The Scottish Style of Kingship

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The last fortnight has been spent trying to get to grips with how Scottish kingship differs from the English style of monarchy in order to understand its representation in Ane Satyre.  This is not just for the production but to go towards a paper being delivered on the panel ‘Sexuality and Sovereignty in the Early Modern Drama’ at the Shakespeare Association of America conference next year.

Political differences between the England and Scotland came to the forefront after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James was roundly criticised for using Scottish methods in the English parliament and at court, as Jenny Wormald has incisively examined in her essay, ‘James VI and I: Two Kings or One?’.    She reinforces the notion that there was less constitutional sophistication in Scotland writing that, “this less developed government did less governing” (1983, p193).  In line with arguments made by Roger Mason she claims that when Scottish political philosophy did develop during the sixteenth century, it was due to “the appearance of professional lay lawyer-administrators, [a] product of over a century of growing lay literacy, [which] substantially widened interest in central government beyond the circle of literate clerics” (1983, p194).  Yet she denies that the lack of legalistic underpinning of theories of Scottish government prior to this led to it being ineffective.  To the contrary, in Scotland stuff gets done, and often more quickly than in England, just in a different way.

The way in which laws are passed and rapprochement between political parties is attained in Scotland can seem fairly radical, however the methods do not in fact detract from the “patriotic conservatism” that Mason contends was the predominant feature of late medieval Scotland’s political ethos (1987, p146).  Decisions were reached through debate and argument rather than precedent and law, meaning that parliamentary processes were active, lively and reciprocal.  Nevertheless Wormald says that such political events as the argument between James VI and I and Anthony Melville in 1596 are frequently misinterpreted as a sign of backwardness and impropriety: “The point of that debate, in which Andrew Meville seized the king’s sleeve, calling him ‘God’s silly vassal’, is entirely lost if it is seen to exemplify the lack of respect with which Scotsmen supposedly treated their kings” (1983, p197).  The Scottish system rather existed in stark contrast to the hierarchical and, since Henry VIII and the Reformation, increasingly absolutist monarchy of England.  While some of the addresses made to power in Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis may seem surprising to readers of early English drama therefore, they should in fact be interpreted in light of a Scottish political philosophy which did not view dissension, and even outright hostility, as unpatriotic.


Roger Mason, ‘Kingship, Tyrannt and the Right to Resist in Fifteenth Century Scotland’, The Scottish Historical Review 66, No. 182, Part 2 (1987) pp.121-151

Jenny Wormald, ‘James VI and I: Two Kings or One’, History 68 (1983) pp.187-209

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Drama and Reforming Ideals in the 1530s

Whether David Lindsay can accurately be described as a Reformer or not seems to be a matter of some contention for critics and historians.  For Joanne Kantrowitz, Lindsay is a Reformer, while Carol Edington errs on the side of caution when assessing his position, noting Lindsay’s connection to Reformers at the court but falling short of numbering him among them.  For Edington, Lindsay is a reformer with a small ‘r’, outraged by clerical abuses and yet steering clear of doctrinal matters in his literary works.

What has struck me as interesting in my reading today is how Lindsay manages to criticise the Catholic clergy in 1540 in a way which enabled James V to exhort the Bishop of Glasgow to “reform their factions and manners of living”, when other playwrights of the 1530s were punished for the same thing.  In his section on ‘Performances and Plays’ in The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature, Volume One (2007), Bill Findlay relays  that:

In 1535, John Kyllour, a Dominican friar, wrote a Historye of Christis Passioun, performed in the Castlehill playfield, Stirling, before James V, his court, and the townspeople.  Kyllour employed the format of the passion play to criticise bishops and priests; for this, after a period as a hunted man, he was burned at the stake in 1539.  James Wedderburn of Dundee wrote, and had performed there about 1540, plays which satirised the Roman Catholic clergy: a ‘tragedie’, Beheading of Johne the Baptist, and a ‘comedie’, Historie of Dyonisius the Tyranne.  For these, he had to flee into exile in France. (p255-6)

How is it that Lindsay is not only able to attack the clergy, but has his play used as springboard for James to do the same, while contemporary dramatists suffer exile and execution for doing so?  Sadly, because neither Kyllour or Wedderburn’s texts survive, we will never be able to assess the qualitative differences between the forms and extent of reformation they advocate and how these differ from those that might have been suggested by Lindsay, if, indeed, Lindsay’s critique in the non-extent Interlude of 1540 bore any relation to that found in the Satyre of the 1550s.  It does seem astonishing that Lindsay’s attack on prelates and the “naughtiness in Religion” should have been sustained and vehement enough to justify James V’s response, while Kyllour and Wedderburn suffered such a fearful fate for their reforming ideals.



