“I Live With Bread Like You”: Forms of Inclusion in Richard II

Aaron Landau
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Landau, Aaron. "'I Live With Bread Like You': Forms of Inclusion in Richard II". Early Modern Literary Studies 11.1 (May, 2005) 3.1-23 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-1/richard.htm>.

  1. When it comes to Shakespeare, Richard Helgerson’s very fine discussion of the English history play and its contribution to the early modern project of forging English nationhood ends up having a fairly familiar ring to it: in comparison with the history plays written for the companies under Henslowe’s control, and increasingly over the decade of the 1590s, Shakespeare’s histories grow more exclusive and elitist; they concentrate chiefly on upper-class figures and leave out popular characters, perspectives, and traditions; ideologically, they are “concerned above all with the consolidation and maintenance of royal power” (1). In a recent critique of this position, Jean Howard has taken exception, not so much to Helgerson’s vision of Shakespeare as a gentrified author (although she does suggest in passing that Helgerson largely overstates Shakespeare’s elitism and conservatism), but most fundamentally to Helgerson’s vision of the so-called Henslowe dramatists as inclusive and progressive: their histories, she argues, are not more inclusive than Shakespeare’s; they are as exclusive, only in different ways (2).

  2. In this paper I should like to propose an alternative to both these assessments, one that will hopefully be more case-sensitive, so to speak, to the subtle, intricate, and roundabout ways in which popular voices and perspectives form part of Shakespeare’s historical imagination. Instead of discussing here the entire body of the histories, a task that is beyond the scope of this paper, I will choose one play, Richard II, that is concerned almost entirely with dynastic struggles within the aristocracy and leaves very little room for actual representations of non-aristocratic characters. By showing that even this play, ostensibly the most exclusive and elitist in the genre, is substantially more inclusive and popular than it might at first appear, I would like to suggest that Shakespeare’s take on English history is as a rule popular and inclusive, although the particular forms of inclusion differ depending on changing conditions and circumstances (3). If in the beginning of the decade, in 2 Henry VI (c.1590-2), Shakespeare could still afford to stage popular revolt directly and to give explicit, if largely unfavorable, expression to various popular claims, the civic disturbances that shook London during the summer of 1592 and, even more severely and protractedly, during 1595-6 would have induced him to incorporate popular perspectives within Richard II in less explicit, if arguably more radical, ways (4). Thus, the specter of popular revolt keeps haunting Richard II, notwithstanding the strictly aristocratic aspect of its many intrigues and conspiracies. When the Welsh Captain informs Salisbury that his forces have fled, he slips from what is supposed to suggest a typically Welsh brand of mysticism and superstition to a more straightforward analysis of class conflict and social change:
    Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap,
    The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,
    The other to enjoy by rage and war.
    These signs forerun the death of fall of kings.
                                                    (2.4.12-15) (5)
    Similarly, when Scroope informs Richard of the rebellion against him, he moves from a very brief mention of Bullingbrook’s own agency, somewhat depersonalized in terms of his overflowing rage which covers the land with steel, into a detailed description of a general, popular uprising:
    Whitebeards have armed their thin and hairless scalps
    Against thy majesty, boys with women’s voices
    Strive to speak big, and clap their female joints
    In stiff unwieldy arms against thy crown.
    Thy very beadsmen learn to bend their bows
    Of double-fatal yew against thy state.
    Yea, distaff women manage rusty bills
    Against thy seat. Both young and old rebel
    And all goes worse than I have power to tell.
  3. For spectators watching this play in 1595, these words would have suggested, albeit hyperbolically, the reality of mounting social unrest and rising popular protest outside the theaters. These were years of severe economic and social crisis known by historians as the “crisis of the 1590s”. The decade saw a disastrous series of harvest failures (1593-7) followed by soaring food prices, general economic depression, widespread poverty, and high mortality rate from starvation and plague. Among the violent reactions to the recession were numerous food, enclosure, and anti-alien riots conducted by apprentices, wage-laborers, unemployed soldiers, and other discontented members of London’s working classes (6). The years 1595-6 were particularly turbulent. Lower-class hostility towards the city authorities had been bottling up since early June 1595 (7). Later that month, on various occasions, apprentices and youths confiscated stocks of butter and fish supplies that were sold at exorbitant prices in order to sell them at more reasonable rates (8). The Star Chamber’s decision to sentence the apprentices involved in these incidents to be flogged and pilloried, instead of serving as a deterrent, had only caused the situation to escalate. When the apprentices’ sentence was known, no fewer than 1,800 apprentices, convoyed by discharged soldiers, demolished the pillories in Cheapside and Leadenhall and proceeded to build up gallows next to the house of the Lord Mayor in a gesture of defiance and threat. Two days later, a crowd of apprentices gathered at Tower Hill and proclaimed their intention to dispossess the wealthy inhabitants of the city and to win over political control from the governors. This last incident prompted a series of harsh repressive measures such as the enforcement of a state of martial law, intensive police action to track down protestors, and eventually the arrest and execution, by hanging, drawing, and quartering, of five of the demonstrators on July 24 (9). According to the historians Roger Manning and Peter Clark, the disorders of 1595-6 were among the most serious to threaten London up until the Civil War (10).

