“A true Copie”: Gascoigne’s Princely Pleasures and the textual representation of courtly performance (1)
Susan Anderson. "'A true Copie': Gascoigne’s Princely Pleasures and the textual representation of courtly performance". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May, 2008) 6.1-43 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-1/article5.htm>.
1. The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle describes events which took place during Elizabeth I’s visit to
2. This article explores the presence of Gascoigne within this text, examining its portrayal of his role at the event, and arguing that the text commemorates his importance as poet and presenter, as much as it does the event itself. Whilst the vignettes and devices written for the event dramatise the tension between aristocratic and royal authority, they also highlight the contribution of the poet to these contestations. This article will show that, within the context of collaborative authorship, Princely Pleasures asserts the importance of poetic authority. The influence of its textual strategies will be traced in later Elizabethan entertainments, showing that the text’s presentation of the event enhanced its importance for the development of modes of addressing and representing the Queen. Ultimately, however, it will be argued that attempting to resolve the interpretation of such texts to a singular set of concerns underestimates the variety of centres of authorship and address that these texts incorporate.
3. The extant text of The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle is the version which was printed as part of the 1587 publication of the Works of George Gascoigne. Having been issued anonymously as The Princelye Pleasures, at the Courte at Kenelwoorth in octavo in 1576, its inclusion in the Works is surely a significant factor in the way that Gascoigne has been seen as the primary ‘author’ of this collaborative, compiled text. The octavo text is no longer extant, but was reprinted in 1821 (3), and this version manifests some differences which are significant for our understanding of the conditions of production of this entertainment and its textual description, as we shall see.
4.Both versions of the text feature an anonymous narrator who links the disparate verses with short passages of commentary explaining the import of the poetry, taking care to specify who was responsible for which parts of the text. It is noted, for example, that Sibilla’s welcome of
5.Gascoigne’s contributions to the event seem to be highlighted more emphatically than those of other writers. For instance, we are told that the exchange with Eccho on the second day of the entertainment was ‘devised, penned, and pronounced by master G[a]scoyne: and that (as I have heard credibly reported) upon a very great sudden’ (p. 102). The commentary between the verses does seem to be more interested by and knowledgeable about Gascoigne’s contribution than any other, making plausible the hypothesis that Gascoigne himself wrote these remarks. Referring to himself in the third person would have enabled Gascoigne to emphasise his own contribution without appearing ungracious to the other writers and performers who contributed to the entertainments (6).
6. Yet the earlier version of the
text, printed during Gascoigne’s lifetime, included an address to the reader by
the printer, Richard Jones, which co-opts for himself some aspects of the
authorship of the composite text. His statement that he gathered the material
together emphasises the ‘travayle and paine’ (p. 570) he has undergone to gain
access to the texts that he prints (7). Jones goes to some length to differentiate
his version from another, earlier account of the progress, referred to as ‘the
Pastime of the Progresse’. This earlier account, Jones asserts, gives only a
generalised description of the time that
8. Both forms of the text thus present it as a transparent and reliable record of events, yet as we have already seen, it incorporates extra material which was not part of the event. Significant information about the event is also omitted, as we shall see. Furthermore, the certainty which characterises these openings is undermined later in the text. For example, 13 lines of Latin (by Richard Mulcaster) are given as part of the first day’s entertainment yet they are followed by the narrator’s comment that ‘I am not verye sure whether these or master Patens were pronounced by the Author, but they were all to one effect’ (p. 95). This lack of clarity belies the text’s assertion of its reliability, undermining its self-proclaimed trustworthiness. The narrator exposes the fact that not everything about the event is knowable, something which is implicitly rejected by the way that the text is presented.
9.A further challenge to the confidence of both forms of the text is presented by the narrator’s appeals to memory. For instance, the account of the visit opens by stating ‘Her majesty came thether (as I remember) on saterday being the nienth of July last past’ (p. 91). The parenthetical qualification of this information introduces the possibility of error because it categorises it as derived from memory. Yet perhaps this statement, placed near the beginning of the text, actually attempts to reinforce the reader’s sense of the speaker’s veracity. It refers to a verifiable fact, and should be read not as implying ‘if I recall correctly’, but ‘as I do recall correctly’.
