Professor Greg Walker
Colin Hurley as Jupiter

There is an obvious disjunction in The Play of the Weather between the action of the play, which is set in a very obviously contemporary Tudor England, stocked with hunting noblemen, rangers, and snow-balling boys, and the presiding deity, who is the manifestly classical Roman figure of Jupiter: a disjunction which we accentuated in the production through the decision to dress all of the other characters in authentic Tudor costumes, but to put Jupiter into stylised, golden classical armour. But this raises the obvious question, ‘What is a Roman god doing at the court of Henry VIII?’

It is clearly not simply that Jupiter is a euphemistic stand-in for the Christian God, in the way that ‘Jove’ could later function as a less contentious replacement for the latter’s name later in the sixteenth century in cod-oaths such as ‘By Jove’ or ‘Jove I thank thee’, to avoid allegations of blasphemy. Heywood’s Jupiter is both much more and much less than the Christian deity euphemistically personified, drawing as he does on a rich and complex history. As Greg Walker suggests in his chapter on Heywood’s play in Writing Under Tyranny; English Literature and the Henrician Reformation:

The crucial aspect of Jupiter as a literary and iconographic figure – the factor that arguably commended him to [classical satirists such as] Lucian as well as to humanists like Erasmus and Heywood – was that he was profoundly, indeed fundamentally, ambivalent. He was a god with many attributes, many roles and embodiments, and a complex and deeply ambivalent personal – not to say sexual – history. For every story that revealed the god-king’s wisdom and benevolence there was another that betrayed his self-interest, lust, or manipulative nature...He was a father and ruler, but also an adulterer, a rapist, and a paedophile... Even his control over the weather, the aspect of his authority that is the focus of attention in Heywood’s play, was a site of deep contradiction, for his use of that power was, as readers of Ovid’s Metamorphoses would have known, all too often capricious, self-interested, and intimately bound up with his own libidinous agenda, as when, in Ovid’s first book, he gathered clouds and darkness to inhibit the flight of the nymph Io and to cover his sexual assault upon her. Hence any representation of Jupiter, and any statement about him, carried a potential for double meaning. He was a text that always already carried its own parodic subtext around with it. (112)

Jupiter was the king of the Roman gods, ‘the Thunderer’, who might deliver fierce, judicial punishment to offenders in the manner of the God of the Old Testament, but he also had more culpable, playful aspects to his character and persona that might surface at any moment, making him a figure as capable of comic interventions as serious or potentially tragic action. Thus, if Jupiter is a figure ‘of’ or ‘for’ Henry VIII in Heywood’s play, which on one level he evidently is (how could one represent any king before the King, let alone the king of the gods, without on one level (even if only subliminally), asking the real ruler to reflect on his own role and responsibilities, and to wonder in what ways he might either echo or differ from the simulacrum presented before him?), he is no simple reflection of the royal authority or personality. Add to this the incongruousness of the god being played, as he may have been, not by a powerful man but by a young boy, and you have a wonderful meta-theatrical exploration of the idea that power and authority, person and role, are not always the same things at all. Playwrights and actors could thus do things with Jupiter that they could never have done with the Christian deity, allowing Heywood the scope either to flatter his sovereign with an imposing representation of royal wisdom or to be implicitly critical of him by offering a manifestly less than perfect sovereign, or, potentially most interesting of all, both at once. What might Henry VIII and his courtiers have made of the figure of Jupiter that Heywood presents for them, then? It would depend in great part on which aspects of the rich literary and dramatic legacy the production chose to accentuate in performance.

Theatrical Director Gregory Thompson on Jupiter

The project has been lucky enough to be able to draw on the services of four excellent actors in the role of Jupiter, enabling us to explore four very different ways of performing the role. Richard Heap, who took the role in our initial workshops, was a powerful imposing god-king, able to dominate the space of the Great Hall through his physical presence and deep, resonant voice. Through him we could explore the magisterial king: the ruler who lives up to the grandiloquent claims he makes on his own behalf. Martin Ware, by contrast gave us the boy-king, the nearest we were able to come to the notion of Jupiter played by a child actor. Through his performance we were able to investigate the notion of the evident disjunction between royal self-presentation and personal reality, dramatic signifier and signified, at its most striking.