  4. This climate of increasing social unrest and escalating class conflict, invoked in the aforementioned references to a general revolt, permeates Richard II in a variety of other ways as well. The nominally upper-class character of Bullingbrook, for example, occasionally echoes lower-class grievances, most notably, when he re-articulates common apprentice anxieties about the diminishing prospects, given the severe economic recession, of apprentices ever finishing their terms and becoming independent members of their livery companies. When sentenced to exile by Richard, Bullingbrook protests:
    Must I not serve a long apprenticehood
    To foreign passages, and in the end,
    Having my freedom, boast of nothing else
    But that I was a journeyman to grief?
                                       (1.3.270-3) (11)
  5. A few lines later Bullingbrook again gives a particularly lower-class twist to his father’s idealizing depiction of his exile in terms of a highly refined, aristocratic journey. Gaunt urges his son to think of the birds as musicians and to conceive of the grass as the carpeted floor of the royal chamber; to imagine the flowers as fair ladies and his own steps as “no more than a delightful measure or a dance” (1.3.281-90) (12). Bullingbrook’s rhetoric, by contrast, puts a suggestively plebeian stress on the inexorable nature of material and bodily deprivation when he flatly dismisses his father’s sentimental call for patience and resignation with a more realistic insistence on the relentlessness of hunger and cold:
    Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand
    By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
    Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
    By rare imagination of a feast?
    Or wallow naked in December snow
    By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?                                
  6. David Norbrook perceptively notes in this episode a pronounced shift from “an exclusively aristocratic to a generally national” stance (13), a shift that culminates in Bullingbrook’s concluding exclamation:
    Then England’s ground farewell, sweet soil adieu,
    My mother and my nurse that bears me yet.
    Where’er I wander, boast of this I can,
    Though banished, yet a true born Englishman. 
    It is interesting to notice -- especially in view of Helgerson’s claim that in Shakespeare the construction of English nationhood is largely and increasingly exclusive and gentrified -- that in this scene Englishness is, by contrast, very nearly predicated on inclusion: to be ”a true born Englishman” consists of being, or at least knowing what it means to be, also an apprentice, a journeyman, a starveling, a homeless vagrant. The use of “true-born” rather than “free-born” is revealing, since in early modern England the words “free-born” referred principally to the nobly born, or at the most to the propertied, whereas the epithet “true-born” denoted Englishness at large (14). Norbrook associates this all-inclusive sense of nationalism, which stands out as rather anachronistic in the play’s medieval setting, with the celebration, on the part of Essexians among the audience, of a kind of aristocratic constitutionalism (as opposed to royal absolutism) that was advertised as analogous to the national and common good (15). But lower-class spectators in the audience, either unfamiliar with or indifferent towards court factionalism, would have applauded the very inclusion of their own kind of popular discontent in Bullingbrook’s defiant sense of nationalism. Bullingbrook is continuously associated with the popular segments of the population in the course of the play: he is reported to court “the common people” (1.4.24); to throw away reverence on slaves and woo poor craftsmen (1.4.27-8); to lift his bonnet to an oysterwench (1.4.31); to be embraced by a throng of “draymen” (1.4.33); and finally to receive ample support from the multitude on his triumphant entry to London (5.2.5-40). His nationalist stance is thus also to a large extent a provocatively popular one, in addition to, or irrespective of, the “original” political intention behind such populism (16).

  7. The “original” intention behind early modern drama is in any case particularly difficult to ascertain and delimit given, among other things, the collective, dynamic, and extremely versatile aspects of early modern performances. One of the working principles of this paper is an intent to look beyond intentionality as a unified and unifying factor, to deliberately do away with the idea of the text as a well-wrought urn with immanent properties, and to ponder instead what bits and pieces of it might have meant to plebeian spectators under specific historical circumstances (17). In the case of Richard II, the popular is indelibly there, not only in the actual persons of players and spectators, or the location and status of the theater, but also, quite audibly, at the level of the text itself; it constantly lurks behind the high-sounding phrases of aristocratic figures, just waiting to be seized upon and brought to full effect at the right moment by an apt actor and a ready audience. Thus, to go back to the text, even a glaringly elitist and exclusive conception of England as that of Gaunt, who relates to it as a “royal throne of kings” and a “sceptered isle” (2.1.40) (18), soon develops into an embittered, anxious complaint against what is quite radically denounced as the country’s disgraceful commodification, its disastrous fall from medieval grace to the crass realities of a market-oriented economy. The supposedly Edenic, heroic, and chivalrous England of the feudal past, the idealized England which Gaunt nostalgically conjures up in the first part of his speech, is at present shamefully reduced, so he protests, to no more than a tradable property, a piece of land that one cannot even denominate as “dear” without having instantly to clarify that the word is meant in a moral, not a financial, sense:
    This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
    Dear for her reputation through the world,
    Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
    Like to a tenement or pelting farm.
    England, bound in with the triumphant sea
    Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
    Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
    With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds,
    That England that was wont to conquer others
    Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
    The marked emphasis on the “dearness” of the land should have suggested to spectators the inflationary waves of the 1590s as well as the harshness of the dearth, both of which were major causes for social unrest in the period (19). The complaint about the country’s having been “leased out  . . . like to a tenement” is an allusion to the gradual changeover from freehold and copyhold (i.e., long-term and relatively secure forms of land tenure) to unprotected and temporary leasehold (20). This was part of an overall transition from a more traditional economy based on customary rights to land and other natural resources to an emergent capitalist economy driven increasingly by competition and the overriding pursuit of profit. These socioeconomic changes were the cause of widespread anxiety, in city and country alike. They had devastating effects on the lower orders of society and were regarded by a wide array of writers as responsible for such ills as famine, unemployment, vagrancy, poverty, as well as social disintegration and moral degeneration at large (21). Gaunt’s jeering commentary on how England “is now bound in . . . with inky blots and parchment bonds” characteristically targets the entire administrative-legal apparatus that was instrumental in this transition; it suggests an hostility towards the law similar to that which, according to Christopher Hill, characterized the common people in their endeavor to defend their customary rights and liberties against upper-class legislation and law enforcement (22). Finally, the nationalistic ring to Gaunt’s lament about a once heroic England that has “made a shameful conquest of itself” would invoke, on top of a general sense of common English nationhood, also a distinctively lower-class variant of chauvinist radicalism, so to speak. Consider, for example, the mixture of radicalism, patriotism, and xenophobia with which Doll Williamson, the carpenter’s militant wife in The Booke of Sir Thomas More (1593-5), incites her fellow working-class men to rise against London’s rapacious and well-to-do aliens: “I am ashamed that free borne Englishmen, hauing beatten straungers within their owne boun[ds] should thus be brau’de and abusde by them at home” (23). Doll’s suggestive use of “free-born” would reinforce the inherent nobility or at least the heroic stature and political agency of London laboring classes in a kind of a “mirror image” version of Bullingbrook’s inclusive reference to himself as “true born”.

  8. This brings us straight to the next issue in our discussion: women and their particular contribution to the inclusive social vision of Richard II. It is important to consider, in this respect, Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin’s general thesis concerning the representation of women in Shakespeare’s histories, a thesis that might be regarded as the gender-oriented counterpart of Helgerson’s class-based approach. In Engendering a Nation, Howard and Rackin argue, along lines similar to those of Helgerson, albeit from a strictly feminist perspective, that over the decade of the 1590s Shakespeare’s history plays grow more restrictive and exclusive in the way they represent women. Whereas in the first tetralogy women are granted considerable power as warriors and politicians, in the second tetralogy there are “fewer female characters; they have less time on stage and less to say when they get there. Moreover, virtually all the women we see in these plays are enclosed in domestic settings and confined to domestic roles” (24). To the extent that they are at all allowed to speak and act, women do so only in their capacity as wives, widows, and mothers. This reduction of women to their domestic and familial roles marks, according to Howard and Rackin, a “movement into modernity, the division of labor and the cultural restrictions that accompanied the production of the household as a private place, separated from the public arenas of economic and political endeavor” (25).

