The deadline for submitting an application to our Fellowships and Research Grants has been updated to 31 October 2017. Detailed criteria and application forms can be found here; for details of previous awards please click here.
This is a guest blog-post by Dr Daniel Smith of King’s College London, who was the recipient of a Malone Society Research Grant in 2016.
Staging The Masque of Queens
As part of a conference in Oxford dedicated to the pre-eminent non-royal woman patron and masque-dancer of early Stuart England, Lucy Harington Russell (1580–1627), Countess of Bedford, the Masque of Queens by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones was staged at New College, Oxford on 11 August 2016. A grant of £800 from the Malone Society substantially covered the costs of this one-off performance, enabling us to record it for posterity and create an open-access teaching resource for academics wishing to bring the masque into their classrooms. The masque recording was completed in time to join King’s College London’s Shakespeare400 celebrations of 2016, and can be found here.
Our Masque of Queens was directed by Dr Emma Whipday (KCL/UCL), and featured professional dancers and musicians alongside a performance of the script by six actors, most of them MA students from King’s, in the stunning chapel of New College, its glorious reredos standing in for Inigo Jones’s imposing House of Fame, a principal architectural feature of the original 1609 performance. The executive producers were Dr Nadine Akkerman and Dr Daniel Smith, and the producer at New College was Rev. Dr Erica Longfellow, the college chaplain.
The performance was designed in part to show how a masque works on stage, but also to show its potential for modern-day adaptation. Whipday made some small cuts to the text, and fitted the performance’s tone the requirements of the setting and the cast. Out of term and with no advertising, the full complement of 200 free tickets were taken within 48 hours – this kind of popularity underscores the importance of having a video recording, and points to the potential success of future masque performances.
Despite the popularity of Renaissance drama today, early modern masques are hardly ever performed, since they require so many individual talents in the performers and such a range and depth of historical understanding by the directors and producers. Bringing masques back on to the stage is the best way to increase our understanding of these vividly visual and musical events. We are fortunate to have images attesting to the costume designs and sets of the Masque of Queens, as well as notes about the original make-up and Alfonso Ferrabosco’s score. The survival of such information is rare in this period and enabled us to base our performance firmly on historical evidence.
This recording enables future scholars to study two fascinating figures in seventeenth-century culture simultaneously. Ben Jonson’s outstandingly significant Workes enjoyed a quatercentenary in 2016, a year naturally dominated by events marking Shakespeare’s death. The Countess of Bedford pioneered a space on stage and in society for female creativity and political expression, but her contribution to the history of women’s stage-craft is little known beyond academic masque studies. Lady Bedford danced in more court masques than any non-royal figure and was intimately associated with this now-neglected genre. To comprehend the achievements of this pioneering woman we must understand the masque in relation to visual culture, materiality, and performance, and how these factors helped negotiate political authority and gender structures.
With The Masque of Queens performed in an ornate chapel in Oxford, and John Milton’s A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (aka Comus) drawing audiences at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London, perhaps other directors, producers, scholars, and performers will take up the challenge of recreating the masque for twenty-first century audiences?
4 July-4 August 2017
We are delighted to announce our summer book sale, in which selected volumes from our back-catalogue are available at half price. Please go to our Online Shop to select and order your books. Volumes are £15 for non-members and £8 for members; members should enter the code ‘malsocmemsale’ when prompted on the ‘Checkout’ page. We are also pleased to offer a special rate for these volumes for customers in the US, as we can send them by domestic mail from our US stock, with postage and packing included. Please look for the volumes marked ‘US SALE ONLY P&P INCLUDED’ and enter the code ‘malsocussale’ to take advantage of this special rate. Members should also enter their member’s discount code.
