Staging the Henrician Court : Jupiter and Absolute Power

This page last changed on Aug 05, 2009 by sammyl.

On the introductory programme note for the performance which I very much enjoyed last night it talks of the 'ludicrousness' of Jupiter's scheme - the inference of which is to create harmony on Earth by means of manipulation of the weather. Would the absolute power in a Tudor play have a ludicrous scheme? Would Jupiter not have foreseen the various conflicting wishes of his subjects and is therefore merely devising a show of supreme wisdom/authority?

In the performance (perhaps this bit should go under the performance section) His supremacy appears reinforced by his often light-handed manner - chuckling etc.

Does the text itself support this or perhaps show otherwise? - I couldn't tell as in the opening speech it took me a while to adjust to the language.

I agree with Samuel's interpretation. To my knowledge the text nowhere suggests Jupiter's scheme is ludicrous and I think Colin Jurley 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?

Posted by Peter Cockett at Aug 20, 2009 20:07

A lot depends, I suppose on the quality and nature of the actor in the Jupiter Role. This performance was masterly, but could a child-actor (if that is what Heywood was writing for) have been as much in control of the proceedings? Wouldn't he, by his very size and age, suggested, subversively, that this isn't absolutism at work, but bluster. Can he really change the weather at all? Is he just playing the only card that he has in his hand (leaving the weather as it is) skillfully enough to persuade everyone (excpet Merry Report) that he could have done things differently, but has chosen not too. which is, ironically, what a good king should have done anyway, so Jupiter discovers the right answer almost accidentloy...

If so, Jupiter's lack of real god-like powers, in the field of this performance at least, might reflect Heywood's view of Henry's claim to be head of the church - something, as More claimed, Henry could not be, however hard he argued that he could - and always had been

Posted by at Sep 24, 2009 15:32

I was struck by the discussions this March that seemed to suggest that the play would have complimented Henry.  I find really fascinating Greg’s point here, back in September, that Jupiter’s insistence that he has been asked to take control over the weather (though the play ends in maintaining the status quo) may subtly recall Henry’s attempt to grasp the title of Supreme Head of the Church (and Thomas More’s objection to such).  


Further to Greg’s point, 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 no 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.


Posted by at Mar 17, 2010 16:21

Forgive me if all this has been discussed elsewhere, but in the context of Henry’s marriage problem, 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.  

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.  

While it may not be necessary in the end that the audience divine(d) any of the political and classical subtexts, for the play is fun on its own, being familiar with such, I find it hard to ignore the play’s potential implication that the power of a ruling ‘god’ (or king) to establish an entirely new order in (or under) heaven (and simply to dispense with an old queen he now finds tiresome) has been brought to question.  Especially if parallels to a notoriously philandering Jupiter are at play (even if by glaring and hence ironic contrast to virtually all known mythology), I again wonder if Heywood’s play reflects the More circle’s critiques of Henry’s position to some extent.

Posted by at Mar 17, 2010 17:11

It is an interesting suggestion that POTW reflects the 'More circle's' critique of Henry's poistion. 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 then 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 maybe 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 an potential alternative; perhaps Heywood is saying this is one way that Henry could be seen - now or in the future.

Posted by Tom Betteridge at Mar 19, 2010 13:35

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