  9. The women in Richard II, although admittedly few -- even if not substantially fewer than women in other plays by Shakespeare -- have nonetheless an important role to play in making Richard II more inclusive than it may, prima facie, seem to be the case. Thus, even such a flagrant instance of upper-class bias as the one in which the Duchess of Gloucester exempts the aristocracy, the aristocracy alone, from the obligation to acquiesce to unjust political authority -- even this glaring instance of patrician one-sidedness takes on a surprisingly radical edge when the overall social and cultural conditions of the utterance, not least the gender of the speaker, enter into consideration. The Duchess, urging Gaunt to avenge her husband’s murder, debunks the notion of patience -- the only proper response to oppression according to contemporary orthodoxy -- as both disgraceful and dangerous, binding, if at all, only for the baser sort of people:
    Call it patience, Gaunt. It is despair.
    In suffering thus thy brother to be slaughtered 
    Thou showest the naked pathway to thy life,
    Teaching stern murder how to butcher thee.
    That which in mean men we entitle patience
    Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts.
    What shall I say? To safeguard thine own life
    The best way is to venge my Gloucester’s death
    One wonders what the actual effect of these words might have been, words that in theory were delivered confidentially to Gaunt in an aristocratic tête-à-tête but in practice were “overheard” by an audience which to a significant degree comprised of “mean men and women”. Could not these words, when spoken by a common actor who might occasionally, in performance, step out of role and engage, avant la lettre, middle- and lower-class spectators, also highlight the demeaning and deceptive aspects of political conformity, perhaps even incite non-aristocratic spectators to adopt the less compliant approach of their social betters?

  10. We do know that history plays were often regarded by contemporaries as capable of inspiring playgoers to imitate the momentous action taking place on stage. In 1594 Thomas Nashe suggested so much when he famously praised English history plays for exhuming “our forefathers’ valiant acts” from “worm-eaten books” and making them available to mass audiences in an act of “reproof to these degenerate effeminate days of ours” (26). In 1595, the turbulent year in which Richard II was composed, a group of London’s aldermen complained to the privy council that plays “are so set forth as that they move wholly to imitation and not to the avoiding of those vices which they represent, which we verily think to be the chief cause. . . of the late stir and mutinous attempt of those few apprentices and other servants, who we doubt not drew their infection from these and like places” (27). In An Apology for Actors (1612),Thomas Heywood fully acknowledged the theater’s capacity to inspire imitation in ordinary spectators but tried to minimize the potential subversiveness of such capacity by emphasizing its beneficial, patriotic uses:
    To turne to our domesticke hystories, what English blood seeing the person of any bold English man presented and doth not hugge his fame, and hunnye at his valor, pursuing him in his enterprise with his best wishes, and as beeing wrapt in contemplation, offers to him in his hart all prosperous performance, as if the Personator were the man Personated, so bewitching a thing is lively and well spirited action, that it hath power to new mold the harts of the spectators and fashion them to the shape of any noble and notable attempt. What coward to see his contryman valiant would not bee ashamed of his owne cowardice? (28)
    Realizing, however, that imitation could also have a radical, destabilizing edge, Heywood insists, later on in the Apology, that the “true use” of plays is to “teach the subiects obedience to their king, to shew the people the vntimely ends of such as haue moued tumults, commotions, and insurrections, to present them with the flourishing estate of such as liue in obedience, exhorting them to allegeance, dehorting them from all trayterous and fellonious stratagems” (29).

  11. But if there is something that Richard II, for one, shows most vividly it is, on the contrary, the dire consequences of obedience and the considerable benefits, if not the very urgency, of rebellion. In a climate of mounting social unrest, with the rich and the powerful popularly portrayed as murderous and predatory and their economic policies often denounced as a direct and deliberate attempt against the lives of the poor, this entire episode would have served to articulate, not only the anti-absolutist sentiments of the aristocracy, but also a growing apprehension among the lower-classes that a patient endurance of injustice is dangerous, self-defeating, and might well prove fatal (30).

  12. Most importantly perhaps for our purpose here, the Duchess’s destabilizing call for political action is intimately connected with her being, aside from an aristocrat, also a disempowered female, a wronged and defenseless widow, with everything that this status implied, culturally and socially. In scripture, the afflicted widow was a stock figure of socioeconomic vulnerability, a very synonym for want and poverty (31). As such the image was frequently used in early modern denunciations of social injustice, for example, in John Ball’s sermon in The Life and Death of Jack Straw (1590-3) where the oppressed widow occupies a central place in the priest’s listing of present-day social iniquities:
    Now tis come to a wofull passe,
    The Widdow that hath but a pan of brasse,
    And scarce a house to hide her head,
    Sometimes no penny to buy her bread,
    Must pay her Landlord many a groat,
    Or twil be puld our of her throat.
  13. In general, when it comes to early modern women, aspects of gender and class tend considerably to overlap, since women, however privileged, were still -- qua women -- part of a largely underprivileged female “fourth estate”, so to speak. As such, they were readily associated en masse with social marginality and discontent. In a 1596 letter to Lord Burghley, for example, in which Edward Hext, justice of peace at Somerset, expressed alarm at the rapid increase of rogues and vagabonds, Hext lumps together “the simple citizens and women” as especially sympathetic towards the homeless, whom he regards as a major source of sedition against the rich by “continually buzzing into [the] ears [of the lower-classes] that the rich men have gotten all into their hands and will starve the poor” (32). As Natalie Zemon Davis had shown a while ago -- and Richard Wilson has recently reminded us -- the association of women and lower-class militancy dates back to the distant medieval past when “Maid Marion had queened over rebellious May games long before Robin Hood joined her in the fifteenth century” (33). In the early modern period, “enclosure riots frequently took the form of masked night-time attacks by bearded ‘ladies’,” that is, men disguising themselves as women, since, as John Walter suggests, women were not considered punishable by law (34). We have already seen how the very condition of the Duchess as a widow in distress might have suggested to contemporary audiences specifically socioeconomic forms of oppression far and beyond her aristocratic mien. Her explicit call for active disobedience, notwithstanding her own eventual dependency and helplessness, would have similarly invoked the kind of radical female militancy that informs, for example, the character of Doll Williamson in Sir Thomas More. This heavily censored anti-alien play, which Shakespeare himself eventually helped to revise, shows Doll upbraiding her husband for his excessive docility (1.28-9) and then inciting other working-class men who likewise feel “curbd by dutie and obedience” (1.42) to defend themselves against the aliens with a provocative exhortation: “if you men durst not vndertake it before God we women” will (1.71) (35).