The volumes are a representative sample of our work, including plays from the 1530s to the 1630s, manuscript plays and one of our ‘collections’ volumes. Meet errant knights, disguised heroines, magicians, the son of King Arthur, a brazen head, dragons and sea-monsters! Experience the invasion of Britain, the Battle of Alcácer Quibir and the Siege of Antwerp! Encounter a Renaissance that is funnier, more thrilling and queerer than you might imagine…
The complete list is as follows:
Captain Thomas Stukeley
William Cavendish, The Country Captain
Robert Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay
John Lyly, Gallathea
Thomas Middleton, Hengist, King of Kent
Thomas Middleton, Honourable Entertainments
John Newdigate III (?), The Humorous Magistrate (Arbury)
John Newdigate III (?), The Humorous Magistrate (Osborne)
A Larum for London
John Heywood, A Play of Love
George Wapul, The Tide Tarrieth No Man
Tom a Lincoln
Two Moral Interludes: Witty and Witless (by John Heywood) and Like Will to Like (by Ulpian Fulwell)
The Wisest Have Their Fools About Them
These books are tagged ‘SALE’ and ‘US SALE’, so you can bring up the full list by clicking on the appropriate tag.
If you are not currently a member and would like to join, the fee for a standard annual membership is £25 and students can become members for the discounted rate of only £12.50. New members receive a free Malone Society volume of their choosing, and new members who are students receive three free volumes. Please look at our Membership pages for details. You will be eligible for membership discounts in the book sale as soon as you have submitted your membership payment.
We hope that you will enjoy the plays!
[The image above shows Robert Greene hard at work on the title-page of John Dickenson, Greene in Conceit (London, 1598), STC 6819; image from Early English Books Online.]
This is a guest post by Fran Hughes and Ben Martineau, directors of a performance of the academic play Blame Not Our Author at the University of Cambridge in January 2017. The Society would like to thank Fran and Ben for writing for us, and for bringing our edition to life in performance.
A Cambridge Student Production of Blame Not Our Author
This January marked the first re-performance in around four hundred years of ‘Blame Not Our Author,’ written circa 1630 for students in the Venerable English College in Rome. The play is set in a Euclidean world, populated by shapes and ruled over by Regulus, the Ruler. A melancholic young square named Quadro dreams of becoming the perfect circle, whilst his dastardly friend, Rectangulum, decides to seek revenge on the entire shape-world, turning Quadro, Line and Circulus against their weary creator, the Compass. Geometric chaos ensues, as the characters in an overused textbook are finally given the chance to rebel against their lot in life.
Transcribed and published by the Malone Society in 1983, Blame Not Our Author has not knowingly been performed since it was penned in the English Jesuit College (now the Venerable English College) in Rome circa 1630. Written for students some 400 years ago, it is packed with visual gags that are farcical, witty, and still eloquent to anyone familiar with school geometry lessons. On another level, it provides a rich insight into a world where publications on practical mathematics, geometry, and technical skills were proliferating in print culture, and reflects certain historical anxieties about the public use and abuse of mechanical knowledge.
Quadro and Rectangulum in Blame Not Our Author,
directed by Fran Hughes and Ben Martineau,
University of Cambridge,
Image Credit: Fran Hughes.
The focus of the play reflects the heavy emphasis on geometrical learning in the Jesuit-influenced curriculum at the college. Alongside the classroom jokes, however, are darker references to the religious conflicts of the time. When Quadro is bound in a circular contraption named the ‘Squarenigher’s Daughter’, the author was directly alluding to the torture instrument known as the ‘Scavenger’s Daughter’, said to have been used on Catholics during the Reformation. Moreover, when the character of Line taunts the fact that ‘Bible the Minister’ has had her translate the Psalms ‘into better lines’, the author was mocking the verse of the Protestant Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, written in ballad metre. Despite these poignant historic references, the play is a comedy, and was probably performed for the annual Shrovetide festivities before the beginning of Lent.
The ‘Squarenighter’s Daughter’ in operation.
Image Credit: Benedict Flett.