10. Assertions of uncertainty are used creatively elsewhere within the text, however, because they enable the narrator to elide any information which presents a challenge to the competence of Gascoigne and the other writers of the entertainments. The narrator avoids having to explain why the Zabeta device was cancelled, for instance, by asserting an ignorance that seems positively disingenuous: the ‘shewe was devised and penned by M. Gascoigne, and being prepared and redy (every Actor in his garment) two or three dayes together, yet never came to execution. The cause whereof I cannot attribute to any other thing, then to lack of opportunitie and seasonable weather’ (p. 120). Whether ‘cannot’ here refers to a failure of imagination, or a prohibition relating to the cause of the cancellation, it provokes a sense that there is another, unmentionable, cause for the event’s abandonment. The detail of the actors in their costumes, waiting to perform, conveys the sense of frustrated effort that must have surrounded the discarded show.
11. The inclusion of the device of the quest
for Zabeta in Princely Pleasures supplies material which exceeds the text’s promise to provide the devices
which were presented to
12. The inclusion of Princely Pleasures within the issuing of Gascoigne’s works is therefore understandable, even if there are large parts of the text which are not by him. Furthermore, Gascoigne’s contributions to the entertainments are longer than those attributed to all the other writers put together. There is an exchange with Eccho, a playlet divided into two acts with scene breaks (the abandoned device that deals with the hunt for Zabeta), and a lengthy farewell sequence which involved long prose sections delivered by Gascoigne (allegedly ex tempore), as well as a verse speech and a song.
13. Most noticeably, Gascoigne’s motto, ‘Tam
Marti, quam Mercurio’, appears twice within the text, once after the Eccho
device, and once at the end of the entire text. However much of the rest
of the text is not by Gascoigne, he certainly seems to have got the last
word in more ways than one (10). Asked to invent the final device to
entertain the Queen as she left the estate, Gascoigne was given the
opportunity to conclude the visit. The positioning of this device has a
structural importance which gives Gascoigne the potential to
retrospectively alter the import of the earlier shows. Whether or not
Gascoigne’s ending parable of Deep Desire and
14. This belated adoption of interpretive
finality is more obvious in the Eccho device, where Gascoigne’s view of
the import of the previous day’s welcoming entertainments is imposed over
and above the interpretation offered when the welcoming entertainment had
occurred. The exchange with Eccho at
15. Notwithstanding his professed ignorance, the Savage’s interrogation of Eccho goes over the welcoming events of the previous day, the answers to his questions being contained in the final one, two or three syllables of his line, which are repeated by Eccho. For example, at one point, the Savage asks ‘But wherefore doe they so rejoyce? | is it for King or Queene?’, to which Eccho, of course, replies ‘Queene’ (p. 97). The device’s function within the visit is, therefore, reiterative, recalling the splendours of the previous day and restating their intended import. This subject-matter plays on the nature of echo, of course, but it also draws attention to the echo-device’s own status as a display which contains certain encrypted messages for observers to decipher. Its decoding of the meaning of the previous day’s events offers its audience an example of how to respond to its own gnomic statements.
16. This self-consciousness is enhanced by the emphases that an echo enables. These can be rather unsubtle: the Savage, for example, asks Eccho how he might know the Queen ‘from the rest, | or judge her by her grace?’, to which Eccho replies ‘her grace’ (p. 100). A more interesting effect is achieved, however, by the careful deployment of the only echo which is a proper pun rather than just a straight repeat (11). This occurs when the Savage describes the gifts that had been left out for the arriving guests the previous day, and asks for their meaning. In response, the name of Robert Dudley as patron and gift-giver is declared by Eccho, promoting him as the benefactor and animating force behind the entertainment:
Gifts? what? sent
from the Gods?
as presents from above?
Or pleasures of provision,
as tokens of true love
Eccho True love
And who gave all those gifts?
I pray thee (Eccho) say?
Was it not he? who (but of late)
this building here did lay?
17. One fictive option – the idea that
the gifts have magically appeared as expressions of divine approval of
The device’s model of
interpretation is one that both audience and reader are implicitly encouraged
to apply to their understanding of the rest of the event/text. Poetry, visual display
and sound are enlisted at the event to create a multilayered spectacle which
required deciphering in the way that Gascoigne’s echo device had demonstrated.
Her Majesty passing on to the first
gate, there stode in the Leades and Battlementes therof, sixe Trumpetters
hugelie advaunced, much exceeding the common stature of men in this age, who
had likewise huge and monstrous Trumpettes counterfetted, wherein they seemed
to sound: and behind them were placed certaine Trumpetters who sounded in deede
at her majesties entrie (p. 92) (12).
