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Royal carnality and illicit desire in the English history plays of the 1590s.


IN a famous passage defending native plays, Thomas Nashe praises dramas "borrowed out of our English Chronicles" such as The Famous Victories of Henry V and 1 Henry VI (glorifying Talbot) that confer "immortalitie" upon the nation's heroes and inspire patriotism, valor, and moral uplift in spectators; compared to the theater "beyond sea," he continues, "our Sceane is more statelye furnisht..., our representations honourable, and full of gallant resolution, not consisting, like theirs, of a Pantaloun, a Whore, and a Zanie, but of Emperours, Kings, and Princes...." (1) Honor, resolution, and stateliness do indeed abound in the stage histories performed during the decade in which Nashe wrote, but a number of these plays also contain a greater element of lust, adultery, and nonconformist sexuality than Nashe suggests. Nor is it unremarkable that the royal figures who give their names to many of the plays' titles are themselves profoundly implicated in attempted seductions, extramarital affairs, or other illicit expressions of sexual desire as well as sometimes being cuckolded. The intention of this essay is to survey some of the more obvious instances of carnality in the histories of the period, to inquire what dramatic purposes they serve, and to suggest that the pervasiveness of these elements may help illuminate the politics and cultural significance of a genre that flowered colorfully in the 1590s and thereafter rapidly declined. It is convenient to begin with the four King Edward plays--Peele's Edward I (1590-91), Marlowe's Edward II (1591-92), Shakespeare's (?) Edward III (1592-93), and the two parts of Heywood's Edward IV (1592-99)--not only because these works comprise a range of playwrights and styles but also because, the difficulties of precise dating aside, they would appear to span the decade chronologically.


Peele's play, which probably preceded Marlowe's since the latter seems to have borrowed verbally from it, (2) is episodic, textually garbled as the result of imperfect revision, and inconsistent in its characterization of Queen Elinor: sometimes she appears as a comedic figure, speaking in a tone of unroyal jocosity as King Edward's "sweete Nell" (line 74) (3)--as his earthy, plain-spoken but adored companion in military campaigns (including a crusade) and even as a vulgar boxer of her husband's ear; at other points she emblematizes hateful Spanish pride, being portrayed as a witch-like foreign princess (Elinor of Castile) who would have the beards of all her male subjects shaved off and the breasts of all women mutilated, and who is given to haughty, egregiously inflated rhetoric. By the end of the play she has become the "scourge of England" (line 2104), an "accursed monster" (line 2473) guilty of both murder and adultery, although her deathbed repentance is represented as sincere. Apart from the use of chronicle material for the depiction of Edward's conquest of Wales and Scotland and the influence of Tamburlaine for the tone of Edward's more vaunting speeches, the play obviously draws upon the traditions of balladry and romantic comedy (several scenes invoke the holiday ambience and greenwood setting of the Robin Hood legend) like that represented by the anonymous Fair Em (1589-91?) and Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1589-92) and The Scottish History of James IV (1590?). (4) A pageant in the middle of the play presents Edward's "beautuous lovely Queene" (line 1452) discovered in her tent, having just been delivered of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward II) whom she ceremoniously presents to the king for christening: "He is thine owne, as true as he is thine" (line 1479). The legitimacy of royal descent is thus celebrated with regal pomp and much lyrical effusion in an episode that echoes the equally ceremonial presentation of the crown to the title character as successor of Henry III in the opening scene.

The final section of Edward I then vilifies Elinor almost beyond recognition, concentrating on her barbaric cruelty, her jealousy of the Mayoress of London (whom she poisons by means of an adder applied to her breast), and on her "loose delights" (line 2466) and "lawles lust" (line 2517); in a death-bed confession the queen reveals that she has violated her marriage to King Edward by sleeping with his brother Edmund and by conceiving her daughter Joan of Acon (now married to the Earl of Gloucester) not legitimately as everyone had supposed, but rather by "a leacherous Frier" (line 2579). The "tragic" matter of the drama, which ends with the deaths of both Queen Elinor and Joan (after the latter's bastardy has been revealed to her), is drawn from two ballads. (5) One of these, as in the play, recounts the poisoning of the mayoress and the miraculous incident by which the queen is punished for her arrogance by being swallowed up by the earth at Charing Cross and resurrected at Queenhithe; the other, concerning a different Elinor (the wife of Henry II) but adapted by Peele for the reign he was dramatizing, tells the story of how the dying queen confesses her carnal sins to two French friars who are really the king and a high official in disguise. In Peele the second friar becomes King Edward's offending brother. The play's blackening of Elinor's character seems to reflect popular anti-Spanish feeling, perhaps exacerbated by the recent Armada against England and the memory that "bloody Mary" (Queen Elizabeth's Catholic predecessor on the throne) had been the daughter of Catherine of Aragon as well as the wife of Philip II. Peele's text contains a vague reference to the "Proud incest" (line 1689) of the Spanish royal family into which Elinor had been born. Although Elizabethan audiences would hardly have known the genealogical particulars--the fact, for instance, that the pope had dissolved the marriage of her grand-parents on grounds of consanguinity and that her grandfather's earlier marriage had also brought on papal condemnation for the same reason--they would surely be aware that Spanish royalty was notorious for inbreeding and intermarriage. (6)

Edward I is more interested in romance, stage spectacle, and the patriotic celebration of "merrie England" (line 521) than it is seriously concerned with politics. Nevertheless, as Ribner points out, the play makes clear that "kings must treat their subjects as they would be treated themselves" (90), and Queen Elinor, in contrast to her husband, becomes a negative example of good relations with her English subjects. Just as importantly, the play underlines the dangerous threat to stable rule that illicit sexuality within a royal marriage can present. While Edward demonstrates his prowess as a warrior-hero and defender of his country against traitors and military enemies, his foreign wife, although she bears him a legitimate heir, undermines his position by unpopular displays of un-English arrogance and is finally revealed to have been unfaithful to his bed--"a Traitresse to [her] Lord" (line 2477) and the perpetrator of an "incestuous sinne" (line 2552) with the king's closest ally, his brother Edmund.

Peele's drama, like most Elizabethan histories, endorses the doctrine of divine right: the queen herself alludes to Edward's "sacred person" (line 1666) while the Earl of March pursues rebels who "havock ... Englands sacred roialty" (line 2070). Elinor's extramarital lust thus counts as an insidious form of treason, not only to God but to her liege lord--an assault not only upon the family of which she is theoretically the responsible mother but also upon the state; her infidelities have imperiled both of the king's two bodies, his body natural and his body politic, as united in the sanctity of the anointed Edward and his successors. If, as Thomas Bilson wrote in 1585, the "priuate familie ... is both a part and a paterne of the common-wealth," (7) how much more vital is the solidarity of the most prominent of public families--that which embodies national sovereignty and is the breeding place of future monarchs. In the final scene of Peele's play the betrayed king, grieving for his "lovelie Elinor late deceast" (line 2640), decrees that she "Shall have [such] Honor as beseemes [her] state" (line 2629) and orders that an elaborate cross be erected in her memory, thus apparently forgiving her adultery and refusing to moralize upon it. But the play implies nonetheless that the infant Prince of Wales, who embodies the future hope of England and secures the continuity of Edward's line, is legitimate as much in spite of his mother's character as because of it.

In terms of sexual politics as well as in most other respects, Edward II, Marlowe's grimly realistic, tightly structured tragedy of royal weakness, is infinitely more sophisticated and complex than Peele's gallimaufry of chronicle epic, romance, and supernatural legend. The dramatic action is based almost exclusively on Holinshed, supplemented by Fabyan, Stow, and probably Grafton, (8) but effectively compressed to dramatize a ruinous sequence of events spanning more than two decades so as to highlight King Edward's regnal ineptitude, the de casibus rise and fall of Mortimer (his overreaching chief adversary), the king's rejection of his queen for his male favorites (Gaveston and Spencer, Jr.), the civil chaos resulting from these conflicts, and, most importantly, the degradation, intense personal suffering, and sadistic death of Edward himself as both man and monarch. Showing no interest whatever in the sanctity of kingship despite the savage humiliation of which Edward himself becomes the victim, Marlowe concentrates on the intersection of sexual magnetism with political power at the level of human desire and frustration; and the tragedy is notable for being the only Elizabethan play to portray the homoerotic passions of a major character with honesty, psychological insight, and tragic sympathy.

Illegitimacy as a threat to monarchical succession ceases to be an issue. Edward's sexual liaisons with male lovers obviously present no danger of unwanted progeny, and we learn of Queen Isabella's adultery with Mortimer after she has been driven from her husband's bed (the couple "kiss while they conspire," she continuing hypocritically to bear "a face of love" to the fallen king [4.6.13-14]) only after Edward's son has been clearly established as heir apparent. Mortimer commands a military force in Prince Edward's "right" (4.4.17) well before his father's dethronement and aspires no higher than to be Lord Protector (5.2.12, 5.4.62) after the boy's accession as Edward III. Marlowe is far from demonizing the protagonist's deviant sexuality in a crudely moralistic way as the mortal sin from which the political disasters of the play inevitably flow. Sodomy for Elizabethans was indeed a capital offense, but, as is now widely recognized, remarkably few prosecutions for it occurred, (9) and Mortimer's uncle, a senior baron who opposes Edward for weightier reasons, defends the king's obsession with Gaveston as a passing and relatively harmless proclivity of youth, citing classical precedents--Alexander the Great, Hercules, Achilles, Cicero, and Socrates:
 The mightiest kings have had their minions ...

 And not kings only, but the wisest men....

 Then let his grace, whose youth is flexible
 And promiseth as much as we can wish,
 Freely enjoy that vain light-headed earl,
 For riper years will wean him from such toys.

The political conflicts of the play are rooted in a contest of adamant wills--of assertion and defiance involving the clash of egos, class struggle, and the good of the commonwealth in competition with royal prerogative and all-consuming personal desire. Gaveston and Spencer Jr. are hated and hunted to their deaths not because of their sexual propensities but because their amorous relationships with Edward alter the traditional power structure of the realm. From the perspective of the hereditary aristocracy, obsessive love affairs between a reigning sovereign and a "minion," whether he be the "basely born" Gaveston (1.4.402) or the "base upstart" Spencer (3.2.21), invert the time-honored hierarchy of respect and authority, rendering the feudal source of national honor and prestige passive, manipulable, and capable of being exploited for private advantage. Edward outrages his court by turning over the Great Seal of England to Gaveston to "Save or condemn" at will in the king's name (1.1.167-69) and by seating his "base peasant" beside him on the throne where the queen ought to sit in a symbolically disruptive act that makes the favorite politically equal to himself (1.4.7-9).