Working with the Malone Society’s thorough transcription of the original manuscript and adapting it for re-performance allowed for an extremely dynamic relationship with the script. As directors, the excitement of working with a neglected and relatively unknown play allowed for a degree of creativity not usually afforded to well known early modern plays, where audience members often arrive with many preconceptions about the text. Rehearsing revealed many more hidden jokes and farcical elements within the play. Rather than going for a strictly historical reconstruction, the actors wore contemporary dress with subtle allusions to their ‘shapes’, such as a chequed shirt for Quadro, and a walking-stick-come-compass for the elderly, academically-dressed Compass. The black-and-white theme of the set evoked the palette of printed textbooks, whilst a planetarium-like mobile at the centre with suspended shapes allowed characters to enact some of the more abstract jokes, and also alluded to their shared desire to become heavenly, Platonic forms.
Image Credit: Benedict Flett.
The introductory notes provided in the Malone publication sparked lots of discussions during the rehearsals. Knowing that different hands feature in the original manuscript helped to create a real sense that we were reviving a collaborative, historic, student project, and all members of the cast and crew were keen to pitch in with various interpretations. The current custodian of the manuscript in the archives in Rome was in attendance, and we have had multiple expressions of interest concerning where the script can be read – it is thanks to the Malone Society that this project was even possible, and we are extremely thankful for the existence of their publication!
Fran Hughes and Ben Martineau – Directors
Gossett, S. ed., ‘Blame not our Author, from the MS. (Scrittura 35.1) at the Venerable English College, Rome’, Malone Society Collections 11 (1983), pp. 85-132.
Mazzio, C., ‘The Three-Dimensional Self: Geometry, Melancholy, Drama’, in D. Glimp, and M.R. Warren, eds., Arts of Calculation: Quantifying Thought in Early Modern Europe (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 35-65.
Amy Lidster is currently studying for her PhD at King’s College London. She was the 2015 winner of the John Edward Kerry Prize, a competition open to postgraduate students worldwide. The winner of the 2016 competition will be announced shortly, and the 2017 competition will close on 23 April 2017.
Texts and Paratexts: Assessing the Transformative Role of Publication
Amy Lidster, King’s College London
In my current research, which focuses on early modern history plays, I am particularly interested in drawing attention to the agency of alternative ‘producers’, specifically networks of repertory companies, patrons and stationers, on the development and transmission of history plays. I am very pleased to have been awarded the John Edward Kerry Prize from the Malone Society. A significant part of my research relates to textual issues and early modern print culture, which involves working closely with sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts or facsimiles of them, and this prize enables me to add considerably to my collection of Malone Society volumes. In this blog, I’ll introduce a few of the broader issues and arguments that my research addresses (while highlighting the importance of examining the early textual witnesses of history plays), and then relate these points to a short example involving The Famous Victories of Henry V (Malone Society Reprints, Volume 171, 2007).
Although it is often neglected in studies of history plays, I am especially interested in the early playtext itself as both an important source of cultural, social and political contexts, and a place where the play has been re-presented and even transformed. As opposed to simply transmitting a play from stage to page, publication in the early modern period was driven by a variety of political, ideological and literary agendas that worked to position and appropriate texts. In particular, the use and presentation of paratextual features is central in understanding the ways in which playtexts could actually promote an interpretation of their action and context to readers (providing, as Zachary Lesser observes, evidence for the first early readings of a play).1 In editions of history plays, paratextual features, including title pages, dedications, epistles, and even decisions of typography and mise en page, frequently position the play within a contemporary political context or highlight aspects of the play’s action that suggest a particular interpretation of the dramatized events, as in the title pages for Edward I (1593 and 1599) which capitalize on anti-Spanish sentiment in the aftermath of the Armada (and the ‘Invisible Armada’ of 1599) by drawing attention to the play’s villainized presentation of Eleanor of Castile.2
Interestingly, evidence from the majority of history plays printed during this period suggests the playwrights had little involvement in their publication, pointing even more strongly to the agency of alternative producers in promoting interpretative and political contexts through the paratexts and, more broadly, in affecting the development and survival of history plays. The selection of plays for publication was not arbitrary or representative of larger performance repertories – a striking example of the difference between company repertories and extant printed texts can be seen by comparing the evidence for history plays performed in the late 1590s (which suggests considerable variety in subject matter and approach) and the smaller group of history plays that reached a printed edition between 1597 and 1600. This latter group is mostly comprised of Shakespeare’s English history plays and, stemming from a tendency to equate publication with performance on stage, has come (rather unprofitably) to dominate classificatory efforts and critical narratives of the genre.