  14. There is no such sense of agency, however, in the case of the Duchess: once her petition to Gaunt is declined, she does not seem to have much choice but to go back home, grieve, and die. But the subversive potential of her initial posture, the fact that one would expect a figure like her to go on ranting, and that her provocative role is somehow cut short -- all these are insinuated in her own statement: “I take my leave before I have begun” (1.2.60). If the Duchess takes her leave at this point, the rest of the play with its numerous instances of active resistance to royal authority actually ratifies and puts into effect her initial position; in that sense she never really leaves stage. To go back to the thesis of Howard and Rackin, the Duchess’s restrictive association with family and domesticity does not imply her effective separation from the public sphere. On the contrary, her subject position as a bereaved wife actually allows her, as we have seen, a uniquely demystifying insight into the concrete, pragmatic workings of politics. Her superior political acumen, superior by far to that of Gaunt, for she anticipates with startling accuracy the dangers lurking in his acquiescence, is inseparable from her own first-hand experience of personal injury.

  15. In general, the play’s insistence, in contradistinction with official Tudor doctrine, that the imperfections of the actual person of the monarch (his body natural) are not purged by the impersonal office of kingship (his body politic) but, on the contrary, that these imperfections fatally contaminate it -- this overall insistence would seem to vindicate and reinforce an embodied and private understanding of politics, one that would qualify as more “female” than “male” by Howard and Rackin’s standards (36). In other words, the conscription of women to the private sphere of body, home, and family, which for Howard and Rackin marks their exclusion from politics in the histories, turns out to be, in Richard II, yet another form of inclusion, for the politics of body and family -- the politics, in other words, of narrow private interests -- turns out to be, in this play, the only politics there is.

  16. I shall not discuss here in great detail the roles of the queen and the Duchess of York, since their particular contribution in this respect does not consist precisely of incorporating elements of popular protest into the play. But I should like to point out that they too offer highly gendered interventions in history that manage to override and undermine, in a variety of different ways, the play’s homogenizing and elitist aspects. In the case of the Duchess, her pleading for the life of her son, Aumerle, serves to mix the “high” genre of history with the “low” genre of domestic drama as well as to subject official absolutist claims to parody and farce: the king may indeed prove to be “A god on earth” (5.3.135), as the Duchess finally affirms that he is, but only on condition that he does exactly as told by his aunt, not just pardoning her son, but repeating the pardon twice. In the case of the queen, her character seems to change considerably depending on whom she talks to. When talking to Bushy and Green early on in the play, she exhibits a remarkable degree of intuition; her intimate premonition of an impending disaster allows her to see through the “public” lies of her courtiers and even to name these professional liars for what they are: flatterers and parasites (2.2.69-70). Interestingly, this superior foresight, grounded in an unfathomable sense of grief that is purely internal, a melancholy that is all her own, is also very carefully gendered, riddled with sexual and natal puns; it culminates in the queen’s description of herself as “a gasping new-delivered mother” who has “woe to woe, sorrow to sorrow joined” (2.2.65-6). The queen’s symptomatic confusion of cause and effect, assuming that her grief has somehow brought about -- “begot” -- the actual reasons for it in reality, is of course not something that court politicians like Green and Bushy, who lie for a living, would care to point out. But it is certainly something that gardeners, who work physically for a living, can bring into sharp relief. Thus, the same queen, whose self-absorption had made to look quite dignified and true to herself in the company of courtiers, appears to be rather hysterical and noticeably out of touch with reality in the company of working-class people.

  17. This brings us to the garden scene, one of the very few occasions in the play on which lower-class characters are allowed to speak directly. That this happens in such a short and marginal scene is admittedly not much. But what a scene this is, for all its shortness! Usually in Shakespeare, whenever commoners are allowed to speak about politics, there is at least some degree of ridicule and clowning involved. Not here. The ridicule, it seems, had been reserved for the high-sounding proclamations of divine right monarchy and the many hyperbolic oaths of patrician figures, all of which are debunked, one after the other, by the actual turn of events. The gardeners’ political commentaries, by contrast, are not just accurate in concrete terms, but also, despite their extensive use of allegory, remarkably free of mystification. In part, the resort to allegory can be attributed to the gardeners’ concern about the (very real) possibility of being overheard and the need therefore to speak in tropes. But even so the allegorical language that they use does not serve to conceal or obfuscate the political dimension of things; on the contrary, it helps them to vividly illustrate what they have to say about politics with familiar, down-to-earth parallels from their own professional lives. Most importantly for our purposes, it invests their analysis with an extra layer of radical signification, bringing social reality more fully into the discussion rather than aestheticizing it away: the first gardener talks of the “oppression” (3.4.31) that results from the fact that some fruits have excessive “prodigal weight” (3.4.31) and the need therefore to give “some supportance” to the weaker “bending twigs” (3.4.32); he also talks about the urgency in this respect of cutting off, in the manner of executioners, “the heads of too-fast-growing sprays / That look too lofty in our commonwealth” (3.4.34-5). “All must be even in our government” (3.4.36), he concludes. All this is supposed to suggest of course, not just horticultural know-how, but politics as well, and not only court politics at that. The very same phrases that at some level refer to aristocratic power struggles also invoke, at another level, typically plebeian concerns: anxiety about growing inequality and diminishing social solidarity; longing for some retributive and reparatory “reign of terror” for the rich, so to speak; and even that most radical of working-class ideals according to which everyone must be equal and everything must be equally distributed in the laborers’ alternative commonwealth. Even after clarifying that the comments he was just making refer specifically to intra-aristocratic affairs, the gardener still uses terms that could easily be appropriated by plebeian spectators to fit their own agenda: he talks, for example, about Richard’s favorites as superfluous branches, deleterious to the whole arboreal economy since they are “overproud in sap and blood / With too much riches” (3.4.59-60).

