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Epilogues, prayers after plays, and Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV.

Recently, the subject of play-endings--in particular, the way plays may have concluded differently at court and in the public theatre--has provoked a flurry of interest. Two possibly Shakespearean epilogues are behind this new preoccupation. James Shapiro has suggested, looking at the moment in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV when the speaker kneels down "But (indeed) to pray for the Queene" (TLN 3350), that Shakespeare angled his epilogue towards court performance; he believes the epilogue to the play as we have it combines two texts, a public theatre epilogue, spoken by William Kemp and leading up to a jig ("Kemp's repeated mention of his legs and dancing signals that a jig ... is about to begin"), and a court epilogue, spoken by Shakespeare, ending in a prayer for the monarch (Shapiro, 38). (1) Michael Hattaway, looking at a freestanding epilogue sometimes attributed to Shakespeare, "As the diall hand tells ore / ye same howers yt had before", attributes its supplication to the "mighty Queen" to the fact that terminal prayers "common in the early Tudor period", continued to occur later. He joins Shapiro in maintaining that prayers for the monarch at the end of plays were "as common at court and private performances as terminal jigs were in the amphitheatre playhouses" (Hattaway, 163, 154).

Both Shapiro and Hattaway do an important service in highlighting the complex relationship between monarch, prayer and epilogue, that is to be found scattered throughout printed plays up to at least 1619 when Two Wise Men and All the Rest Fools had an epilogue that maintains "all our hearts pray for the King, and his families enduring happinesse, and our countries perpetuall welfare" (O2v). What this article will question, however, is the idea that a concluding prayer indicates specifically a court production. Though epilogues directed to the monarch--and therefore necessitating his or her presence--do exist, it will argue, there also seem to have been public playhouse prayers about the monarch that did not demand the dignitary to be there. Of these, it will agree that the "Dial Hand" was a prayer to a monarch attending performance, but will suggest that the section of epilogue leading to a prayer in Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV may reflect a public or touring performance. Exploring the notion that prayers were regularly spoken on public occasions, though irregularly recorded in playbooks, it will raise questions important to theatre historians, editors and actors: on what words and opinions do plays of the time--in any variety of theatre--actually come to an end, and which epilogues (and linked plays) record moments of popular production?

References indicate a variety of addresses to be said after (but sometimes in) an epilogue that necessitate the monarch's actual presence. They sometimes take the form of prayers, but are more often supplications to the monarch (rather than God). Instances include the moments in which the Epilogue becomes cognisant of the audience and "notices" the monarch. (2) Such addresses, clearly for the court, often broadcast as much in their titles. "The epilogue at Court" to Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus entreats "O deere Goddesse / Breathe life in our nombd spirits with one smile" (L3v); at the "presentation before Queene E." of Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humor, Macilente recites how "Envie is fled my soule, at sight of her" (175). On other occasions the dignitary is humbly acknowledged by the Epilogue; in the conclusion to A Pleasant Comedie, shewing the Contention betweene, Liberalitie and Prodigalitie "Vertue, Equitie, Liberalitie, Judge, and all come downe before the Queene" (F4r), and Vertue prostrates himself "before your Princely grace"; the "Dial Hand" epilogue, which is called "to ye Q. by ye players 1598", is of a similar kind: the speaker there bows to "yt Empresse ... now" (Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.5.75). Other court epilogues are physically interactive; they force the monarch to enter their semi-fiction by presenting him or her with a gift. At the end of George Peele's Araygnement of Paris, Diana "delivereth the ball of golde to the Queenes owne hands" as "That best becomes thy peereles excellencie" (E4v); while in John Marston's Histriomastix a "pointer" is given to Elizabeth, as a paean in her honour is recited: "Peaces patronesse, Heavens miracle, Vertues honour, / Earths admiration, / Chastities Crowne, Justice perfection, / Whose traine is unpolute Virginity" (h2v). All these prayers are obviously one-offs, only relevant when the monarch is actually there; they are otherwise removed, as is explicitly stated in a 1533 manuscript play, John Heywood's Wytty and Wyttles, where "Thes thre stave next folowyng in the kyngs absens ar voyde" is inscribed before the terminal prayer (142).