To give an example of the more nuanced understanding of a play’s publication and reception that can be reached by examining text and paratext, Thomas Creede’s printed edition of The Famous Victories of Henry V (1598) offers an interesting juxtaposition between the paratextual reading and the representation of the events suggested by the larger play itself (although the boundaries between paratext and text can be very fluid). As several critics (such as Larry Champion) have noted, The Famous Victories provides a challenging and, at times, disturbing portrait of its titular character and the ‘honourable’ battle advertised on its title page, notably through Henry’s parricidal intentions and political ruthlessness, and the play’s depiction of the brutality and victimization of war, grimly evoked in the profiteering of the soldiers Dericke and John Cobbler as they steal shoes, clothes and other items from the dead and injured at Agincourt.3
Creede’s presentation of the text, however, suggests a more aggrandizing and nationalistic view of the play’s events and Henry V’s position as a celebrated martial leader. As the sole compositor of the play, Creede unusually employs black letter type for the main text which, as a specifically ‘English’ type, has been connected to the evocation of nostalgic and patriotic sentiment.4 Creede’s descriptions and layout of the title page, giving prominence to ‘The Famovs Victories’ of the central character and ‘the Honourable Battell of Agin-court,’ suggest a dramatic focus on strong military leadership, honourable actions and an important national battle – and, significantly, the title page would also have been used as an advertisement for the printed text and posted around the London bookstalls.5 This paratextual reading highlights Creede’s likely marketing strategy and suggests an early interpretation of the play that accords with Creede’s publication of other plays from the Queen’s Men (which tend to promote a royalist political position), as well as drawing attention to the more expansive literary and historical tradition that surrounds the figure of Henry V.6 This is further suggested by the consistent use of the speech prefix ‘Henry 5’ (or variants of this) throughout the play (despite Henry’s position as the Prince of Wales for much of the action), which points to an awareness of the central character in light of his later achievements and role in a larger tradition of Agincourt narratives, escaping the confines of his representation in The Famous Victories.7
While The Famous Victories is rarely studied in isolation (with most critics concentrating on its relationship to Shakespeare’s plays on the same historical figure), an examination of its textual features and conditions of publication draws attention to the ways in which plays were reshaped through their marketing and publication. Modern critical editions tend to regularize the early texts, and paratextual features are often lost or access to them is significantly reduced, erasing some of the evidence for early interpretations by the play’s producers. This illustrates one of the reasons why the work of the Malone Society is especially important for my research, and its facsimiles, transcriptions and textual emphasis have assisted in developing my understanding of the playtext as a converging site of multiple producers that mediates our access to the plays that were once performed on the early modern stage.
2. The summer of 1599 brought supposed intelligence of an imminent invasion from Spain, assigned by Francis Bacon the sobriquet of the ‘Invisible Armada.’ Quoted in James Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (London: Faber, 2005), p.208.
4. For a summary of the evidence for Creede’s role as the sole compositor of Q1, see the textual introduction in The Famous Victories of Henry V, ed. Chiaki Hanabusa, Malone Society Reprints, Vol. 171 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp.x-xii. See Zachary Lesser, ‘Typographic Nostalgia: Play-Reading, Popularity and the Meanings of Black Letter’ in The Book of the Play: Playwrights, Stationers and Readers in Early Modern England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), pp.99-126 for a discussion of black letter type combining Englishness with a sense of nostalgia.
