'When dead ones are revived': The Aesthetics of Spectacle in Robert Greene's James IV (c. 1590)

Jenny Sager
Jesus College, University of Oxford

Sager, Jenny. "'When dead ones are revived': The Aesthetics of Spectacle in Robert Greene's James IV (c. 1590)". EMLS 16.2 (2012): 2. URL: http://purl.org/emls/16-2/sagejame.htm

  1. At about three o'clock in the morning, Vincent bursts into the home of his dealer, desperately seeking help, after Mia's accidental overdose.  Amidst much panic and confusion, Vincent plunges a massive needle into Mia's chest, injecting adrenalin straight into her heart.  To the astonishment of onlookers, Mia suddenly leaps across the room, as if raised from the dead. Provoking horror and humour in equal measure, this bizarre resurrection constitutes one of the most memorable scenes in Tarantino's 1994 cult classic Pulp Fiction.[1]  While some critics have suggested that this episode is merely symptomatic of Tarantino's need to shock and disturb, of his preference for 'style over substance, or perhaps, spectacle over message'; others have argued that this visual device 'addresses the theme of the film', which 'for all its well deserved kudos for unique visual style [is] a simple tale about the redemption of hoodlums'.[2]  However, Mia's resurrection contributes both style and substance to Pulp Fiction.  The triumph of this cinematic spectacle is not one of effect over affect; it lies in a synthesis of affect and effect.

  2.  Injecting a similarly powerful shot of adrenalin into another story about redemption, Robert Greene's James IV (c. 1590, pr. 1598) opens with a bang.  The opening stage direction of the play reads:
    Music playing within.  Enter OBERON, King of the Fairies, an antic, who dance about a tomb, placed conveniently on the stage, out of which, suddenly starts up as they dance, BOHAN, a Scot, attired like a Redesdale man, from whom the antic flies. (JIV. I.i) [3]
    Before any words are spoken or any actors appear, the audience is confronted with the ominous spectacle of a 'tomb placed conveniently on the stage' (JIV. I.i).  But if the audience were expecting a sombre funeral, Greene disappoints them.  Without warning, a group of actors surge onto the stage.  They dance wildly; music plays.  Suddenly, the tomb bursts open and Bohan, one of the play's presenters, leaps out.  The atmosphere of the play has transformed from ominous melancholy to delight and elation.  Dressed 'like a Redesdale man' with a 'wild and ferocious appearance', Bohan's apparent resurrection provides more than mere aesthetic delight.[4]  Like the corpse-crowded Pulp Fiction, Greene's play depicts a veritable pageant of fatalities.  Offering an antidote to the scenes of slaughter, which emphasise the transient nature of life and the finality of death, this comic resurrection expresses a fervent desire for human transcendence and the need for the dead to return in order to redeem the present.

  3. Just as in Pulp Fiction, a strange tension between comedy and tragedy reverberates throughout Greene's James IV.  Although the play begins with the marriage of James IV to Dorothea, the daughter of the King of England, all is not as it seems.  James's affections are otherwise engaged; and, with the help of his power-crazed favourite Ateukin, James plots adultery and murder.  Hearing that Dorothea has been murdered, the King of England attacks Scotland.  At the end of the play, somehow, all is forgiven when Dorothea reappears, and the situation is finally resolved with festivity.  The play is presented by Bohan, a Scottish nobleman, while Oberon, the King of the Fairies, presents the play's various emblematic dumb shows, spectacular interludes and comic jigs.

  4. The prevalence of spectacle in James IV is far from exceptional in the wider context of Greene's dramatic oeuvre; it is the distinguishing feature of Greene's drama. Greene's plays are visually magnificent: madmen wander on stage waving the severed limbs of their victims (Orlando Furioso, c. 1591), tyrants gruesomely mutilate their subjects (Selimus, c. 1591-4), extravagant stage properties such as the mysterious brazen head prophesy to the audience (Alphonsus, King of Aragon, c. 1587, and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, c. 1589), and sinners are swallowed into hell accompanied by fireworks (A Looking Glass for London and England, c. 1588).  Yet in contrast to his numerous prose works which were printed during his lifetime, his drama, which was printed posthumously, has only recently started to come to the attention of literary critics.  Melnikoff and Gieskes's Writing Robert Greene (2008) has considered Greene's engagement with the popular print market and his career as a professional dramatist.[5]  But by reading Greene's drama in conjunction with his pamphlets, which are frequently mistaken for autobiography, the many of these essays risk reading Greene's plays as an expression of his own authorial identity.  This anxiety ultimately marks my point of deviation from the work of Melnikoff and Gieskes; it is only when we start to read his drama as drama, through the lens of performance studies, that we be able to resurrect Robert Greene's dramatic oeuvre from the obscurity in which it currently languishes.