  18. By the same token, the second gardener’s reference to England’s decay in terms of its ruined hedges (3.4.25) -- that is to say, his largely positive view, by implication, of enclosure -- is really a double-edged sword; the passage as a whole, even as it celebrates enclosure as coterminous with orderliness and prosperity, serves to justify lower-class insubordination by putting the blame for it, as much as for the deplorable state of the land at large, on the reckless behavior of England’s ruling classes:
    Why should we, in the compass of a pale,
    Keep law and form and due proportion,
    Showing as in a model our firm estate,
    When our sea-wallèd garden, the whole land,
    Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
    Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruined,
    Her knots disordered and her wholesome herbs
    Swarming with caterpillars?
  19. As James Siemon has perceptively pointed out, “the word enclosure, like the hedges that embody it, functions during the period as an exemplary instance of the heteroglossic -- an arena for the criss-crossing of disputed and competing values and orientations” (37). While attitudes towards enclosure were overwhelmingly negative, their complexity deserves a close and nuanced attention. There is evidence to suggest, for example, that some people “who were attacking enclosure or being defended against it were often themselves engaged in acts of enclosure and in defending enclosures” (38). The Levellers, for instance, named so after their leveling of hedges and fences, were willing to accept enclosures that were “only or chiefly for the benefit of the poor” (39). While large-scale enclosures that caused massive depopulation and/or converted common arable land into pasture were almost universally condemned, enclosure of arable land for improvement, enclosure by agreement, or small-scale enclosure of common land for private use by individual tenants, were widely accepted (40). The disparked fields in the gardener’s description with their disordered knots, unattended trees, and unwholesome weeds -- the visible signs, not of inefficient communal cultivation, but of a complete and utter abandonment to nature -- these fields might have suggested to contemporary audiences, not necessarily the process of putting private land to public use, but rather the conversion of land from tillage to pasture. This most notorious form of early modern agricultural change was frequently associated with such images of decivilization as deserted villages, abandoned fields, and grazing herds of sheep roaming undisturbed where people were once wont to live and work. For example, in his 1587 edition of The Description of England William Harrison remarked about enclosure: “Certes if it be not one curse of the Lord to have our country converted in such sort, from the furniture of mankind into walks and shrouds of wild beasts, I know not what is any”, adding the note, “The decay of the people is the destruction of a kingdom” (41). In 1604, Francis Trigge takes pain to clarify that he does not condemn past enclosure of woodland but rather enclosures which “deca[y] tillage”, those “covetous & new devised Inclosurs, which convert champian and fruitfull soiles, being good arable ground, to pasture; casting halfe a cornefield to a sheepes pasture. And so thereby diminish Gods people, and depopulate townes” (42). In the mid-seventeenth century, in his Inclosure thrown open (London, 1650), Henry Halhead, concludes his extensive discussion of the pros and cons of enclosure with his own retrospective vision of more than half a century of enclosure in terms of general degeneration and decay:
    Oh, that in all the Counties of this Kingdom, there might be a View of all the Villages, and Towns, and Houses of Husbandry, that have been decayed within these fifty-yeers, and the Desolation that hath come by that means, by laying of Lands accustomed to Tillage, and now turned into Pasture-grounds; whereby Idleness, one of the sins of Sodom, is much increased, Men, women, and children, and their progenies be diminished, and Husbandry, the greatest Commodity of the Land (for the furtherance of Man) is decayed, Churches and Market-towns be brought to great ruine and decay, Necessaries for mans use and furtherance be made scarce and dear. (43)
  20. As it turns out, it is the destabilizing potential of the first gardener’s speech -- his disruptive reluctance to work, his implicit justification of lower class noncompliance, and finally his critique of socioeconomic and political reality at large -- that alarms his colleague who orders him to “Hold [his] peace” (3.4.48). The somber prospects of surveillance and discipline, the almost “panoptic” feel to this entire scene, are further underscored by the punning exclamation of the eavesdropping queen, “Oh, I am pressed to death through want of speaking”(3.4.72). Pressing to death, the peine forte et dure, was a well-known form of medieval interrogation still largely in use during Elizabeth’s reign (44). What follows is, correspondingly, an intense interrogation that serves to illustrate the kind of trouble that potentially awaited “rude-tongued” men who dared talk of state, be they gardeners or, by implication, playwrights:
    Thou, old Adam’s likeness set to dress this garden,
    How dares thy harsh rude tongue sound this unpleasing news
    What Eve, what serpent hath suggested thee
    To make a second fall of cursèd man?
    Why dost thou say King Richard is deposed?
    Darest thou, thou little better thing than earth,
    Divine his downfall? Say, where, when and how
    Camest thou by this ill tidings? Speak, thou wretch!
                                              (3.4.73-80) (45)
  21. “[T]hou little better thing than earth” -- these words, which in effect set apart the plebeian character of the gardener from the aristocratic figure of the queen, are in a sense what the play as a whole has finally to say about the monarch himself. And this is where another form of inclusion comes into play. Richard Helgerson has emphasized the extent to which Shakespeare’s histories suppress, increasingly over the decade of the 1590s, the popular heritage of carnival and the jig. But if these are indeed absent from Richard II, there is another equally popular tradition that is central to it: the morality play. This popular and communal tradition, predating the commercialized phase of professional drama, is vital for exposing Richard for what he really is: not a godlike monarch but Everyman. The morality tradition is implicit in the queen’s description, quoted above, of both the gardener and Richard as Adam-like. But it is much more amply and explicitly present in a variety of passages such as the one in which Richard expatiates about the death of kings in characteristically allegorical terms:
                For within the hollow crown
    That rounds the mortal temples of a king
    Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits
    Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
    Allowing him a breath, a little scene
    To monarchise, be feared and kill with looks,
    Infusing him with self and vain conceit
    As if this flesh which walls about our life
    Were brass impregnable, and humoured thus
    Comes at the last and with a little pin
    Bores through his castle wall and farewell king!
    Or when he moralizes to his wife with similar doses of allegorical personification and residual medievalism:
                                    Learn, good soul,
    To think our former state a happy dream,
    From which awaked, the truth of what we are
    Shows us but this. I am sworn brother, sweet,
    To grim Necessity, and he and I
    Will keep a league till death. Hie thee to France
    And cloister thee in some religious house.
    Our holy lives must win a new world’s crown
    Which our profane hours here have thrown down.
    Or, finally, in prison, when Richard sums up, for himself and for our own sake, what this historical pageant, as well as the pageant of life in general, is really all about:
    Thus play I in one person many people,
    And none contended. Sometimes am I king,
    Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
    And so I am. Then crushing penury
    Persuades me I was better when a king
                      . . .
                                But whate’er I be
    Nor I nor any man that but man is
    With nothing shall be pleased till he be eased
    With being nothing.
  22. These are just a few manifestations of the morality tradition in Richard II -- a tradition whose presence in the play is in fact so pervasive that it can be said to counterbalance, undermine, and to a large extent overwrite official absolutist rhetoric, if not secular conceptions of politics in general (46). The morality tradition, which was part of a residual cultural legacy shared by many in Shakespeare’s generation and a major source of influence on early modern drama at that, was popular not only in the sense of pertaining to the people, of forming an organic part of their lives by being communal, collective, ritual, and local; it was also popular in the sense of conveying an alternative people’s ideology, in displaying an oppositional and more subversive attitude toward political and economic power, one which had ultimately to do with its egalitarian religious premises, for example, its tendency to concentrate on death, the great leveler, as an incorruptible agent of divine justice “set not by gold, silver, nor riches, / Ne by pope, emperor, king, duke, ne princes”
  23. (47).