6. Creede had previously published The True Tragedy of Richard III and Selimus in 1594 and Locrine in 1595, as well as entering other plays from the Queen’s Men in the Stationers’ Register. It is likely Creede printed The Famous Victories in 1598 as an attempt to capitalize on the reading public’s apparent interest in history plays based on the reigns of relatively recent monarchs, and was specifically responding to the phenomenal success of Shakespeare’s English history plays published by Andrew Wise in the late 1590s. Several of the Wise quartos were printed before the appearance of The Famous Victories (Richard II Q1 1597, Richard III Q1 1597, and possibly also Richard II Q2 1598 and Q3 1598, Richard III Q2 1598, and 1 Henry IV Q0 1598 and Q1 1598), and Creede himself was involved in the printing (but not publication) of Wise’s second edition of Richard III in 1598. The popularity of these quartos would have been apparent to Creede who responded with his own publication of The Famous Victories and the similarly-marketed The Scottish History of James IV, plays which he had previously entered in the Stationers’ Register on 14 May 1594 but not printed until 1598.
7. Determining agency in the assigning of specific speech prefixes is complicated, and related to the nature of the manuscript used by the printer. This reference to speech prefixes in The Famous Victories is intended to illustrate how the play as a printed text seems placed within a larger literary and historical narrative, rather than attempting to argue for Creede’s involvement in the attributions.
It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our Production Manager, Colin Baldwin, who died in his sleep on October 19th, after a short illness.
There can be no doubt that the esteem in which the Society’s publications continue to be held is due, in large measure, to the care and accuracy with which Colin saw our volumes through the press, and the advice that he offered on every aspect of their progress, from the initial submission of the material to the choice of printer to whom to entrust the work. His advice to individual members of Council proved invaluable in a host of respects, and his readiness to respond, with the utmost patience, to our doubts, hesitations, and frequent changes of changes of mind has left a succession of editors (and Council officers) deeply in his debt.
There can be very few societies that have relied on the judgement of a single person over such a remarkable length of time. The majority of members of Council were still at school when he checked the proofs of his first Malone Society volume, and none of our more senior members had completed their first degree. It is the consistency that this length of familiarity with our work has afforded our publications that is, perhaps, his greatest contribution to the society’s work. The Malone Society has long been regarded as a bastion of unselfregarding scholarship. The fact that his name has never appeared in any of our editions speaks volumes for his commitment to that ideal.
For the more honour of our English men,
I will that this be for euer cald the battell of Agincourt.
Sunday 25th October 2015 marks six centuries since the battle of Agincourt. To commemorate this, the Malone Society are offering our unique edition of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth at a special discount of £10 for members and £20 for non-members for one week only from today. In this wonderful Elizabethan retelling of medieval history – a source for Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V – the reprobate prince Henry sins, reforms and goes to war with France. Our text reproduces the 1598 edition, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth: Containing the Honourable Battle of Agincourt, from the Huntington Library copy, and was prepared by Chiaki Hanabusa.
Members should enter the code MALSOCMEM when asked for a coupon code in the shopping cart or checkout page to receive their discount. Books ordered through the bookshop are sent from the UK, and appropriate international shipping rates will be applied. Click here to go directly to the bookshop.
It was with deep sadness that members of Council received the news, at their meeting on October 17th, of the death of Professor Thomas L. Berger the previous week.
Tom Berger became Malone Society Treasurer for the United States (a position he held for nearly thirty years) at a particularly turbulent period in the Society’s affairs. The chaos into which the Society had fallen in the early 1970s had been restored to a degree of order in America through the sterling work of Professor G. E. Bentley, but it fell to Tom, as his successor, to return the US sphere of the Society’s activities to their once-flourishing state. Characteristically, he brought not only considerable energy and enthusiasm to the task, but a whimsical humour designed to attract younger scholars to an organization associated with scholarship of the most exacting (and superficially uninviting) kind. It is to Tom that we owe the ‘Malone Ranger’ badges and Tee shirts (the latter recently revived), the ‘Malone Society Fun Run’, and a host of highly inventive conference stalls acquainting the uninitiated with the joys of belonging to a quirky, dynamic and highly idiosyncratic organization. For those of us who worked with him he was a tower of strength on a range of fronts – ready to conjure up money when needed, to offer advice as we confronted a host of problems arising from the Society’s near-demise, and to bring his own scholarly expertise into play in the editing of three of our publications (and making a signal contribution to a fourth). He was a relaxed presence at Council meetings on his visits to England, a witty and charming correspondent, and a firm believer in the value of the Society’s work. We shall miss him very much.
