance spaces they would be encountering on tour. I empowered the master actors to take on leadership roles when developing scenes, and I encouraged freedom in the company始s approach to the physical comedy implied by the texts. The company also needed prompting to engage with the possibilities presented by universal lighting – I tried to establish talking directly to the audience as the default mode of performance rather than the exception. I also took an active role trying to break the actors out of the habits of psychological realism and encourage them to rely on the type character system, pointing out that they did not have time for extended discussion of the characters始 backstories or to collectively develop clear interpretations of the actions of the scenes.

    The rehearsal process was designed to accelerate as the company moved through the repertoire: King Leir was given twelve days of rehearsal, Famous Victories nine and Friar Bacon seven. This gave time for the modern actors to acclimatize themselves to the alien rehearsal techniques but also gave them experience of preparing a play in a compressed time-frame that more closely resembled the experience of early modern actors, as described by Stern. The initial stages involved breaking a lot of normative preconceptions about classical drama and the Queen始s Men and challenging assumptions about the rehearsal process derived from the actors始 twenty-first century training. Early rehearsals for King Leir much time was spent trying to resolve issues they found in the text through discussion of character motivation and looking for staging they felt would best reflect the significance of the action as they saw it. In place of this approach, that was founded in the assumptions of the twenty-first century rehearsal room, I fostered a rough and ready approach to rehearsal in our accelerated process and encouraged the actors to make quick decisions in order to complete the task of staging the play in a tight time-frame, and for a variety of different stages.

    Shakespeare the Norm

    The company of actors also carried assumptions of early modern drama built on their experience with Shakespeare and his idolization by our profession that colored their initial approach to the Queen始s Men plays. Although McMillin and MacLean were convinced of the company始s debt to the Tudor moral interlude and argue Queen始s Men plays are about demonstrating truth rather than the generation of active complexities, the repertoire of plays chosen for the project lacked the most overt signs of the morality tradition: the allegorical characters that indicated their type by their name. The first play we prepared for performance, King Leir, more closely resembled the plays of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and other more famous contemporaries of the Queen始s Men. To maintain historical distance and to allow space for creative engagement with a different form of dramaturgy, I had to counter the actors始 inclinations to simply treat the plays as a lesser version of Shakespeare. The company's initial response to the plays fell in line with the negative reputation the plays have held within critical scholarship for years. In relation to our actors' knowledge of Shakespeare, the plays seemed primitive, naïve, even silly; I resisted their inclination to parody them and encouraged them to explore alternative ways the plays might be designed to work. Conversely, I also discouraged the actors from transposing their knowledge of Shakespeare's plays onto the Queen's Men. The creative relationship between their work and Shakespeare's operated the other way around, since Shakespeare adapted the Queen始s Men plays in his own work. It was important, for example, to make it clear that King Leir, if it can be classified, is a romance not a tragedy, and that, although Jockey in Famous Victories is considered the prototype for Shakespeare's Falstaff, there is nothing in the play that suggests he is a funny, fat, old man.

    Since the Queen's Men and Shakespeare were working contemporaneously, the old arguments that Shakespeare's are more evolved and more highly sophisticated versions of the Queen's Men plays hold little validity. Following McMillin and MacLean's lead, our project was determined to consider the work of the Queen's Men outside of the shadow cast by Shakespeare, the 'great Bard', and all we have come to believe about him. The connection with Shakespeare however is also important since the Queen's Men and Shakespeare turned the same source material into dramatic action. The differences between the Queen's Men's treatment of plot events and Shakespeare's subsequent treatment can tell us much about the dramaturgy of the period and how different artists and companies responded to the same or similar stories. When I comment on the difference between Shakespeare's plays and the Queen's Men plays, I try to avoid value judgments. I argue at times that Shakespeare's treatment is more complex, but that is only a value judgment if we value complexity highly. The Queen's Men plays have a refreshing directness and honesty, and in comparison, Shakespeare can seem overly elaborate, ornate, even pretentious.