  24. Thus, when Richard urges his followers to cover their heads and not to mock “flesh and blood / With solemn reverence” (3.2.172), his words, though intended perhaps to provoke a scandalized sense of empathy, also call to mind the leveling rhetoric of generations of religious radicals from John Ball, in the fourteenth century, to Gerrard Winstanley, in the seventeenth century:
                 Throw away respect,
    Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
    For you have but mistook me all this while.
    I live with bread like you, feel want,
    Taste grief, need friends. Subjected thus,
    How can you say to me I am a king?
    King Richard lives with bread, feels want, and tastes grief, “like you” -- these words also resonate with the specific suffering of ordinary spectators in the 1590s, forcefully including lower-class subjects and their material and economic deprivation in the play’s overall representation of English history.


(1) Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992), 234. Helgerson’s revaluation of the non-Shakespearean history play is important and salutary, but his overall assessment of Shakespeare’s history plays as, by contrast, orthodox, elitist, and exclusive in effect reproduces an inveterate critical tendency to separate Shakespeare from “all the rest” as well as a conventional association of Shakespeare with official ideology and power. This tendency is common both to old historicist commentators of the Tillyard-Campbell vein and, mutatis mutandis, to New Historicist commentators of Foucauldian and/or Althusserian orientation. For a wonderfully comprehensive and astute survey and critique of these critical tendencies, see Stephen Longstaffe, “What is the English History Play and Why are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?,” Renaissance Forum: An Electronic Journal of Early-Modern Literary and Historical Studies 2.2 (1997): 35 pars. 27 October 2004 http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v2no2/longstaf.htm.

(2) Jean E. Howard, “Other Englands: The View from the Non-Shakespearean History Play,” in Other Voices, Other Views: Expanding the Canon in English Renaissance Studies, eds. Helen Ostovich, Mary V. Silcox, and Graham Roebuck (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1999), 137. Howard insists that Helgerson overstates the inclusiveness and progressiveness of the social vision offered by the so-called Henslowe dramatists and, using Heywood’s Edward IV as a case in point, argues that this play, although not concerned primarily with the aristocracy, is neither progressive nor inclusive; it caters to the taste of only a segment of the population -- the middle-class members of London’s great city guilds -- subordinating women and criminalizing aliens and masterless men in a manner that is as conservative and one-sided as is Shakespeare’s. Howard obviously has a point when she insists that any symbolical representation of reality is necessarily to some extent exclusive and partial, walling someone out even as it walls others in. But notwithstanding this, I still believe, like Helgerson, that a representation of English history that is not restricted to the affairs and perspectives of the aristocracy (between two and five percent or so of the population in early modern England) is significantly more inclusive than its strictly aristocratic counterpart, even if admittedly not all-inclusive. With that being said, while I tend to agree with Helgerson that there are marked differences, in this respect, between Shakespeare and other dramatists, I do not think that Shakespeare’s histories should be viewed as less inclusive and more orthodox on this account.

(3) The choice of this one play is a purely ad hoc decision vis-a-vis Helgerson’s and Howard’s arguments. In doing so I do not propose to insulate Shakespeare from other dramatists or to argue for the uniqueness of this particular play. On the contrary, in the face of the extensive comparative work done by other scholars, I rather wish to play down the kind of principled, qualitative differences which allegedly demarcate Shakespeare from other playwrights and/or too sharply set off his later histories from earlier ones. I think that Richard II is an especially useful choice, since, as Ralph Berry puts it, “Of class interest in the usual sense, there is almost nothing in Richard II. The action is all but confined to the aristocracy and their followers, with a couple of modest interventions by the Gardeners and the Groom.” (Shakespeare and Social Class [Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, Inc.: 1988, 75]) Berry’s approach is quite common. Even the compellingly maverick readings of David Norbrook and Graham Holderness tend to locate the radical content of the play in the conflict between an absolutist early modern monarch and a dissenting aristocracy keen on preserving its feudal and/or parliamentary liberties, not so much on plebeian opposition as such. See David Norbrook, “A Liberal Tongue”: Language and Rebellion in Richard II,” in Shakespeare’s Universe: Renaissance Ideas and Conventions, eds. John M. Mucciolo et al. (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996), 37-51; and Graham Holderness “Shakespeare’s History: Richard II,” Literature and History 7 (1981): 2-24.

(4) Leaving aside for the moment the vexed question of whether 2 Henry VI predated or was actually a response to the riots of the summer of 1592, the fact is that Shakespeare did not again risk staging popular uprising as such until well into James’s reign, in 1607-9, and that too in a Roman, not an English, history play. Dates of performances are usually difficult to ascertain, but if The Life and Death of Jack Straw was performed, as many assume, before 1592, the only other attempt to stage popular uprising in an English history play after that date took place in Sir Thomas More (c.1593-5), with quite discouraging consequences: the play probably did not get beyond the manuscript stage due to the heavy censorship of its insurrection scenes. On censorship and the history plays of the 1590s, see Janet Clare, “Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority”: Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship (1990. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999), 45-80; Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1991), 74-116. 

(5) All quotations from the play are from the New Cambridge edition of King Richard II, ed. Andrew Gurr (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984). The word “ruffians” does not suggest of course low social class strictly and properly speaking. But the juxtaposition of “ruffians” with “rich men” and perhaps also the carnivalesque “leaping and dancing” would reinforce the sense of class tension in this passage.