Yet there are records of concluding prayers (directed to God) that assume the absence of an authority figure. Players are often described ending general performances with prayers for their patron, for instance, who cannot always have been present, and sometimes clearly was not. In what may be a reference to strolling, touring or public performance, Sir John Harington, gesturing at a troupe whose lord he does not name, will not end his A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax with a prayer, "least some wags liken mee to my L. ( ) players, who when they have ended a baudie comedy, as though that were a preparative to devotion, kneele down solemnly, and pray al the companie to pray with them, for their good L. and Mayster" (I2v); while Middleton--a professional playwright imagining in his A Mad World, My Masters a fictional company owned by Lord "Owemuch"--gives a speech to a player in which he describes "kneeling after the play, I praying for my Lord Owemuch and his good Countesse, our honourable Lady and mistresse" (H4v). That prayer might additionally extend to the reigning monarch. William Holles' troupe were "always at the end of the play praying (as the custom then was) for the Queen's majesty, the Council, and their right worshipful good master, Sir William Holles" (Holles, 42). So some players included a patron prayer--and sometimes, additionally, a prayer to the monarch--at the end of their performances. What the prayer specifically implored, however, is not always captured in writing, probably because its words were formulaic. This is suggested by a printed text that unabashedly provides a formula not unique to any particular patron: angling itself for use by whatever troupe chooses to mount it, the text to Robert Wilson's The Pedlers Prophecie indicates with the letters "T" and "N" where the name and county of any master can be inserted--"First let us pray for the Queens Majesty ... / Also her honorable Councell God prosper & save, / And that honorable T. N. &c. of N. chiefly: / Whom as our good Lord and maister, found we have, / Good Lord we beseech thee, to be his guide daily" (Wilson Pedlers Prophecie, F3v). Some players, then, ended their performances with a prayer that usefully advertised their patron, making clear that they performed under the auspices of an authority (and hence were not rogues or beggars). Adding the monarch to this medley bolstered the authority of the play further, and might also suggest to the judgmental audience that liking the play and company was the duty of a loyal subject.

Though prayer endings from the time of King James onwards tend not to be found in print, they are still referred to. In 1614 Freeman in Rubbe, and a Great Cast addresses a poem to King James in which he differentiates his own genuine act of homage from that of a player who, after a "lewd ribald Play", has the nerve to skip up "upon the Scaffold ... / And for his Sov'raigne then begins to pray" (A3r). Later still, in the time of Charles I, Brathwait in his Whimzies, like Holles, casually refers to a moment often specifically recorded, as will be seen, in much earlier epilogues: when "an Actor after the end of a Play, ... prayes for his Majestie, the Lords of his most honourable privie Councell, and all that love the King" (56). Both of these later references could refer to the habits of strolling or touring players, except that they are written by Londoners, do not locate the practice they describe as rural or old fashioned, include no reference to a patron, and assume a reader who is familiar with the event they are describing. They seem, that is to say, simply to be reflecting normal theatrical practice--though as touring players were often London players taking to the country, the connection between the two was close enough for the habits of the one to reflect the habits of the other. It seems that in some--and perhaps all--companies, terminal prayers for some public performances were usual.

Surviving general terminal prayers--that do not look to, bow at, or hand material to, a monarch--are largely earlier than the references to them above. Yet the suggestion is not that they cease to be said, but that they cease to be recorded, presumably because fresh prayers for each play were no longer written: a standard set of words may have taken over at a certain point. The surviving general prayers do, however, anticipate the later habit; they also in their constructions suggest strolling, touring or public performance. Thus their prayers for the monarch join further prayers for a series of people most of whom will not be present at the performance, and some of whom cannot even be guaranteed to approve of it: the nobility, the commonweal in general and, most often, as Brathwait and Holles had made clear, the privy council "our Noble Queene Elesabeth, to you we commend, ... The Lords of the Counsell, Lord Governe aryght, / That they may be mindfull of the common weale" (Phillip, I1r); "let us all praye, / For Elyzabeth our Quene, ... Lyke wyse for her councell" (Pikering, E4r); "for the Quenes majesty let us pray ... God save the Quenes counsailours most noble and true" (Jacob and Esau, G4v); "God save the Queenes Highnes, and the Nobilitie ... God preserve the Queenes most honorable Councell" (Wager, A4r), and so forth. (3) These prayers, then, are safety assurances, and their hearty good wishes for the entirety of the privy council in particular, presumably double as a "thank you" for not halting theatrical activity altogether. (4)