This display impresses with both spectacle and sound. The real trumpeters provided the requisite fanfare for the Queen’s approach, while the outsize models impressed onlookers.
19. The narrator’s description of the spectacle as a ‘dumb shew’ (p. 92) refers to the way in which spectators were expected to understand the symbolism of these visual and aural elements (13). This sense of an esoteric meaning hidden in the display is analogous to the emblem book (14). This allegorising process is identified by Javitch as a characteristic of courtly poetry. He cites Whitney’s 1586 A Choice of Emblemes, where Whitney defines emblems as ‘having some wittie devise espressed with cunning workemanship some thing obscure to be perceived at first, whereby, when with further consideration it is understood, it maie the greater delight the beholder’ (15). The textual description converts the impact of the spectacle, performing an act of exegesis which assumes its own clarity and veracity as a given, but which still invites the same active scrutiny as the event it describes.
The progress entertainments
combined features of several allegorical modes of addressing and representing
21.As Suerbaum points out, ‘eulogies in the mythological mode are unassailable, because they are patently “feigned”. You can be as hyperbolic as you like without being guilty of untruth or absurdity’ (22). Not only did the poetic mythology of the Elizabethan court enable these entertainments to create ingenious and entertaining worlds for themselves, it also provided the potential for a re-imagining of social hierarchy in the figurative representations of the entertainment. This re-imagining suggested a more flattering view of the host’s place in the social order, a view which was reflected back into reality by the printed text of the entertainment. The text itself thus adds a further element by re-presenting this representation with its own bias. As Palmer puts it, a progress entertainment ‘appropriates community life and submits it to narrative’ which ‘produces imaginary resolutions of real contradictions between class, economic, and political interests’ (23).
23.Within the context of
24. This process of textual re-presentation can smooth over inconsistencies within the entertainment’s performance, or even blunders. For example, Langham’s Letter describes how Gascoigne’s enthusiastic performance during the echo device accidentally endangered the Queen by startling her horse (26). The episode is not mentioned at all in Princely Pleasures, and no wonder, as it was obviously embarrassing for all concerned. Thus the text constitutes a more perfectly realised account of the entertainment than the performance itself, one in which the fantastic myth of the pageant world is not challenged or threatened by reality.
25. The text of Princely Pleasures therefore becomes a showcase for the skill of the contributors involved in putting together the entertainments for Elizabeth, especially Gascoigne. It emphasises the dexterity and effort that created the poetic double-meanings and ingenious devices that were on offer. Viewing the text in this way enables us to recognise the ways in which the mode of address of the text widens the potential audience at the same time as appearing to narrow it to a single figure (27). Gascoigne’s addresses to the Queen may seem ill-advised, tactless, or even foolish, but the Queen was not the only person to hear his approaches. Even as his appeal for patronage is directed exclusively towards her, it makes his skills all the more attractive to other patrons and more of a model for other writers.
Gascoigne’s Zabeta device directly
Were you not captive
were you not kept in walles?
Were you not forst to lease a life
like other wetched thralles?
Where was Diana then
why did she you not ayde?
Why did she not defend your state,
which were and are her maide? (p. 119).
The assertion of marriage as the protection against such humiliations is part of Gascoigne’s repeated construction of Elizabeth as a figure of feminine vulnerability, which constantly undermines her independence and autonomy, from the unmarried princess in need of a patriarchal guidance and protection in the Zabeta device, to the vulnerable traveller in need of safe conduct through the ‘perillous passages’ (p. 121) of the woods in his closing address to her. Gascoigne’s undertaking of the marriage question as a subject for his device, his use of loaded images and aggressive metaphors does seem deeply tactless, and therefore rather unwise, considering his pursuit of patronage from the Queen. Despite the fact that it was not performed, the text of the Zabeta entertainment shows that although Gascoigne’s mode of address is necessarily directed exclusively towards the Queen, no address made to her in these circumstances can fail to take account of the presence of other constituencies of power.