Staging ‘Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis’


In June 2013, the full 5 hour version a Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis will be performed on the Peel at Linlithgow.

The research team gathered about a month into the project to discuss how this performance would be staged.  Initial thoughts had concerned a ‘horseshoe’ configuration; several platform stages set up in a semi-circle, with the audience arrayed before them and the east side of the Palace providing the backdrop to the action.  Such a configuration may well correlate to the 1554 performance of Satyre on the Greenside just outside Edinburgh.  While the specifics of the staging of this performance are unknown, the topography of the playing area involved a steep hill with a burn or drainage ditch running through it, faced by a gentler slope on the other side .  Sarah Carpenter suggests that the hill povided acoustic support for the actors playing in front of it, and that the audience were separated from the action by the burn – which is actually used during the performance – as they sat on the naturally ‘raked’ landscape behind it.  The effect would have been similar to an outdoor proscenium arch theatre.  The mode of staging during the 1554 performance was seemingly ‘place and scaffold‘ as certain main characters have named ‘seats’, meaning the rest of the characters would act in the undifferentiated area of the ‘feild’ mentioned during the play.

This configuration makes sense of the Greenside as a performance venue, but our ideas were adapted after several site visits and getting to know the grounds of Linlithgow a little better.  The action involving the burn (John the Commonwealth ‘loups’ or jumps it, the workmens’ wives wade through it, and the Pardoner’s relics are thrown into it) would not be able to be replicated at the Palace which is ‘ditch-free’, so other features of the text took prominence.   Paramount to Ane Satyre is the fact that key characters emerge from the audience; the Vices probably do in Part One, and John the Commonwealth and the Pauper certainly do in Part Two.  This is not uncommon for sixteenth century interludes.  Deriving from the morality play, a Vice’s entrance through the audience serves to remind them of how close they are sin and temptation.

In Satyre however, it is not only the Vices but the characters representative of the wider Scottish community who make their way to the stage via the audience.  We looked at the limited number of examples of late medieval staging that survive including The Castle of Perseverance, The Martyrdom of St Apollonia, and one found in the Térence des ducs manuscript.  All of these images showed some form of in-the-round staging.  The Térence des ducs image was especially helpful as the very top of it demonstrates an enclosed playing area, and you can actually see the back of audience’s heads in the foreground of this theatrical space.  While there is a wall rather than stages encircling this outdoor theatre (unlike the St Apollonia image), there is a central ‘scena’ – a pulpit-type area in which an actor is reading from a text – and costumed actors can be seen playing before it.

This set-up lends itself to the effect that we are trying to achieve with our audience; that they are auditors of a parliament whose decisions directly concern them, and that the speakers who represent their interests may be found among them.   By staging Satyre in-the-round, the world of the play collapses with the play in the world, helping to make relevant social issues which are remote in time, but which stand in for a whole host of issues faced by Scottish people today also trying to get their voice heard.  A crucial intervention to completely in-the-round staging was made by the team however, who thought that the area directly in front of the King should be cordoned off in some way, to demonstrate the inextricable nature of access to certain spaces and political authority or influence in the play.  There was also the decision taken, for reasons of audibility and visibility, that there should be a central, elevated stage in the middle of the playing area, in the vein the Castle of the Castle of Perseverance, or the ‘scena’ in the Térence des ducs image.

Consultation with personnel at Historic Scotland will decide whether this form of staging is feasible, but for now the project team are excited about the surrounding of audience with stages on the Peel, truly marking them out as a political as well as a theatrical community during the performance of Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis.


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