Panel Discussion at Holyrood

A Panel Discussion of A Satire of the Three Estates at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, with the Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, 4 June 2014

Opening address

Fiona Hyslop MSP – Culture Secretary and Minister for External Affairs

Full Discussion plus question and answer session

Discussion only

A Panel Discussion of A Satire of the Three Estates at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, with the Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, 4 June 2014

no comments


The Three Estates: Interview with Billy Riddoch

After the highs of the performance (and well-earned holidays all round), ‘Staging and Representing the Scottish Renaissance Court’ moves into its next phase, reflecting upon what the performances of A Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis at Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle during  June 2013.

Below is an interview with Billy Riddoch, who played Flatterie in the Thrie Estaitis, talking about his involvement with the play in the past and his experience of performingit in its entirety this time, which enabled him to get a sense of the whole shape of the piece as an actor.  He discusses how he approached the performance of a Vice role, working alongside Jimmy Chisholm and Barrie Hunter.  Billy also considers the play’s importance for the Scottish dramatic canon, linking it to Scottish independence and suggesting that a nationwide tour would be appropriate for this uniquely Scottish work.  The interview was filmed against the backdrop of Linlithgow Palace, and the background of the final performance on 9th June.

no comments


Kirsty Wark on the Satyre of The Thrie Estaitis

We were very grateful when Kirsty Wark agreed to talk to us about the Satyre of The Thrie Estaitis over the phone this week.  She was incredibly knowledgeable about the play’s political dimensions and performance possibilities, and wholeheartedly supported the production.  Below are the edited highlights of the conversation. Thanks Kirsty!

no comments


Rehearsal blog – day 22 (4.6.2013)

464c985ccd2111e2b1b722000a1d0aba_7 Female_reason_and_truth

We did a full-run of the play today: part 1 in the morning, and part 2 in the afternoon.  It was especially good to see the ensemble nature of performance between Flattery, Falsehood and Deceit developing.  There was much laughter in the rehearsal room at the trio.  What Tom noted the other day about Gerda’s performance in Part 2 is also true of part 1, Good Counsel really emerges as a voice of reason against the sheer exuberance and chaos in this hald.  This is especially evident when she is rejected from the court, but reacts by saying, “Sen at this time I can get na presence,/ Is na remeed but take in patience” and goes quietly into a corner to read her Bible.  Against all the madness, she is an oasis of calm.


In the afternoon we looked at Part 2.  At one point I found myself sitting in the ‘field’ taking photos of the parliament and it was an interesting experience.  Even though you are spatially excluded to some extent, the fact that action is happening all around you and that you are seated so close to the parliament means that you become a really active listener.  I was reminded of James V’s publication of The New Actis and Constitutionis in 1542 – readers of which might not have been able to alter the legislation but were nevertheless privy to previously closed institutional processes.  Maybe this is a dramatic equivalent of such publication of parliamentary proceedings.

We also staged the arse-kissing divorce.  Pictures speak louder than words!


no comments


Alex Salmond on Satire of Three Estates

Here’s what Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond has been saying about Satire of Three Estates

“David Lyndsay’s’ ‘Satire of the Three Estates’ was an extraordinarily bold piece of theatre given the political context in which it was first performed in 16th century Scotland. The play raises profound questions about the nature of monarchy, the role of the popular voice in Scottish politics, the nature of Scottish civic, national and religious identity, and the moral fabric of civil society; themes which still have the power to resonate with us almost 500 years later.

In today’s context the play stands out as one of the greatest pieces of literature in the Scots language and I am delighted that it will be performed for modern audiences this June at Scotland’s historic venues of Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle.”

no comments


Rehearsal blog – day 21 (3.6.2013)


Today we had the first full fitting of the costumes, allowing us for the first time to see the magnificent work of Hilary Lewis and her team. The courtly costumes are sumptuous, and the vices, with their scaly legs and huge tufted ears both comic and slightly sinister in their animalism. Correction’s wings were again a highlight, as was the Abbott’s strikingly oversized mitre. Special work was spent in the morning on the tricky scenes in which the clergy were disrobed, which need to be swift and comic.