    Playing Types

    Our company of actors was initially inclined to individuate their characters – a natural consequence of the normative influence of their training, which was largely within the tradition of psychological realism, the principles of which depend on treating each character as a specific representation of a unique human being. In our accelerated rehearsal process, they found there was little time for the investigation of characters始 backgrounds and that treating their characters as versions of types was far more efficient and efficacious. That this choice might be key to the early modern actors' approach to performance is an argument advanced by Tiffany Stern (70-72). Bottom's question "What is Pyramus? A lover, or a tyrant?" (TLN 290) is a much more efficient way to begin rehearsing an early modern part than asking: what is my character始s relationship with his mother? Inspired by Stern, and McMillin and MacLean始s arguments about the Queen始s Men, I encouraged the actors to look for types and moral patterns in the texts rather than for psychological complexity. As the company moved through the plays in the order we rehearsed them, King Leir then Famous Victories then Friar Bacon, they gradually realized that there was insufficient time to spend on complex, psychological character study, and that the process was better served by playing the characters as types, which re-appeared from play to play, without worrying initially about subtly distinguishing between them. Psychological realism, the dominant form of actor training today that has arisen alongside the growing power of individualism in our culture, demands that actors treat characters as fully rounded individuals, and mine their personal histories to unearth motivations for their actions. The goal is to individuate each character. The process is time-consuming and in many instances early modern plays lack evidence of characters' personal histories. The type system proved far more efficient in rehearsal. The SQM actors became comfortable beginning rehearsal by playing the same character they had played in the previous play and allowing the difference in context and the specific lines to generate a sense of individuation as they proceeded.

    The type system does not negate the fact that Elizabethan performance was admired for its verisimilitude - types were after all based on the observation of real-life. Elizabethan actors would no doubt have fleshed out their performances with knowledge of human behavior they had accumulated in their everyday lives, and contemporary audiences would have read their performances with reference to their own life experiences. However, the way they processed and expressed those experiences would have been conditioned by ideologies different from the contemporary individualism out of which the field of psychology was born. If we accept Stephen Greenblatt's proposition that the perception of one's own individuality was a new phenomenon at this time, then the use of stage types is consistent with the way people commonly understood themselves and others. The system also has the advantage of dramaturgical economy. The familiar Elizabethan stage types offered actors and audience alike a story-telling shorthand. By writing type characters, playwrights could avoid exposition and get right into the action. The SQM actors learned how to take advantage of this system in the accelerated SQM rehearsal process.

    My experience of the SQM rehearsal process to an extent validates Stern's theory but even given the compressed time-frame of the rehearsals, the SQM actors did not give up entirely on their desire to distinguish among their different roles. Julian DeZotti, for example, played three young maidens: Cordella, Princess Kate, and Margaret of Fressingfield. In his hands each character had distinguishing traits, but in the later stages as he performed the roles back to back in quick succession, a fascinating cross-pollination emerged among the characters. His work on Margaret towards the end of the process, for example, informed his last performances of Cordella. The same was true of Hopkins' leading men, Nashman's clowns, and any of the series of roles played by the other actors. Although learning to play a type was a practical necessity, once mastered, it did not prevent a level of individuation as the performers became more accustomed to the roles and more alert to key similarities and differences between them. Knowing the type at the outset created efficiency because it allowed the actors to jump immediately into a role and play, but once playing, there remained new and specific discoveries to be made about each character should the actor be inclined to do so. In my annotations, I track the way the modern actors grappled with this new approach to performance. I indicate where I felt the actors were limited by their own twenty-first century approach to performance and where their perseverance broadened my understanding of the complexity still possible within a type casting system.

    Finding Morality Patterns

    The Queen's Men were innovators and played a key role in shaping a new repertoire for the Elizabethan stage. Famous Victories is the first secular English history play and had a direct influence on Shakespeare's second Henriad, but morality drama was still central to the theatrical milieu of the 1580s. It was a key genre in the religious and political satire of the day (White), and McMillin and MacLean were convinced that the Queen始s Men始s dramaturgy is closely aligned with the tradition. Their argument that the Queen始s Men plays demonstrate truths is built, however, largely on Wilson始s Three Lords and Three Ladies of London which undoubtedly works in this way. The plays chosen for the SQM repertoire lack the obvious allegorical characters of Wilson始s play so it was important to embrace Alan Dessen's arguments that the underlying structure and conception of plays in this period are shaped in ways that are not always obvious. The most telling example of the morality patterns are the conversion scenes that appear in each of the selected SQM play. Scene 19 in King Leir features the last minute conversion of Leir始s intended Murderer, in Famous Victories Prince Henry transforms from riotous youth to virtuous king, in Scene 6, and even the more secular Friar Bacon and Friar Bungayfeatures a climactic scene in which Prince Edward repents of his lustful vengeance and dedicates himself to a life of honor. The sudden transformations of the characters in each of these scenes seems improbable to a secular actor and hard to justify. Applying principles of psychological realism cannot do justice to the dramaturgical intentions of these scenes, which are better understood in the context of Christianity and the morality play tradition. Morality plays frequently feature a climactic scene in which the central figure, who has fallen into a life of sin, and is either converted by virtue and returns to the path of righteousness or refuses to repent and is carried off to hell. The pattern of these conversions also represents an alternative way of understanding human beings, not in relation to their personal histories and social status, but primarily in their relationship to God. These characters are vicious one moment and virtuous the next. My annotations track the way I used the concepts and conventions of the morality play in the rehearsal room as a key means to resist the psychological approach of our contemporary theatrical practice.