  5. Greene's penchant for visual effects has led previous commentators to be extremely dismissive of his drama, evoking that his flamboyant visual style is merely a substitute for intellectual substance.  In 1911, Thomas H. Dickinson complained that Greene's numerous 'palpable tricks of stage craft' were little more than vulgar 'sensations'.[6] Observing that Greene 'obtains some powerful dramatic effects', Kenneth Muir contended that 'in spite of the variety of incident' his plays 'will hardly stand up to serious critical examination'.[7]  Indeed, the reception of Greene's drama has been dogged by precisely the same critical bias, which is now frequently levelled at postmodern film directors such as Tarantino. 

  6. The overriding disdain for spectacle - as mere decorative artifice inciting little more than intellectual quiescence - is not a new phenomenon.  In his Poetics, Aristotle poured scorn on the use of spectacle in drama, describing it as 'emotionally potent' but stressing that it 'falls quite outside [...] art' (VII.16-20).  Aristotle's attitude has had a palpable effect on theatre criticism; even those critics who do discuss the significance of spectacle are forced to do so under the cover of darkness.  Rather than talk about spectacle, they talk about the 'materiality of religion', 'the “idolatry” of theatre', 'the circulation of social energy', and 'the cultural project of things'; as if devolving into social, economic or religious history is the only way to imbue their work with meaning, purpose or intellectual gravitas.

  7. It is still widely believed that while Shakespeare was a poetic genius who only needed language to ignite his audience's imagination, less gifted playwrights had to rely on garish visual effects to entertain their spectators.  In The Shakespearean Stage (1982), Andrew Gurr has observed that as 'a general rule the better the playwright the less spectacle there was likely to be in his plays'.[8]  The purpose of this essay is to prove this supposition wrong.  For Greene, spectacle is not merely a frivolous way of entertaining an uneducated populace with a few cheap thrills; it encourages the audience to contemplate the more demanding implications of his drama.  As Friar Bacon explains in John of Bordeaux (c. 1590-4), a play frequently attributed to Greene, there is often a 'strategy' behind 'cunning shows', whereby 'the eye transfers unto the heart the strange idea of so rare a being, then begins the mind to work of things divine' (756-760).  Spectacle provokes sensory delight and intellectual contemplation in equal measure.

  8. Concentrating on the opening sequence of Greene's play, I want to contemplate the scene's affective power - its ability to provoke shock - and its effective power - its ability to convey symbolic meaning.  Alexander Leggatt has argued that the apparent tension between the play's two presenters is indicative of a generic conflict in James IV; the prevailing view being that the 'satiric, moralising' Bohan 'presides over the play as history and tragedy, while the 'festive, comic, life-affirming' Oberon 'presides over the play as comedy'.[9]  More recently, Verna A. Foster has suggested that the play displays a 'tragicomic dramaturgy'.  According to Foster, Greene 'show[ed] considerable tact in balancing the different kinds of dramatic experience', so that 'whenever a potentially tragic action threatened to become too grim the audience's spirits' were 'raised with by something comic'.[10]

  9. Offering an alternative argument, this essay argues that Bohan and Oberon proffer two distinct, but not mutually exclusive, ways of conceiving of and interpreting theatrical spectacle.  For the sober rationalist Bohan drama must have a didactic purpose; drama's “usefulness” lies in its cognitive effects, in its ability to provoke intellectual contemplation.  Oberon, by contrast, demonstrates a disregard for the “usefulness” of drama; instead he advocates the affective power of spectacle, its aesthetic power to elicit an emotional response from an audience.  Between them, Bohan, who emphasises the power of spectacle to provoke intellectual contemplation, and Oberon, who emphasises the power of spectacle to provoke aesthetic pleasure, subscribe to the dialectic proffered by Greene's favourite motto, which, as we established earlier, appears on the play's title page: 'Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci' (He gains universal applause who mingles the useful with the agreeable, at once delighting and instructing the reader).[11] 

  10. Literary critics continue to disregard the aesthetics of shock in literature.  Artaud offers a blunt corrective for such reductive thinking; to his mind the power of theatre lay in its visceral impact, in its power to shock an audience into a new state of understanding:
    One cannot separate body and mind nor the senses from the intellect, particularly in a field where the unendingly repeated jading of our organs calls for sudden shocks to revive our understanding.[12]
    The opening sequence of James IV provides revivification, both literarily and metaphorically; the shock it provokes not only wakes Bohan from his slumber, it also grabs the audience's attention.  Bohan's resurrection provokes a visceral reaction, encouraging the audience to reflect on the metaphorical significance of this spectacle.  The ability of spectacle to appeal both to the audience's emotions and to their intellect is evident in the constant interplay between the aesthetic of shock and the aesthetic of recognition, which runs throughout the play. 

  11. Crucially Greene's opening is unique; no other early modern drama begins in this way.  Purporting to be a history play, James IV toys with the audience's generic assumptions.  The sight of the tomb on stage at the beginning of the play draws the audience into an intertextual maze; they assume they know how the play will begin based on how other history plays begin.  The audience are expecting a funeral; Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI (c. 1592) begins with just such a morbid spectacle, as the English court gathers around Henry V's 'wooden coffin' and struggles to come to terms with the fact that their hero 'is dead, and never shall revive' (1H6. I.i.18-19).[13]   But this is not what happens in James IV.  Greene evokes the audience's memory of a familiar genre, encourages them to assume generic invariability, only to then provoke shock when he deviates from their expectations.   

