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

    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.