Our annual competition for Malone Society Fellowships and Research Grants closes on 30 October 2015. Take a look at our Grants page for details, and do consider making an application. You can see a report from one our 2014 grant-holders, Maria Shmygol, on her research into William Percy’s manuscript play The Aphrodysial, in two posts below.
This is the second of two blog posts from Maria Shmygol about her research into William Percy’s manuscript play The Aphrodysial, for which she received a Malone Society Fellowship.
Maria is based at the English department of the University of Liverpool, where she is assisting Nandini Das with her work editing Volume 6 of a fourteen-volume critical edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, general edited by Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt for Oxford University Press. She recently completed an AHRC-funded doctoral project entitled ‘“A Sea-Change”: Representations of the Marine in Jacobean Drama and Visual Culture’, research for which engaged with a range of commercial plays, civic entertainments, and court masques.
Maria’s current work—particularly her edition of William Percy’s The Aphrodysial, for which the Malone Society awarded her a Research Fellowship—develops her interests in textual editing and manuscript culture. Other research interests include cultures of knowledge in the early modern period and the relationship between natural history and print.
She was the co-organiser of a conference entitled ‘Making Knowledge in the Renaissance’ (Liverpool, March 2015) and is currently writing an article on theory and practice in the textual works and artisanal practice of the French Huguenot potter, Bernard de Palissy.
William Percy’s The Aphrodysial (1602)
Part II: An Early Modern ‘Marinall’
The Aphrodysial is a piscatory pastoral (Percy himself identifies it as a ‘marinall’ in the running title) and is rather unique as it is set almost entirely underwater. The play follows the events leading up to the Aphrodysial sea-feast at the court of Oceanus, where Cytheræa presides over the festivities and features an exciting array of characters lifted from classical mythology and literature. As well as Vulcan, Jupiter, Proteus, Cupid, and the nymphs Arida and Humida, the play unsurprisingly makes use of characters specifically associated with the sea, such as Thetis, Nereus, Oceanus, and Arion, all of whom, in one way or another, become embroiled in romantic schemes and pursuits. Likewise, Percy capitalizes on the popularity of the Hero and Leander story which he adapts in his play with a suitably happy conclusion befitting the festivities and contests in this remarkably innovative piece of drama.
The Aphrodysial bears the date 1602 in both surviving manuscripts (although the manuscripts themselves were transcriptions carried out in the 1640s; see Part I). Madeleine Hope Dodds used this evidence to suggest that the play was most likely written for performance at the christening celebrations of Percy’s nephew, Algernon Percy at Essex House in October 1602, although this is conjecture and ignores the external evidence that links Percy to the child actor companies elsewhere.1 Although there are no known records of Percy’s plays being professionally performed, the detail and richness of the stage directions (particularly in The Aphrodysial) demonstrate his keen awareness of staging practices reveal much about how Percy envisaged his play in performance by child and adult companies.2
One of the play’s most striking elements is a monstrous talking whale that a group of somewhat dim-witted fishermen attempt to capture as a prize for Cytheræa. As well being a source of spectacle and slap-stick, the whale proves instrumental in resolving several of the play’s weightier concerns. When the ‘monstrum horrendum’ is dissected at court, an apprentice boy is found in its belly and revealed as the ventriloquizer of the hideous creature. The boy makes known that he is in possession of Thetis’s lost magical bracelet, which explains the oracles and different tongues that the whale was previous able to utter to the amazed fishermen. The preceding parts of the play devote ample attention to Thetis’s suitors and their fruitless search for the enchanted bracelet, since she had vowed to marry no-one other than its finder. Following her initial chagrin at the idea of marrying the apprentice boy, she offers him a bribe to forego his right to her hand and so preserves her virginity.
