This Trilogy of Posts is based on a dramatised talk…..
……. The Grosvenor Chapel……
….Mayfair, London, W.1…..
…….on Sunday, 2nd March, 2014.
Taking part were Amanda Walker, Kate Godfrey, Karen Little and Patrick Godfrey.
AND MY POOR FOOL IS HANGED…..
For William Shakespeare, King Lear…..
…..or rather King Leir as he was first known….
……was a real, historical figure. He reigned in England 800 years before Christ was born, founded Leicester and is buried in a vault under the River Soar….
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a monk……
…..first recorded Leir’s story in the 12th Century….
It later appeared in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles in 1577….
…..then, in a new edition, in 1587.
Shakespeare had a copy of the 1587 edition. He doodled on the index page…..
Black soap, pig-meat and honey mingled together: good for a horse’s leg, swollen.
Here is Holinshed’s version of the story of King Leir…
Leir was a prince of right noble demeanour, governing his land and subjects in great wealth.
He had, by his wife, three daughters……
… whose names were….
….which daughters he greatly loved, but specially Cordeilla, the youngest.
When this Leir therefore was come to great age, he thought to prefer her whom he best loved, to the succession over the kingdom. Whereupon he first asked Gonorilla, the eldest, how well she loved him: who calling her gods to record, protested that she loved him more than her own life, which by right and reason should be most dear unto her…
…..with which answer, the father being well pleased, turned to the second, and demanded of her how well she loved him: who answered (confirming her sayings with great oaths)….
……that she loved him more than tongue could express, and far above all other creatures of the world.
Then called he his youngest daughter, Cordeilla, before him, and asked of her what account she made of him…..
Knowing the great love and fatherly zeal that you have always borne towards me, (for the which I may not answer you otherwise than I think, and as my conscience leadeth me) I protest unto you, that I have loved you ever, and will continually (while I live) love you as my natural father.
Leir, being nothing content with this answer, married his two eldest daughters, the one the Duke of Cornwall, and the other to the Duke of Albania, betwixt whom he willed and ordained that his land should be divided after his death: but for the third daughter, Cordeilla, he reserved nothing.
Nevertheless it fortuned that the Prince of France, hearing of the beauty, womanhood, and good conditions of the said Cordeilla, sent over to her father, requiring that he might have her to wife: to whom answer was made…..
….that he might have his daughter, but as for any dower, he could have none, for all was promised and assured to her other sisters already….
The Prince of France, notwithstanding this answer, took Cordeilla to wife.
After that Leir was fallen into age, the two dukes that had married his two eldest daughters, arose against him in armour, and reft from him the governance of the land. But the greatest grief that Leir took, was to see the unkindness of his daughters, in so much they scarcely would allow him one servant to wait upon him.
In the end, such was the unkindness, or (as I may say) the unnaturalness which he found in his two daughters that he fled the land, and sailed into France, there to seek some comfort of his youngest daughter Cordeilla.
The lady Cordeilla first sent to him, privily, a certain sum of money to apparel himself withal, and to retain a certain number of servants that might attend upon him in honourable wise. When he came to court, he was so joyfully, honourably, and lovingly received, both by his son in law, the Prince of France, and also by his daughter Cordeilla, that his heart was greatly comforted.
The Prince of France caused a mighty army to be put in readiness, and likewise a great navy of ships to be rigged, to pass over into Britain with Leir to see him again restored to his kingdom.
Leir and his daughter Cordeilla with her husband, arriving in Britain, fought with their enemies, and discomfited them in battle, in the which the Dukes of Cornwall and Albania were slain: and then was Leir restored to his kingdom, which he ruled after this by the space of two years and then died..
Cordeilla was admitted Queen and supreme governess of Britain. She ruled right worthily during the space of five years, in which time her husband died; but her two nephews, sons to her aforesaid sisters, disdaining to be under the government of a woman, levied war against her and finally took her prisoner, and laid her fast in ward, wherewith she took such grief, being a woman of a manly courage, there she slew herself.