Unlike court blandishments to and about the monarch, these generalised prayers are to and about God, whom they mention frequently; they even, sometimes, end on "Amen". That means that they are likely to have been spoken by a player on his knees. Some make this specifically clear. In Thomas Ingelend's The Disobedient Child, "the rest of the Players come in and kneele downe all togyther, eche of them sayinge one of these Verses" (H1v); in A Knack to Know a Knave "Honestie wil pray upon his knee, / God cut them off that wrong the Prince or Communaltie. / And may her dayes of blesse never have end, / Upon whose lyfe so many lyves depend" (G4r); while in Robert Wilson's Three Lordes the epilogue demands "Fall wee on knees and humbly let us pray, / First that from heaven upon our gratious Queene, / All maner blessings may be multiplied, ... Her counsel wise, and Nobles of this land / Blesse, and preserve O Lord with thy right hand" (Wilson Three Lordes, I4r). That means, though, that these plays ended their dialogue with a single kneeling speaker: surely a weak conclusion to a theatrical spectacle. Is it possible that all performances, public and private, concluded their dialogue with such prayers? Here the fact that prayer and epilogue were so long linked together should be considered further: perhaps, like the epilogue, the prayer was only usually spoken at a play's first public performance? (5) That would make sense, with its suggestion that part of asking for "judgement" on the drama (in which the audience were given the opportunity to indicate with claps and shouts of "ay" or hisses and shouts of "no", whether or not they would allow the play to be performed again) included getting onto one's knees in a combination of praying for the monarch and praying for a successful outcome. Indeed, kneeling would usefully have doubled as a device to help "save" the play, for the audience would find it harder to dismiss a text presented by a supplicant who associated himself so patriotically with the monarch.

Alternatively the prayer was always spoken at the end of public theatre performances--as it may always have been spoken at the end of touring performances (though touring players were often performing in front of a new judgemental audience in a way that fixed players were not). If that is so, then the prayer was rather like the conclusion to an entertainment bill or advertisement, which always ended "vivat rex" or "vivat regina", suggesting the prospective merriment was authorised and acceptable. (6) It should be borne in mind that, until recently, British theatrical productions and cinema performances ended, as BBC Radio 4 still does each evening, with a rendition of "God Save the Queen": it is possible each performance concluded with a prayer, in which case the clown's other business of jig or wit battles (exchanges of "themes" with the audience) will have given way to a serious restatement of company loyalty.

Whether spoken once after a new play, or every day after every play whether always employed and by all companies or sometimes employed and by some companies--the terminal prayer will have provided an odd moment within but yet outside the drama. Such prayers can have had little organic relationship to the play they flanked, and will, somewhat incongruously, have ensured an upbeat patriotic conclusion to a variety of disparate dramas. A play with a prayer, no matter how wayward its content hitherto, will end on a round statement of establishment values.

