Merry Report and the Tudor Politics of Counsel

Professor Tom Betteridge
Danny Scheinmann as Merry Report

At the end of The Play of the Weather Merry Report is confronted with a problem. He has carried out Jupiter’s instructions diligently and he now has eight different and contradictory requests to put to Jupiter. Before presenting the fruits of his labour to the God, however, Merry Report decides he needs to make a final call for additional suitors.

Oyes, yf that any knave here
Be wyllynge to appere
For wether fowle or clere
Come in before thys flocke
And, be he hole or sickly
And yf hys tale be no lyckly
Ye shall lycke my tayle in the nocke. (1057-1064)

Merry Report’s call for further suitors to come forward is significant since it reinforces the sense in which the court audience of Heywood’s play, ‘thys flock’ is not directly involved in the process of pleading for the weather. Having made this final announcement and received no responses Merry Report goes on to sum up all the petitions. This is a very long speech. The first part is a detailed account of the proceeding action of the play, while the shorter section simply lists the positions of the various suitors.

Your fyrst man wold have wether clere and not wyndy;
The seconde the same, save cooles to blow meanly;
The thyrd desired stormes and wynde most extremely;
The fourth all in water, and wolde have no wynde;
The fyft no water, but all wynde to grynde;
The syxst wold have none of all these, nor no bright son;
The seventh extremely hote sone wold have wonne;
The eyght and the last, for frost and snow he prayd.
At the end of this speech Merry Report comments that,
This gere wyll trye whether ye be a Clarke.
If ye trust me, yt is a great foly,
For it passeth my braynes, by Goddes body! (1073-1122)

In this section Merry Report brings together all the action of the play and presents it to the audience. If Heywood’s play had ended at this point it would have illustrated the intractable nature of Tudor social and political conflict; a dramatic staging of the failure of counsel.

The Play of the Weather is at one level presented by Heywood through Merry Report as a puzzle. The ‘gere’ or piece of work that is presented to the audience, and by implication Henry court’s, is a genuine one. Indeed if one reads ‘weather’ in Heywood’s play as a metaphor for religion then Merry Report’s puzzlement takes on a particular valence. How were Henry’s councillors assembled in the ‘flock’ of the court to resolve the different and competing religious positions and agendas that confronted them in 1532/33? Merry Report’s summation of the various petitions clearly has legalistic echoes. There is a sense in which at the end of the play Merry Report is summing up the case and presenting it to the jury / court for them to work out a solution.

Greg Walker on John Heywood and the politics of council

Merry Report’s performance at the end of The Play of the Weather evokes a number of key elements of early Tudor political praxis which are also reflected in the startling events of 1525. In this year one of very few successful rebellions or mass protests of the Tudor period took place when a diverse collection of protestors defeated Cardinal Wolsey’s attempts to enforce the Amicable Grant. The most detailed contemporary record of the events of 1525 is contained in Hall’s Chronicle in which resistance to the Wolsey’s demands is crouched in explicitly consensual and legal terms [see the extract of Hall’s Chronicle]. Hall depicts the mayor and alderman of London quoting precedent to Wolsey to justify their opposition to the grant. In the countryside the commons played out, almost certainly with the connivance of the gentry and nobility, a morality play in which the commons’ leader took the name Hunger in order to mediate their resistance to Wolsey’s demands. When it became apparent that it was impossible to collect the grant, Wolsey and Henry staged a play of clemency in which the King forgave everyone and the Amicable Grant was quietly forgotten. The events of 1525 illustrate the important role performance had within the political discourse of early Tudor England, particularly in relation to the resolution of disputes and conflicts. There is a level at which all the participants in the struggle over the Amicable Grant were taking part in an elaborate game in which what was really happening, the people were actively resisting a royal command, was hidden and deferred through the performance of set roles and strategies – the people are humble and supplicant, the nobility act as proper conduit between them and the King, and Henry is benevolent and wise. The Play of the Weather is a game or a play of politics. It is not serious, not dealing with real issues, dangerous conflicts, and in its playfulness can present to the court a very real and potentially radical solution to the problem of reformation.

The Play of the Weather constructs the court as the proper place in which political and religious questions should be debated. It does this through Heywood’s valorisation of Merry Report’s role against that of the petitioners. In this context the status of The Gentleman is significant since the politics of counsel in early Tudor England was in some ways split between feudal and humanist approaches to the question of who should be the Kings’ counsellors. John Guy comments that:

Whereas from a humanist-classical standpoint the appointment of royal councillors was a matter for the king alone, from a feudal-baronial standpoint the magnates were the king’s ‘natural counsellors. (1995, p298)

The Play of the Weather goes out of its way to stress the extent to which Merry Report’s appointment is entirely a matter for Jupiter. Its form also creates an image of the commonwealth, including the aristocracy, existing outside the bounds of the play, beyond its playing space. Greg Walker, in The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama, argues that it was the centrality of interludes like The Play of the Weather, ‘which created its own cultural power, as it brought into being a licensed, ludic space at the very heart of the political nation’ (1998, p63).  In the penultimate scene of The Play of the Weather Heywood depicts Merry Report carving out the space of the court as the proper place for serious political issues to the discussed and hopefully resolved. However, the problem of the weather passeth Merry Report’s wisdom and he has to wait for Jupiter’s intervention. This suggests that, for Heywood, while the court was a political space, its role was or should be purely as space in which issues could be debated and staged – and ultimately it was up to Jupiter and Henry to act.



John Guy, ‘The rhetoric of counsel in early modern England’. Tudor Political Culture, ed. Dale Hoak, ed.(Cambridge , 1995).

Greg Walker, The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama (Cambridge University Press, 1998).