Malone Society Research Fellowship: Maria Shmygol, part 2

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).

John Edward Kerry Prize, 2015

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the John Edward Kerry Prize for 2015 is Amy Lidster of King’s College London. Amy is working on a PhD entitled ‘Producing the “History” Play: From Stage to Page’ under the supervision of Sonia Massai. Her research research investigates the influence of performance and publication practices on the development of early modern history plays, drawing attention to the multiplicity of ‘producers’ reflected in the extant texts, and highlighting the role of theatrical companies, patrons and stationers in shaping historical drama through a variety of political, aesthetic and economic strategies. She will receive 30 Malone Society volumes and a year’s free membership – watch this space for a forthcoming blog post on the way in which the work of the Malone Society has facilitated her research.

Malone Society Research Fellowship: Maria Shmygol

This is the first 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 I: Working with the Play in MS HM4

I am currently editing William Percy’s manuscript play, The Aphrodysial (1602), which will be published by Digital Renaissance Editions. I’m very grateful to have received a Malone Society Fellowship, which helped to support me in carrying out a transcription of my copy-text at the Huntington Library earlier this year. This two-part blog entry will provide an introduction to Percy, his manuscript, and my work on it (Part I) and an overview of Percy’s remarkable play and its interests in staging marine spectacle (Part II).

William Percy, son to the Eighth Earl of Northumberland, was an amateur dramatist and poet who lived on the fringes of London and Oxford literary culture. His only published work is his Sonnets to the Fairest Coelia (1594) but his other poems and plays are extant only in three holographs: Alnwick Castle MSS 508 (1644) and 509 (1646), and Huntington Library MS HM4 (1647). While the plays were mostly composed in the first decade of the seventeenth century, the surviving manuscripts are later transcriptions carried out by Percy in the final years of his life while residing in Oxford. The majority of the plays were written between 1601 and 1603, as indicated by the dates borne by them in the manuscripts and through internal evidence, and Percy must have copied the surviving transcripts from earlier papers that are no longer extant.1

The Aphrodysial is extant in only two of these holograph copies: Alnwick 509 (1646) and HM4 (1647). As with the other plays in both manuscripts, The Aphrodysial is written in a legible, but shaky, italic and has been revised several times throughout. Working with Percy’s manuscript at the Huntington presented a number of interesting issues. I’m using the Huntington copy as the basis for my edition because it represents a more ‘final’ version of the play than does the ‘experimental’ text found in the slightly earlier manuscript. Nevertheless, as the images below make clear HM4 is riddled with copious emendations that take the form of deletions, insertions, marginal notes, and a plethora of pasted-on slips, which made transcription of the manuscript somewhat of a challenge.

 smygol image 1

The peculiarities of Percy’s shaky italic hand initially took some getting used to (e.g. the difficulty of distinguishing between his e/t forms). What proved most challenging were the repeated instances of very cramped text, which typically took quite some times to make sense of. However, nothing proved more frustrating than the presence of the pasted-on slips, especially the instances where multiple slips are pasted on top of one another, given that it’s impossible to see exactly what is underneath them. Oddly, the frustrations of working with this manuscript seemed fitting for a rather eccentric play such as this. The material presence of the emendations offers a valuable insight into the frustration that Percy himself much have felt when revising his play and preparing the manuscript, arduously fussing over fine details and changing his mind back and forth between choices such as ‘bracelet’, ‘love-rolle’ and ‘ceston’, for example.

  smygol image 2

 

The manuscript bears witness to the ways in which Percy worked with and shaped his play, revising and perfecting both the dialogue and the stage directions throughout. It’s evident that thinking about the play in performance was very important for Percy, since he provides alternative directions for boy and adult actors’ companies, being careful enough to note that fake beards should be provided for the boys but not for the men, for instance.

The format of my edition for Digital Renaissance Editions will enable me to do justice to Percy’s play by making the surviving manuscript versions available alongside my edited text. The edition will include facsimile images of both MS copies and my transcriptions of them, together with a modern-spelling annotated edition (which will have interactive links for glosses and longer explanatory notes). The material will be electronically tagged, which will facilitate navigability between modern text, transcription, and facsimile at the click of a mouse. DRE’s open-access policy will make this fascinating and regrettably little- studied play freely and easily available to students and researchers alike. The edition will likewise invite more critical engagement with Percy’s drama, the likes of which I have been undertaking in recent years.2 It is my intention that the edition will encourage a further reassessment of the style and content of Percy’s play and its place in early modern literary studies.