An anonymous play, called The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan and Cordeilla appeared in the same year as Shakespeare’s edition of the Chronicles….
The action has been transported to Christian times. Not only Christian times but Protestant times. And not only Protestant times, but Calvinist times.
Calvinists…..who follow John Calvin…..
………believe that everything has been pre-ordained by God. He has chosen those who will go to heaven…..
………and those who will go to Hell…..
….. before they were even born.
He protects his chosen ones, his ‘elect’, and rewards them by giving them money, power and success.
Gonorill and Ragan in the play are definitely NOT among God’s elect…
They are, in fact, the ‘Ugly Sisters’…..
…..envious of Cordeilla’s good looks….
Gonorill says of her…..
Besides, she is so nice and so demure;
So sober, courteous, modest, and precise,
That all the Court hath work enough to do,
To talk how she exceedeth me and you.
And both sisters are clearly Roman Catholic……
Peace (Puritan) dissembling hypocrite,
Which art so good, that thou wilt prove stark naught:
Anon, when as I have you in my fingers,
I’ll make you wish yourself in Purgatory.
…….is cast out penniless and in rags…..
…….she insists that she will only marry for love. Prince Charming arrives in the figure of the King of France , together with his Dandini, Lord Mumford.
He woos Cinders in the disguise of a poor pilgrim to make sure she loves him for his self alone.
Then he whisks her off to France…..
The Uglies now strip their father of his entourage of servants and begin to plot his death: they even hire a murderer.
But Lear IS one of God’s elect….
When the murderer raises his dagger to kill the King, a clap of thunder sends him scurrying off.
God sends Leir a dream in which Gonorill and Ragan hack off his limbs……
……but Cordeilla revives him by pouring balsam into his bleeding wound.
As luck would have it, Cordeilla is ‘elect’ as well….
…..As she tells the King of France….
……God miraculously hath bestowed on me,
In raising me out of my mean estate,
When as I was devoid of worldly friends,
And placing me in such a sweet content,
As far exceeds the reach of my deserts….
Leir seeks out Cordeilla in France and they have a reconciliation which develops into a kneeling competition…
Condemn not all, because of other’s crime:
But look, dear father, look behold and see
Thy loving daughter speaketh unto thee. [She kneels.]
O, stand thou up, it is my part to kneel, [She stands]
And ask forgiveness for my former faults. [He kneels.]
O, if you wish, I should enjoy my breath, [She kneels]
Dear father rise, or I receive my death.
Then I will rise to satisfy your mind,[He riseth]
But kneel again, til pardon be resigned. [He kneels]
Leir goes to France, Cordeilla and the King of France sail to back to England, they kill the Uglies and their husbands and restore Leir to his rightful throne.
The play does NOT include Leir’s death…..
…..nor does it include the rebellion of Cordeilla’s cousins….
…disdaining to be under the government of a woman….
….for an obvious reason….
Elizabeth was on the throne!!!
So what was the point of this play?
1587 was a highly significant year for England…….
…….and, indeed, Scotland…..
…….had been a thorn in Elizabeth’s side ever since she had fled to England, thirty years before. A devout Catholic, she was the focus of all the Catholic hopes that England would return to Rome. And, as the granddaughter of Henry VII…
…….she had a legitimate claim on the English throne.
In 1569 a plot had been hatched by the Catholic Northern Lords to depose Elizabeth and crown Mary Stuart Queen of England. Elizabeth’s troops crushed the rebellion in days……
…….but Elizabeth ordered the hanging of 700 of…
…..the meaner sort of rebels. For the terror of others…
The following year Pope Pius V…….
……. issued a bull which excommunicated Elizabeth…..
…..the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime….
…..and all those who obeyed her laws.
In 1585 the Catholics returned to the attack – this time in print. A book was published which claimed that Henry VIII’s wife, Anne Boleyn…….
…..had been the King’s own illegitimate daughter.
And that the King…….
……had known this all along…..
Princess Elizabeth, therefore…….
…….was the bastard product of this incestuous union, and when she had come to the throne….