27.The concluding device performed at the entertainment, featuring the holly bush of Deep Desire and the laurel tree of
28. Deep Desire is construed as an active, positive force which motivates good works. Gascoigne/Sylvanus declares that ‘neither any delay could daunt him: no disgrace could abate his passions, no tyme could tyre him’ (p. 126). When Deep Desire sings that his ‘deedes did more delight deserve’ (p. 130), favour is commodified, and detached from any sense of
Despite her apparently dominant
position in the signification of entertainments and their texts,
31.Gascoigne’s death in 1577 nullified any effectiveness this appeal for patronage might have had. It is clear, though, that Gascoigne’s contributions to
32. While the entertainment at Bisham
offers a straightforward repeat of
33. A further ‘echo’ of the
34. The reference in Princely
Pleasures to ‘a Consort of Musicke’ (p. 104) is the earliest example of the
use of the English word ‘consort’ in a musical sense, and is accepted by music
historians as one of the first, and certainly the most public, early
manifestations of this distinctive group of instruments (37). It reappeared at Elvetham, where it provided
the musical background of the entertainment and was at
35. This list of instruments
constitutes the first instance where this particular ensemble is so precisely
named, which suggests a desire to ensure that the quality of the entertainment
is properly emphasised. The preciseness of the list in the Elvetham text is
evidence of a sense of competitiveness with the 1575
36. The relationship of Elizabethan progress entertainment texts to the events they describe is thus a transformative one. Masten’s understanding of playtexts as ‘recapitulations’ can be of use in describing this status (41). Entertainment texts summarise and encapsulate a varied and complicated series of events seen during a visit, and this recording process inevitably involves a certain amount of telescoping of non-verbal elements in order to represent them on paper.
37. They offer reportage of events involving rich, famous and powerful individuals, and thus constitute part of the nascent European market for printed news and journalism (42). Their commentaries thus promise an insight into the workings of courtly power, yet they also provide the details of staged performances and poetic recitations with highly involved, and sometimes obscure, allegorical import, which appear to demand rather different reading strategies. It is through these allegorical engagements, however, that the entertainments presented political issues and suits, and in doing so participated in shaping the mode of such political address at the same time as enacting it. The texts which describe these events not only reflect these political engagements, but also continue and extend them.
38.In such a context, multiple identities are simultaneously invoked and constructed. Images of the monarch, the host, performers, courtly observers, and writers are variously introduced at events where the fashioning of selves and others is constantly in play. The text itself then forms a refashioning of these portrayals, a further space in which political identities can be refined and reiterated. For a writer such as George Gascoigne, the fluidity of this mode of representation offered a writerly authority through which apparent failure could be reconstituted as success. That writerly authority in itself, however, was constructed within the context of a composite text which reflects the collaborative nature of the entertainment it purports to record.
Courtly and public spectacles of
whatever genre are collaborative in their production by necessity. G.E. Bentley
makes this point in relation to the
40.A court entertainment provided an environment where all involved could enhance their own particular career and their prestige in their field, as a writer, as a performer, as a courtier. James Knowles identifies Robert Cecil’s employment of Ben Jonson to write a series of entertainments for him as an example of ‘dual self-fashioning’, whereby patronage operates in a ‘dialectic, dynamic fashion, involving both patron and client in a mutual economy of self-presentation and fashioning’ (44). Thus, the recognition that occasional entertainments could be important propaganda for one party should not efface their significance for others. Furthermore, Knowles’s formulation can be extended to apply to more than two constituents. In the entertainment at
41. Progress visits required diversions which would occupy the leisure hours of the Queen and retinue, but also portray both the royal visitor and the host, in as flattering a light as possible. This is primarily achieved by creating a sense of artistic ingenuity, and it is precisely that sense of wittiness that constitutes Gascoigne’s presentation of himself within Princely Pleasures, through devices which invite close reading and interpretation.
42. Gascoigne’s death in 1577 means that the reprinting of Princely Pleasures as part of the posthumous Works is clearly not part of his appeals for patronage to the Queen or anybody else, although the sense that the printed text advertises Gascoigne’s availability for such work can still be traced within this version. The text presents Gascoigne’s contribution to the poetic means of constructing the relationship between subject and monarch, asserting the importance of an active voice in utilising the poetic fantasy that had the potential to shape political reality. In doing so, it proffers an example for later devisers of entertainments to follow, an authority which manifests itself in the influences that have been observed in the Bisham and Elvetham entertainments. The feat of successfully navigating the expectations of the court was, therefore, to produce an entertainment which fulfilled conflicting criteria of tradition and novelty, flattery and self-promotion. The challenge of deciding what these expectations were, and precisely how to meet them, was articulated within a discourse which had much to say about the dire consequences of getting this calculation wrong, but very little concrete guidance on how to get it right. For example, Thomas Elyot’s advice on magnificence is full of moral precepts and warnings against prodigality, but gives no indication of what would be the appropriate manner to greet a monarch, or what kinds of entertainment fit particular kinds of occasion (46). For this, a prospective host, and the writers they employed, had little to turn to but precedent. Gascoigne and Princely Pleasures not only provided a template for the way to perform an entertainment for the Queen, but also the way to present it in the text after the event.