The seating in parliament for part two was rearranged to have the three estates alone sitting alongside Rex and Correction, with the other clergy placed behind Spirituality and the Courtiers and Good Counsel behind the secular estates. This made the power politics of the session more starkly evident, giving graphic evidence for Temporality’s defiant claim to Spirituality that ‘ye are but ane estate and we are twa’.

We also worked on the final lines, and the singing that will accompany Folly’s sermon and provide the play with a resounding climax and the cast with a curtain call.

no comments


Rehearsal blog – day 13 (21.5.2013)


In the morning we looked at the opening of the parliament, and there was lots of discussion about the extent of the political discord John the Commonwealth invokes when he enters the parliament.

Peter Kenny (playing the Pardoner and the Abbot) bought up how the word ‘murmel’ (Merchant, ‘How we shall slaik the great murmel?’ and Temporality, ‘to save us frae murmel’) is used in the play to signify social discontent.  The problem or ‘murmel’ is dealt with to some extent by absorbing John into the parliament and making him the fourth estate, but the actor Gerda Stevenson pointed out that there is also something very puritanical and extreme about John the Commonweal’s suggested reforms.  Tom Betteridge said that John’s presence has been produced by the failure of the Commonwealth, and Greg Walker added that there is an anxiety about the forces that have been unleashed by his appearance, and how wide-reaching and oppressive the reforms he suggests might be.

John’s speech at lines 2605-2619 took quite some unpacking to work out exactly who the targets of his censure are – is it the entertainers he is getting at or noble excess? In fact it took all morning to work through lines 2347-3115, paraphrasing them into the vernacular.  After lunch we worked through the actual text.  This is a really key part of the text; the meat of the disagreement, arguably the heart of the play.

We staged the estates gangand backwart into parliament and John’s louping of the stank, and it was great to see these inherently theatrical moments on their feet for the first time having thought about them on the page for so many months.  The backwards motion of the estates results in their bumping into each other, making a point about the realm’s disorder as much as it heightens the comedy.

We discovered that the staging of this section would be dependent on whether we saw the audience as part of the parliament or whether we see them as excluded from it.  This is an important production choice. The actors explored some of the confines of our recreative staging; their inclination to use all the space and address the audience as much as possible was in tension with a political space that is exclusive and accessible only to few.

We finished the day by looking at how Oppression, Falsehood and Deceit get put in the stocks.  Again the inside/outside of the parliament was one of the features that needed attention.  In fact the spatial vocabulary of political space took precedence all day, giving the opportunity to take some great pictures!


no comments


Rehearsal blog – day 9 (16.5.2013)

Lots of important discoveries today so a rather long blog…The_reformed_court

Today we worked on the first entrance of Divine Correction. What was interesting was the extent to which Tam Dean Burn’s entry created a whole new atmosphere within the world of the play. Good Counsel, Gerda Stevenson, Chastity, Cara Kelly, and Verity, Alison Peebles, had all tried to reform Rex Humanitus and had failed. Suddenly Divine Correction changed the dynamic. We spent a considerable amount of time on Divine Correction’s provocative question – What is a King? And his equally radical answer – Nought but an officer. Discussing this line in the context of a performance brought home to me quite how potentially dangerous and subversive the question is since what Lyndsay was doing here is asking a heterogeneous audience of people in Cupar and Edinburgh to reflect on the nature of kingship

It was interesting discussing with the actors and directors the nature of Lyndsay’s politics. It was a reminder at how impoverished, in some ways, modern political discourse is since during the discussion one was constantly tempted to separate moral, economic and social issues. Of course in Lyndsay’s world such a separation would have been meaningless, indeed it would have represented the worst behaviour of, as Lyndsay saw it, the clergy. Ane Satyre is concerned with the idea of a commonweal founded on equity where everyone lives within their bounds. In these terms it embodies a very similar approach to politics as that articulated in the C Text of Piers Ploughman. At one level this is a conservative model of politics since it looks back to a mythical golden age where the classes or estates each knew and respected the boundaries of appropriate behaviour. But it could also form the basis of a radical critique of society and in particular those in power. After all Divine Correction’s agenda is a restorative one but is it articulated through radical language and there is a constant sense that those who transgress against the social bond, disregard-less of status or position will be punished.