But Marlowe also ironizes the stereotypical and much satirized relationship between master and minion since Gaveston plays the symbolic role of Edward's submissive "Ganymede" (1.4.180) or adolescent boy (at 1.1.143 Edward likens him to the beautiful lad Hylas and himself to the bereaved Hercules) while nevertheless asserting himself ambitiously as a grown man, thus dominating his protector so as to share royal power and wealth. Holinshed, the principal source, describes the Gascon favorite as "a goodly gentleman and a stout" who "would not once yeeld an inch" to his enemies. (10) Edward is portrayed as the sexually passive partner in the love relationship (he plays Hero to Gaveston's Leander in the latter's opening soliloquy)--a fact that becomes dramatically shocking in the anal ravishment to which the king is subjected in the death scene: Lightborn, Edward's executioner and a political extension of Mortimer's stolen power, overmasters and sodomizes his prostrate sovereign by reaming him with a red-hot spit. And the queen (now Mortimer's concubine) cruelly avenges herself upon the spouse who had estranged her by agreeing to "willingly subscribe" (5.2.20) to any fate for the deposed king that Mortimer shall devise. Her treason as a passive accessory to her husband's destruction thus becomes at once sexual and political, preparing us for the intense pathos of a moment in the murder episode where the bedraggled Edward, half-immersed in sewage and ignorant of his wife's malice, cries out:
 Tell Isabel, the queen, I looked not thus
 When for her sake I ran at tilt in France
 And there unhorsed the Duke of Cleremont.

Marlowe in fact devises a dramatic structure in which carnal passion and power politics both reinforce and obstruct each other in complex and symbolic ways, involving all the major characters--Edward II, Gaveston, Spencer Jr., Isabella, Mortimer, and even the satanic Lightborn, who caresses his royal victim in a parody of sexual foreplay before the hideous consummation of the murder itself, which takes place on a bed and involves the sufferer's being pressed down under an overturned table in addition to the fiery penetration of his fundament. Kingly failure and sodomitic rape are seen to coincide. The tragedy explores interconnections between monarchical, psychic, and sexual identity in its title figure, as well as raising complicated questions about what is natural and unnatural for a man who is both a head of state and a vulnerable human being--a figure hobbled by stubborn will and strong romantic desire coupled to a dependent personality. Rather than adopting a coarsely didactic stance, the play allows us, as Bruce Smith observes, not only to experience "an eroticization of class difference" (216) but also to "see all sides" of a problem that involves the claims of public duty and private longing, "Gaveston's calculations, Edward's devotion, the lords' distress, [and] England's needs as a kingdom" (217). But the vision thus projected is profoundly pessimistic. Marlowe's embedded dialectic between emotional self-fulfillment and patriotic responsibility, between identity as a lover and identity as a king, erects an impasse that only death can break.

The anonymous Edward III, increasingly attributed at least in part to Shakespeare, obviously anticipates Henry V, celebrating, as it does, famous English victories over the French at Sluys, Crecy, Poitiers, and Calais as the later play glorifies Henry's conquest at Agincourt. At surface level, the dominant and familiar themes are the grandeur of England's past as incarnated in one of her most heroic warrior-monarchs and the education of a prince--in this case of both Edward III and his eldest son--in the kingly virtues of honor, courage, loyalty, self-discipline, and clemency. While the youthful Prince of Wales successfully passes tests of manhood and chivalry (he earns his knighthood by being forced to defend himself in battle against fearful odds unaided), his father, King Edward, influenced by Queen Philippa, finally masters "his vengeful desire to annihilate his enemy," learning "that mercy and peace are attributes of martial magnanimity"; Edward learns "both publicly and privately that the king's law must subserve moral law." (11) But the sovereign's supposed growth in the acquisition of properly royal and Christian values also involves his confronting a lustful obsession with the Countess of Salisbury; ultimately the king conquers this destructive passion, thereby proving his right, as John Lewis phrases it, to "govern others" by learning to "govern himself." (Warfare "between duty and carnal appetite" within the soul of a monarch, Lewis observes, was a popular motif in the drama of the 1580s and 1590s.) (12)

The play's sources (Holinshed, Froissart, and a highly fictionalized account of Edward's romantic entanglement from Painter's Palace of Pleasure) partly account for its double emphasis on King Edward's military exploits and his extramarital infatuation. (13) Melchiori, the editor of the most scholarly edition, suggests that Edward's founding of the Order of the Garter in 1344 may lie behind the play's action, although the almost certainly collaborative text no-where mentions the incident. According to Holinshed (in a passage translated from Polydore Vergil's Latin Historia Anglica), the garter that fell from a lady's leg, occasioning unwanted levity and provoking the king to found "so noble an order" from so "base and meane" a beginning, might have belonged to "some ladie with whom he was in loue"--a lady whom Holinshed in a marginal note identifies with "The countes of Salisburie." (14) Holinshed no-where gives an account of this supposed relationship, but his tantalizing mention of the countess, as Melchiori points out, could have prompted the deviser (or devisers) of the plot to turn to Froissart and eventually Painter for the story behind the one-sided love affair. If such was the case, we would have a plausible means of explaining the narrative link between Edward's "amours with the Countesse" (15) and his actions as a warrior-king.

As Melchiori has persuasively argued, Edward III seems to have undergone substantial and stratified revision--probably involving Shakespeare for the version of the Countess of Salisbury's story that survives in the extant text. Although the play may originally have intended to heroicize its title character as a model prince who had curbed his lust and had risen to a higher level of moral strength, the drama as we have it presents a much more ambiguous and ironic portrait of royal values and behavior. The Victorian critic, Charles Knight, arguing against Shakespeare's hand in the play, believed it to be broken-backed: "In the first two acts we have the Edward of Romance,--a puling lover, a heartless seducer, a despot, then a penitent. In the last three acts we have the Edward of history,--the ambitious hero, the stern conqueror, the affectionate husband, the confiding father...." (16) But even if the perceived asymmetry in Edward's portrayal is partly due to a later reshaping and reconceptualization of the drama, darker and more unflattering aspects of his character seem, on closer inspection, to emerge.

Several of the portrait's more negative details are associated with the pervasive theme of oath-taking and oath-breaking. Edward, for example, violates his original covenant with King John of France (3.3.58-60) when he decides to invade that country, suddenly persuaded by the tergiversating Count of Artois that he now has a valid claim to the French throne (1.1.1-41). Yet he condemns as "Ignoble" (1.1.136) King David of Scotland, who has forgotten "his former oath" (1.1.126) to Edward, invaded English border towns, and is now laying siege to Roxborough Castle where the Countess of Salisbury is immured. Later the countess accuses Edward of "Forgetting [his own] allegiance and [his] oath" to Queen Philippa by seeking to infringe the "sacred law" of marriage (2.1.260-61). Edward saves the countess from King David, who has "besp[oken] her for [him]self" (1.2.44), only to exploit the lady's grateful hospitality as an opportunity to pursue his own "shameful love" (1.2.117) through a strategy of entrapment involving the exaction of misleading oaths. (17) At first he instructs his secretary Lodowick to woo the lady on his behalf by means of poetry, arguing that ingenious rhetoric can make a listener redefine "sin" as "virtue" (2.1.114); then, when conventional praise fails ("I had rather have her chased than chaste" [2.1.154]), he dismisses Lodowick, reveals himself as a doting admirer, and manipulates her into proving her "devout obedience" to her "dread sovereign" (2.1.218-20) by swearing to please him in any way he chooses, by which he privately means the yielding up of her body. Once aware of his nefarious intentions, she ripostes by arguing elaborately that since her body and soul are inseparable, she would be committing "high treason against the king of heaven" (2.1.258) and that she has already sealed an oath of fidelity to her husband (her "sovereign" in marriage [2.1.272] and a loyal subject of the "anointed" Edward [2.2.267]) just as he has similarly pledged himself to the queen.

Still determined to "enjoy her" ("I cannot beat/With reason and reproof fond love away" [2.1.292-93]), Edward springs his second trap by pressing her father, the Earl of Warwick, to swear rashly to do anything in his power to assuage the king's grief, even if the request should mean his death or loss of honor. Thus Edward forces Warwick to perform the "devil's office" (2.1.338)--i.e., to become pander to his own daughter, thereby wronging God, his own child, and his friend (the lady's absent husband) in order to keep the letter of his vow. Reluctantly undertaking his abhorrent duty, a "graceless errand" (2.1.374), Warwick reasons casuistically to the countess that "Honour is often lost and got again" (2.1.389), that life at any price is better than death, and that "The king's great name will temper [her] misdeeds" (2.1.405); she gamely refutes her father by preferring death to becoming "an actor in [the king's] graceless lust" (2.1.430), thus causing him to concede that "An honourable grave is more esteemed / Than the polluted closet of a king" (2.1.433-34) and evoking the proverb (repeated verbatim from Shakespeare's sonnet 94), "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds" (2.1.452).

The upshot involves still another entrapping oath, the pledge elicited by the countess from the king that she will grant his wish for her body, provided that he "remove those lets / That stand between your highness' love and mine" (2.2.135-36)--a riddling way of insisting that he first execute both Salisbury and Queen Philippa, their respective spouses and the obvious impediments to a royal marriage. Such is Edward's "lascivious" obsession (2.2.177) that he consents even to this radical condition (2.2.150); whereupon, seizing her wedding knives, the countess gives one to Edward (the better to dispatch his queen) and threatens with the other to kill her "love"--her husband Salisbury "asleep within [her] heart" (2.2.174-75)--by stabbing herself unless Edward "swear[s] ... never henceforth to solicit" her or ever again to prosecute his "most unholy suit" (2.2.182-83). Caught on the horns of an impossible dilemma, the king finally awakens from his "idle dream" (2.2.198), abandons his carnal purpose, and returns to his role as a military commander and head of state.