So the moment that occurs at the end of Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV in the Folio, and internally in the Quarto (1598), in which the Epilogue kneels "But (indeed) to pray for the Queene" (TLN 3350) may, as Shapiro suggests, herald a court performance (with the other half of the epilogue heralding a public theatre performance), but its concentration on kneeling, and the fact that it leads up to, but does not relate, the terminal prayer, suggests otherwise: this looks like a reflection of touring or public theatre practice. Why, then, the two epilogues fused together? It could be that we have, in this medley, two alternate public theatre endings: one epilogue leading to a jig, and one leading to a prayer, perhaps representing two options--secular or religious--for performance; or one of the endings is for touring production and one for fixed performance; or one represents a first performance and one a revival; or one provides a censored text and another gives the replacement. Possibly, though, this simply fits into a model in which epilogue is followed by prayer, for the two are presented as sequent texts in other plays of the period: writes Hattaway, "in King Darius (1565) and The History of Jacob and Esau (1554), a prayer for queen and council follows the epilogue"; he also lists examples where prayers precede epilogues or precede or follow songs (162). (7) And, though it is possible that Kemp spoke the "jig" epilogue, and Shakespeare the "prayer" one, we should be wary of concluding too much from the "ownership" lines that declare the epilogue is "of mine owne making" (TLN 3329), for that may simply indicate that the epilogue is by the epilogue-speaker (who might be anyone, Kemp included). Alternatively, as Epilogues usually wore laurels or "bays" indicating they were successful poets, these words may be part of the Epilogue's fiction: it was the job of the Epilogue to present a phony theatrical "author" who could be praised or condemned for the play (Stern, 112-17).

Either way, the prayer moment in Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV suggests that on some occasions at least Shakespeare's play ended its exploration of troubled kingship, its questioning of everything the monarch stood for, with a rousing, monarchical prayer. Ironies encoded in this text can perhaps be traced to that prayer to come: if the prayer follows from a reminder that "Old-Castle dyed a Martyr" (TLN 3348), which is also a reminder of the fact that Old-Castle resides within Falstaff, its words are already heralded as potentially meaning their opposite. Shakespeare's other plays may well have ended on prayers too, particularly as the company progressed from Lord Chamberlain's Men to servants of the king himself, The King's Men. That means, though, that potentially, whatever king or queen may have been questioned or slaughtered within the fiction, the reigning monarch of the time ruled the end of some versions of every Shakespearean drama--and perhaps every history play altogether.

Prayer conclusions certainly appear, throughout the early modern period, to have provided a form of spoken paratext--a paratext that was part of the oral business of performance, but only sometimes part of the written text of the play. Bringing complicated issues of loyalty to God and to the monarch to bear on whatever play had preceded them, they will (depending on the audience's point of view) have bolstered or ironised the play they accompanied. Perhaps it is for this reason that, after a time, they ceased to be recorded in the printed text.

Works Cited

Most Pleasant and Merie New Comedie, intituled, A Knacke to Knowe a Knave, A. London: Richard Jones, 1594.

New Enterlude no lesse Wittie: then Pleasant, entituled New Custome, A. London: Abraham Veale for William How, 1573.

Newe Mery and Wittie Comedie or Enterlude, Newely Imprinted, treating upon the Historie of Jacob and Esau, A. London: Henry Bynneman, 1568.

Pleasant Comedie Called Common Conditions, A. London: Publisher unknown, after 1576.

Pleasant Comedie, shewing the Contention betweene, Liberalitie and Prodigalitie, A. London: Simon Stafford for George Vincent, 1602. "to ye Q. by ye players 1598". Miscellany. Cambridge University Library MS, Dd.5.75.

Two Wise Men & All the Rest Fooles. London: Publisher unknown, 1619.

B., R. A New Tragicall Comedie of Apius and Virginia. London: William How for Richard Jones, 1575.

Brathwait, Richard. Whimzies. London: Felix Kingston for Ambrose Rithirdon, 1631.

Dekker, Thomas. Old Fortunatus. London: Simon Stafford for Richard Aspley, 1600.

Freeman, Thomas. Rubbe, and a Great Cast. London: Nicholas Okes for Laurence Lisle, 1614.

Hattaway, Michael. "Dating As You Like It and the Problems of 'As the Dial Hand Tells O'er'", Shakespeare Quarterly 60 (2009): 154-67.

Harington, Sir John. A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. London: Richard Field, 1596.

Heywood, John. Wytty and Wyttles in John Heywood: Entertainer. Ed. Rupert De la Bere. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937.

Holles, Gervase. Memorials of the Holles Family 1493-1656. Ed. A. C. Wood. London: Offices of the Royal Historical Society, 1937.