43. The ambiguity of the authorship of
Princely Pleasures is not an issue which requires resolution,
rather, it is a manifestation of the way that ambiguity is the stock in
trade of courtly entertainment, and the only way in which the poets whose work
featured could negotiate the complex demands of courtly patronage. The text
notes that Gascoigne’s concluding device was prompted by
1 Thanks to
2 In particular in Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 56-96. See also Ilana Nash, ‘“A Subject Without Subjection”: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle’, Comitatus, 25 (1994), 81-102.
3 As Cunliffe notes, the octavo version was
reproduced in Kenilworth Illustrated: The History of the Castle, Priory and
4 This is presumably the William Hunnis who died in 1597 and was made Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal in 1566, a position which would have enabled him to arrange for a well-trained young performer to execute his device, and perhaps those of other writers at the event. Hunnis had received payment for presenting a play by the Children before the Queen in January 1571/2. See Records of English Court Musicians, ed. by Andrew Ashbee, vol. VIII (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995), p. 31, and The Cheque Books of the Chapel Royal, ed. by Andrew Ashbee and John Harley, 2 vols (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), I, 19.
5 A distinction which was to became very important to Ben Jonson’s understanding of his role in his masque-writing, as argued by D.J. Gordon in ‘Poet and Architect: The Intellectual Setting of the Quarrel between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’, in The Renaissance Imagination: Essays and Lectures by D.J. Gordon, ed. by Stephen Orgel (London: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 78-101.
6 Gascoigne also has ‘form’ in passing off his own work as that of others in his 1573 publication of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, a collection of his own poems that he presented as an anthology of works by courtly poets. See G.W. Pigman III, ‘Editing Revised Texts: Gascoigne’s A Hundredth [sic] Sundrie Flowres and The Posies’, in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts, II: Papers of the English Renaissance Text Society, ed. by W. Speed Hill (Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1998), pp. 1-9 (pp. 2-3).
7 The possibility that Jones himself might have written the passages of commentary within the text seems unlikely from the text. Jones signs off his prefatory material with the date, separating it off from the rest of the text. He also displays a lack of familiarity with the events of the progress at odds with the narrator’s initial confidence.
8 See Alexandra F. Johnston, ‘“The Lady of the
Farme”: The Context of Lady Russell’s Entertainment of Elizabeth at Bisham,
1592’, Early Theatre, 5.2 (2002),
71-85 for a discussion of this entertainment.
Progresses and Public Processions of Queen
10 Ilana Nash describes how ‘
11 For more on the potential of the echo form,
see Lathrop P. Johnson, ‘Theory and Practice of the Baroque Echo Poem’, in Daphnis:
Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutsche Literatur, 19 (1990), 189-221, and Joseph
12 This use of miming could be a relic of a technique of religious drama, where, according to Rose, actors playing angels would appear holding musical instruments whilst musicians would play ‘off-stage’ (Adrian Rose, ‘Angel Musicians in the Medieval Stained Glass of Norfolk Churches’, Early Music, 29 (2001), 186-217, (p. 191)).
13 For more on the dumb show genre, see Dieter Mehl, The Elizabethan Dumb Show: The History of a Dramatic Convention (London: Methuen, 1965).
14 Although Michael Bath cautions against
describing pageant devices as ‘emblematic’ in Speaking Pictures: English Emblem Books and Renaissance Culture
(London: Longman, 1994), p. 24. In discussing Geffrey Whitney’s ‘normative
model’ of the emblem, Bath identifies a tripartite structure in which the
‘emblem presents us with an epigram which resolves the enigmatic relation
between motto and picture by appealing to received meanings which its images
have in established iconographic systems of Western culture’ (Bath, p. 74).
15 Daniel Javitch, Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance
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