The entire sequence of steps during the attempted seduction resembles a chess game, the antagonists checking and counterchecking each other in a manner that exemplifies the resourcefulness of their wit as much as their dedication to sexual passion or lofty principle. Whoever dramatized the historically negligible story of the king and the countess may have wished, following Painter, to valorize the triumph of chastity over the extraordinary pressures of a royal assault. But the resulting effect was to sully the character of King Edward almost irremediably and to create an impression of head-strong selfishness, lust-driven tyranny, willful irresponsibility, and unkingly brutality. Lying behind the story, as Shakespeare or some unknown dramatist met it in the pages of Froissart and Painter, was Jean Le Bel's far more lurid account of how King Edward had "raped [the countess] so savagely that never was a woman so badly treated; and he left her lying there all battered about, bleeding from the nose and the mouth and elsewhere ... Then he left the next day without saying a word." (18) A tinge of Le Bel's attitude or the tradition of the disgraced Edward that it reflects seems somehow to have leaked through into the play. At a few points, it is true, Edward acknowledges the wrongfulness of his attempt upon the countess, most notably when the sight of his son, the Black Prince, reminds him of his commitment to the queen because of the family resemblance:
 ... those his eyes are hers,
 Who looking wistly on me make me blush,
 For faults against themselves give evidence.

 ... shall I not
 Master this little mansion of myself?
 Give me an armour of eternal steel,
 I go to conquer kings; and shall I not then
 Subdue myself, and be my enemies' friend?

But Edward instantly suppresses this qualm of conscience, mentally rejecting his wife as "but black" (= ugly), thus punning on the epithet borne by her son the Black Prince (2.2.107), and resumes his pursuit of the countess, rationalizing his defection from battle with the specious argument that it is more sinful "to hack and hew poor men, / Than to embrace in an unlawful bed" (2.2.112-13).

Additional details of Edward III also undermine a positive estimation of the king's character and of the patriotic nationalism he supposedly embodies. If war is a "school of honour" (1.1.165), as the untried Prince of Wales claims, his father abruptly abandons those he has committed to battle both in Scotland and on the continent. In a soliloquy Lodowick bids "farewell" to "Scottish wars," recognizing that a "lingering English siege of peevish love" (2.1.22-23), Edward's affair with the countess, is about to replace martial duty. Conventional Petrarchan imagery of erotic love as warfare is invoked to give point to the effeminizing supersession of the bedchamber over the military camp. The Earl of Derby, who has been sent to solicit the aid of the German emperor for Edward's French campaign, and Lord Audley, who has mustered troops to support the king in Scotland and dutifully brought them to his doorstep, are both ignored by their besotted master. Then Edward promptly undoes Audley's labor by casually dismissing the men so loyally assembled, thereby endangering his own as well as national safety. Totally preoccupied by the countess, the king in a revealing slip of the tongue even substitutes her name for that of the emperor, since she has become "as imperator over [him]" and he her "kneeling vassal" (2.2.40-41). The play also generates skepticism about the supposed glories of English conquest. As Champion (124-25) notes, Edward displays an almost fanatic callousness in refusing "On pain of death" (3.4.47) to send rescuers to his embattled son, whose death at French hands as he "is labouring for a knighthood" (3.4.31) seems otherwise inevitable, even justifying his willingness to sacrifice the heir to his kingdom with the comment, "We have more sons / Than one, to comfort our declining age" (3.4.36-37). Then, when the prince miraculously triumphs over his enemies, his father takes partial credit for the achievement: "Now, John of France, I hope / Thou knowest King Edward for no wantonness, / No love-sick cockney ..." (3.4.112-14). Horrifying images of death in warfare ("Here flew a head dissevered from the trunk, / There mangled arms and legs were tossed aloft ..." [3.1.165-66]) seem calculated to stimulate more revulsion than patriotic exultation, as does Edward's doom that the burghers of Calais should be dragged alive around the city walls, then quartered (5.1.36-37)--a cruelty forestalled only by the queen's intercession.

The "ideological ambiguity" of Edward III, to borrow Melchiori's useful phrasing, turns on the related themes of "divided allegiance" and "the interplay of sexual passion and power" (36-38). King Edward thrusts upon two loyal subjects (the countess and her father) the pitiless necessity of choosing between obedience to their sovereign and obedience to divine law as prompted by conscience. (19) Thus he manifestly abuses his power as a divine-right sovereign--a sovereign who theoretically embodies God's imperatives--by rashly creating a breach in the supposed unity of political and religious authority implied by the doctrine of the king's two bodies. By assaulting the countess sexually, Edward drives a wedge between his body natural (which includes his erotic desires) and his body mystical (the sacramental extension of God's rule, which includes his marriage to Philippa). The motif of divided allegiance arises later in the play when Salisbury releases his French prisoner Villiers for the purpose of securing for him a passport through enemy territory, on condition that Villiers swear an oath to return to captivity, should he fail to obtain the document from the Dauphin Charles. Villiers, placing fidelity to his oath even higher than the authority of his prince, wins Charles to grant the passport by insisting that, should it be denied, he must "in conscience" (4.3.27) recommit himself to his former captor; Villiers is bound to obey the Dauphin, he insists, "In all things that uprightly he commands" but not in a "lawless" order that would cause him to violate "the covenant of [his] word" (4.3.31-34). Salisbury, having obtained the writ of free passage, is nevertheless captured by the French, whereupon King John orders him executed. John only reverses the order for Salisbury's death when his son Charles insists that to hang Salisbury and override his signature on the passport would "disgrace" his royal honor (4.5.73), even though the king attempts to argue that his son's "breach of faith" (4.5.87) would be excusable if it were done in obedience to a royal command.

Thus the play absorbs the element of Edward's sexual rapacity and his ultimate governance of it into a larger context--the potentially subversive issue of limitation on a monarch's power. More complex and multivalent than at first it appears, this particular chronicle play not only presents itself as a panegyric of English heroism and national pride (including an allusion to the defeat of the Spanish Armada); (20) it also casts a critical light upon the problems inherent in absolute monarchy as exemplified by the dangerous conduct of a figure such as Edward III who is at once glamorous and repellent, brave and unfeeling, virtuous and potentially vicious. In some sense, of course, Edward III may intend to represent the king's temptations as those of any robust soldier writ large; but, as Warwick says in an eloquent statement evocative of Isabella's appeal to Angelo,
 The greater man, the greater is the thing,
 Be it good or bad, that he shall undertake....

 An evil deed, done by authority,
 Is sin and subornation; deck an ape
 In tissue, and the beauty of the robe
 Adds but the greater scorn unto the beast.
 (2.1.435-47) (21)

If the title character of Edward III is presented as having been temporarily sidelined by a sudden eruption of sexual desire for the Countess of Salisbury, a passion that seems to evaporate almost as quickly as it descends, his counterpart in Heywood's Edward IV comes off as an engaging Lothario who gratifies his fleshly appetites whenever and wherever his roving eye happens to fall. Although Heywood's two-part play concentrates on Jane Shore, Edward's best-remembered mistress (the wife of a city goldsmith), audiences would probably have known that the historical king, a prepossessingly hand-some man, was notorious for a multiplicity of concubines and for his easy way with the wives of London citizens whose affections he courted and with whom he remained uncommonly popular. (22) Both Hall (Edward V, fol. xvii) and Holinshed (III, 727), two of Heywood's putative sources, report that before he seduced Mistress Shore, Edward had got with child Lady Elizabeth Lucy; according to the chronicles, it was this relationship that provided Gloucester (the future Richard III) with the opportunity, using the corrupt cleric Dr. Shaw as his mouthpiece, to allege that the two juvenile princes, Edward V and his younger brother, were bastards. (23) Heywood omits mention of Lucy but includes a speech by Shaw declaring his intention to "prove" in a sermon that "King Edwards children [are] not legitimate" (II, 1658-59). (24) At least some members of Heywood's audience would also have recalled Shakespeare's popular 3 Henry VI (1591) in which the widow Grey was depicted as having become Edward's queen only because, in pleading for the restoration of her slain husband's property, she had adroitly refused the royal philanderer's price of sexual favors outside wedlock, holding him off until he finally offered her marriage.

Edward IV evinces a curious fusion of genres. Ostensibly a political drama based on chronicle materials, it devotes a certain amount of space in part 1 to civil unrest (notably the successful defense of London by city merchants and apprentices against the bastard Lord Falconbridge and his Kentish supporters) and in part 2 to foreign affairs (Edward's invasion of France to make good his suzerainty over Louis XI). The coming to power of Edward's brother Gloucester, Lord Protector to Edward V, also includes much machination and court intrigue of the sort already familiar to audiences from Shakespeare's Richard III; indeed part 2 with its introduction of Clarence, Brackenbury, the young princes, Buckingham, Catesby, Tyrrel, and Lady Anne covers much of the same ground and reads in part like a competing version of the earlier drama. But Heywood's major interest, as in A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603), is domestic tragedy--the wrecking of the happy middle-class marriage of the admirable Matthew Shore and his wife owing to royal coercion. Here the emphasis falls on Matthew's voluntary exile as he copes with the shame of cuckoldry and on his secret return to London in disguise, on Jane's charitable works after she has acquired power as a royal mistress, on her fall from wealth to poverty and her humiliating punishment after the king's death strips her of royal protection, on her pathetic suffering and penitence as a social outcast, and finally on the reconciliation and death from grief and exposure of the married couple in Shoreditch, the London suburb named in their memory.

Comedy, however, is far from absent. The play diverts us with folkloristic episodes derived from a popular ballad--the story of Edward IV's visit in disguise to the house of Hobs, the tanner of Tamworth, (25) where (as in Henry V with his soldiers before battle) the monarch exposes himself to uncensored comments from a commoner who thinks he is speaking to "Ned," the king's butler; Hobs then visits the court, intending to persuade Ned to intercede with the king so that his n'er-do-well son may be spared hanging. The plain-spoken tanner treads dangerously close to treason by showing himself hostile to courtiers, by praising his daughter's looks as superior to the queen's, by suggesting that "poore King Harrie" (i.e., Henry VI "put ... down" by Edward and imprisoned in the Tower) is said to be "the honester man of the two" rulers, that the disguised king "lookes like a theefe," and that in comparison to Henry ("a devout man"), Edward is "a merrie companion, and loves a wench well" (I, 1162, 1182-83, 1210-12, 1266-68). At one point the jovial monarch tests Hobs's loyalty by pretending to be a Lancastrian sympathizer: "I say Harrie is the lawfull King, Edward is but an usurper, and a foole and a coward," to which Hobs gratifyingly responds that Ned may be "speak[ing] treason" (I, 1290-93). Edward's merriment with Hobs seems designed to celebrate the king's common touch and to reify his popularity with ordinary subjects; nevertheless, these scenes contain obvious subversive elements that the incognito monarch can cleverly manipulate into expressions of orthodox affirmation. As new historicists like to argue, established power in the early modern period typically co-opted criticism of idealized royalty by producing deliberate subversions of its own glorification that it then rendered toothless by containment. (26)

