Staging the Henrician Court : Heywood the Playwright

This page last changed on Dec 07, 2009 by Eleanor Rycroft.

I had been writing on the motif of rhetorical lists of alliterative place names (which Heywood uses twice; once here), and from this rather unpromising beginning began to see something else in the play. What I had not picked up from the text, but did from the Hampton Court performance, was Heywood's use of Mery Report's list to create in the spectators a sense of nostalgia about England the place, complementing his sympathy for England's many disputing, selfish, but endearing 'types', and the activities they carry out. I already had a sense of the play as 'arguing' for moderation and tolerance through its dialectical shape; what I hadn't appreciated was the play's capacity to make one feel sympathy for the place and its people in a way which supported that affectively. What registers on the page as comedy, came over in performance as 'delight', and I felt that the difference was very striking. I think this effect would have been intensified in a performance by children, but it was still discernible in this one, and showed up also in the delicate balance between a Jupiter who was grand by his status and a Jupiter who was enacting grandiosity (an ambivalence which would have been even more prominent with a child actor). The playfulness which emerged in the relationship of these two conditions is located between mimesis as process and mimesis as goal, and I felt that part of Heywood's great achievement as a playwright lies in that space (evident also in the doubleness of theatrical presence/character one finds in Mery Report). So in the end, the play seemed to me to assert a harmony and joy, both in the content and the process, which would have made the event both delightful (literally) and also persuasive. I thought that I sensed for the first time (as opposed to acknowledging intellectually) a different kind of spectatorial experience for this material, and possibly even sensed that moment the spectator feels when it is still not clear that the political world is going to run away with events and there is still room to hope. Sadly, of course, the very delight and nostalgia which Heywood seems to have created, and which were brought out so well by this performance, were signs of a loss which had already occurred.

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