While Percy is careful to specify that the monstrous whale keeps to his ‘den’ throughout the play, the descriptions of the creature that we hear from the group of startled fishermen constructs a rather terrifying image:
It is a thing Abosonaunt in Nature, see what Fegaries the villain will fetch. He roareth like thirty Barril of gunpowder,
He springeth at a spring Three Acres, o[f] water, He squirteth Fyre not onely before but also behind. (fol. 124r)
This description vividly calls to mind the mechanical water pageant devices commonly used in the Lord Mayors’ Shows on the Thames. The hydraulics and pyrotechnics that the fisherman’s description alludes to reveals Percy’s familiarity with such devices shaped like fish. A description of precisely such a device is found in the Ironmongers’ records for the waterworks used in the 1609 show: a whale ‘rounded close without sight of the boate and to row with ffins open for ffireworkes at the mouth and water vented at the head.3 It is my hope that my edition will make it possible to fully address the ways in which Percy’s literary and cultural experiences shaped this fascinating and regrettably little-studied play.
Although Percy’s poetic and dramatic efforts were derided in a smattering of essays written in the 1930s, Matthew Dimmock’s more recent edition of Mahomet and His Heaven (Ashgate, 2006) has highlighted how provocative Percy’s drama can be when read alongside similar material written by his contemporaries. Percy’s plays are remarkably inventive and, as is the case with The Aphrodysial in particular, bring together a variety of diverse literary sources and characters.4 For example, Percy imaginatively dramatizes a world of classical deities in a way that shows awareness of conventions used in masque texts as well as civic pageantry. The play is an important early example of the kinds of ‘underwater’ themes that would characterise masques and entertainments that flourished at the Jacobean court in the years following its composition.5 I’m really excited to be working on the play and hope that my edition will generate interest among scholars and practitioners alike – I’d be delighted to see a script-in-hand production of the play once the modernized text is ready, so if there are any interested parties, please do get in touch!
1 Madeleine Hope Dodds, ‘William Percy’s Aphrodysial’, Notes and Queries, 161 (1931), 237-40 (p. 237). In his entry on Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven, Wiggins suggests that ‘one scrap of evidence tying the play [i.e. Mahomet] to 1601 (and indeed the Children of Paul’s) is the fact that the subtitle, A Dream of a Dry Summmer, is quoted in Blurt, Master Constable, performed late that year by the same company (see British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-2014), vol IV: 1598-1602, p. 339). Mary C. Erler provides a very useful overview of ‘William Percy and Plays at Paul’s’ in Ecclesiastical London, Records of Early English Drama (Toronto and British Library: University of Toronto Press, 2008), pp. 278-91.
2 For instance, towards the end of first act of the The Aphrodysial, the stage direction calls for ‘a shower of rose-water and comfits, as was acted in Christ church, in Oxford, in Dido and Aeneas’, which clearly refers to a performance of William Gager’s play, an account of which appeared in Holinshed’s Chronicles (see Patrick Kincaid, ‘A Critical Edition of William Percy’s The Cuckqueans and Cuckolds Errants’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 1999, p. 25.
3 Jean Robinson and D. J. Gordon, eds, A Calendar of Dramatic Records in the Books of the Livery Companies of London, 1485-1640, Malone Society Collections, 3 (Oxford: Malone Society, 1954), p.73.
4 Harold N. Hillebrand rather unfairly described Percy’s works as ‘dramatically and artistically […] wretched—the prolix, pedantic, bloodless, laboured excogitations of a queer, cramped, academic personality; only when one tries to build [the plays] into this picture of the man do they acquire a half-pathetic, half-absurd interest’ (‘William Percy: An Elizabethan Amateur’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 1:4 (1938), 391-416 (p. 408)).
5 In fact, Kincaid supposes that the Percy’s affectation to write the stage directions in past tense was caught from masque texts (‘A Critical Edition of William Percy’s The Cuckqueans and Cuckolds Errants’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 1999, p. 107).