The dramatization of Jane's fall also reflects traditions of the morality interlude, the Corpus Christi cycles, and the saint's play. King Edward is presented in part as a powerful tempter who lures Jane into overriding her conscience; and her fellow citizen Mistress Blague functions as an evil counselor who encourages a friend's moral failure and then, like Judas, betrays her while wickedly profiting from the act. Richard III, who not only punishes Jane with disproportionate cruelty but also connives to have the princes murdered in the Tower, emerges as a stock tyrant--a figure like the Herod of the biblical plays, infamous for the massacre of the innocents. Finally Jane, who salves the wounds of her unrecognized husband with "a precious Balme" (II, 2030), recalls the famous subject of the Digby Mary Magdalene (ca. 1480-1530). In this influential mystery drama, the penitent harlot of the title, seduced by Curiosity under the aegis of Lady Lechery and richly garbed and bejeweled to manifest her worldliness, anoints the feet of Jesus "With swete bawmys" (line 613) or "a precius ointtment" (line 640.3) in token of her spiritual conversion. (27) The dramatist's sentimentalization of Jane as a model of Christian patience and repentance in part 2 raises her almost to the level of secular sainthood. (28)

Heywood in An Apology for Actors (1612), encourages us to regard Edward IV as homiletic: chronicle plays, he claims, "teach ... subiects obedience to their King" and "shew the people the vntimely ends of such as haue moued tumults, commotions, and insurrections" (sig. F3v); in dramas that depict illicit sexuality, the "vnchaste are ... shewed their errors, in the persons of [various foreign courtesans] and amongst vs, Rosamond, and Mistresse Shore" (sig. Gv). (29) Churchyard's poem on Shore's wife in the second edition of The Mirror for Magistrates (1563), another possible source for Heywood's play, takes a similarly didactic attitude, making Jane shoulder the chief onus of blame for her sorry fate:
 Beware, take heede, fall not to follie so,
 A myrrour make of my great overthrowe:
 Defye this world, and all his wanton wayes,
 Beware by me, that spent so yll her dayes.
 (lines 389-92) (30)

But Heywood's drama is subtler and more complex than these quotations might suggest.

King Edward exerts such pressure on Jane, a naive and confused young woman who adores her husband (unlike the figure of More's account who has been married off unromantically in her girlhood), that she finds resistance to a man so far above her station, especially one who can command her as a subject, impossible to sustain. As her husband laments when he is forced to give her up, opposition to the will of a king is tantamount to treason: "Oh what have subjects that is not their kings[?] ... Ile not examine his prerogative" (I, 2521-22). Matthew accepts his cuckoldry with passive resignation: "Where kings are medlers, meaner men must rue" (I, 2333). Jane's response to royal power is essentially that of her spouse's. Like the Countess of Salisbury in Edward III, Jane is caught in a conflict of allegiances between fidelity to her husband and obedience to her sovereign; but she is too flattered, too bourgeois, too unsophisticated, and too frightened of evil consequences to defend herself for long with anything like the countess's staunch moral absolutism and aristocratic commitment to family honor. Although she asserts at first that she "cannot grant" her virtue to Edward (I, 1936), having sworn hyperbolically that she would sooner die than betray her husband and asking rhetorically how a king "should so much forget / His royall State" as to "breake into [her] plighted faith" (I, 2147-49), she is soon swayed by Blague's argument that "this worlds pompe ... is a goodly thing," that the king's "greatnes can dispense with il, / Making the sinne seeme lesser by his worth" (I, 2167-71), and that her power as a royal favorite will equip her to "quit the guilt" of "one small transgression" (I, 2186). Then, having yielded, Jane tries to compensate for her frailty by helping others in need, though all her charity "Cannot consume the scandall of [her] name" (II, 963). Guiltily, she confronts Queen Elizabeth, with whom in one sense she has changed places, but, suppressing an angry impulse to take revenge, (31) the queen offers forgiveness, killing her rival with kindness in typically Heywoodian fashion. After Edward's death exposes her to ruin, Jane becomes a weeping penitent who blames herself rather than her seducer. As one "so readie / To step into a kings forbidden bed" (II, 2365-66), she even welcomes the severity of her punishment. The king's disappearance from the play in the midst of part 2 dissolves the moral tension between his and Jane's sexual irresponsibility, and Matthew's refusal to reclaim Jane as his wife until she is near death leaves us with the final impression of a martyred whore whose sin has been expiated by suffering and whom repentance has sanctified.

The portrait of King Edward is perhaps even more mixed. Ever "affable" (I, 1044), fun-loving, and glamorous, he readily commands the affection and respect of common subjects--even those, like Matthew Shore, whom he personally wrongs and those from whom he exacts burdensome, though officially voluntary, "benevolences" (I, 2023, 2039, 2636, 2649) to finance his foreign war. (32) But he is also woefully careless of his high calling. The opening scene shows him making frivolous excuses for having betrayed Warwick's embassy to France for the purpose of negotiating a dynastic marriage, and for having rashly wedded the politically damaging widow Grey in the interim--a proven breeder, he argues, who can ensure him of an heir. Rationalized self-indulgence has clearly trumped prudent statecraft. His mother, Duchess of York, refers to him as a "wanton king," blemishing the new queen's previous entanglements with a sarcastic reference to her "Bigamie" (I, 70, 74). When the Bastard Falconbridge attacks London, Edward absents himself from the conflict, leaving the defense of his capital to its devoted citizenry, especially the teenage apprentices--"Without the assistance of their lingring King" (I, 744). Edward arrives to praise their valor only after the rebels have been defeated, excusing his apparent "slacknes" and pleading weakly that he had "dallied not" (I, 883, 886). This is a departure from Holinshed, who reports that the Bastard dispersed his men only when he learned of the king's approaching "armie of thirtie thousand men" (III, 690). Edward's dilatory behavior puts his realm at risk, a significant irony of Heywood's treatment being that a monarch whom his successor accused of having fathered bastards fails strenuously to resist the Bastard who seeks to displace him from his throne and reinstate Henry VI. When Shore with middle-class humility refuses a knighthood for services to the crown, Edward promises some alternative reward "to quittance [his] deserts" (I, 924), only to steal his wife.

Edward's mischievous sport with Hobs may seem innocent enough at the level of festive comedy; but this episode too may be viewed as another example of the monarch's playboy neglect of more serious concerns. While amusing himself with the tanner, Edward fails to attend his mother and the queen at a banquet; the situation causes one of his courtiers to comment knowingly, "the King will have his pleasure" (I, 1364). Edward's erotic compulsions betray themselves even here since one of the attractions of Hobs's hospitality is his daughter Nell, the "prettie wench" with whom "Ned" flirts outrageously and a lass he claims to fancy well enough to take to wife (he jests about becoming Hobs's "sonne in law"; I, 1429-32). The jocular host cannot help noticing that his special guest and his companions are "licorish lads" (I, 1442). Edward's "idle eye,... gadding still," first lights upon Jane Shore while she is serving as the Lord Mayor's hostess at a dinner to entertain him in London; his self-admonition addressed to the errant eye, "Keepe home, keepe home, for feare of further ill" (I, 1780-81), makes the point that, at least for the moment, he regards his desire as a form of exile from his better self. Letters containing news that the Duke of Burgundy and the Constable of France will support his claim to the French throne arrive during the meal, and the king suddenly finds it hard to keep his priorities in order: foreign "ayde" may be well enough, but, as he acknowledges privately, Jane's "aid ... hath more power then France / To crowne us, or to kill us with mischance" (I, 1787-90). Thus instantly does Edward's passion for Jane arise--a "fit" that bereaves him "of all reason" (I, 1800-01) and causes him to pursue her lustfully (at first in disguise) until he has possessed her body like the most desirable "jewell" in her goldsmith's shop or the "ring" on her finger (I, 1877, 1888); the "ring," of course, contains a bawdy pun on pudendum (as in The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.307) as well as suggesting her wedding ring. Jane tries to parry Edward's addresses by calling him "a merrie man' (I, 1890), finally awakening after much stress to the truth that the insistent wooer is her sovereign, and flying to Mistress Blague for counsel and support. It is Blague who, although affecting neutrality, invokes the pleasures of being "folded in a princes armes" (I, 2179) and who stresses that "a princes hate is death" (I, 2163). As for Edward's dereliction of duty, Matthew's brother-in-law Francis Emersley observes with justice how strange it is that "in this serious busie time" of preparation for war, considering the "day and nightly turmoile of his Lords, / Yea of the whole estate in generall," the king "can be spared from ... great affaires" of state (I, 2310-15).

It is not Heywood's purpose to vilify or even strongly to denigrate Edward IV. Such disparaging details as the portrait contains are as nothing compared to the villainy of Richard III; despite his wanton ways, Edward is presented as a much-beloved monarch whose "inauspicious" illness and death (II, 1582) elicit genuine grief and cause great anxiety for the future of England among all but Richard's ambitious subalterns. At the gallows, only minutes before his reprieve, Matthew is able to forgive the ruler who "wrackt [his] state, by winning of [his] wife" (II, 1489) and who has unjustly, though unwittingly, condemned him. Learning later of Edward's mortal sickness, he seems to speak for the playwright and most of the audience: "God blesse the king, a worse may wear the crown" (II, 1614). By shifting the emotional and moral emphasis onto Jane, especially in part 2, Heywood mutes Edward's sexual misconduct, making the king seem more the occasion of Jane's fall than its efficient cause. Nevertheless, Edward IV makes it unmistakable that royal carnality can be tragically damaging both to individual subjects and to the state. And perhaps the most pernicious feature of Edward's character is his selfish unawareness or casual disregard of the harm he has done. But without completely alienating our sympathies from Edward, the dramatist concludes his play by democratically transferring symbolic royalty from the palace to the city streets--from a dead king to a dying goldsmith:
 A King had all my joy, that her injoyde,
 And by a King againe shee was destroyde:
 All ages of my kingly woes shall tell....
 (II, 2932-34)

It is the "kingly woes" of the Shores that Heywood really cares about and that define for him the center of historiographical interest. The affairs of Edward, whether amorous or political, merely furnish the necessary context. (33)