(6) See especially Peter Clark, ed. The European Crisis of the 1590’s: Essays in Comparative History (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), esp. chaps. 1-3. See also William C. Carroll, Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996), 34-5; Ian Archer, The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London (New York: Cambridge UP, 1991), 1-17; Roger Manning, Village Revolts: Social Protest and Popular Disturbances in England, 1509-1640 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988), 187-219; Buchanan Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority: Rural Artisans and Riot in the West of England 1586-1660 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980), esp. 17-21; Mark Thornton Burnett, “Apprentice Literature and the ‘Crisis’ of the 1590’s,” The Yearbook of English Studies 21 (1991): 27-38.

(7) For example, On June 6, a silkweaver about to be disciplined for criticizing the Lord Mayor was set free by a throng of apprentices, and later that month an attempt to imprison some servants for offending the magistrates again occasioned apprentice rescue efforts. See Burnett, “Apprentice Literature”, 36.

(8) Clark, “A Crisis Contained? The Condition of English Towns in the 1590’s,” in The European Crisis of the 1590’s, 53.

(9) Social unrest did not stop there, however: in October that year, in Cheapside, apprentices confiscated a cart-load of starch from a patentee of the Queen, and in July and September 1596 there were further eruptions of dissident libelling. The events had strong repercussions outside London as well. In 1595, in Norwich, a pamphlet spoke of 60,000 craftsmen in London and elsewhere prepared to revolt; a year later, in Oxfordshire, artisan protesters contemplated attacking London, expecting ample support of apprentices there. See Clark, 53-4; Burnett, “Apprentice Literature”, 36; Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 41; Manning, 223; Sharp, 20-21.

(10) Manning, 208; Clark, 54.

(11) Only 40 percent or so of apprentices actually worked for an entire term. For apprentices’ anxieties and grievances during the period,  see Mark Thornton Burnett, Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture: Authority and Obedience (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), 16-17 and passim.

(12) As if to further underscore the heterogeneity implicit in this scene, perhaps even to highlight the histrionic elements involved in fabricating class itself, many of the references in Gaunt’s speech invoke the environment of the theater as much as the realm of aristocratic privilege: the musicians; the dancing measures; the royal chamber (“presence”) covered in rushes (“strewd”) as was in fact the Elizabethan stage; the reference to exile as an imaginary flight from a “devouring pestilence [that] hangs in our air / . . . to a fresher clime” (1.3.283-4) -- all these would serve to refigure social class as an ambivalently performed role, not an essential quality. The allusion to the plague is especially intricate, since the plague was known to affect chiefly the lower-classes while the possibility of fleeing from it to the countryside was a privilege reserved to the well-to-do or in turn to professional rogues like touring players. For the plague as endemic to the lower classes, see Paul Slack, The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Routledge, 1985), 239-40.

(13) David Norbrook, 42.

(14) See Christopher Hill, Liberty Against the Law (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997), 68, 242-4.

(15) Norbrook reads this play in the context of Essex’s rebellion of 1601 and regards it as celebrating the triumph of feudal aristocratic constitutionalism (represented by Bullingbrook) over early modern royal absolutism (represented by Richard), a triumph which the Essexians would have associated with the well-being of the nation as a whole.

(16) More than anything else Bullingbrook’s figure is ambivalent: for instance, he speaks as a prototypical victim of enclosure -- a “wandering vagabond” (2.3.119) -- as well as a defender of absolute property rights -- an enclosing lord who protests, among other things, the disparking of his parks (3.1.23). But this is surely a sign of inclusion rather than exclusion.

(17) David Wiles has some very perceptive and eloquent remarks in this regard in “The Carnivalesque in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin, ed. Ronald Knowles (London: Macmillan, 1998), 67 and 78-9. Robert Weimann’s elaborate studies of the multifaceted and dynamic nature of early modern acting space and playing modes offer fascinating new ways of extracting the radical and popular dimension of early modern drama. See his classical Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, trans. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1978) and, more recently, his Author’s Pen And Actor’s Voice: Playing and Writing in Shakespeare’s Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000). Stephen Longstaffe’s Bakhtinian and performance-oriented readings of Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean history pays also offer many valuable examples of how these plays are hardly the homogenous, conservative, and elitist “texts” that most critics all too readily make them out to be. See, for instance, his “‘A Short Report and Not Otherwise’: Jack Cade in 2 Henry VI” in Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin, ed. Ronald Knowels (London: Macmillan, 1998), 13-35, and his admirable Introduction to A Critical Edition of “The and Death of Jack Straw 1594”, ed. Stephen Longstaffe (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), 1-124. The composition of early modern audiences is of course a vexed issue, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that playgoers where largely heterogeneous and to a significant degree middle and lower class. See, in addition to Burnett, “Apprentice Literature”, Charles Whitney, “‘Usually in the werking Daies’: Playgoing Journeymen, Apprentices, and Servants in Guild Records, 1582-92," Shakespeare Quarterly 50 (1999): 433-58; and more recently, Christopher Holmes, "Time for the Plebs in Julius Caesar." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.2 (2001): 32 pars. 29 November 2004 http://purl.oclc.org/emls/07-2/holmjuli.htm.

(18) The most general reference is to England as “a happy breed of men” (2.1.45) with “breed” giving it a distinctly chivalrous and aristocratic touch.

(19) According to the OED the adjective “dear”, could also be used in the period for “a time or place in which prices for provisions, etc. are high; dear year, a year of dearth” (Def. 6b). Bishop William Barlow conflated “dear” and “dearth” in his translation of Lavater’s Three Christian Sermons (London, 1596) when he defined dearth in directly inflationary terms: “Dearth is that, when all those thinges which belong to the life of man . . . are rated at a high price” (5). As we have seen, many of the popular disturbances in London in 1595-6 were directly connected with both the dearth and inflation. For an insightful discussion of the intricate connections between the dearth, inflation, and royal power which reads this passage as primarily concerned with the tension between real wealth and its symbolic representation, see James E. Berg, “‘This Dear, Dear Land’: ‘Dearth’ and the Fantasy of the Land-Grab in Richard II and Henry IV,” ELR 29:2 (1999): 225-45.