Ingelend, Thomas. A Pretie and Mery New Enterlude: called The Disobedient Child. London: Thomas Colwell, 1570.

Jonson, Ben. Every Man Out of his Humor in Workes. London: William Stansby, 1616.

Kemp, William. A Most Pleasant and Merie New Comedie, intituled, A Knacke to Knowe a Knave. London: Richard Jones, 1594.

Marston, John. Histrio-mastix. London: George Eld for Thomas Thorpe, 1610.

Middleton, Thomas. A Mad World, My Masters. London: Henry Ballard for Walter Burre, 1608.

Peele, George. The Araygnement of Paris. London: Henry Marsh, 1584.

Phillip, John. The Commodye of Pacient and Meeke Grissill. London: Malone Society, 1909.

Pikering, John. A Newe Enterlude ofVice conteyninge, the Historye ofHorestes. London: William Griffith, 1567.

Preston, Thomas. A Lamentable Tragedie, mixed full of Plesant Mirth, containing the Life of Cambises King of Percia. London: John Allde, 1570.

Shakespeare, William, Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. Ed. Charlton Hinman. New York: Norton, 1968.

Shapiro, James. 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. London: Faber and Faber, 2005.

Stern, Tiffany. Documents of Performance in Early Modern Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.

Wager, W. A Very Mery and Pythie Commedie, called The Longer thou Livest the More Foole thou Art. London: William How for Richard Jones, 1569.

Wilson, Robert. The Pleasant and Stately Morall, of the Three Lordes and Three Ladies of London. London: Richard Jones, 1590.

--. Pedlers Prophecie, The. London: Thomas Creede for William Barley, 1595.

Zaller, Robert. The Discourse of Legitimacy in Early Modern England. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007.


(1) Shakespeare quotations are from the facsimile of the Folio prepared by Charlton Hinman using the through-line-numbers [TLN] of that edition.

(2) A capital is used for the Epilogue character; lower case is for what he says.

(3) See also, Preston, f4v: "As duty bindes us for our noble Queene let us pray, / And for her honorable Councel the trueth yt they may use"; Ingelend, H1v: "O God to the we most humblye praye: / That to Queene Elizabeth thou do sende / Thy lyvely pathe, and perfecte waye ... The Lordes of the Counsell, and the Nobylytie, / Most heavenly Father, we thee desyre: / With grace, wisdome, and godly polycie, / Their hartes and myndes, alwayes inspyre"; New Custome, D4v: "Preserve our noble Queene Elizabeth, and her councell all"; R. B., E3v: "Beseeching God as dutie is, our gracious Queene to save, / The Nobles, and the commons eke, with prosperous life I crave"; Common Conditions, G4v: "As duety bindes for our dread Queene Elizabeth let us pray ... Hir counsell Lorde likewise preserve ..."; Wilson, I4r: "from heaven upon our gratious Queene, / All maner blessings may be multiplied, ... Her counsel wise, and Nobles of this land / Blesse"; Kemp, G4r: "God cut them off that wrong the Prince or Commnnaltie. / And may her dayes of blesse never have end, / Upon whose lyfe so many lyves depend".

(4) Between 1529 and 1559 the Privy Council had regulated most dramatic performance, sometimes suppressing it altogether--see Zaller, 385. From 1559 the power of the Privy Council was increased yet further when a proclamation of 16 May required plays to be formally licensed before performance; this lead to a system in which the Master of the Revels, an agent of the Privy Council, approved or censored plays before enactment.

(5) For epilogues as generally the preserve of first performances only, see Stern, 81-119.

(6) For playbills and their features see Stern, 36-62.

(7) He goes on to list other examples in which the prayer precedes the epilogue or precedes or follows terminal songs.

Tiffany Stern is Professor of Early Modern Drama at Oxford University. She is author of Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan (2000), Making Shakespeare (2004), Shakespeare in Parts (2007, co-written with Simon Palfrey, and winner of the 2009 David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies), and Documents of Performance in Early Modern England (2009), winner of the 2010 David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies.
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Author:Stern, Tiffany
Publication:Theatre Notebook
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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