    Other plays featured on this site, like Three Ladies of London and its sequel Three Lords and Three Ladies of Londonfeature characters explicitly named after moral traits, and more overtly exemplify the influence of the moral tradition on Queen始s Men dramaturgy, but bringing the structures of moral drama into our approach to the three plays in the SQM repertoire proved useful in several instances. The conversion scenes were the clearest examples, but they also held a clue to the French Herald in Famous Victories who appears twice, representing French Pride prior to his Fall at Agincourt. The actor could find little to justify or motivate his character but the moral tale that vilifies the French and raises up the English king made political sense of the action. Similarly, in King Leir, one of the marked differences from Shakespeare始s Lear is the importance of the divine providence and the presence of a God that steps forward to save the king from death with claps of thunder. I encouraged the actors to imagine the play as a morality tale featuring heroes and villains, a virtuous maid and her wicked sisters. Like the type character system applying a consistent moral framework to the dramas gave the company an easy and immediate access point from which to begin their creative work. Working this way, the justification for the interpretation of such scenes arose from the moral truth that was being demonstrated rather from any hidden complexity in the characters始 motivations. Overall, whether the Queen's Men's reliance on morality play structures and motifs marks them as different from Shakespeare is a matter for debate. I also use the annotations to discuss where the application of morality traditions seemed to work well with the dramaturgy of the plays and where it might have led to a simplification of the plays始 complexities. Friar Bacon is especially interesting in this regard as the elements of the morality traditions are placed within a world that is increasingly secular and falling under the growing influence of classical literature.


    A performance as research experiment that featured the great clown Richard Tarlton and five other actors famed for their comedy demanded a process that engaged with clowning performance techniques. The research-creation process began a year prior to the final productions with a workshop production entitled An Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy, which grew directly out of my thesis research on the three dominant comic figures of the early modern stage: the morality Vice, the Clown and the Fool. Each of these types appear in the plays of the Queen始s Men in some form. The Experiment was devised to discover what would happen when the comic dramaturgy I had gleaned from the analysis of dramatic texts and historical records was put in the hands of two highly trained contemporary clowns. We were very fortunate to be able to hire two distinguished Canadian clowns, Andy Massingham and Michael Kennard. Not surprisingly, as critic Jon Kaplan put it in Now Magazine: "their physical work brought the material to life in hilarious fashion."

    The delightful discovery for me was that these twenty-first century clowns had a repertoire of physical comedy that readily meshed with the comic dramaturgy my thesis argued was encoded in the texts. The types of the morality Vice, the early modern rustic Clown and the natural and artificial Fool were alien to our Canadian clowns, aside from familiarity through their knowledge of Shakespeare. However Kennard and Massingham had a deep knowledge of the archetypal dynamic between tricksters and dupes that lies behind the Elizabethan comic types. The morality Vice is commonly a trickster who deceives the gullible mankind figure and leads him into a life of sin. The Elizabethan rustic Clown was commonly a dupe and the humor surrounding this new Elizabethan character relied on the incongruity between the rustic's view of the world and the perspective shared by more sophisticated urban characters and the London audience. The Elizabethan rustic Clown became the principal comic figure in the 1580s largely due to the success and consequent influence of Queen's Men comedian Richard Tarlton. Examples of such Clowns reveal that his comic repertoire quickly expanded and, as with Derrick in Famous Victories, the Clown might become the trickster when paired with less ingenious commoner characters such as John Cobbler. David Wiles argues that it was Tarlton's innovation to integrate the rustic simpleton with the festive traditions of the Lord of Misrule and comic repertoire of the trickster Vice (Wiles 11-23). Artificial Fools were performers who mimicked the behavior and adopted the costume of "natural fools" in order to enjoy the protection afforded by the license given to natural fools. "Natural fool" was a term given to any person with severe mental disability in Elizabethan society, some of whom were kept in houses as a form of entertainment. People laughed at them because they did silly things and could not understand the basic premises of social interaction or even of the laws of physics. They were granted license to speak freely because their lack of reason meant that they were morally unaccountable for their words and actions. Professional artificial Fools would tread a fine line between the performance of simplicity that protected them and the execution of their verbal wit (Cockett "Performing Natural Folly"). In the SQM productions we explored this relationship in the performance of Prince Edward's Fool in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. The comedy surrounding all three types of comic character depends upon the incongruity between the character's and the audience's levels of awareness. The Canadian clowns were experts in creating and playing such incongruities.