In the afternoon, we looked at the rooting out of Sensualitie from the realm of Scotland and it was really striking to see female figures of virtuous rule on-stage alongside Divine Correction.

There was a discussion of the unusual word ‘consociable’ – the term used to describe the relationship that the King is now to have with Verity, Chastity and Good Counsel – and its emphasis on ‘society’ as a result of having allegories embodied on the stage, figuring the relationship between king and virtue as interpersonal.   The same is true of the moment when Sensualitie gets absorbed into the Church, in our staging through being pulled onto Spirituality’s knee and pawed by the Abbot.

But the really interesting part was seeing the staging of Rex’s acceptance of Divine Correction’s Counsel and the departing of Sensualitie form the court.  As it is being performed, Rex listens to Divine Correction only as a secondary effect of Sensualitie leaving him, rather than from making a positive choice to do so.  The moment really strengthens the version of Rex we are building as a weak and easily-led King.  As the actor James Mackenzie said to me, he only listens to Correction because he realises he is “alone and Divine Correction is the only person who seems to be offering him any counsel” rather than through his recognition of God’s emissary’s authority.

The final call was with the Pardoner to look at the section where he divorces the Suiter from his wife during the ‘Interlude’ (what we call the ‘Interval play’).  The strong rhythm of this section was quickly identified, and the fact that all of the dialogue is divided into six-line stanzas, largely lines of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter.  There are clear moments of flying in the piece, and the verse lets it build up to the arse-kissing divorce ritual.  It took quite some time to find the right rhythm and pacing of this section of verse and Greg Thompson noted the paradox of some of the most common characters in the whole play having some of the most technical prosody.

We also had the amazing realization today that we will be opening the play on the same day as the play was performed in 1552 – June 7th!!  It must be serendipity.

no comments


Entrances: field and pavilion

Here’s the final blog post in the series of staging questions that the research team have been mulling over. This one concerns where characters may enter and exit from in our production.

Due to practicalities of performance the set has now been modified and, as it stands, the audience will still be enclosed within a ’round’ but the majority of the action will occur end-on. Here’s a sneak preview for you:


While the classical ‘in-the-round’ configuration with a central stage has been altered therefore, the form largely remains, and this raises issues of where the characters both enter and exit from. Do they come from behind the end-on stage – appearing before the audience – or are we still able to use the ‘field’ as an route to the stage – so that characters come through them? Below is the research team’s response to the director’s question: ‘Do the characters make their first entrance from the ‘field’. And Rex specifically – where does he enter from at the beginning of Part 1?’

Greg Walker – I think it matters where people come on from, as it indicates who and what level of society they are from. Those who come seemingly from out of the crowd, like John or Pauper, or the sowtar and tailor and their wives are reps of the people. Others clearly come TO the crowd and platea from outside – from outwith Scotland, whether villains like the Pardoner, or Flattery, or virtuous figures like Good Counsel, Verity, Correction, etc. Shouldn’t Rex emerge from out of his seat (as it were). He’s not from us – we don’t elect him or have a choice of who gets to be king. It’s decided for us by the powers that be.

Tom Betteridge – I think if characters come from outside Scotland they need to come through the field / audience – the only two places that people can enter are effectively from the field or from the court. As Diligence says when Pauper enters, ‘Quhair have wee gottin this gudly companyeoun? Swyith out of the field, – Pauper is a companion who has entered the world of the play from the field – but note that field is not a non-performing area – rather it is one that can be part of the ‘stage’ and at the same time it is the stage’s border or enabling frame. The characters who should not come from the field are, as Greg suggests, Rex but also the other courtly characters – I don’t think Diligence should come from the field since, I would suggest, part of his weakness is that he lacks the authority implicitly given to those characters who can come from the field but transgress its limitations – i.e. Divine Correction and John the Commonwealth.