……Satan, and the power of darkness, took possession of the whole of England.
Next, in 1586, came the Catholic Babbington plot on Elizabeth’s life……
When the conspirators were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered………
…..Elizabeth insisted that her Council invent…..
….some new device…
….for MORE TERROR…
Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Lord Burghley……..
……writing to Lord Hatton…….
……I told her Majesty, if the fashion of the execution shall be duly and orderly executed , by the protracting of the same both to the extremity of the pains in the action and to the sight of the people to behold it, the manner of the death would be as terrible as any new device could be….but therewith her majesty was not satisfied….
In the event, the crowd was so revolted by the disembowelling of the first batch of conspirators that the executioners were forced to just hang the rest…..
But when it came to executing Mary Stuart, Elizabeth hesitated…. .
Not only was she the Lord’s anointed, she was Elizabeth’s cousin as well.
Like Hamlet pondering the death of Claudius….
……gave herself over wholly to solitariness, sat many times melancholic and mute and frequently sighing muttered to herself, ‘Aut fer aut feri: either bear with her or smite her. And ‘ne feriare, feri – Strike lest thou be stricken….’
Elizabeth needed Mary dead: but she didn’t want to go down in history as a tyrant.
So she hit on an age-old solution. She blamed her secretary. She claimed she had only signed Mary Stuart’s death warrant as a precaution.
When news arrived in London of her execution , bonfires were lit and cheering broke out. Elizabeth, feigning ignorance of her death……
…..like Lady Macbeth with Duncan……
……put her head out of the window and demanded to know what the commotion was about.
When told the reason, she cried….
What? Is the Queen my sister dead? And who has put her to death? They have deceived me then….
As a contemporary observed….
The Queen’s countenance altered, her speech faltered and failed her and through excessive sorrow she stood in a manner astonished; then she gave herself over to passionate grief, putting herself into mourning habit and shedding abundance of tears….
One nobleman who was present could not help remarking…..
…..See, there, the very trick of a play-actress….
Elizabeth desperately needed an image make-over: enter the Queen’s Men…
This was a company set up four years earlier by the hard-nosed spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham…..
…..and Elizabeth’s debauched favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Its aims were simple: to promote Elizabeth, promote Elizabeth and promote Elizabeth.
The players, highly-paid and swaggering round in the Queen’s scarlet livery…….
…..were exempt from arrest…..
…..and exempt from all parish duties.
It was the Queen’s Men who staged The True Chronicle History of King Leir in the year of Mary Stuart’s execution….
And in so doing, exonerated Elizabeth….
At one point , Ragan, hoping to bamboozle her father, says….
O that I had some pleasing Mermaid’s voice,
For to enchant his senseless senses with!
Everyone in the audience in 1587 would know that this was a reference to Mary Queen of Scots. The mermaid was her trade-mark……..
She had been lampooned in a cartoon as a bare-breasted mermaid, with her hair falling down to her shoulders…..
……..and had actually appeared at the window of a jail in Edinburgh with, as Alison Weir puts it….
…… her bodice undone, her breasts exposed and her tangled hair loose, and with ‘piteous lamentations’ ….
But if Ragan represents Mary, Queen of Scots, who is Gonorill?
Well, we know she’s Roman Catholic…..
…..But we also know she is jealous of Cordeilla’s beauty…
…..And her ability to attract men….
Exactly as Mary Tudor – Bloody Mary…….
……had been jealous of her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth….
When the dashing young Edward Courtney……
…… had been freed from wrongful imprisonment in 1553, the new Queen Mary suggested he might like to become King of England.
But Courtney was far more attracted to Princess Elizabeth. In the words of the great American Regency historian, Lucy Aikin….
Mary was left to vent her disappointment in resentment against the ill-fated object of her preference, Courtney, and in every demonstration of a malignant jealousy towards her innocent and unprotected rival, Princess Elizabeth.
Mary sent Elizabeth to the Tower….by way of Traitors’ Gate…
So if Ragan and Gonorill are the two Catholic Marys, it needs no Sherlock Holmes to tell us who Cordeilla is….