Then in the full production and final workshops respectively, Colin Hurley and Peter Kenny gave us subtle variations on a third type of sovereign: the politician king. Not as physically imposing as the magisterial king, their authority and ability to dominate the court came from their control of rhetoric, and their adept performances in the role of sovereign. Each actor allowed us to explore in different ways the multi-faceted, mercurial nature of Jupiter’s persona: at one moment (literally) jovial, inviting the audience to share with him his amused recollections of the Olympian parliament, or promising his favour to each of his subjects, at the next sternly lecturing them on the folly of their self-interested bickering. If you watch the video extract of Hurley’s Jupiter delivering his final speech to the suitors, who are lined up expectantly, two-by-two, along the centre of the Great Hall, you will see him switch literally in an instant from benign father-figure to angry patriarch at the lines;

Much better have we now devised for ye all
Than ye all can perceive or could desire.
Each of you sued to have continual
Such weather as his craft only doth require.
All weathers in all places if men all times might hire,
Who could live by other? What is this negligence:
Us to attempt in such inconvenience? (1183-90)

Each of these different Jupiters worked in performance, making sense of different aspects of the play text or the original performance context, and each subtly redirected the play into different directions, making watching the drama a more or less powerful or potentially uncomfortable experience for spectators.

What all the performances had in common, though, was their rooting in a text that gives Jupiter the last word in the play. As Eleanor Rycroft noted on the project forum, for all his potential self-regard and vanity, Heywood’s king is ultimately an effective ruler;

Jupiter may play with his subjects, he many even humiliate them, but he will not let them down or leave them in any doubt over who is in charge. Jupiter would ensure that order was maintained.

Tom Betteridge and Eleanor Rycroft discussing Jupiter

And he does solve the seemingly impossible problem that the play presents him with: how to keep everyone contented and maintain the integrity of the commonwealth, when everyone wants something different. Faced with the ruinous prospect of the realm falling apart under the mutually contradictory demands of a complex society, Jupiter applies a liberal dose of royal charisma, and, in the guise of giving everyone what they deserve, finally gives them only the world as they already have it. On one level this is indeed a confidence trick: a humorous ‘solution’ to the problem that requires no demonstration of the fabulous powers that Jupiter boasts of in the opening speech. But on another level it is the only solution that will keep the commonwealth intact and harmonious. Unlike his subjects, Jupiter knows that only by tolerating and absorbing difference within it can the social body maintain its unity. And this may well be Heywood’s wider and more serious point, reflecting his anxieties about the threat posed by rancorous political and religious debates given free rein after the opening of the Reformation Parliament in late 1529. Henry VIII must listen to the fears and demands of all his subjects, reformers and traditionalists alike, but if he were ever to sway too far towards either side that he gave them everything they wanted, that would be ‘negligence’ indeed.

Opinion differed among our audiences over just how far Heywood wanted us to laugh at Jupiter, and how far we were laughing with him at the self-interest and gullibility of his suitors.  As Rycroft notes;

Jupiter’s boastfulness was revealed to be far more humorous on stage than on the page, and the comedy inherent to such hyperbolic repetition as Jupiter’s exhortation to the audience to, “Rejoyce ye in us wyth joy most joyfully/ And we our selfe shall joy in our owne glory” (lines 184-5) was confirmed by the audience’s laughter.