  12. Shock tactics are deployed throughout James IV.  Punctuating the play, the morbid dumb shows depicting the death of kings lead us to expect a tragic denouement, instead the play ends on a high, with the jovial invitation to 'feast it' and 'frolic it like friends' (JIV. V.vi.235).  In the 1598 Quarto of the play, the three dumb shows are printed between Act One and Act Two.  It seems highly unlikely that this is where they originally would have appeared in the play.  Tiffany Stern has recently demonstrated that, like prologues and epilogues, interim entertainments were written on 'separate documents' from the play-text, therefore interim entertainments were frequently 'misplaced because separately acquired' by the printer.[14]  In the Quarto two interludes follow the first Act.  The first stage direction states that 'Bohan and the Fairy King' enter 'after the first act' and that they then perform a 'pretty dance' (JIV. I.C).  This is followed by the three dumb shows, which precede the heading 'After the first act'.  B. A. P. Van Dam has suggested that Greene wanted his dumb shows to follow the final Act but that an adapter 'for some reason or other preferred to have the three dumb shows not at the end of the performance but between the acts' and the compositor arranged the dumb shows 'according to the adapter's instructions'.[15]   If Van Dam's supposition is correct, Oberon's dumb shows would have occurred after Bohan had finished presenting the story of James IV.  But the suggestion that Greene wanted the dumb shows to be tacked on, consecutively, at end of the play seems unconvincing.  After all, dumb shows were designed to reemphasise the themes of the play in a different theatrical mode and usually appeared between the acts of a play.  A more credible argument has been put forward by Norman Sanders, who tried to reconstruct the original positions of the dumb shows by looking for appropriate moments in the text.[16]  He has argued that the first dumb show occurred at the end of Act One Scene One, the second at the end of Act One Scene Two and third at the end of Act Three Scene Two.  There is, however, another possibility.  In the Quarto text, the dumb shows follow the line 'After the first act' and then the second and third dumb shows are numbered 2 and 3.  Perhaps this indicates that the first dumb show would have appeared at the end of Act One, the second at the end of Act Two and the third at the end of Act Three.  This theory is also supported by the text; the dumb shows seem to complement Bohan and Oberon's discussions in the corresponding choruses.

  13. By adding these silent shows full of 'mirk and baleful harm', Greene is once again playing with the audience's expectations.  Theatrical tradition dictates that a dumb show 'import[...] the argument of the play' (Ham. III.ii.136).  Thus in Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville's Gorboduc (1563) and George Gascoigne's Jocasta (1572), the dumb shows foreshadow events which will later be represented through dialogue.[17]  Greene encourages the audience to assume that like Semiramis, Cyrus and Sesostris, James's failure both as a king and as a man will result in his death, which heightens their sense of relief when James redeems himself.  Directly contravening the title page's guarantee that we will see James 'slain at Flodden', James escapes his fate; that is his fate as dictated by history; he does not die.  Similarly we are led to expect that Dorothea will die of her wounds after she is brutally attacked by an evil French henchman and yet, still disguised as a boy, she is nursed back to health by a Scottish noblewoman who promptly falls in love with her.  In the blink of an eye, we are transported to the joyfully comic world of Twelfth Night (c.1600-1).

  14. Like a Dadaist work of art which, as Richard Sheppard explains, aims to 'shock' and 'sharpen our perceptions of the everyday' and to 'replace static and detached contemplation' with reinvigorated thought, Greene's play relies on the aesthetic of shock to prompt the audience towards a renewed contemplation of apparently familiar stage devices.[18]  As Philip Fisher emphasises, only a new experience, an aesthetic novelty, can provoke amazement: '[f]or wonder there must be no element of memory in the experience'.[19]  Demonstrating a clear awareness of the power of aesthetic novelties on the inexperienced, Ateukin reminds his royal master that the beautiful Ida will be vulnerable to flattery and gifts precisely because she is young:
    'Tis Ida is the mistress of your heart,
    Whose youth must take impression of affects,
    For tender twigs will bowe and minds
    Will yield to fancy be they followed well. (JIV. I.i.212-5)   
    Ateukin predicts that Ida will be overwhelmed by the 'impression of affects'; her mind 'will yield to fancy' because she has not experienced such flattery before.  She has no experience, no memories of similar situations, on which to model her behaviour.  To Ateukin's dismay, however, Ida turns out to be far from impressionable.  Just as the audience are encouraged to seek moral instruction from the dumb shows which recall past tragedies, Ida has a wide collective memory on which to draw.  From the Bible to the allegorical embroidery she is creating, to her mother's commonplace sayings, Ida is surrounded by images and words, which carry didactic messages, imbuing her with the wisdom to reject James's advances.  Through a process of memory and recognition, she is able to rationalise and interpret her experiences.  Indeed Ida appears to demonstrate a self-referential awareness; it is as if she realises that in order to survive the play she must conform to the Patient Griselda archetype, like her literary predecessors.