1. The plays composed between 1601 and 1603 are: The Cuck-queanes and Cuckolds Errants, or, The Bearing down the Inn (1601), Arabia Sitiens, or, a Dream of a Dry Year (1601), A Country’s Tragedy in Vacuniam, or, Cupid’s Sacrifice (1602), The Aphrodysiall, or, Sea Feast: A Marinall (1602), The Faery Pastoral, or, The Forest of Elves (1603). The sixth play was written significantly later: Necromantes or The Two Supposed Heads (1632)

2. I have carried out work on the play for the purposes of my doctoral thesis and have presented a seminar paper on ‘Dis-enchanting Marine Wonder in William Percy’s The Aphrodysial’ at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting (St. Louis, MO, April 2014) as well as a paper entitled ‘‘Such a fish as never was heard of’: A Whale for a Stage in William Percy’s The Aphrodysial’ at the Society for Renaissance Studies Conference (Southampton, July 2014).

We’re pleased to announce…

This year’s John Edward Kerry Prize was awarded to Amy Bowles for her work on Ralph Crane’s transcripts of Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chesse. Amy is a student on the MA in Early Modern Studies at UCL.

Amy will receive a year’s free membership to the Society and 30 free volumes.

Find out more about the annual John Edward Kerry Prize.

Fellowships and Bursaries: FAQs

The Malone Society invites applications from scholars for fellowships and bursaries. If you are considering applying for one of these awards, but would like to know more, here are some Frequently Asked Questions

1. What kind of work does the Malone Society fund?

We fund scholarly and textual research relating to drama by English, Welsh, Scottish, or Irish dramatists prior to 1642.  Some examples of this type of research include: an edition of a dramatic text or a study of a play’s textual history; dramatic records and early performance history; the role of drama in the court, in the commercial sector, or elsewhere.

2. What’s the difference between a fellowship and a bursary?

A fellowship is a major grant, up to a total sum of £1,000. Fellowships are awarded to established academics in support of a major research project.

A bursary is an award, often of a smaller amount, made to graduate students and early career scholars in order to support immediate research needs such as travel expenses to visit libraries and archives or accessing resources such as microfilms.  A total of £1,000 may be awarded in any one year, and is often divided between several applicants.

Both fellows and bursary-holders are required to report on the work undertaken and to submit receipts for their expenditure, which is reimbursed in arrears.

3. What types of expenses will not be funded?

The Malone Society is unable to offer funding for work of a purely theoretical kind, secretarial or administrative costs, or publication expenses.

4. Do I need to be a member of the Malone Society to apply?

No. (But if you’d like to become a member you can find out how here)

5. Are there other restrictions about who can apply?

We welcome applications from scholars and students of any age or nationality. If the applicant is currently registered in a research degree a letter of support from their academic supervisor should accompany their application.

6. How can I apply?

Download and complete the application for that you will find here.

Your application should describe your proposed research in detail, and should be carefully costed.  You will be asked to provide statements of support from two referees who are familiar with your research.

Completed applications should be sent to the Chairman of the Fellowships and Bursaries Sub-Committee (Dr Martin Wiggins) by 30 November, 2012. Successful applicants will be notified in Spring 2013.

John Edward Kerry Prize

In honour of John Edward Kerry (1924-2008), the Malone Society offers an annual prize of 30 volumes to a deserving graduate student.

The recipient for 2010 was Matthew Kubus, PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute.

The competition for 2011 is now closed, and the winners will be announced very soon! Also, check back for details about the 2012 competition.

 

ABOUT JOHN EDWARD KERRY

John left school at 16 to work in a London bank. He passed his bankers exams easily, but much more importantly for his career he became fascinated by the theatre, going to every production of note on at that time in London.

Trained as a radio mechanic when he joined up in 1942, he served with the Fleet Air Arm in India. On demob he decided on an academic career and embarked on an honours degree at King’s College where he got a 1 st in 1950, one of only three at King’s that year to do so in English.

He couldn’t afford to accept the Inglis studentship King’s offered him (value £85 – 100 in exchange for 3 or 4 hours tutoring each week) but went on to teach in London grammar schools, eventually as Head of English and Deputy Head, with a special interest in drama productions. Taking a sideways step in 1966 he became a BBC producer, School Broadcasting (Radio) and had the chance of working closely with contemporary writers such as Ray Jenkins, Norman MacCaig, Maureen Duffy and Ted Hughes, whose verse play “Orpheus” won the prestigious international Japan prize as the best radio or TV broadcast for schools in 1970.

In 1972 John was appointed by Sir John Wolfenden to set up for the first time Education Services at the British Museum. Among other things he inaugurated films and slide shows as a regular feature within the public lecture programmes, and developed publications for teachers to make better use of the galleries on study visits, usually within the 16-19 age group.

Another sideways step led to his appointment as Education Officer for the Trident Trust, bringing together the resources of industry, LEAs and voluntary organisations to help teachers to prepare 15-19 year olds for adult life, particularly in what is now known as the Gap Year.

In his retirement he gave his time generously to CRUSE bereavement care, the local Talking Newspaper for the Blind and young people with learning difficulties. A much loved friend, father and grandfather, he died in 2008 aged 84.