But were we laughing with or laughing at? For Peter Cockett, Colin Hurley’s Jupiter (and we might add Peter Kenny’s and Richard Heap’s too), was always in control of the laughter, directing it himself rather than ever falling victim to it;

To my knowledge the text nowhere suggests Jupiter's scheme is ludicrous, and I think Colin Hurley brought a wonderful sense of irony that placed his character and by association the king firmly in control. The question is, though, does that fit with our understanding of Heywood’s intentions? If this is an satirical allegory for the politics of the time possibly critical of Henry then is the irony supposed to work in a different way and how might that be brought out in performance?

Jeanne McCarthy, by contrast, was less sure, wondering whether we were not supposed to see a critical subtext beneath the god-king’s claims to supreme power. Suggesting that, ‘I have to further confess that I’m not at all sure that the comparison of Henry to Jupiter would (or even could?) have been a flattering one’, she observed that;

an early elite audience that knew its mythology would have known that Jupiter did not really ever control the weather absolutely (though he could throw thunderbolts or make storms in anger) and, significantly, he certainly couldn’t fashion new moons. The play thus begins with the invention of a potentially ironic ‘new’ myth (the gods/goddesses aren’t warring over the apple of discord and forcing Paris to resolve the debate but over the weather), but ends with nothing new happening and no new supplement. After all, Jupiter chooses not to exert his newly asserted authority, and whether he actually could have or not is far from clear. Heywood’s classical allusion, then, seems either a humorous token effort or a burlesque or even satiric one, since he deals not with mythical figures in a pre-Christian cosmos but Tudor Englishmen and women functioning in a Christian court, and his messenger is not the mischievous Mercury, but the more homely ‘vice’ Merry Report. Particularly after seeing the play in performance, I’m not sure that the audience is meant to take Jupiter’s declaration of his new power as seriously (or as positively) as the characters do, so that the classical context in the play seems to ask us to consider a different conflict---in a different religious context. I’m wondering, after seeing the performance, if this play may not have some strong affinities with the More circle.

I’m reminded here of the surprising moment in the comic performance of the song on both Thursday and Saturday nights when Jupiter joined in on the singing and the bawdy advance on the Gentlewoman while waving his golden scepter/thunderbolt so suggestively, a moment in the performance that entirely deflated his authority (a lowering of status that was emphasized by the Gentlewoman’s hilarious, adlibbed warning to him to ‘watch out for that’). The Jupiter in that extra-textual staging seemed not only more like the compulsively lustful, perpetually adulterous Jupiter of the original mythology but, significantly, also more like Henry - and certainly more like either than the one who in Heywood is given what I think must have been the decidedly ironic lines that allow Jupiter, uncharacteristically, to refuse to accept the offer of the Gentlewoman from the momentarily bawd-like Merry Report.

Tom Betteridge’s response to this suggestion on the forum draws out the complexities potentially at play in the text.

It is an interesting suggestion that [Weather] reflects the ‘More circle’s’ critique of Henry's position. I am not sure to what extent I would see More as part of a circle and at one level the play lacks the seriousness of More’s responses to Henry’s position. I do think, however, that Jeanne may well be right to suggest that the play has a potentially more critical feel than has been accepted. I am not sure to what extent More viewed Henry’s relation with Anne, as opposed to Henry’s rejection of the unity of the Church, as a serious issue. In The Confutation there is a long section discussing the David’s fall and redemption. It is related to More’s critique of the doctrine of salvation by faith, but the decision to focus on David is an interesting one. It may be that More is attempting in this section of his work to address Henry directly. Jupiter could be seen less as a figure of Henry and more as a potential alternative; perhaps Heywood is saying this is one way that Henry could be seen - now or in the future.

Which leaves us with the idea of a Jupiter who, through his very ambiguity as a character and a role, offers multiple and potentially contradictory meanings: flattering Henry’s sense of himself as a wise ruler, able to see further and more clearly than his subjects what is in their best interests, but also offering a model of what a king might look like if he took too seriously his own propaganda about supreme powers and personal glory.


References: Greg Walker, Writing Under Tyranny; English Literature and the Henrician Reformation (Oxford, 2005).