(20) See Hill, 25-6. For a meticulous and highly informative study of the legal aspects of land ownership in Richard II, see William O. Scott, “Landholding, leasing, and Inheritance in Richard II,” SEL 42:2 (2002): 275-292. See also James R. Siemon, “Landlord Not King: Agrarian Change and Interarticulation,” in Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England, eds. Richard Burt and John Michael Archer (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 17-33. Siemon cogently argues that in this speech “Richard is represented as doing what Elizabethans lords are so frequently criticized for doing: violating customary tenurial relations by converting his own demesne lands to leasehold property.” (28)

(21) There is a vast body of literature on the traumatic transition from feudalism to capitalism in early modern England and the myriad economic, social, and cultural aspects of this transition. For a very selective assortment of sources see, in addition to Hill’s wonderfully integrative approach, Ellen Meiksins Woods, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (London: Verso, 2002), on the economic and agrarian aspects of the transition. For an analysis of social problems, see A. L. Beier, Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England 1560-1640 (London: Methuen, 1985). For a discussion of cultural and literary aspects, see Richard Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991). For a religio-cultural context, see David Hawkes, Idols of the Marketplace: Idolatry and Commodity Fetishism in English Literature, 1580-1680 (New York: Palgrave, 2001).

(22) Hill, 19-43, 242-269, and passim.

(23) W. W. Greg, gen. ed. The Book of Sir Thomas More (1911. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1961), 1.55. The patriotic zeal and heroic qualities of English commoners were fairly common in the literature of the period. See Siemon 19-20 for the role of the yeomanry in this respect and Burnett, Masters and Servants, 16-28 and passim, for the role of apprentices, servants, and craftsmen.

(24) Jean H. Howard and Phyllis Rackin, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories (London: Routledge, 1997), 137.

(25) Howard and Rackin, 139.

(26) Thomas Nashe, “Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil” (1592), in The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works, ed. J. B. Steane (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985), 113.

(27) E. K. Chambers, English Stages (4.318); cited in Helgerson, 211.

(28) Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (London, 1612), B4r.

(29) F4v.  

(30) For common constructions of the rich as murderous and predatory, feeding of the impoverished bodies of the poor, see Hill 37-8. Hill  cites, among other cases, Henry Vaughan’s forcible accusation that “the rich and the great amongst us not only feed upon and live by the sweat, the slaughter and the blood of the poor and oppressed, but esteem them (of all others) their choicest dainties; for they are swallowed without much chewing, and there is none to deliver them.” (38) Vaughan’s pronouncement is a late specimen of a discourse that was already in full sway decades earlier. In 1583, Philip Stubbes blamed enclosures for being “the causes why rich men eat vp poore men, as beasts doo eat grasse.” (cited in Siemon, 21) Similar references can be found, among other places, in plays like Jack Straw, Sir Thomas More, 2 Edward VI, and popular libels and pamphlets, such as the one posted in May 1593 on the Dutch church in Austin Friars. The full version of this libel appears in Arthur Freeman, “Marlowe, Kyd, and the Dutch Church Libel,” ELR 3 (1973): 50-51.

(31) There is a direct reference to the Biblical connotations of the widow in Gaunt’s insistence that she should only complain to God, “the widow’s champion and defence” (1.2.43), which invokes, among other places, Eccles. 35.14 and Ps. 68.5. But there is of course also a Biblical tradition that places the widow at the very crux of social protest as in the early dictum: “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child” (Exod. 22.22). In the prophets, the widow is often mentioned at one breath with the foreigner, the orphan, the hireling deprived of his wages, and the poor in general. See, for example, Isa. 1.17, Jer. 22.3, and Ezek. 22.7. In the New Testament, widows are repeatedly referred to as poor and unprotected (Mark 12.42; Luke 4.14-30; Luke 21.2; Rev. 18.7).

(32) Cited in Hill, 52. In late medieval and early modern social satire, society was frequently divided into four standard estates: those who prayed; those of fought; those who worked; and women. When Bathsua Makin advocated education to gentlewomen in the late 17th century, he had to work against an entire tradition of reducing all women, regardless of their actual income, to one lowly estate: “Women are of two sorts,” he insisted on separating them out, “rich, of good natural parts” and “poor, of low parts” (An Essay to revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen [London, 1673], 22).

(33) Richard Wilson, Will Power: Essays on Shakespearean Authority (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1993), 73. Natalie Zemon Davies, “’Women on Top’ Symbolic Sexual Inversion and Political Disorder in Early Modern Europe,” in The Reversible World, ed. B. B. Babcock (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978), 147.

(34) Wilson, 73. John Walter, “Grain Riots and Popular Attitudes to the Law: Maldon and the Crisis of 1629,” in An Ungovernable People: The English and Their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, eds. John Brewer and John Styles (London: Hutchinson, 1980), 63.

(35) Many of the previously mentioned marks of lower-class female militancy are also present in Doll, for example, the association of women with rebellious Mayday festivities underlies her threat: “we may well make bonfires on May day, as at Midsommer, weele alter the day in the Calendar, and set it downe in flaming letters.” (3.427-8) Similarly, the notion that women are outside the reach of the law finds expression in Doll’s statement to the aliens, “if our husbands must be brideled by lawe, and forced to beare your wrongs, their wiues will be a little laweless, and soundly beate ye.” (1.52-3)

(36) For a classic study of the fiction of the king’s two body and a reading of Richard II as staging the failings in practice of this theory, see Ernest Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP, 1957). For a more recent attempt to examine this myth in its specific legal, political, and historical context under Elizabeth, see Marie Axton, The Queen’s Two Bodies: Drama and the Elizabethan Succession (London: Royal Historical Society, 1977).

(37) Siemon, 23. The rest of this paragraph is indebted heavily to Siemon’s very fine study. 

(38) Siemon, 22.

(39) Cited in Siemon, 22.

(40) Siemon, 20-25.

(41) 256.

(42) Francis Trigge, The humble petition of two sisters the Church and Common-wealth (London, 1604), B2v.

(43) Henry Halhead, Inclosure thrown open (London, 1650), 16.

(44) See Francis Barker, The Culture of Violence: Essays on Tragedy and History (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1993), 173-4 and 176-9.

(45) The queen’s extensive reference to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve would have itself suggested radical possibilities to audiences familiar with the “leveling” implications of this story. The queen’s derogatory reference to the gardener as “little better thing than earth” (3.4.78), as if she and the king were somehow better than that thanks to their royal status, stands in stark contrast with their eventual realization of their own “earthly” essence later in the play.

(46) For an insightful understanding of Shakespeare’s entire conception of politics as indebted to the Augustinian condemnation of earthly power as this was figured in and transmitted through the morality tradition, see John D. Cox, Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Power (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP: 1989).

(47) A. C. Cawley, ed., “The Moral Play of Everyman”, in Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays (London: Dent, 1993), lines 125-6.

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Beier, A. L. Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England 1560-1640. London: Methuen, 1985.

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---. Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture: Authority and Obedience. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997.

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© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).