Any discussion of the chronicle plays of the 1590s would obviously be meaningless without consideration of Shakespeare--especially of the two tetralogies that made the genre commercially viable and that realized its highest artistic possibilities. Significantly, the kings of the second sequence are virtually free of the sexual illicitness we have been considering. In Richard II Bolingbroke accuses Bushy and Green of having criminally influenced Richard to "Br[eak] the possession of a royal bed," thus making "a divorce betwixt his queen and him" (3.1.12-13), but, as I have argued in my edition of the play, the charge represents political scapegoating on the usurper's part since it contradicts the impression of devoted fidelity between the married pair carefully sustained throughout the rest of the action. The detail, which has no basis in history, probably reflects the influence of Marlowe's homosexual king, whose passion for Gaveston did indeed divorce Edward II from his consort. (34) Shakespeare purposefully ignores Holinshed's statement (III, 502) about the "lasciuious living" and the "leacherie and fornication, with abhominable adulterie," of Richard's court. To have introduced this note would have robbed the title character of his dignity and pathos and the tragedy of its powerful focus on the king's martyrdom (including Richard's comparisons of himself to Christ), on his masochistic vulnerability to Bolingbroke, and on his obsession with divine right. Woodstock (1591-94?), the anonymous drama on the same reign, sometimes referred to as King Richard the Second, Part One, (35) illustrates a wholly different approach to the character. The Richard of this play, lacking totally the majesty and poetic charm of Shakespeare's monarch, is depicted as having enjoyed suspiciously intimate relationships with two favorites, the Duke of Ireland and Sir Henry Greene, which contain hints of homoerotic dependency. (36)

Inasmuch as The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (1583-86) seems to lie behind the two parts of Henry IV and of Henry V, we might expect some Shakespearean dramatization of Prince Hal's amorous sowing of wild oats. In the anonymous play the wayward prince brags of visiting an Eastcheap tavern frequented by "a pretie wench / That can talk well": Hal's jest, "I delight as much in their toongs, / As any part about them" (lines 88-90), (37) contains an obvious touch of bawdry. But Shakespeare reserves the sexually illicit aspects of the Henriad for comedy--for the jokes of Falstaff and his Boar's Head companions (the likes of Mistress Quickly, Doll Tearsheet, and Pistol) and for Shallow's senile reminiscences of Inns-of-Court "bona robas" (2 Henry IV, 3.2.23). The only Shakespearean reference to Hal's youthful concupiscence occurs in Richard II when his future rival, Harry Percy, reports to Henry IV, that he frequents "the stews" and mocks chivalric tradition by wearing "a glove" plucked "from the common'st creature" as a favor in jousts (5.3.16-19). Wooing the princess Katherine after his victory at Agincourt, Hal, now King Henry V, retains a certain lustiness, joking that his bride "must ... needs prove a good soldier-breeder" with whom he can "compound a boy, half French, half English" (Henry V, 5.2.205-08); but marital conquest, at least technically, licenses this expression of male sexual aggression. Apparently the dramatist's increased stress in the second tetralogy on the isolation of kingship and the tragic burdens of the crown made against deviations into royal sensuality or sexual attachments apart from marriage.

The case is otherwise with the first tetralogy in which more scattered action and a wider diversity of narrative elements provided Shakespeare with better opportunities for introducing royal carnality into the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III. The entire sequence dramatizes a downward spiral of England into chaos and nightmare. The initial play opens with the funeral of the valorous Henry V, a child king who fails even to appear until act 3 having acceded to the throne; the final play concludes only after the most unnatural of all monarchs, the "bottled spider" Richard III (Richard III, 4.4.81), has brought the nation to its nadir and met his doom at Bosworth, thereby making possible a restoration of order under Henry Tudor. Sexual waywardness not only contributes to the political and dynastic disintegration; it becomes in some sense a sign of the nation's fallenness. In 1 Henry VI, for instance, Gloucester accuses the Bishop of Winchester, the king's greatuncle, of "lov[ing] the flesh" more than "religion" (1.1.41) and of being a "Lascivious" and "wanton" prelate (3.1.19).

The first and second plays of the group exemplify illicit desire principally in the adulterous relationship of Queen Margaret and her lover, the Duke of Suffolk, whereas the initial play toys satirically with a xenophobic conception of Joan of Arc as a "strumpet" (1.5.12) and "shameless courtezan" (3.2.45) who fraudulently claims to be a virgin of noble birth. In the scene where Joan wins over the Dauphin Charles, he "worship[s]" her (1.2.145) absurdly in the rhetoric of courtly love while she mingles "amorous dalliance, bawdy innuendo, and double-entendres with her claims to heavenly assistance." (38) Though asserting divine authority, she is portrayed as a sorceress who controls him by erotic blandishments more than by holy persuasion. The implied sexual liaison between Charles and Joan caters to English nationalistic prejudice and is obviously intended to provide comedy through ridicule while deflating chivalric notions of warfare; but Suffolk's passion for Margaret of Anjou receives more serious treatment, freighted as it is with baleful and far-reaching consequences.

Pursuing the gratification of his own sexual appetite (he already has a wife), Suffolk manipulates the naive Henry VI into rejecting a diplomatically wise marriage already contracted, and into accepting Margaret instead--the dowerless daughter of the King of Naples and Jerusalem whose titles are politically and monetarily worthless. The price of this disastrous mistake is an unpopular new tax on Henry's subjects to finance his nuptials; the loss of Anjou and Maine as well as other French territories long since won by English soldiers; Margaret's increasing domination over her monkish husband (she reckons him more suited to the papacy than a secular crown); the alienation and eventual murder of Duke Humphrey (Henry's wisest counselor); and the galvanizing of York, who in turn fosters the Cade rebellion, to promote the white rose and seize the crown for himself--in short, civil war. As Suffolk leaves for France to serve as Henry's proxy in the marriage to Margaret, he compares himself to Paris on his way to abduct Helen (1 Henry VI, 5.5.104), hoping ironically for a better outcome than the Trojan War. Nor does the unscrupulous Suffolk fail to combine his lust for his "paramour" (5.3.82) with a lust for power: "Margaret shall now be Queen, and rule the King; / But I will rule both her, the King, and realm" (5.5.107-08). This sordid infatuation, developed by Shakespeare from the merest hint in Hall's chronicle (fol. clviii) that Suffolk was "the Quenes dearlynge," reaches its crisis when the king is forced to exile the arrogant favorite for the murder of Duke Humphrey, at which point we are treated to a protracted love duet of farewells, accompanied by passionate kissing. Then Suffolk, trying to cross the channel, is beheaded by sailors, one of whom jibes grotesquely, "The lips that kiss'd the Queen shall sweep the ground ..." (2 Henry VI, 4.1.75). The lynching incident serves as a prelude to an even grislier scene in which we see the queen weeping over the severed head of her beloved, caressing "this lovely face" that "Rul'd like a wandering planet over me" (4.4.15-16). Ironically, it was Margaret who controlled Suffolk (as she controls the king) rather than the reverse, and we recognize that the duke's fantasy of power was self-delusion. Suffolk's errant love affair with the queen assists the effect of King Henry's weakness and ineffectuality (he accepts his cuckoldom with minimal protest) just as its violent end contributes to the sense of a whole kingdom reduced to bloodshed and anarchy.

The third and fourth plays of the sequence further develop the theme of illicit desire controlling politics. In the scene alluded to above as a probable influence upon Heywood, the "lustful Edward" (3 Henry VI, 3.2.129), freshly but precariously seated on his throne, sells out Warwick, the man who made him king, by undermining his negotiations with Lady Bona (sister-in-law to Louis XI) and willfully taking Elizabeth Grey as his queen. The impolitic marriage, opposed by wiser heads, obviously echoes that of Henry VI in part 1; but Shakespeare's point is that Edward's unchecked libido almost fatally vitiates his statecraft. Shamelessly trying to bargain with the young widow for her body as she petitions for redress, he offers her marriage only because she will accept nothing less. But in satisfying his sexual needs at such high cost, Edward also takes on the baggage of her unpopular upstart family, who create jealousy, resentment, and dissension at court. Apart from precipitating Warwick's treason in France, he also breeds disloyalty in his brothers. Clarence defects to the Lancastrian party when Warwick shifts sides and, by marrying the latter's second daughter, "match[es] more for wanton lust than honor, / Or than for strength and safety of our country" (3.3.210-11). And the foolish marriage prompts crookback Gloucester to deliver an excited soliloquy of over seventy lines as he revels in ambitious plans to seize the crown. Scarcely able to wait until his brother's sensually ravaged body is in its grave, Gloucester tricks Edward in the next play into having Clarence disposed of and maneuvers the council into appointing himself "Protector" (Richard III, 1.3.14) over the boy princes. Although Mistress Shore does not appear as a character in either play, she hovers around the margins of Richard III as a carnal presence, exposing the dynasty of her royal partner to possible charges of illegitimacy; mentioned no fewer than seven times, she serves as an evidence of both King Edward's and Lord Hastings's licentiousness, while as the latter's paramour, she contributes to the endangerment of his political career and even, unwittingly, to his judicial murder. (39)

The theme of sexual energy allied to power politics emerges most histrionically in Richard's seduction of Lady Anne, Warwick's other daughter. The feat is the more astonishing, first, because the seducer, according to his own self-description, is "rudely stamp'd"--not "made to court an amorous looking-glass" or "strut before a wanton ambling nymph" (Richard III, 1.1.15-17), and, second, because the subject of his ardor is a mourner whose beloved husband and father-in-law he has just slaughtered. In truth, the encounter with Anne occurs in the very presence of Henry VI's corpse, and Gloucester's bravura accomplishment of the seemingly impossible touches disturbingly upon the dark psychology of the victim entranced by her predator, of beauty sexually mesmerized by deformity. Richard makes Anne's hatred of him the point of entry to her vulnerability, allowing her first to exhaust herself in vituperation and spitting, then baring his chest and challenging her to slay him with his sword, proffered to her for the act of penetration. Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin analyze this situation compellingly: "Over-whelmed by Richard's aggressive passivity, Anne's resistance quickly collapses, whereupon Richard seals his sexual conquest by enclosing her finger with his ring," a ring that he then compares to her "breast enclos[ing his] poor heart" (1.2.203-04). "Owner of both the sword and the naked breast, both penetrated ring and penetrating heart, Richard has become, as Rebecca Bushnell observes, 'both the man who possesses and the woman who submits.'" (40) Howard and Rackin go on to suggest that Richard's seduction of Anne functions as a metaphor for the demonic hero's actorly seduction of the theater audience--for a way of manipulating them into suspending their disapproval and of converting their revulsion to delight. To quote Bushnell once more, Richard, "like the Vice,... fashions power through strategies of seduction, making himself a powerful object of desire and thus reversing the image of tyrannical desire in which passion is expressed through sexual domination" (120).