QUEEN ELIZABETH HERSELF!!!
Cordeilla, as we have seen, believes she is one of God’s elect, and so, protected by him.
Elizabeth thought the same about herself . She wrote in her prayers…
Thou hast willed me to be not some wretched girl from the meanest rank of the common people, who would pass her life miserably in poverty and squalor, but to a kingdom thou hast destined me, born of royal parents, and nurtured and educated at court. When I was surrounded and thrown about by various snares of enemies, Thou hast preserved me with thy constant protection from prison and the most extreme danger; and though I was freed at the very last moment, Thou hast entrusted me on earth with royal sovereignty and majesty….
Cordeilla, in the play, wants to marry only for love. She says…..
For if the greatest Monarch on the earth,
Should sue to me in this extremity,
Except my heart could love, and heart could like,
Better than any that I ever saw,
His great estate no more should move my mind,
Than mountains move by blast of every wind.
And Queen Elizabeth said to the French Ambassador…
I do not want a husband who honours me as a Queen, if he does not love me as a woman.
I will betake me to my thread and Needle,
And earn my living with my fingers’ ends…
Queen Elizabeth said…..
I thank God I am endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat I were able to live in any place in Christome.
Cordeilla is wooed by two romantic Frenchman: Elizabeth had been wooed by two equally romantic Frenchmen, the Duc D’Anjou…..
……..and Jean Simier…….
…….eight years earlier.
But the biggest signpost is a verbal one….
When Elizabeth’s parliament asked her, point blank, if she intended to execute Mary Stuart, she replied…
You must take an answer without answer at my hands. For if I should say I would not do it, I should peradventure say that which I did not think, and otherwise than it might be. If I should say I would do it, it were not fit in this place and at this time, although I did mean it….
…..and having completely baffled her parliament, she concluded triumphantly…..
Wherefore I must desire to hold yourselves satisfied with this answer answerless.
In the play, when Cordeilla replies to Leir’s question about how much she loves him, Gonorill retorts….
Here is an answer answerless indeed…
So the author of The True Chronicle History of King Leir has turned a piece of ancient history into a political allegory……
Leir is England, taken over and wounded by the Roman Catholicism of the two Marys.
Elizabeth restores it by pouring the healing balsam of Calvinism into its wounds.
So next time you go with the kids to see Cinderella……
…..remember it’s a piece of Anti-Papist propaganda.
So who wrote the play? Would you be shocked to learn that the older, scholars thought it was by Shakespeare?
And would you be even more shocked to learn that I agree with them?
But with this, same, proviso: Shakespeare was twenty-three at the time, and a junior collaborator on the play with Thomas Kyd, six years older than Shakespeare and already an established playwright.
Kyd was a free-thinker who was later to share lodgings with Christopher Marlowe…..
……and get tortured by the state on suspicions of atheism……
But he was a hired gun. If the state wanted propaganda, he gave them propaganda….
But Leo Tolstoy……..
……who looks rather like Lear himself….
……famously preferred this Leir play to Shakespeare’s later one.
And there are some remarkable passages in it…..
Cordeilla, addressing the King of France disguised as a pilgrim, says….
I’ll hold thy Palmer’s staff within my hand,
And think it is the Sceptre of a Queen,
Sometime I’ll set thy Bonnet on my head,
And think I wear a rich imperial Crown,
Sometime I’ll help thee in thy holy prayers,
And think I am with thee in Paradise.
Thus I’ll mock fortune, as she mocketh me,
And never will my lovely choice repent:
For having thee, I shall have all content.
Only Shakespeare could have written this…
When he came to write his own version of the Leir story twenty years later, Shakespeare set it back in pre-Christian times…….
…….threw in a jester…….
……. and lifted a subplot from the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney….
In our Next Post, Trixie the Cat will give a potted version of ….
….ALL THE CHANGES…..
…..Shakespeare made to the original Leir story….
….AND THEY ARE EXTRAORDINARY!!!
To find out HOW extraordinary, click: HERE!