    The following core lessons learned about clowns from Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy were deeply influential in the development of the SQM productions. In contemporary clown culture, the term clown still refers to both the actor and their stage persona. It has lost the social reference point of Elizabethan England where the term clown also referred to a country rustic, but the theatrical duality of the term remains. I have articulated the following principles in my own language, but they are derived from the workshops run by Kennard and Massingham. Kennard, especially, saw clowning as a spiritual activity and for him the following principles had some of the authority of religious dogma.

    • Clowns never ignore the audience. They always exist in the actuality of the stage, in theatrical time and space, rather than fictional time and space. Clowns are always aware that they are performing. The division between the clown actor and the clown character is reduced or even eliminated in performance. The clown (both actor and persona) performs with a constant awareness of the audience as real people present in the room with them – a perspective that ultimately makes the fourth wall of psychological realism seem silly in comparison.
    • Clowns are naïve. This is especially although not exclusively true of the dupes. They commit fully to whatever is happening. Their focus is short-term and immediate. Their limited perspective becomes funny because it is incongruous with the audience始s broader view of the world or the situation. There is no room for subtext, or for irony, except for the dramatic irony created by tricksters. Clowns make simple, direct performance choices and play them to the full.
    • Clowns rely on improvisatory impulses. These impulses must be true, sincere and spontaneous (even when they drive rehearsed action). The impulses arise prior to conscious decision-making. They are grounded in the clowns始 bodies and their training enables them to exaggerate physical reactions in a way that is comical because it still feels spontaneous and authentic. When the connection to the impulse is lost then the physical comedy appears forced and artificial.
    • Clowns must respond immediately to what is happening around them. They can never ignore the reality of events on the stage. If someone in the audience coughs, they hear them and react. If a prop accidentally falls over, they do not pretend not to have noticed, but use it as a means to generate more comedy. They are never required to preserve the illusion of the fictional action because for them there is no illusion, or for that matter any fiction.
    • Clowns have childlike emotions. This does not mean their emotions are superficial, less deep, or less sincere than adult emotions; it means that their emotions are extremely intense, take over their whole body, and can change quickly. Imagine a crying child who is presented with an ice cream and immediately stops crying. Such sudden shifts played out in the bodies of adult performers are funny and are a staple of clowning.
    • Clowns have a deep repertoire of physical business to draw on, an arsenal of double-takes, false exits, pratfalls, and slapstick violence that they have practiced to the point that they pull them instinctively in performance or use them to collaboratively and quickly develop extended routines of physical comedy. Massingham and Kennard referred to such business as lazzi, a term derived from Commedia dell始Arte and subsequently adopted by the SQM company.
    • Clown routines have their own logic and the logic is important. While clowns do things an everyday person would not, their ridiculous actions are motivated by their equally ridiculous personas and the quirky ways they understand the world. A good clown routine will be strung together in a series of beats, connected by a cause and effect, that makes the sequence logical to the audience even while it is ridiculous.

    Two of the SQM company, Jason Gray and Matthew Krist, also participated in the Experiment and one of our master actors, Alon Nashman, was also trained in contemporary clown. Nashman was hired to play the principal comic roles that we suspect were played by Richard Tarlton and took a lead in the SQM clowning work, assisted ably by Gray and Krist who were often paired with him in comic double acts: Gray was John Cobbler to Nashman始s Derrick in Famous Victories, and Krist played Rafe with Nashman始s Miles in Friar Bacon. Through Nashman始s leadership, and with my encouragement, the influence of the clown training spread throughout the company.

    Nashman was the perfect actor for the project because in addition to his clown training he has long experience working in classical theatre, experience that privileged the text as the principle authority in his creative work as an actor. Nashman therefore had a deep understanding of the absurd logic that is intrinsic to intensive, physical clown work but could marry that logic to the evidence in the text that either explicitly or implicitly pointed to physical and emotional clown comedy. The breadth of his training meant that for the most part the comic business he created supplemented and complemented the text, characters, and the scenes, rather than developing humor for its own sake with no consideration of the action or intent of the play that surrounds it, as can often be the case. The physical comedy he created for the brazen head scene in Friar Bacon and for the Constables始 first scene in Famous Victories are strong examples of his influence on the company. The odd scene between Derrick and John Cobbler at the end of Famous Victories is another great example of Nashman始s working process but in this instance, his commitment to creating a logic of the action of the scene worked in conflict with what I felt was the Queen始s Men始s commitment to variety of entertainment. The performance annotations track the creative process behind the development of the physical comedy and alert the reader to the textual inspirations for it, or conversely to identify moments when our clowns were led by the creative license afforded to them, or by imperatives derived from their modern training.