Ellie Rycroft – I agree with the above, especially that Rex shouldn’t come through the field, but I think the fact that members ‘ride’ into parliament complicates things to an extent. I think there’s something compelling about the display of the parliament during the riding – it’s as if they are saying ‘you can see us, we’re off to do something important, but you’re not allowed to see what’, fully materialised when the Lyon King fences the space off. See images of parliamentary processions below.

parliamentary procession
parliamentary procession 2

John McGavin – I agree with the above. Some characters definitely do not come in through the audience. I do not see Diligence as coming through the audience: he can talk to them up close but he is a higher man’s functionary. Others definitely do. Some actions, however, are intended to be spectacular; they are public theatricality within theatre, and they constitute one of those elements of 16th century drama where the drama self-reflexively stages its own essential foundations – like the thematic use of disguise and impersonation or the moral staging of emblematic tableaux (such as the king and ladies lolling about in the first part described by Verity). This is an instance where the drama gives special force to the notion of watching: spectating becomes ‘witnessing’ in the sense of bearing witness. Although Ellie’s image do not depict the crowd, we as lookers at the image are part of that crowd. Wherever the thrie estaitis come from (the palyeon) on their way to the parliament, their proximity to the people en passant is vital – they are coming backward ‘throw this toun’. James was later to ‘stage’ the nobles in a banquet at the Cross precisely so that the people could act as witnesses to it and so put the nobles under the pressure of public scrutiny and public memory. I would be inclined to start Part Two with Diligence announcing the thrie estaitis and getting the spectators to rise and take their hats off. The surprising entry from the pavilion of the backward estates would then be a shocking blow to the spectators who had been prepared to honour this event.

Sarah Carpenter – I suppose I’d assumed that ‘courtly’ characters – king, three estates etc – come from the ‘pal3eoun’ when they need to ‘enter’. That’s formally stated for the three estates at the beginning of act 2, but I can’t see where else the king would exit to (or therefore enter from). There are some characters who specifically seem to need to come from the audience, people like John the Commonwealth, the tradespeople, some of the vices. And they often are said to come ‘through the water’, which might suggest from the audience side of the platea? Although in fact some of them are said at times to ‘pas to the palyeoun’, like the Taylor’s wife at 1395. It seems important to be able to signify characters who come from ‘abroad’ as different from either of these groups. But they often establish this themselves through their entrance speeches, wherever they arrive from physically.

no comments


Can parliament happen on the platea?

I thought it might be interesting to share some of the discussions the team have been having about the set and use of space in the forthcoming performances, as these  are informing how we design the outdoor productions.

This first question concerns what sort of dramatic action can or cannot happen on the platea.  The platea is an area of the stage in the medieval period, whose theatre often used locus and platea staing.  The locus was an area which very much concerned the world of the play, a tree on the stage, for instance, by which characters would stand to show they were in the forest, or the sign of an inn, to demonstrate that characters were in a pub – these are all examples of loci.  The platea, by contrast, is a threshold space which is neither fully immersed in the world of the play, nor outside of it and in the audience – it is somewhere from which characters may talk to the audience, but may also withdraw back into the play itself.

How and where we site the platea is especially important for A Satire of the Three Estates because of the sorts of questions we want to explore about political space and its accessibility/inaccessbility to the public or commonwealth.  There are definitely transgressions of space in the play. The Pauper, for instance, is told be Diligence on his entry (1938-1941):

Where have we gotten this goodly companion?                                 

Swyth out of the field, false raggit loon!                                     

God wait if here be ane weel kept place,                            

 When sic ane vile beggar carl may get entries.

Here the Pauper is being told that he cannot even be among the audience in the field in which they stand  But not only does he transgress Diligence’s command by getting up on the stage, in an intensely radical moment he even jumps up onto the King’s throne – an area that we may imagine is one of the play’s loci.

