Staging the Henrician Court : KEY QUESTION - Is the opening more of a pageant than an interlude?

This page last changed on Jan 20, 2010 by Eleanor Rycroft.

In comparison to other plays printed as 'interludes' in the mid-1500s, Jupiter's very long speech at the beginning of The Play of the Weather (and also his lengthy speech at the play's climax) seems more reminiscent of the pageant, especially when set against the dialogue-based body of the play.  What do you think accounts for the mix of genres evident in the The Play of the Weather?  Could it perhaps gesture towards the court, where pageants were frequently performed during Henry's reign?  Please share your thoughts on why Jupiter's declamatory opening monologue might be so different in form to the rest of the play.


This is where you end up having hunches about what is going on, but absolutely no proof.  In an aborted production around 2000, I got the idea that there might have been a disguising to which Jupiter's speech was a commentary. My version depended on seeing the four deities as standing for the Four Elements --- think about it --  and thus the four principles whose interplay goes to make the structure of the universe.  The whole point would then be that you had to have a balance/interweaving of all four, or the universe would implode.  A disguising expressing strife at the beginning would be balanced by a disguising/dance expressing harmonious interweaving at the end. It fits mythologically and astrologically -- dammit, I ought to write this up some time ---  I seem to remember talking about this with Greg and us deciding that there were several possible layers of allegory, all of which could co-exist.  But there is no evidence that if it was so, it was ever expressed in this way.  Certainly nothing in the Ccourt Revels accounts. But is there a hint of something similar in 'the Father of Heaven' pageant?  Or does that make it more Rastall than Heywood?

You could argue that the dialogue is much more mundane than this: but why not?  Do you have to stay on one level all the time? 

I don't think the speech is there just to show that Jupiter is a pompous bore, which was a bit how it was played.

Posted by Meg Twycross at Feb 08, 2010 20:24

A disguising would certainly add visual interest to such a long speech, and there is evidence of this having happened in 1501 - also on 6th Jan, 1515 for the Chapel Children's pageant, 'the pavyllyon un the plas parlos', whose meaning was given, 'by proses of speche' (PRO E36/217, f.209).  Cornish probably went on to perform a simillar function as 'Reaport' on 8th October, 1518 at Greenwich.

The enmeshing of spoken and visual genres, therefore, did have precedent, although was not normally a feature of Heywood's debate- or farce-centred plays.  Rastall, Heywood, hmmm.  Difficult to disentangle these two at times.  Also makes me think about The Messenger's rhyme royal monologue at the beginning of 'The Four Elements'.  Could this have had mimetic elements too?  

Interesting that you should raise the 'Father of Heaven' pageant, as I have wondered whether 'The Play of the Weather' is in dialogue with this.  As Anglo writes, "Prince Arthur sitting upon a golden throne amidst a revolving cosmos?  The heir to the throne of England within the 'spere of the sunne'?  What did it mean?" (1969, p78).  He argues that, most importantly, Arthur is representing both the Sun as a bridegroom and the Sun of Justice - justice being a significant theme of 'The Play of the Weather' of course, but marriages and suns/sons too.  One of our actors even suggested that there is a comic evasion of a rhyme at the start of the 'new moon' speech.  "Even now he is making of a new moon" - sun/son, surely?  To rhyme with 'done'?  "Son, that is not the thing at this time meant", says Jupiter when he denies access to The Gentlewoman, but the personal and political prove especially hard to separate when the King's 'Great Matter' is at stake. 

As you say, probably many levels of allegory operating at the beginning, but I do agree with your hunch of celestial discord and harmonious accord being physically represented, though frustrated by the lack of historical record, particularly concerning the interlude.      

Eleanor Rycroft at Feb 09, 2010 13:38

For me Play of the Weather it too 'wordy' to be a pageant but that in turn makes the idea of reading it as an allegory more attractive. The idea of the four elements is really important for the text Here be VII Dailogues - at times this work seems like a template for Play of the Weather - particularly in its emphasis on the need for balance between the different elements.

Its very difficult when dealing with court plays - and in particular when putting them on - to capture the extent to which they may have been part of a day long set of entertainments - although again I do wonder to what extent a work as potentially complex as Play of the Weather would really work alongside jousts, dances etc

Posted by Tom Betteridge at Feb 18, 2010 00:05

What about Lydgate's Mummings?

We don't really know how 'wordy' any of Cornish's productions were. There we get the setting and not the scripts.

Posted by Meg Twycross at Mar 01, 2010 21:18

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