Staging the Henrician Court : John Heywood's 'The Play of the Weather'

This page last changed on Aug 21, 2009 by Eleanor Rycroft.

Hall's Chronicle records the lack of Christmas revels in 1531 due to Catherine of Aragon's absence from the court. By Christmas 1532, Anne Boleyn had been made the Marchioness of Pembroke and accompanied Henry VIII as his consort to Calais, was pregnant with Elizabeth I and would secretly marry Henry in the New Year. As Merry Report's relation of Jupiter's creation of a new moon seems to refer to Anne Boleyn, a new moon replacing an old, leaky one "so far tasted/ That all the goodness in it is wasted", Christmas 1532 seems an apposite time to date any courtly performance of the play.

Located in such a strange moment in English history, Heywood's engagement with questions of power appears a brave move, but the play can rather be seen as an example of 'licenced merriment': the ability to speak truth to power within certain formal parameters. Indeed this notion is embodied by the character, Merry Report. Critics have tended to concur that the satirical analogy between Jupiter and Henry VIII would have been welcomed by the King as it provided the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to listen to counsel and criticism. However, Candace Lines' argument for Jupiter's resemblance to the tyrants of the cycle drama would seem to proscribe courtly performance. She writes that:

“Even the play’s seemingly innocent meteorological plot contains associations with the cycle drama tyrants. In the York cycle and the fragmentary Coventry cycle, Herod claims to control the weather…Jupiter’s resemblance to the York Herod is even stronger, because this Herod mingles his claim of weather-controlling prowess with as assertion of his authority over classical gods” (2000, p425)

Lines, C, ‘“To Take on Them Judgemente”: Absolutism and Debate in John Heywood’s Plays’, Studies in Philology, Vol. 97, No. 4 (Autumn, 2000), p401-32

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