Moments such as this, and when John the Commonwealth jumps the ‘stank’ to enter the parliament, foreground the importance of who is and who isn’t allowed to inhabit the various parts of the stage in this play.  A key question for the team has been whether the parliament staged in Part Two of the play should be conceived of as a loci or as part of the permeable space of the platea.  Please see below for the research team’s debate about this and feel free to contribute your thoughts:

Can parliament happen on the platea?

Greg Walker – It could, perhaps. But the point of the play is surely that Parliament doesn’t really represent the people (and audience) until John and Pauper get in and John joins the estates with his gay garmoun at the end. If it was all happening in the platypus, then the visualisation of the idea that the audience is part of the excluded ‘people’, and parliament is happening somewhere else doing its business might get lost. We surely want to avoid the modern sense of parliament as a representative body of the people. The 16th century parliament is a gathering called by the prince to advise him. He chooses who comes, when and if it gathers, and when it is dismissed.

Tom Betteridge – when the three estates enter they come from the pavilion [Heir sall the Thrie Estaitis cum fra the palyeoun, gangand backwart, led be thair Vyces ] this suggests a sense in which entering Parliament is equivalent to entering the space of the play – I am assuming that ‘the palyeoun’ in this stage direction is the place from which the actors enter. In these terms I think Parliament could take place in the platea – it should not be in the field since that is where the people are but equally it should not be in the court since it has to be a space whose boundaries are up for debate or at least can be suspended / staged.

Greg Walker’s response – I suppose it is possible for the Parliament to take place in the platea, but it would have to be clear that this isn’t the same space where the tailor and sowter and their wives, and all the other representatives of the people do their thing. We’d have to have a separate acting space for them distinct from the parliament space.
Parliament is summoned by the king (or regent) to them, wherever they happen or want to be, so it would be more likely to happen in or around a palace or seat of government. We’d be making quite a statement about the accessibility and willingness to listen of the king at the end of part one if he came into the platea and summoned the estates to him there. Which might clash a bit with the notion that then Pauper and John have trouble getting in. But it could be done, I suppose…

Ellie Rycroft – As Greg has said, the Scottish parliament happens wherever the King is, whether this is a palace or the Tolbooth in Edinburgh.  The Tolbooth was the most common venue so parliaments were not usually at the court. The platea in theatre history is the permeable space in which characters can address the audience but still be part of the play, so it is not somewhere where I think we would find the Estates or Rex as they don’t do that sort of thing, but I agree with Tom that the permeable space has shifted to some degree into the ‘field’.  Might it be useful to think about the stage we propose to have in front of the semi-circular area of loci not as the platea at all but an extension of the locus, and imagine that there is a continuum from the definite audience interaction of the field, through the spaces we have set up towards the King? Or does this fudge the matter?

John McGavin – I think that the separation of the parliament from the people is important for the reasons Greg and Ellie suggest, but the connection with the people can be achieved on the awful parodic ‘riding’ to Parliament, and then the parliament is held in a location theatrically between the ‘court’ and the space into which people might go. John the Commonwealth has to cross that area so I agree with Greg’s final comment on divisions of theatrical space. I do also agree with Ellie and Tom that the meaning of space changes in relation to the nature of the action: it is John the Commonwealth’s having to cross a space that defines the separation of the parliament from the people.

Sarah Carpenter – is the ‘fencing’ of the parliament crucial here?  It’s a formal part of establishing the parliament (according to late records generally done by the Lyon King), and it seems to establish the parliament as a parliament wherever it is sitting.  (Learney’s article on parliamentary ceremonial quotes that the person fencing:  ‘biddis and defendis that ony man dystrobill this court wranguisly’ (134) see SHR 21, 61.  And SHS Sheriff Bk of Fife, 406)  That suggests that the parliament could sit anywhere, but that once it’s sat that place is formally established as a locus by the fencing?

The picture I find useful is this one – even though it’s not Scottish, and is a council rather than a parliament.  It does offer that sense of being visible to, but closed off from the ‘people’, which seems quite important:

fenced council

no comments

« Previous Entries