    Hamlet, of course, famously criticized the clowns for speaking "more than is set down for them" (3.2.39) and the inventiveness of our comedians perhaps overstepped Hamlet始s boundary at times. For the most part I feel, the Dane would have been very satisfied with Nashman始s respect for what was set down on the page, but one reviewer, having acknowledged that Nashman was a "virtuoso" clown, did note "that he sometimes seemed to be playing in a different rhythm from the others, with more curlicues and pauses" (Cushman "Play"). The idea that the clown should be integrated in the action of the play as a whole is, however, an imposition on a dramaturgy that does not uphold principles of unity, or divisions of genre. Hamlet始s complaint implies that the submission of clowning to other aesthetic priorities was not normal practice. The videos of the productions give record of Nashman始s work and the opportunity for future assessment of the role of clowns in Queen始s Men plays.

    The introduction of contemporary clowning to our process had deep and far-reaching impact on the SQM productions. It encouraged an open and improvisatory approach to rehearsal and performance. The actors learned to work on their feet, following their impulses, responding to happy accidents, and discovering creative opportunities. The resulting performances retained a higher level of contingency than can be the case when working in a more traditional rehearsal process. There was a powerful sense that anything could happen in the performative moment because the creative agency given to the actors meant that it could, and often it did. Actors started to look for ways to surprise the audience, inventing new business throughout the run of performances. Paul Hopkins, as King Henry in Famous Victories, paused in the middle of the battle of Agincourt to take a drink of beer from an audience member始s glass. My favorite example occurred in the final performance of Friar Bacon when a feather fell out of the hat of one of the actors.

    Insert clip

    As noted, clowns must respond impulsively to the reality of the performance and, rather than ignore the feather, Krist and Nashman improvised a piece of additional comic business. The business has no relevance to the scene or the play but was true to the demands of the performative moment.

    Such theatrical improvisations could arise in a conventional modern production but the company始s training in clown made it more likely. The heightened degree of contingency in the SQM process gave the productions an enhanced feeling of liveness, the sense of the performance as performance rather than representation. The actors learnt to commit naively to the local needs of the moment rather than worrying about its significance to the play as a whole. They started to make simple and direct choices that could quickly animate the text, trusting to a lack of irony rather than seeking out complexity, celebrating local variety rather than looking to integrate actions and smooth them into a coherent whole. In moments of high drama, the emotions were deep and sincere but even they gradually took on some of the transitory quality of clowning. There was a sense in the final performances that all the characters were clowns. They all existed principally in the live world of the theater, rather than the world once removed: the represented world of the play.

    15Direct Address

    One of the most influential consequences of our exploration of clowning was that it encouraged the actors to engage directly with the audience. Our Canadian clowns in their clown personas were unaware that they were actors on a stage and behaved as if they were just sharing a room with the audience. This attitude runs directly counter to stage realism, the dominant aesthetic of our times, and the pervasive twentieth century actor's concept of the fourth wall – the idea that actors should imagine a fourth wall across the front of the stage rather than acknowledge the presence of the audience. Although this concept has been challenged by much recent theatrical practice (see Escolme), it is still extremely influential. Massingham, Kennard, and Nashman's approach, in contrast, aligned itself perfectly with my understanding of early modern theater and its success encouraged me to attempt to flip our conventional practice on its head. In realism, actors address other actors on the stage; what if the opposite was the default mode of performance for our productions? What if actors primarily addressed the audience and it was unusual for them to address lines to each other?

    In rehearsal, therefore, I encouraged the actors to imagine that every line was spoken to the audience. This was straightforward for soliloquies when their characters were alone on stage, but much more difficult in scenes of extended dialogue. Their natural inclination, especially for the less experienced actors, was to address each other and to look at each other. As rehearsals and the performances progressed, the actors became increasingly adept at opening up their work to the audience. Dialogue scenes started to work as a competition for audience allegiance, with each character persuading the audience as well as other characters of their point of view. The actors would also sometimes implicitly cast the audience as characters in the play: they might be treated as assembled courtiers or the English army, for example.

    Another factor here was that both the stage and the audience shared a universal lighting state, and therefore the audience was fully visible to the actors – an experience that was new to many of them. In these conditions it was important to encourage the actors to do more than talk in the audience's general direction. They had to develop the courage to look them right in the eye and talk to them, not an easy task. The consequence of all this was not unexpected. It diluted the division between stage and audience and made the performances highly interactive. Most importantly for me, however, it made me acutely aware that this division is a hierarchy in our society, in which the stage has the dominant position. The political affect of the SQM productions on a fundamental level was far more egalitarian. In my annotations I note particular instances where the interaction defined the production choices and affected the politics of the action.

