Sir Thomas More, by Anthony Munday, William Shakespeare and others. Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, May 2005.
Sheffield Hallam University
Hopkins, Chris. "Review of Sir Thomas More, by Anthony Munday, William Shakespeare and others". Early Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 13.1-6 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-2/revmore.htm>.
Directed by Robert Delamire; designed by Simon Highlett, lighting designed by Wayne Dowdeswell; music composed by Ilona Sekacz, sound designed by Mike Compton; fight direction, Terry King; assistant director, Richard Twyman; costume supervisor, Christopher; music director, Michael Trubbs; casting director, John Cannon; company voice work, Jeanette Nelson; production manager, Simon Ash; Stage manager, Paul Sawtell; season consultant, Professor Martin White.Cast (in order of appearance): Doll Williamson, Williamson’s wife, Michelle Butterfly; De Bard, a Lombard, Kevin Harvey; Cavaler, a Lombard, Mark Springer; Williamson, a carpenter, Barry Aird; Sherwin, a goldsmith, David Hinton; John Lincoln, Ian Drysdale; George Betts, Nigel Betts; Clown Betts, Fred Ridgeway; Lord Mayor, Ewen Cummings; Suresby, Keith Osborne; Lifter, Peter Bramhill; Smart, Julian Stolzenberg; Recorder, Jon Foster; the Earl of Shrewsbury; Tim Treloar; the Earl of Surrey, Michael Jenn; Sir Thomas Palmer. James Hayes; Sir Roger Cholmley, Geoffrey Freshwater; Harry, a prentice, Jon Foster; Robin, a prentice, Julian Stolzenberg; Kit, a prentice, Peter Bramhill; Sir John Munday, Keith Osborn; A Sheriff of London, Jon Foster, Crofts, a King’s Messenger, Kevin Harvey; Randall, More’s servant, Nigel Betts; Morris, James Hayes; Jack Faulkner, David Hinton; Erasmus, Geoffrey Freshwater; Master Roper, Julian Stolzenberg; Lady More, Teresa Banham; Lady Roper, Vinette Robinson; More’s second daughter, Miranda Colchester; Lady Mayoress, Evelyn Duah, Player (Prologue), Fred Ridgeway, Inclination, Geoffrey Freshwater, Wit, Nigel Betts; Lady Vanity, Peter Bramhill; Luggins, Ian Drysdale; John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Keith Osborn; Clerk of the Council; Jon Foster; Catesby, Jon Foster; Gough, Kevin Harvey; Downes, Peter Bramhill; Poor Woman, Michelle Butterly; Gentleman Porter of the Tower, James Hayes; Lieutenant of the Tower, mark Springer; Ned, Ian Drysdale; Robin, Fred Ridgeway; Rafe, Peter Bramhill; Giles, Ewen Cummins; Hangman, Fred Ridgeway; Messengers, David Hinton, Mark Springer, Jon Foster, Kevin Harvey.
Musicians: Ian Davidson, Ian Watson, Michael Tubbs.
Mr. Murray lent me a thin folio Paper MS. . . . on which it is intitled, The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore. . . It is wrote in the nature of a Play or Interlude. Soon after his death, I believe. Tho’ it appears from thence plainly, what a great, wise, good and charitable man Sir Thomas More was, yet there is no particular of History in it, but what we know already. It is the original, being in many places strangely scored & in others so altered that ‘tis hard to make some things out.For audiences of this rare production of the play, it is likely to be quite the opposite case: though probably aware of More as great, wise and good in general terms, they will probably see many particulars of Sir Thomas More presented here which are not at all familiar, and, in a less literal sense than Hearne intended, may indeed find some aspects of the narrative and mood of the play hard to make out. The kind of ‘Play or interlude’ they are watching may also be puzzling, for while they may be expecting something like a Shakespearian history play, what they get is a narrative in which the King is offstage throughout (and brought into things as little as possible, given the final events of More’s life) and there is a focus on London’s citizens, rather than on the leaders of the nation. Thus the population of the play ranges from cutpurses, to more honest but troubled and troubling citizens, and thence up to sheriffs, justices, knights, the Lord Mayor of London and finally to the Bishop of Rochester and the Earls of Surrey and Shrewsbury as representatives of the higher echelons of Church and State.
to show that when the play in its final version is approached not as a literary curio but as the result of the collective efforts of some of the most gifted practitioners in the greatest age of the English theatre, More can hold its own. (p.34)
Certainly, this production does its best to make the play work in its own
right and in its own manner, and the More we see is not exactly the sophisticated,
witty scholar and martyr of Bolt’s play, and certainly not very evidently
the King’s friend, but a citizen who rises in difficult times to eminence
through his broad humour and understanding of the people, as well as of
Lets to these simple men, for many sweatCooke’s performance of the next scene, in which More plays on the very sense of common justice that the protesters have used to inflame themselves, showed how powerful this excellent speech (by Hand D, Shakespeare, of course) can be for both on-stage crowd and off-stage audience:
Under this act that knows not the law’s debt
Which hangs upon their lives. For silly men
Plod on they know not how, like a fool’s pen
That ending shows not any sentence writ,
Linked but to common reason or slightest wit[.]
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage
Plodding to th’ ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silenced by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed:
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled, and by the pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With selfsame hand, self reasons and self right
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.
And let this be thy maxim: to be greatMoving on without pause from the casual, brutal and moving hanging of Lincoln, the production catches the play’s change of tone; the following scenes where More is at the height of his powers show him in high spirits, playing jokes and acting impromptu in an interlude (a particular highlight of the performance). The humour here shifts between broader and more sophisticated modes, with the intertwined (as it were) scenes of Faulkner’s haircut and the servant-who-imitates-Sir-Thomas-More-so-as-to-fool-Erasmus-of Rotterdam followed by the wittier, meta-theatrical jokes of the interlude of The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom. Just as Lincoln’s hanging is followed swiftly by More’s jokes, so the jokes segue into the King’s apparently low- key off-stage request that all subscribe to ‘these articles enclosed’(4.I.70). The production showed the witty and determined martyr More approach his fate bravely, but the last scenes of Act IV and the four scenes of Act V did sometimes seem to be labouring the point.
Is, when the thread of hazard is once spun,
A bottom greatly wound up, greatly undone
Based on a resilient popular tradition . . .[in which] More is seen as the champion of the city’s mercantile and working class, not the nobility . . . The play celebrates the ‘merry madcap More’ of folk tradition. In most of its dramatised anecdotes More turns the tables against complacent authority.Whether those shifts make any deep sense of More’s psychology and career in terms which a modern audience can follow is another question (the play is clearly haunted by all the things which it cannot approach openly, as well as by perhaps inappropriately Shakespearian expectations and by Robert Bolt’s More). However, this was rare chance to see a historically fascinating play which has only been performed professionally once or so a decade in the twentieth century, and the seriousness and flexibility of both direction and acting was impressive, with Nigel Cooke’s More deserving particular praise for his impression of spontaneous adaptation to the production’s rapid sequence of situations: court case, riot, promotion, practical joke, interlude, fall, resistance to authority, imprisonment, and political murder.
 Cited in Sir Thomas More, by Anthony Munday and others, ed. Vittorio Gabrieli and Giorgio Melchiori (Manchester: MUP, 1990): 1. All subsequent quotations from the play are from this edition.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).