King John (1595), the Shakespearean chronicle play yet to be discussed, may have intervened between the two tetralogies, although the dating is controversial. Here too illicit sexuality becomes an adjunct of dynastic conflict, not only because the Bastard Faulconbridge, natural son of Richard Coeur de Lion, emerges as the voice of honesty and pragmatism in a politically adulterate and cynical world, but also because the issue of royal legitimacy, John's or Arthur's right to the throne, lies at the heart of the play's subject matter. Elinor and Constance, the warring mothers of the drama, respectively support their sons as claimants, each accusing the other of sexual infidelity and thereby branding their children with the shame of bastardy (2.1.120-33). To an uninitiated audience the genealogy can seem opaque: John's mother, Elinor of Aquitaine (historically married first to Louis VII and subsequently after a divorce to Henry II), is Arthur's grandmother, the boy's deceased father Geoffrey (Constance's husband) being also another of Elinor's sons and John's elder brother. The play nowhere confirms the validity of these charges (they are indignantly denied on both sides), and, as one editor points out, they "damn the accuser as much as the accused, for if Geoffrey was not 'true begot' [2.1.130] in Eleanor's marriage to Henry II, Arthur's lineal right suffers as much as Eleanor's reputation." (41) The passionate crossfire between the two women settles nothing; yet it advertises dramatically an anxiety about bastardy, legitimate descent, and inheritance that pervades and infects the moral climate of the action. As Joseph Candido notices, Constance conceives of Arthur's political misfortune in terms of adultery when the French withdraw their support and turn hostile to his cause: the boy at his birth was gifted equally by Nature and Fortune, but Fortune, a "strumpet," "adulterat[ing] hourly with [Arthur's] uncle John,... hath pluck'd on France / To tread down fair respect of sovereignty, / And made his majesty the bawd to theirs" (3.1.56-61). (42)

The opening scene explores conflicting claims to a family's property in a serio-comic contest between two half brothers (Philip and Robert Faulconbridge), one of whom is elder and "well begot" though illegitimate, the other younger though "true begot" (1.1.75-77); since both boys had the same mother but different fathers, maternal honor becomes a prominent feature of the colloquy. When it becomes clear that an English king (Coeur de Lion) is Philip's biological father rather than the man who reared him (Lady Faulconbridge confesses that she was "seduc'd / To make room for [King Richard] in my husband's bed" [1.1.254-55]), the Bastard cedes the family land to his brother Robert and accepts a knighthood from King John, thus acquiring a royal status (his new title is Sir Richard Plantagenet) symbolically higher than the one for which he had contended. (43) As he puts it, "new-made honor doth forget men's names" (1.1.187). Social rank, aristocratic bloodline, and inherited wealth no longer coincide, and we become conscious of having entered a more ironic, unstable and pragmatic world where traditional conceptions of primogeniture and legitimacy are called into question or no longer prevail. (44) As his mother points out, John holds his throne by "strong possession" more than by his dubious "right" (1.1.40). As for the Bastard--a divided character who both subverts and subscribes to traditional sovereignty, who "struggles to mediate between opposed moral and political imperatives" (Candido 122)--he tries with limited success to reconcile loyalty to a corrupted king of whom he must disapprove with the maintenance of what ethical standards are possible in a commodified and fallen world. Using the term nonpejoratively, Candido calls this a "morally defensible 'bastardy'" (122). In a realm of competing self-interests justified by simplistic definitions of right and wrong, the Bastard becomes a hero of sorts but necessarily a "hero by default" (Champion 128). (45)


Royal carnality clearly abounds in the chronicle plays of the 1590s, usually in ways that enrich their characterization, politics, language, and wider significance. Of course erotic behavior, often in its more rebellious forms, has always been a staple of theatrical subject matter; and it might be argued that the comedies and tragedies of the period employ it just as resourcefully as the histories. Yet its remarkable salience in this last group--a body of drama that arose and flourished with particular brilliance during the final decade of the century--prompts us to search for explanations. One obvious way to account for the sexual component of these plays is to invoke the orthodoxy of the divine right of kings. Plays about English monarchs tended not only to pay lip service to the doctrine endorsed by Elizabeth I at her accession in 1558 (46) but inevitably to reflect interest in matters of legitimacy and succession logically imbricated with it--especially late in the reign of a queen who remained unmarried and childless and who, although celebrated for virginity, was notorious for young male favorites. Speculation and anxiety about who would succeed became particularly intense toward the end of her reign. Divine right theory postulated two bodies of a sovereign--one mortal and subject to frailties of the flesh, the other immortal and ubiquitous, embodying the grandeur of the state and connected sacramentally through the anointing at coronations to the heavenly source of its authority. Kings were therefore by official definition double-natured--"god[s]" who suffer "mortal griefs" (Henry V, 4.1.241-42). It was only natural that dramatists, without denying the exalted nature of kingly supremacy, should wish also to humanize their royal characters by showing that they had "natural" bodies, subject to carnal temptations, as well as "political" ones. Indeed it was often the seeming contradiction or possible conflict between the two that provided the most interesting characterizations and plots. Monarchs might derive their powers from God but this did not prevent their having feet of clay or excitable loins. By the same token, the near deification in art and literary culture of Elizabeth as Astraea-Virgo, linked symbolically to the Blessed Virgin and promulgated to enhance her image as an absolute monarch, was also undermined by subjects who expressed more constitutional views of her power by emphasizing the role of Parliament and by attacking her ministers such as Leicester and Burleigh for their supposedly corrupting influence. (47) Even where no subverting of royal absolutism was intended, the carefully fashioned image of Elizabeth's semidivinity would naturally provoke countervailing opinions and more down-to-earth assessments, often founded perhaps on nothing more substantial than rumor or intuition.

Another way of accounting for the illicit sexuality in so many of the chronicle plays is to regard it as a contrastive element or foil to the heroic emphasis so often taken as the raison d'etre of such dramas. The stories of past reigns with their battles, conquests, and affairs of state, as in chroniclers like Polydore Vergil and Hall or in poets such as Daniel and Drayton, were seen as composing in their aggregate the epic celebration of England's past, a moral and perhaps even providential embodiment of her greatness. The world so glorified was defined as essentially, indeed almost exclusively, masculine. But negative as well as positive examples proliferated in the source material. Weakness, lust, infatuation, disgrace, and frivolity, most of these qualities involving women in some way, were part of the panorama and indeed were almost necessary to it from the perspective of a practicing dramatist. When the chronicles failed to supply enough of these extraneous features, there were always ballads, novellas, and legends to be drawn upon, since it was traits of personality, tonal variety, moral force, and structural impact that would give life and dramatic viability to a play, and since no writer for the popular theater would feel constrained by mere historicity in the modern sense. At least by intention, if not in fulfillment, Elinor of Castile's incest, Edward III's obsession with the countess, and Edward IV's seduction of Jane Shore may be regarded as belonging to the underside of epic--as antiheroic ingredients of larger, more grandly nationalistic patterns.

Men dominate the history plays because in the Tudor culture of patriarchal England, it was relationships between the fathers and sons of ruling families, between the brothers of noble houses, or between male compeers on battlefields and in council chambers that determined events. For the most part men made policy and had dominion over their wives, children, and servants--or at least should have had dominion over them. Families take their names, titles, and identity from their male progenitors just as nation-states define themselves in relation to their symbolic fathers--the monarchs who govern them. In such a culture women play a subordinate but ambiguous role. Obviously necessary for the engendering of children and the continuation of male bloodlines, they are nevertheless potentially destructive, ironically in some cases because of their function as childbearers. Most of the women in the chronicle plays fall into two broad categories: they are either predatory, lustful, and unnaturally dominant (like Elinor of Castile, Joan of Arc, and Margaret of Anjou) or victims of male power in esse or in posse (like the Countess of Salisbury, Jane Shore, and Lady Anne). Interestingly, the Isabella of Edward II fits both categories, being at first a loving wife whose victimization at the hands of her hostile spouse turns her finally into an adulterous predator, driven as she is from Edward's arms into Mortimer's. Even if they are fundamentally blameless, like Elizabeth Grey in Edward IV and Richard III for instance, female characters often become the means through whom others are ruined. In the analysis of a feminist scholar such as Coppelia Kahn, "Liaisons with women [in the histories] are invariably disastrous because they subvert or destroy more valued alliances between men." (48) Thus the Countess of Salisbury in Edward III and Jane Shore in Heywood's drama divert their royal lovers from kingly duty and responsibility simply by being circumstantially available as sites of attempted seduction. Their sensual desirability is presented as magnetizing and effeminating royal figures who, if not physically tempted, would busy themselves elsewhere with more manly and heroic exploits. There is sometimes a sense in these dramas that the victims of potential violation unjustly bear a measure of blame for the erotic excitement that they involuntarily stimulate. At the same time, however, characters like the Countess of Salisbury who heroically resist their seducers serve as icons of chastity. While the countess exemplifies fidelity to her absent husband, she preserves her sexual virtue intact in a fashion that may glance topically at the strenuously guarded purity of Shakespeare's own virgin queen.

Lastly there is the obsessive fear of bastardy to which irregular sexual relationships may expose the members of royal families, even if only by gossip or vicious innuendo. This issue arises explicitly in the plays by Peele and Heywood as well as in Shakespeare's Richard III and King John. But all heterosexual liaisons outside wedlock release the menace of illegitimacy for contemplation, even if only latently, and therefore constitute a threat to orderly dynastic succession. Contentions for a throne such as those between the Lancastrians and Yorkists in Shakespeare's first tetralogy, or between Richard II and Bolingbroke in his second, are rooted in anxieties about lawful descent and primogeniture, tensions that sexual illicitness or even the rumor of it can only complicate and exacerbate. Froissart (VI, 377), one of Shakespeare's possible sources for Richard II, contains the story, circulated among the partisans of Bolingbroke, that Richard was the illegitimate son of a Bordeaux priest--a circumstance conceivably alluded to in the play at 4.1.155--56. (49) As suggested already, King John develops the theme of bastardy with unusual intensity, exploring its various literal and symbolic interconnections. But the concern is fundamental to any play that treats English monarchical regimes and that interests itself in royal authenticity and dynastic security. As Herbert Lindenberger points out, citing the Archbishop of Canterbury's nearly interminable explication of Henry V's right to the French crown (Henry V, 1.2.35-95), "The action of historical drama is more precisely a struggle for legitimacy than a struggle for power as such. Dramas that depict a hereditary throne generally present sharply divergent readings of genealogies to justify the rights of various contenders to the throne." (50) In such a context the issue of bastardy becomes unavoidable.