  15. In the same way, an audience is reliant on their visual memory in order to interpret the various spectacles in James IV; meaning is once again referential.  The opening of James IV is melodramatic and sensational – something the audience hasn't seen before.  But how unfamiliar would this spectacle really have been to an early modern audience?  After all, as we have established, critics frequently argue that all resurrections on the early modern stage were either a secular modification of the visitatio sepulchri motif from medieval drama or that they derive from the revivifications of prose romance.[20]  Spectacles carry the burden of their theatrical or literary past from play to play, actively encouraging audiences to recognize intertextual resonances between plays.  Discussing the practice of recycling costumes on the early modern stage, Peter Stallybrass has described 'theatrical paraphernalia as a memory system'.[21]  Andrew Sofer has suggested that stage properties are 'retrospective'; they encourage the audience to recall their 'previous stage incarnations'.[22]   More recently, Lina Perkins Wilder has argued that '[t]he physical properties of the theatre [...] become the materials for a mnemonic dramaturgy'.[23]   Greene's spectacle combines new and old.  It breaks with generic tradition and conforms to it; it is shockingly unfamiliar and recognisably familiar.  Engaging the audience's emotions and their intellect, spectacle provokes both subjective and objective judgement.

  16. Bemused, or perhaps just simply confused, Bohan watches Oberon's visual excesses from a discreet distance; Oberon's jigs, 'this din of mirk and baleful harm', 'these crafts' elicit only one response from Bohan: 'What meaneth this?' (JIV. DS.i.4; DS.ii.6).  Bohan's question belies his primary anxiety: what if these 'fond actions' are merely frivolous diversions, devoid of meaning?  But Bohan's anxieties are unfounded; the play's spectacles are eidetic stage images: they assault the senses, provoking wonder and astonishment, which in turn encourages the audience to contemplate the symbolic significance of these spectacles.[24] 

  17. Greene's opening spectacle  might have been based on a similar device used by Anthony Munday in his play Fedele and Fortunio; or; The Two Italian Gentlemen (c. 1584), which was an adaptation of Luigi Pasquàligo's Commedia Erudite, Il Fedele (c. 1572).  In Fedele and Fortunio, a woman hires a sorceress to perform a magic spell, which will make her lover more devoted to her.  But the rite is interrupted by a character called Crackstone, who 'riseth out of the tomb' he has been hiding in 'with one candle in his mouth, and in each hand one', after the sorceress throws candles into it.  Terrified, the women run away, screaming '[t]he Devil, the Devil' (II.ii).[25]   By contrast to Munday, Greene puts his comic resurrection in the induction of his play so that he can startle the audience and grab their attention at the beginning of the play.

  18. This device must have been popular because Robert Armin chose to rework it in his play The Valiant Welshman (c.1615).  With accompanying music and dancing, the figure of Fortune 'descends down from heaven to the stage' to wake 'the ancient Bard [...] who long ago was there entombed' (I.i).  Described as a 'poet laureate', the Bard agrees to tell the story of the valiant Welshman, in order to 'encourage' the youths in the audience 'to follow the steps of their ancestors' (I.i.25; FM.3-4).[26]  The majority of stage resurrections, however, occur towards the end, rather than at the beginning, of a play.  In the closing scenes of John Marston's Antonio and Mellida (c. 1599), the audience are treated to a 'tragic spectacle', as a coffin is carried onstage to the sound of 'mournful sennet' (V.ii.187).[27]  'Arising from the coffin', Antonio reassures his dumbstuck 'spectators', telling them to: '[s]tand not amazed' (V.ii.229, 223).   Similarly in Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (c. 1613), 'Touchwood Junior and Moll rise out of their coffins' providing an atmosphere of 'joy and wonder' with which to close the play (V.iv).[28]  Similar resurrection devices are also used in Anthony Munday's mayoral pageants.  In Chruso-thriambos (1611), the allegorical figure of Time awakes Nicholas Faringdon, the long dead Lord Mayor of London, from his 'quiet slumber' in his tomb (243).[29]  Daryl W. Palmer has argued that this spectacle of resurrection 'infuses the civil ritual with Christian significance'.[30]

  19. Like Greene's James IV, these various plays and pageants all use the motif of resurrection to allude to the way in which drama, or pageantry, can metaphorically bring the dead back to life.[31]  In James IV, no sooner than Oberon resurrects Bohan, Bohan resurrects James IV.  By telling the story of James IV, Bohan has effectively brought the monarch, who was 'slain at Flodden' over seventy years ago, back to life.  Early modern writers frequently used the metaphor of resurrection as a way to articulate ideas concerning the relationship between history and drama.  In Pierce Penniless (1592), Thomas Nashe alludes to the success of Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI (c. 1591).  The play, Nashe argued allowed 'our forefathers valiant acts' to be 'revived, and they themselves raised from the grave of oblivion'.  According to Nashe, 'there is no immortality can be given a man on earth like unto plays'; Talbot might be dead but he will not be forgotten:
    How would it have joyed brave Talbot [...] to think that after he had laid two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators [...] who in the tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.[32]
    In his recent book on the Elizabethan history play, Brian Walsh demonstrates that '[h]istory is defined by its inalienable absence' and argues that 'performance alone supplies a pretence of sensual contact with the vanished past through the bodies that move and speak on stage'.[33]  The corporal presence of the actor on stage has a visceral effect on the emotions of the audience; history is experienced on both a sensory and intellectual level.  Despite the 'succeeding ages', the story of Talbot is still relevant now, the past and the present have a point of contact.  Nashe's description envisages a moment of recursive temporality; although Talbot is dead, his fame 'triumph[s]' over death through a dramatic re-enactment of his life. 