    The "Medley" Style

    As the action of King Leir approaches its dramatic climax, two drunken, English watchmen wander on stage and start riffing on a comparison between their red noses and the beacons they are supposed to light in case of invasion. The juxtaposition of the comic and the serious is a common feature of Queen始s Men plays and to the eyes of our twenty-first century始s actors, such stylistic shifts struck the SQM actors as incongruous. Although those more familiar with early modern plays would likely be less perturbed, the stylistic shifts needed to be address by the company. Resisting our normative inclination towards unity and the connection of parts to wholes, the protocol I established in the rehearsal was to focus on the local affect of each scene and let the combination and sequence of scenes determine the affect of the whole play. The application to the local scene rather than the interpretive whole has a correlative in the actors始 use of the parts system. It was designed to explore the possibility that the Queen始s Men plays privilege variety over unity and this general directive had a significant effect on the emerging style of the SQM productions. McMillin and MacLean speak of the deliberate alternation between the “pleasant” and the “stately” as a central structuring principle of the company始s dramaturgy. They use the term "medley" to describe this approach, a term which I feel carries an unintended criticism, since the idea of a medley works contrary to the ideal of unity held so highly by long theatrical tradition. As stage director, however, I encouraged the company to embrace the idea of medley, committing to variety as a desirable quality in the performance of the plays and an important factor in the development of the SQM company style.

    I encouraged the company to find every opportunity for humour and to exploit any textual suggestion of physical comedy. However, when the text implied a more serious, dramatic treatment, I insisted that it be played without irony. We found that the plays often worked best when we pushed both the comedy and the drama to extremes, which then worked in complement with each other and the speed with which the company could move from one to the other communicated itself as an emotional playfulness. In the SQM productions, it was always apparent that the audience was watching a play: even a sad king on stage was still just a man dressed up as a king pretending to be sad. The influence of clowning practice and the insistence on direct address created the sense that the actors were playing to the audience, engaging them directly with their characters始 perceptions and their struggles, and inviting laughter or tears. The productions had many moments of emotional impact, but the quality of that impact was quite particular in affect, influenced by the overall playfulness of the performance style.

    The SQM company's ability to shift the tone from comic to tragic in the blink of an eye was one of the elements of their performance technique that I most admired, and I felt that , somewhat paradoxically, a strong sense of unity arose from the company's consistent commitment to variety. There are certainly moments where the development of the action is put on the back burner for the sake of comic interjection but even such moments only seem a 'medley' in relation to our anachronous expectations for narrative continuity. Although as facilitator/director I often pressed the actors to take certain scenes seriously and treat others comically, ultimately in the collaborative generation of the performances, the difference between the two was diluted, and the company could move fluidly between the different modes, separating them or combining them, in their playful retelling of the stories. Cushman noted this impact in his review of Famous Victories, he writes:

    There is a scene (echoed in Shakespeare, though he spread it out among various episodes) in which soldiers, pressed into service, take leave of home and loved ones, the latter represented by one alternately heartbroken and lascivious wife. It's part pathos, part broad farce; the actors played both modes, full out and simultaneously, and the results were both rich and instructive (Cushman "Play").

    The scene he is referring to, Scene 10, is an excellent example of the blend of the serious and the comic that characterized the SQM productions. This stylistic approach worked well for the Queen's Men plays and I would suggest it might work equally well if applied to other early modern playwrights. I am not convinced this dramaturgy is distinctive to the Queen's Men but rather think it was a pervasive element of the theatrical milieu in which they were working. Developing this aspect of the company style involved resisting our inclination to separate the comic and the serious, and I have documented the decision-making process around these moments in my annotations to the play texts. I wonder whether my resistance to comic treatment was at times too exact. The Queen's Men and Shakespeare both worked in a theatrical milieu that lacked a strict division between the comic and the tragic. Shakespeare was criticized for this for centuries but has been celebrated for it in more recent times. I discovered that the notion that certain things are serious and others funny is quite deeply embedded in my own theatrical practice and, in my annotations, I have tried to track how my work on these plays challenged that practice and has encouraged me to reconsider the rationale behind many of my choices as a director.

    20Master Actors and Type Characters

    The SQM project hired three established professionals who were full members of the Canadian Actors' Equity Association to serve as the master actors in our company. In the original Queen's Men there were far more master actors than apprentices, but our arrangement at least established an element of hierarchy that approximated the Queen's Men structure. Each master actor was employed to perform a specific line of roles. As previously mentioned, Alon Nashman was hired as principal clown in the company, playing Mumford and the Messenger in King Leir, Derrick in Famous Victories, and Miles in Friar Bacon. Paul Hopkins played a line of young leads in the three plays: the King of Gallia in Leir, Prince Henry in Famous Victories, and Prince Edward in Friar Bacon. And Don Allison played all the old kings in the repertoire: King Leir in Leir, Henry IV and the King of France in Famous Victories, and Henry III in Friar Bacon. The rest of the company was composed of nine talented but less experienced actors who were not yet members of the union. In the original company apprentice boys would have been assigned to the female roles: Julian DeZotti, Matthew Krist, and Derek Genova were our company 'boys' specializing in women's roles, but also playing other roles. Later in the process we added two 'hired men' to fill out scenes as extras and play smaller roles in the plays we tackled after King Leir. For an extended discussion of the SQM casting of the plays and the doubling scheme used for the productions visit the Performing the Queen's Men website.

