Staging the Henrician Court : King as Spectator

This page last changed on Oct 12, 2009 by Sarah Carpenter.

Like Sam, I had been expecting the king to be part of the audience, and agree that whether he is there, or not, alters the sense of the play quite markedly.  Had he been present I imagine the spectator's experience would have been complicated, as the King would have been as much - perhaps more - a part of the performance than the play itself and one's reactions would have bounced off his/him?  But without him there, I felt oddly conscious of the empty chair at the high table.  (I know this is ridiculous but it almost felt like a silent CCTV camera - as if the King was actually there but invisible.)  But if that chair had not drawn attention to his absence, it would have felt different again.

Perhaps there is sense that if the king is there the play is being addressed to him as much as to the spectators.  If he isn't, then it's almost as if the king has sanctioned the performance (as Sam implies?) to be addressed only to the spectators.

Its difficult because at one level it might make sense to see the play as a sanctioned performance, in particular given the nature of the 'New Moon' speech. Is the play, and this speech in particular, the moment when Henry 'tells' the court that he and Anne are married? There is an emphasis, albiet in a minor key, throughout the play on the virtues of work as opposed to idleness and this may also relate to the politics of 1532 / 33. Has the stalled situation with Henry's marraige rendered the entire court idle but now things are about to change?

Of course symbolically the King was always present at court, but as Sarah suggests the meaning of the play would be fundamentally different if Henry was actaully watching. In particular, the status of those few moments when the play is explicitly political would be radically different. However it maybe that the relative lack of direct political comment is itself a reflection of the fact that Heywood was aware that Henry might be in the audience and that it was therefore potenitally dangerous to allude too directly to the events of the day.

Posted by Tom Betteridge at Oct 21, 2009 08:15

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