  20. The power of spectacle lies in its ability to connect the physical world with the spiritual world, just as the concept of resurrection insists on the presence of the body to validate spiritual reality, confirming the crucial link between materiality and spirituality.  In the final moments of the play, Queen Dorothea makes a heroic return to court.  This episode, which is directly derived from Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatomithi, is also envisaged as a form of revivification, stage directions indicate that Sir Cuthbert 'discovereth her' – unveil or reveal Dorothea – at the end of his long allegorical speech in Act Five Scene Six.[34]   The newly resurrected Dorothea offers redemption through her corporal reality; she invites James to take her 'hand', to 'clasp' her 'arms' and to 'embrace[...]' her (JIV. V.vi.166-7).  In the end, it is a sensory experience which justifies belief; '[t]ouch' confirms faith (JIV. V.vi.171).  This emphasis on touch as proof of a resurrection can also be traced in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (per. 1611), when Paulina revives the 'old tale' of the resurrection (WT. V.iii.117).  Instructed to 'present' his 'hand' to Hermione, Leontes first reaction is purely visceral: 'O, she's warm!' (WT. V.iii.107, 109).[35]  Both of these revivifications emphasise the power of affect, of corporal sensation, to convey a complex conceptual idea.  The word made flesh is reliant on the flesh to convey the word.[36]

  21. Bohan, the play's resident misanthropist, consistently pours scorn on the joyful revelry of those around him.  As opposed to the antic Oberon who advocates spectacle as a powerful source of delight and 'pleasure', Bohan vehemently rejects emotional excess and argues that the principal function of spectacle is to incite 'learning' through intellectual contemplation (JIV. Ind. 92-3).

  22. Discussing James IV in 1963, Kenneth Muir described 'the induction and the choric interludes between the acts', which feature the two presenters Bohan and Oberon, as 'tedious and unnecessary'.[37]  Adopting a similarly dismissive attitude, Steven C. Young reflected that 'the play achieves its success in spite of the frame'.[38]  Directly challenging these reductive responses to the play, this section will argue that James IV is a successful play, not 'in spite of the frame', but because of the frame.  As the presenters of the play, Bohan and Oberon are surrogate playwrights.  During the induction, Bohan offers to 'show' Oberon 'that story' he has 'set down' and Oberon obediently follows Bohan 'to the gallery' of the theatre to watch an 'action by guild fellows of our countrymen' (JIV. Ind.105-7).  Unable to sit idly by for long, Oberon routinely scuppers Bohan's plans for the play, interlacing Bohan's tragic tale of 'a king, overruled with parasites', with 'jest' and 'fond actions' (JIV. Ind.103; II.C.13; DS.i.1).  Oberon and Bohan's attitudes to theatre are shaped by their generic origins; the figure of Oberon descends from the French romance tradition, whereas Bohan is the stuff of historical chronicles.  Oberon is ultimately derived from the thirteen century French epic romance Les Prouesses et faitz du noble Huon de Bordeaux, which was translated into English by Lord John Bourchier Berners in 1601.[39]  Henslowe's diary records a performance of the now lost play, Huon of Bordeaux, on 28th December 1593.[40]  Greene's Oberon could also have been influenced by Spenser's various references to the fairy king in The Faerie Queene (II.i.6; II.x.75-6).[41]   Furthermore, an 'Earle of Bohan' is mentioned in the 1587 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles and in The Mirror of Magistrates (pr. 1559).

  23. Throughout James IV, various characters struggle between the desire to reject the world, as proposed by the stoical Bohan and a need to embrace life's pleasures, as recommended by the antic Oberon.  In Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592), Greene often adopted an air of condescension towards comic actors, referring to them as 'those antics garnish[ed] in our colours'.[42]  Only a year before Greene composed James IV, Thomas Nashe also poked fun at comic actors who had 'antic'd it until this time, up and down the country with the King of Fairies'.[43]  Oberon states that he has 'brought' the 'antics' to 'show' Bohan 'some sport in dancing' and, true to his word, Oberon and the antics provide comic relief throughout the play (JIV. Ind.74-5).  The word 'antic', however, also carries darker connotations.  In 1 Henry VI, Talbot invokes the 'antic death which laugh'st us here to scorn' as his son lies dying (1H6. IV.iv.130-1).  In Richard II (c. 1595), death is envisaged as an antic King, who rules in direct opposition to Richard.  Richard imagines death '[s]coffing' and 'grinning at' his 'pomp'; even the life of a King is essentially trivial when compared to eternity (R2. III.ii.162-170).  Michael Neill has demonstrated that death was frequently envisaged as the 'orchestrator of a black carnival' in early modern drama, a motif which seems to ultimately originate from la danse macabre.[44]  La danse macabre, or the dance of death, was a late medieval allegory which emphasised the universality of death; it involved the allegorical figure of death escorting a series of dancing figures, usually a king, a youth and a beautiful woman, to the grave.  Unlike the Memento mori or Ars moriendi motifs which depict the dead as passive lifeless corpses, the dance of death depicts the dead as joyful and animated, portraying their final desire for amusement and pleasure before climbing into the grave.  