    Initially, the company looked to me for direction but as the process progressed they became increasingly independent and the master actors grew into their positions of authority, leading the creative-interpretive process in the rehearsal room. My interventions became less and less frequent, and increasingly focused on maintaining the political perspective of the original Queen's Men. I believe the work of the master actors resulted in the generation of a particular creative independence in the company that communicated itself subliminally as a sense of ownership and playfulness that is less likely to emerge when actors are working under an external, authoritative director. My annotations aim to track the development of the company's creative independence and give insight into our creative process as our company of modern actors learned to quickly interpret and stage these obscure Elizabethan texts.

    All-Male Company

    As part of our efforts to approximate the working conditions and theatrical conventions of the original Queen's Men, we decided to work with an all-male cast. Although Mark Rylance and others had experimented with this convention at the Shakespeare's Globe in London, the direct experience of it in our work brought insight for me and many in our audience who had not been not able to attend Globe performances. As critic Jon Kaplan remarked in his review of the Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy, "it was…fascinating to watch the audience's reaction to the female roles. All played by men, as was the tradition, they were usually comical; Jason Gray's whorish Meretrix was a standout. But in a variation on the King Lear story, Cordelia (here, Cordella, played by David Tompa) became a moving figure whose wooing by the king of France (Gray) proved that powerful emotion lends reality to any casting, even if it's not so politically correct today."

    As with all elements of our experiment, our productions were very much approximations of the Queen's Men working conditions. Details of the relationship between the historical evidence on all male casting and our own approach can be found by visiting the "Gender and the Queen's Men" module on the Performing the Queen's Men website. This module also explores the impact the all male cast had on the understanding and interpretation of gender in the productions. Initially I felt the company's interpretation of the female characters would have been as conservative as the rest of their politics (see below), but through the rehearsal and performance process I began to appreciate how the male casting allowed for certain freedoms in the representation of women. The result remained stereotypical and conservative in relation to our understanding of gender today, but might well have been provocative and even a little radical in its own time. This understanding arose specifically from the performance of Julian DeZotti who took on the roles of Cordella, Kate, and Margaret of Fressingfield. I pick up this theme in many of my annotations to the play texts, noting how the experience of directing the company 'boys' changed my interpretation of the female characters.

    The all-male company also resulted in a very specific energy in the rehearsal room. (Follow the link to hear SQM actor Scott Clarkson address this issue). The dynamic of the company on stage became distinctly masculine and although the performances of the women were well received and convincing I always felt that the productions presented an obtrusively male perspective on the stories. For me, predominance of testosterone in the rehearsal room was an influential factor in the development of the boisterous SQM company style.

    The Politics of the Queen's Men

    McMillin and MacLean argue that the Queen's Men were formed in 1583 for political purposes. The company was the brainchild of Walsingham and the Earl of Leicester and under their influence became a tool for royal propaganda (18-36). In their persuasive interpretation, the plays of the Queen's Men are designed to promote a firmly protestant, English nationalism. In the SQM productions, I attempted to maintain this political interpretation of the plays. I provided the company with two "Players' Handbooks" that laid out in broad and (in hindsight) simplistic terms, the conservative politics I saw represented in the plays. These handbooks served as a guide to the actors in their interpretation of their roles.

    The rehearsal process involved much negotiation around political issues. As noted above, my attempt to insist on a conservative, patriarchal interpretation of the female characters met well-founded resistance from the actors playing the roles, who insisted on solid textual evidence that their roles did not fall within the confines of conservative patriarchal ideology. Understanding and committing their characters' fates to Christian faith and divine providence was challenging at times, but the actors were willing and able to accept this philosophy, once understood, as part of the world of the plays. The actors struggled, however, with the glorification of the English monarchs in the play and were irresistibly inclined towards an ironic interpretation of the most overtly patriotic moments, a response perhaps typically Canadian. In this instance, I felt the text and historical context justified my interpretation of the play. I did my best to hold what we consider to be the Queen's Men's political line but once the plays reached performance the actors' inclinations were supported by the response of their modern audience and the performances took on an increasingly ironic tone. Robert Cushman picked up on this in his review of Famous Victories:

    This Henry's [the play's Henry V] attitude to all things and people French is unabashedly contemptuous and acquisitive. It must have warmed every patriotic Elizabethan heart. We now see things a little differently, and Paul Hopkins, playing the role here, could hardly avoid winking with us at his own outrageousness. His was altogether an irresistible performance, bold and fluent and charming. (At a couple of points he helped himself to the audience's beer.) He went, as his remote predecessors must have done, with the flow; only now it was a different flow. (Cushman "Play")

    An historical reading of the transformation of our political intentions by the responses of our live audience can be found in my chapter of Locating the Queen's Men (Cockett "Performing the Queen's Men") and in the annotations for these editions I track the specifics of this process in each of the performances.