The overarching truth to which all the plays encompassed by this discussion testify is that sexual assault or dalliance becomes a dangerous adjunct of political power. Richard of Gloucester's seduction of Lady Anne dramatizes eros employed not for its own sake but as a Machiavellian strategy--one among many--in his quest for the crown. Edward III and Edward IV pursue their extramarital love affairs less cynically than Richard pursues Anne, but both abuse their power as reigning monarchs by exerting the kind of pressure that female subjects find it nearly impossible to withstand. Edward II's homosexual needs make him a virtual thrall to Gaveston, a social and political inferior who takes advantage of his unique position to dominate his royal partner, although it must be said in extenuation that an element of unselfish romance complicates and to some degree enobles Gaveston's motives. Class conflict and jealousy over the sharing of sovereignty intrude upon and thwart Edward's amours, dramatizing the important point that the love affairs of kings can never be wholly sealed off or protected from the dangerous politics that they create. In royal settings, public and private encroach upon each other in complex ways. The exercise of sexual power in the history plays may take on the dimensions of a microcosm, mirroring in little the dominance and submission or strength and weakness of the social, military and dynastic conflicts that comprise the larger action. Thus Edward's sexual rebellion against the hierarchical norms to which he was born help engender the political rebellion that results in his deposition and death. Carnal relationships involving royal characters can rarely be conducted on a basis of psychological or social equality.

Even queens become engines of dynastic procreation and cannot be wooed for merely emotional reasons. In Heywood's drama, for example, when Edward's mother scolds him for marrying so far beneath him, he tries to pacify her by insisting that his motive is the breeding of "an heire apparant" (Edward IV, I, 9). To audiences familiar with the outline of a notorious reign, the king's offhand remark ironically summons up the tragic fate of his son-to-be--the boy king Edward V, murdered by his uncle in the Tower. And the same might be said for Henry V's intention to conceive by Katherine of France "a boy ... that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard" (Henry V, 5.2.207-9). As audiences knew only too well, the son thus compounded, far from leading a crusade, "lost France, and made his England bleed" (Henry V, Epilogue, 12).

Sexual encounters involving royal persons have a potential for conveying the mysterious power of history in the making, a sense of the future captured in the instant; for, as is widely recognized, chronicle plays usually seek to embed their dramatization of the immediate in the broader context of historical flux, of causes and effects, of past and future--one reason that they typically seem less self-enclosed than comedies or tragedies. Elizabethan history plays occasionally use sexually charged moments or erotic situations to provide an ironic flash of recognition--a kind of epiphany--of what the whirligig of time has in store for its participants and successors. The poet Yeats had something like this in mind when he composed his time-oriented lyric, "Leda and the Swan." In this sonnet Zeus, taking the form of a swan, rapes the mortal girl Leda with the result that she hatches two eggs, one containing Clytaemnestra (the murderer of her own husband Agamemnon), the other containing Helen of Troy--both women who would figure spectacularly in the tragic history of the Trojan War:
 A shudder in the loins engenders there
 The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
 And Agamemnon dead.
 Being so caught up,
 So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
 Did she put on his knowledge with his power
 Before the indifferent beak could let her drop? (51)


1. Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Divell (1592) in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), I, 212-15.

2. See Marlowe, Edward II, ed. Charles R. Forker, Revels Plays (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1994), 16.

3. Peele emphasizes the epithet, "sweete Nell," by having Edward repeat it often (cf. lines 175, 728, 739, 1100, 1139, 1462, 1492, 1674, 1951); citations are from Edward I, ed. Frank S. Hook, in The Dramatic Works of George Peele, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952-70), II, 1-212. As Hook suggests (25), the playwright's failure to harmonize the conflicting conceptions of Elinor undoubtedly results from flawed revision.

4. (1) Fair Em unhistorically portrays William the Conqueror as endangering the welfare of his realm by deserting it to woo Blanch, daughter of the King of Denmark, disguising himself as "Robert of Windsor," falling in love instead with the more comely Mariana (a Swedish princess captive at the Danish court), and straining his friendship with the Marquis Lubeck to whom Mariana has promised herself. Tempted at first to "yield to lust" (sc. i, 34), King William masters his wanton appetite for Mariana, whom he identifies in the crisis with the masked Blanch, then finally accepts Blanch (who loves him) as his queen when he recognizes that virtue (inward beauty) is more valuable than mere physical allure. William returns to England in time to avert civil war; he passes a trial of honor and maturity in respect of his passion for Mariana ("I count a lover's state to be / The base and vilest slavery in the world" [sc. xvii, 94-95]); chastity is preserved; and he becomes "a reconciled foe" (sc. xvii, 226) to the Danish king whose daughter he had unwittingly abducted. Citations are from Fair Em: A Critical Edition, ed. Standish Henning (New York: Garland, 1980).

(2) In Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, the Prince of Wales (the future Edward I) amorously pursues a gamekeeper's daughter, "the lovely maid of Fressingfield," to be his "concubine" (sc. viii, 21-23), enlisting the aid of his friend Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, together with the necromantic powers of Friar Bacon, an Oxford scholar. Margaret, the fair maid, falls in love with and is betrothed to Lacy rather than Prince Edward on whose behalf he courts the girl incognito, thus creating a deadly rivalry between the male friends; meanwhile Henry III, the prince's father, entertains Eleanor of Castile, whom he intends for dynastic reasons to marry to his son. Yielding finally to Margaret's appeals, Prince Edward vanquishes his carnal desires, turning over his friend Lacy to be Margaret's husband in the spirit of rekindled friendship and going willingly to greet the Spanish princess whom the king has chosen for him. After further complications, the comedy ends with a double wedding. Citations are from Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, ed. Daniel Seltzer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963).

(3) Irving Ribner aptly describes James IV as a "quasi-historical will-o'-the-wisp" (The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare, rev. ed. [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965], 11) despite its reference on the quarto title page to the Scottish monarch of history "slaine at Flodden" in 1513 and its possible use of Holinshed for the character of the Machiavellian sycophant (Ateukin in Greene, John Damien in the chronicle). The play takes its plot from a novella in Cinthio's Hecatommithi, embedding its main action in a frame story presided over by Oberon, King of the Fairies, and introducing also a clown and a dwarf to provide low comedy. The title figure of the play, an "anointed king" (2.2.67) beset by flatterers like Elizabeth I's brother monarch James VI (whom he is designed partly to reflect), has married the English princess Dorothea; "misled by lust" (Ind., 107), however, James attempts to seduce Ida, daughter of a local countess, with the help of his wicked toady Ateukin. When Ida rejects James's assault upon her honor out of respect for the queen, the king, seeking to remove the impediment to self-gratification, connives with Ateukin to have Dorothea murdered. Being warned in advance, Dorthea escapes in male disguise, is wounded by a pursuer and believed dead by the king, who now promises marriage to Ida. By this time, however Ida has been secretly betrothed to Lord Eustace, her future husband. The play ends happily with King James's repentant reconciliation to a resurrected Queen Dorothea, but not before his lascivious desires and corrupt policies have precipitated open rebellion among his subjects and an invasion led by the English king (Dorothea's father), undertaken to avenge her supposed death. Citations are from Greene, The Scottish History of James the Fourth, ed. Norman Sanders, Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1970); for Greene's possible use of Holinshed, see Sanders, xxxiii.

All three plays, like much of Peele's Edward I, are fictional in content and relate to the history play only tangentially on account of the historical names of a few royal characters. Nevertheless, each drama points to a concern that pervades the chronicle play of the 1590s--namely the fear that kings or their spouses may stray from the path of sexual fidelity, thus threatening the good of the state and the stability of "sacred" monarchical authority, as well as raising the specter of illegitimate offspring.

5. The Lamentable Fall of Queene Elnor (in the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.) and Queen Eleanor's Confession (Child, No. 156). Hook discusses both sources, giving full bibliographical details (19-23, 206-12).

6. Elinor of Castile was the daughter of Ferdinand III and Joan of Ponthieu. Ferdinand's parents were second cousins--Alfonso IX of Leon and Berenguela, daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile. Alfonso IX had earlier married Teresa of Portugal, his first cousin. Although the pope annulled both marriages and placed the kingdom under interdict, the legitimacy of the children was recognized. See "Alphonso," Encylopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. (1910). In the play Peele reinforces the negative force of Elinor's incestuous family background by having the speaker quote a familiar tag from Horace: "Quo semel est imbuta recens servabit odorem / Testa diu" (lines 1687-88; Epistles 1.2.69)--"The jar will long keep the fragrance of what it was once steeped in when new," i.e., the odor of her inherited reputation lingers and is hard to get rid of.

7. Bilson, The True Difference between Christian Subjection and Unchristian Rebellion (Oxford, 1585), Part II, 249.

8. See Edward II, ed. Forker, 41-66. Citations are taken from this edition.

9. See Bruce R. Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 48-53.

10. Raphael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 2nd ed., 3 vols. in 2 (London, 1587), III, 319. Future citations of Holinshed are from this edition.

11. Larry S. Champion, "'Answere to This Perillous Time': Ideological Ambivalence in The Raigne of King Edward III and the English Chronicle Plays," English Studies 69 (1988), 118.

12. See "The Rash Oath in Edward III," Allegorica, 1.1 (1976), 269. Lewis (277) cites Lyly's Campasbe (1580-84), Kyd's (?) Soliman and Perseda (1589-92), and Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1589-92). In Lyly's play Alexander the Great forsakes his attraction to the chaste Campasbe for the military discipline of his calling, his conquest of himself paralleling his conquest of Thebes. Kyd's play portrays Soliman, the Turkish emperor, as besotted with Perseda, the beloved of the Christian knight Erastus, whom he has befriended. At first Soliman resists his desire to force himself upon Perseda, idealistically permitting the lovers to marry; then he relapses, guiltily having Erastus executed on false charges and determining to seize Perseda; she however disguises herself as a man and dies in combat with Soliman, who unwittingly kills the object of his desire, then dies himself by kissing her poisoned lips. For Greene's Friar Bacon and other plays that also contain the motif, see note 4 above.

13. See King Edward III, ed. Giorgio Melchiori (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Melchiori (25-39) analyzes the play's complex use of sources including Painter's Novella 46 and the (probably collaborative) alteration of its text in three stages of composition, attributing the prominence and content of the Countess of Salisbury section and its problematic integration into the text mainly to revision. Citations are taken from this edition.