  24. While the antic Oberon seems determined to spend almost all his time 'at pleasure'; Bohan constantly refuses to indulge in what he terms 'fond actions', stonily declaring that he 'hatest the world' (JIV. Ind.93; DS.i.1; Ind.73-4).  Struck by Bohan's strange attitude towards the world, the play's other protagonists scold him, referring to him as the 'stoical Scot' and 'the old stoic[...]' (JIV. Ind.23; I.ii.114).  In this context, Bohan's retreat 'into the tomb' becomes reminiscent of one of the founders of stoicism, Diogenes of Sinope who lived in a tub (JIV. V.C). 

  25. While the overriding influence of Seneca on early modern drama meant that plays often employed stoic aphorisms, actual depictions of stoic wise men or philosophers were comparatively rare.[45]   In the academic drama Stoicus Vapulans (The Stoic Scourged), which was performed for Christmas at St. John's College Cambridge in 1618, a debate is staged between a Stoic and a follower of Aristotle.[46]  This allegorical play dramatises Book Four of Cicero's Tusculan Disputations.  While Stoicus complains that the 'Affectus patrocinantur scelus' (Passions are crime's patrons), Peripatatic argues that the passions can be beneficial if they are kept under control by the Golden Mean: dominos agnosco pessimos, at servos optimos (I acknowledge that they are the worst of masters, but they are the best of servants) (1135).  Occasionally stoic philosophers also found their way onto the popular stage.  In John Marston's Antonio's Revenge (pr. 1602) Pandulpho is liken to a 'doting stoic' (II.ii.70).[47]   Similarly at the beginning of Philip Massinger's Believe As You List (1631), Antiochus and his stoic counsellor enter wearing 'philosophers habits' (I.i).  Directing Antiochus to maintain the 'constancy of a stoic', the Stoic advises him to control 'the torrent' of his 'passion' (I.i.34).[48]  This didactic imperative also materialises in James IV, when the stoical Dorothea advises her irate father to 'govern' his 'affects' (JIV. V.vi.165).  Often described as 'malcontent[s]' or 'cynic[s]', stoics were usually the subject of some derision in early modern drama.  In Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (1592), Tranio mocks Lucentio's plan to 'study, /Virtue and [...] philosophy'.  He jokingly comments that:
                while we do admire
    This virtue and this moral discipline,
    Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray,
    Or so devote to Aristotle's checks
    As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured. (TS. I.i.29-3).
    Here Tranio puns on the words 'stocks' and 'stoic'; he implies that stoics behave like blocks of wood because they are untouched by the passions.  This sequence prepares the audience for the rest of the play, which will be preoccupied with the Ovidian subject matter of love, rather than with imparting stoic wisdom.  Making a similar juxtaposition between the stoical desire for 'virtue' and 'moral discipline' and the need for comic entertainment, Greene's two presenters offer two different visions for the outcome of the play; the stoical Bohan envisages the play as moral tale, which preaches virtue of emotional restraint, while the antic Oberon envisages a jovial romantic romp, with a few comic interludes thrown in for good measure.

  26. Throughout James IV, the juxtaposition between the antic and the stoic is crucial to any understanding of the play's attitude regarding visual spectacle.  One of the most famous dictums of stoicism was Horace's phrase 'nil admirari' (nothing is to be wondered at).[49]  As Philip Fisher argues, stoicism 'insisted on the reality of repetition within experience, thus ruling out unique or “first” experiences'.[50]  As opposed to Oberon who delights in new experiences and '[r]are wit', Bohan believes that the human condition is universally corrupt and false (JIV. I.i.128).  According to Bohan, and as the dumb shows demonstrate, history is one long series of tragedies, which humanity is doomed to repeat.

  27. Rather than endorse either one of these viewpoints, the play demonstrates that the philosophies of Oberon and Bohan are equally valid.  Indeed, as the play develops, Oberon and Bohan become less competitive and more tolerant of one another.  At one point, Bohan offers some relief from the sombre 'humour' of the play and attempts to cheer Oberon up by getting his son to perform 'a jest', in order to transform his 'thoughts [...] from sad to better glee' (JIV. II.C.13-15).  In the three dumb shows, Oberon combines aesthetic wonders, spectacles of 'mirk and baleful harm' with ecphrasis, intellectual explanations of the visual devices, which emphasise 'the world's inconstant ways' and thus satisfy Bohan's fervent need for theatre to have didactic purpose (JIV. DS.i.2, 4).  Intriguingly, Bohan and Oberon's dramatic endeavours seem to be most successful when they condescend to collaborate; if James IV tells us anything, it is that sensory delight and intellectual contemplation are not mutually exclusive, they are inextricably linked.