    SQM Company Style - Conclusions

    The disruptive effect of the original practices on the SQM productions is not necessarily obvious in the final product witnessed by the video and the live audiences. Since performance demands a series of singular choices the result is productions that seem finite and contained. The research space for critical reflection opened up in the rehearsal room is not readily apparent in the final performances. Furthermore, comparable performances could have been achieved through a conventional approach to rehearsal. But then the research product, the performances, would have been determined in advance and the production process would only have been used to demonstrate already held assumptions. The process as designed did work from research premises about the company but had enough flexibility to allow for alternative perspectives to emerge. In my annotations to the editions, I have tried to give insight to the organic rehearsal experiment that produced these performances, acknowledging the limits of the experiment始s efficacy as research, but also pointing to tangible experiences of the work in action I feel hold relevance and might contribute to our understanding of the Queen始s Men and their creative performance process.

    The process itself is responsible for the generation of a distinct performance style of the SQM company which might best be characterized as broad, playful, and distinctly masculine. Rather than fostering a division between actor and audience, the performances took on an egalitarian quality where all were engaged in experiencing the same story. The actors were the leaders of the revels but they were also men of the people: commoners playing princes, clowns and kings for the delight of commoners like them. The style rose out of the working process in which a modern company of male actors responded to the text, while working in conditions that approximated those of the original company. Whether this style is an indicator of the original company's performances is impossible to assess; but the SQM performances attained a consistency and efficacy that was persuasive to me, and, when combined with historical documentation of the original company, builds a clearer picture of what it might have meant when the Queen's Men came to town (Cockett 2009). Pamela King expresses this well in her review of the company's three performances at McMaster University:

    [B]y the end of the run I was appreciating the dynamics of the company in the way perhaps one watches a football team, so that I was watching not just a play, but that particular, and increasingly known, configuration of bodies and skills engaging with a play for my discrimination and enjoyment. And that was surely a successful recreation of something as particular as it is ephemeral about the early London stage (King 10).

    The open, interactive, knockabout quality of the SQM productions is not something that we commonly associate with Shakespeare today. Is this an indicator that the Queen's Men plays are substantially different from Shakespeare's and demand a different kind of performance? Or is it due the fact that we now accord Shakespeare a level of reverence when approaching the performance of his plays and apply principles of human psychology to the interpretations of his characters because he, after all, invented humans (see Bloom)? I am inclined to believe it is the latter. The difference between the SQM productions of Queen's Men plays and typical mainstream productions of Shakespeare is a difference in the approach to the performance process, rather than a difference between the ways Shakespeare and the Queen's Men approached writing, or the ways the Chamberlain's or King's Men and the Queen's Men approached performance. Shakespeare and the Queen's Men are not our contemporaries, but they were contemporaries of each other.

    30A Note on the Interpretation of Stage Directions

    Under the influence of Alan Dessen and Leslie Thomson, the interpretation of the stage directions in early modern plays has long been a fascination to me. Directing and editing are similar in this regard, since in both instances decisions must be made about the stage action we believe the text is encoding. In the SQM productions, I attempted to make choices that abided by the majority of evidence available in the text and by the logic of the original staging conditions. Following Dessen's example, I tried to consider all possibilities and not make convenient choices that would force the texts conform to principles of realism. In key instances, this process involved a fair amount of detective work. While it is impossible to make any truth claims, when this research resulted in a simple staging solution its efficiency suggested to me a degree of historical credibility. (The one exception was the king's sick chair in Famous Victories, which required the construction of a set piece not directly mentioned in the stage directions but which offered a solution I still feel has a degree of credibility.) But often the evidence in the texts was inconclusive and there were a variety of options in performance, each of which could potentially change the interpretation of the action. There are times in these editions when the textual editors and I do not agree on the placement of entrances and exits, or on the person to whom the characters are addressing their lines. In these instances, we have decided not to resolve our disagreements but instead to present the interpretative possibilities, one editorial and one directorial, for the reader's consideration. In editing and directing these plays, there is often insufficient evidence to make definitive decisions on these matters, and it is important to recognize that early modern editions of plays always contain an element of conjecture and speculation.