14. Holinshed, III, 366; see also Melchiori, 21-22.

15. The phrase is Froissart's; see The Chronicle of Froissart: Translated out of French by Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners (Annis 1523-25), ed. W. P. Ker, 6 vols. (London: David Nutt, 1901-03), I, 193; also Melchiori, 22-25.

16. Knight, Studies in Shakespeare (London: C. Knight, 1849), 279.

17. The countess, contrasting the rude exterior of her castle with the beauty and luxury of its interior (1.2.143-61), invites King Edward to enter it. A trenchant irony of this episode is that her graciousness in offering hospitality becomes the occasion of the king's attempted sexual penetration of his hostess.

18. Chronique de Jean Le Bel, ed. J. Viard and E. Deprez, Societe de l'Histoire de France, 2 vols. (Paris, 1904), II, 31; trans. in Michael Packe, King Edward III, ed. L. C. B. Seaman (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), 120; quoted in Melchiori, 23n. 7.

19. For a similar conflict between obedience to a king and obedience to conscience, compare Shakespeare's King John (4.1), in which Hubert is torn between carrying out John's order to blind Prince Arthur and sparing the innocent boy.

20. Cf. 3.1.64-72 where the "proud armado of King Edward's ships" is described as "Figuring the horned circle of the moon." Philip II's Spanish fleet in 1588 was arranged "in half-moon formation" (Melchiori, 108n.)

21. Cf. Measure for Measure, 2.2.117-23. Unless otherwise specified, citations from Shakespeare are to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

22. Holinshed, describing Jane Shore, writes that Edward IV "would saie that he had three concubins, which in three diuerse properties diuerslie excelled. One the merriest, another the wiliest, the third the holiest harlot in his realme, as one whome no man could get out of the church lightlie to any place, but it were to his bed"; two of these women "were somewhat greater personages, and nathelesse of their humilitie content to be nameless ... but the meriest was ... Shores wife ..." (III, 725). This passage is incorporated almost verbatim from Hall's Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548), Edward V, fol. xviiv. Hall in turn lifted the words from Sir Thomas More's History of Richard III, King of England (ca. 1517), later published in More's English Works (1557), 57. Richard Grafton and John Stow in their chronicles (1569 and 1580 respectively) also transcribed More's popular account.

23. Another of Edward's mistresses was Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury (the Talbot of Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI); according to some accounts, this lady, too, was said to have been the mother of the "illegitimate" princes later murdered in the Tower. See Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1955), 215-23; also Eric N. Simons, The Reign of Edward IV (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966), 278.

24. At a later point Shaw, tormented by a ghost who curses him for much wickedness, refers again to his sermon delivered to "prove the lawfull issue of [the] King, / Got out of wedlocke, illegittimate" (II, 2273-74). Citations are from A Critical Edition of Thomas Heywood's "The First and Second Partes of King Edward the Fourth," ed. Whitney A. Peterson (diss., University of Nebraska, 1997).

25. "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" (Child, No. 273).

26. See especially Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 41; also Charles W. Crupi, "Ideological Contradiction in Part I of Heywood's Edward IV: 'Our Musicke Runs ... Much upon Discords,'" Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995): 224-56.

27. Citations are from the text edited by David Bevington in Medieval Drama (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), 687-753.

28. The popularity of Saint Mary Magdalene in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance was such that she tended to be accorded a status only a little lower than the Blessed Virgin. See Clifford Davidson, "The Digby Mary Magdalen and the Magdalen cult of the Middle Ages," Annuale Medievale 12 (1972): 71-72.

29. Heywood also points out that when the historical Edward IV "would shew himselfe in publicke state to the view of the people, hee repaired to his Palace at S. Iohnes, where he accustomed to see the Citty Actors" (sig. Ev), thus establishing a precedent for royal patronage of the public theater and the formation of the Revels office for the vetting of plays to be performed at court. Citations from An Apology for Actors are to the facsimile reprint of the 1612 edition with a preface by Arthur Freeman (New York: Garland, 1973).

30. The Mirror for Magistrates, ed. Lily B. Campbell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938; repr. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960), 386. Churchyard, like Heywood, makes Jane's marriage a love match, although, because she was too young, she "knewe not howe to vse" "meere [= pure] love" (377).

31. Elizabeth contrasts herself with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II's queen, who, upon discovering her husband's adultery with Rosamond, is supposed to have had the mistress poisoned (II, 1176-85).

32. On one occasion the Widow Norton, in "token of her zeale" and "humble dutie," contributes twenty pounds and receives a kiss from the grateful Edward, who calls her "a gallant lustie Girle"; blushing with delight, she extols the king's "honnie kisse, / Able to make an aged woman young," praises the giver as her "sweet and lovely Prince," and then increases her donation by "Fortie olde Angels." Hobs, hinting at the exploitation involved, exclaims skeptically, "Snails [= God's nails], twentie pound a kisse?" (I, 2652-54, 2669-77).

33. Cf. Wendy Wall's comment in "Forgetting and Keeping: Jane Shore and the English Domestication of History," Renaissance Drama, New Series 27 (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998), 150n.32: "Although eroding principles of Tudor history, Heywood is not radically skeptical about sovereign power; instead his periodic skepticism is just one element in the play's decentered thematics, countered sporadically by the equally passionate equation of 'king' with 'country.' There are many discourses of power in this two-part play: all are patriotic, some link the king to the national good, others exempt him as insignificant to true English matters, and some show him to be antagonistic to the nation."

34. See Richard II, ed. Charles R. Forker, Arden 3 series (London: Thomson Learning, 2002), 310n., 491-92n.; citations come from this edition. That Richard II was conceptually and verbally influenced by Marlowe's tragedy has been established; see Forker, Richard II, 159-64.

35. Cf. Thomas of Woodstock, or Richard the Second, Part One, ed. Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge, Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); citations are taken from this edition. That Woodstock originally formed the first part of a two-part sequence with Shakespeare's play as Part II seems to me mistaken; see my discussion of this point in Richard II, ed. Forker, 145-46.

36. The Duchess of Ireland, for instance, alleges that her deceased husband, one of Richard's favorites, "was the cause he left my bed" (2.3.12); and Richard vows vengeance over the slain Greene, kissing the corpse: "Hard-hearted uncles ... That here have murdered all my earthly joys. / O my dear Greene, wert thou alive to see / How I'll revenge thy timeless tragedy / On all their heads that did but lift a hand / To hurt this body that I held so dear" (5.4.29-34). For the closeness to Greene, see also 2.1.8-10, 2.2.203-04, 2.2.219-20, 3.1.75-80, 4.1.218-20, 5.4.3. These details are fanciful. There is no historical justification for regarding Richard II as homosexually inclined.

37. Anon., The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, ed. Geoffrey Bullough in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957-75), IV, 299-343.

38. Donald G. Watson, Shakespeare's Early History Plays: Politics at Play on the Elizabethan Stage (London: Macmillan, 1990), 43. Later the Duke of Burgundy describes how he "scar'd the Dolphin and his trull, / When arm in arm they both came swiftly running, / Like to a pair of turtle-doves / That could not live asunder day or night" (1 Henry VI, 2.2.28-31). Shakespeare seems to intend a kind of pervasive wordplay on "Pucelle" (= maid, virgin), Joan's sobriquet, and "puzzel" (cf. 1.4.107), a derogatory anglicization of the French word with bawdy overtones (= slut, drab; also perhaps playing on penis [from pizzle] since Joan adopts male attire).

39. Shakespeare could have known Thomas Legge's academic Latin tragedy, Richardus Tertius (1579), in which Shore's wife appears as a mute character doing public penance in procession. He may also have known the anonymous True Tragedy of Richard the Third (1591?), the 1594 quarto of which moralistically advertises on its title page the "lamentable ende of Shores wife, an example for all wicked women." In the latter play Richard accuses Hastings of bewitching him "with assistance of that famous strumpet" and of having lain with her the night before his condemnation (lines 944-47); later she accuses herself of being a "dishonour to the King, a shame to [her] countrey, and the onely blot of defame to all [her] kindred" (lines 1019-21). At one point she declares that though Edward "was King, yet Shores wife swayd the swoord" (lines 1087-88), her fall serving as a personal analogue to the fall of England under Richard's tyranny. See the Malone Society Reprint edition, ed. W. W. Greg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1929), sigs. D4, E, and E2. Conceivably The True Tragedy, a contaminated text, reflects Shakespeare's drama as opposed to having influenced it (cf. King Richard III, ed. Antony Hammond [London: Methuen, 1981], 83); even so, the similar attitude toward Mistress Shore in both plays shows that the two dramatists regarded her as a corrupting influence in the sexual politics being staged.

40. Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories (London: Routledge, 1997), 109-10; Rebecca W. Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theater in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 124.

41. King John, ed. L. A. Beaurline (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 80. Constance implies that both Elinor's sons, Geoffrey and John, are illegitimate; at first she asserts that it "cannot be" that Arthur's father "was ... true begot" if Elinor was "his mother" (2.1.129-31); then she puns on "her sin" (meaning both Elinor's supposed adultery and its product, John) as unjustly punishing Arthur (2.1.183-90).

42. "Blots, Stains, and Adulteries: The Impurities in King John," in "King John": New Perspectives, ed. Deborah T. Curren-Aquino (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989), 116-17.

43. The Bastard cheerfully excuses his adulterous mother, threatening to send "to hell" anyone who should dare to say that she "did ... not well / When [he] was got...." How could Lady Faulconbridge be expected to resist Richard's "commanding love"? "He that perforce robs lions of their hearts / May easily win a woman's" (1.1.264-72).

44. John argues paradoxically that the Bastard may be legally judged "legitimate" since he was born to a married woman whose husband had every right to lay claim to him in the same way that a farmer may claim the calf born from his own cow (1.1.116-29).

45. Although Holinshed (III, 160) briefly mentions "Philip bastard sonne to king Richard," the character as developed by Shakespeare is largely fictional. A less sophisticated version of the story Shakespeare dramatizes already existed in the anonymous two-part play, The Troublesome Raigne of King John (1591), probably the dramatist's source.

46. See Forker, ed., Richard II, 17.

47. Ibid., 5-8, 18-21. The most vocal criticisms tended to come from either Puritans or Papists.

48. Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 55.

49. See Forker, ed., Richard II, 405n., 499-500n.

50. Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 160. For another example of genealogical argumentation, see the opening dialogue in Edward III (1.1.1-41).

51. W. B. Yeats, The Poems, ed. Daniel Albright (London: J. M. Dent, 1990), 260.
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Title Annotation:Articles
Author:Forker, Charles R.
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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