  28. Furthermore, I would like to tentatively suggest that the debate between Bohan and Oberon could be read as an allegory of a wider dilemma facing critics of early modern drama.  In her recent book discussing the significance of emotion on the Shakespearean stage, Gail Kern Paster has tempered the historicist preoccupation with causality and sought to 'refute Neo-stoicism's attack on the utility of the passions'.[51]  Meanwhile Keir Elam has identified 'an elegant paradox' in criticism of early modern literature by which 'drama critics' come 'to ally with drama-haters'.[52]  Observing 'a return of a Puritan aesthetic, or anti-aesthetic' in recent critical discourse, Elam has persuasively argued that historicist critics share many of the anxieties voiced by early modern anti-theatricalists, concerning the visual and sensory nature of drama.[53]  Lamenting historicism's apparent rejection of semiotic interpretation, Elam calls for a '[r]evised –which is to say historicized and materialized – post-semiotics of Shakespearean drama' that 'might offer an analogous space where social history, dramatic history and stage history interrogate each other'.[54]  It is difficult not to have some sympathy with this view.  As this examination of Greene's James IV has demonstrated, in order to understand spectacle, we need to engage with drama both ideologically and aesthetically because spectacle appeals simultaneously to the audience's emotions and to their intellect.  Spectacle is both useful and pleasurable; we need to listen to Bohan and Oberon in equal measure.



[1] Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994). For further discussion of this scene, see Peter and Will Brooker, 'Pulp Modernism: Tarantino's Affirmative Action', Postmodern After Images, eds. Peter and Will Brooker (New York, 1997), pp. 23-35; Dana Polan, Pulp Fiction (London: BFI), pp. 22-3.

[2] Glynne White, 'Quentin Tarantino', in Fifty Contemporary Film Directors, ed. Yvonne Tasker (New York: Routledge, 2011), p. 396; David Kufoff, Vault Guide to Screenwriting Careers (New York: Vault, 2005), p. 62.  For more criticism of Tarantino's aesthetics and apparent lack of morality, see Chris Willman, 'Celluloid Heroes (1995)', Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, ed. Gerald Peary (Jackson: Mississippi, 1998), p. 147.

[3] In the interest of readability, I have modernised the spelling and punctuation of all early modern texts, with the exception of the titles of primary texts listed in the endnotes. 

[4] J. A. Lavin, ed. James the Fourth (London: The New Mermaids, 1967), p. 5.  The emendation of 'Ridstall man' was suggested by W. L. Renwick, 'Greene's Ridstall Man', Modern Language Review 29 (1934), p. 434; H. G. Wright, 'Greene's Ridstall Man', Modern Language Review 30 (1935), p. 437, and J. C. Maxwell, 'Greene's Ridstall Man', Modern Language Review 44 (1949), pp. 88-9, who quotes from Thomas Wilson's The Arte of Rhetorique [...] (London, 1553), p. 51: 'his soil also (where he was borne) giveth him to be an evil man: considering he was bred and brought up among a den of thieves, among the men of Tyndale and Riddesdale, where pillage is good purchase, and murdering is counted manhood'.

[5] Writing Robert Greene, ed. Kirk Melnikoff and Edward Gieskes (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). 

[6] Thomas Dickson, ed., Robert Greene (London: Fisher Unwin, 1911), pp. lix-Ixi.

[7] Kenneth Muir, Robert Greene as Dramatist, in Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama, in Honor of Hardin Craig, ed. Richard Hosley (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), p. 48.

[8] Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 175.

[9] Alexander Leggatt, 'Bohan and Oberon: Internal Debate of Greene's James IV', The Elizabethan Theatre XI (1990), p. 98. On the question of the play's genre and on the relationship between Bohan and Oberon, see J. Clinton Crumley, 'Anachronism and Historical Romance in Renaissance Drama: James IV', Explorations in Renaissance Culture 24 (1998), pp. 75-90; Edward Gieskes, Staging Professionalism in Greene's James IV, in Writing Robert Greene: Essays on England's First Notorious Professional Writer, eds., Kirk Melnikoff and Edward Gieskes (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), pp.  53-72; A. R. Braunmuller, 'The Serious Comedy of Greene's James IV', English Literary Renaissance 3 (1973), pp. 335-350; Dermot Cavanagh, Language and Politics in the Sixteenth-Century History Play (New York, 2003), pp. 58-79; Catherine Lekhal, 'The Historical Background of Robert Greene's James IV', Cahiers Elisabethains 35 (1989), pp. 27-46; Benjamin Griffin, Playing the Past: Approaches to English Historical Drama, 1385-1600 (Suffolk, 2001), p. 20.

[10] Verna A. Foster, The Name and Nature of Tragicomedy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), p. 43.

[11] J. A. Lavin, ed., James the Fourth (London: New Mermaids, 1967), p. 2.

[12] Antonin Artaud, Artaud on Theatre, ed. Claude Schumacher (London: Methuen, 1989), p. 122.

[13] For further discussion of funeral pageantry on the early modern stage, see Michael Neill,Exeunt with a Dead March', Funeral Pageantry on the Shakespeare Stage', in Pageantry in the Shakespeare Theater, ed. David M. Bergeron (Athens, 1985), pp. 153-193.

[14] Tiffany Stern, Documents of Performance in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2009), p. 108.

[15] B. A. P. Van Dam, 'R. Greene's James IV', English Studies XIV (1932), pp. 118-9.  

[16] Norman Sanders, ed., The Scottish History of James the Fourth (London: Methuen, 1970), pp. 128-32. 

[17] For further discussion of significance of dumb shows in early modern drama, see B. R. Pearn, 'Dumb-Show in Elizabethan Drama', The Review of English Studies 11 (1935), pp. 385-405; Dieter Mehl, The Elizabethan Dumb Show: The History of a Dramatic Convention (London, 1965).

[18] Richard Sheppard, Modernism-Dada-Postmodernism (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2000), p. 201.

[19] Philip Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences (London: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 18.

[20] Michael Neill, Issues of Death (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 309; Karen Sawyer Marsalek, 'Awake your faith': English Resurrection Drama and The Winter's Tale', in 'Bring furth the pagants': Essays in Early Drama Presented to Alexandra F. Johnson (London: University of Toronto Press, 2007), pp. 271-291; Sarah Beckwith, 'Shakespeare's Resurrections', in Shakespeare and the Middle Ages, eds. Curtis Perry and John Watkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 45-67; Elizabeth Williamson, The Materiality of Religion in Early Modern English Drama (Farnham: Surrey, 2009), pp. 33-70.

[21] Peter Stallybrass, Worn Worlds: Clothes and Identity on the Renaissance Stage, in Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, eds. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan and Peter Stallybrass (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 308. 

[22] Andrew Sofer, The Stage Life of Props (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2003), p. viii.

[23] Lina Perkins Wilder, Shakespeare's Memory Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 1.

[24] Hattaway, Elizabethan Popular Theatre, p. 111.

[25] All quotations are derived from Richard Hosley's edition: A Critical Edition of Anthony Munday's Fedele and Fortunio (New York: Galand Publishing, 1981). 

[26] Robert Armin, The valiant vvelshman (London, 1615), sig. A3-B1.

[27] All quotations are taken from W. Reavley Gair's edition of Antonio and Mellida (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004).

[28] All quotations are taken from R. B. Parker's edition of A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (London: Methuen and Co, 1969).

[29] Anthony Munday, 'Chruso-thriambos', in Pageants and Entertainments of Anthony Munday, ed. David M. Bergeron (New York: Garland Pub, 1985), p. 56. 

[30] Daryl W. Palmer, 'Metropolitan Resurrection in Anthony Munday's Lord Mayor Shows', Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 46 (2008), p. 377.

[31] For other examples of stage resurrections, see Francis Beaumont, The knight of the burning pestle (London, 1613), Thomas Heywood, A pleasant conceited comedie, wherein is shewed, how a man may chuse a good wife [...] (London, 1602), John Day, Lavv-trickes [...] (pr. 1608); John Fletcher, Nathan Field and Philip Massinger's The knight of malta, in Comedies and tragedies (London, 1647) Vol. VI, pp. 160-231, John Mason, The Turke [...] (London, 1610); John Ford, Loues Sacrifice (London, 1633). 

[32] Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse [...] (London, 1592), sig. F3.

[33] Brian Walsh, Shakespeare, the Queen's Men, and the Elizabethan Performance of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 1.

[34] P. A. Daniel, 'Greene and Cinthio', Athenaeum 8th October 1881, p. 465.

[35] Darryll Grantley, 'The Winter's Tale and Early Religious Drama', Comparative Drama 20 (1986), pp. 17-37; Christopher J. Cobb, The Staging of Romance in Late Shakespeare: Text and Theatrical Technique (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2007), pp. 117-155.

[36] Charles Altieri, The Particulars of Rapture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), pp. 39-42.

[37] Kenneth Muir, 'Robert Greene as Dramatist', in Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama, in Honor of Hardin Craig, ed. Richard Hosley (London: Routledge, 1963), p. 50.

[38] Steven C. Young, The Frame Structure in Tudor and Stuart Drama (Salzburg: University of Salzburg Press, 1974), p. 27.

[39] Diane Purkiss, Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories (London: Allen Lane, 2000), p. 175.

[40] Foakes, ed., Henslowe's Diary, p. 20.

[41] Matthew Woodcock, Fairy in the Faerie Queene: Renaissance Elf-Fashioning and Elizabethan Myth-Making (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), p. 37. 

[42] Greenes, groats-vvorth of Witte [...] (London, 1592), p. 45.

[43] Greene, Menaphon (London, 1589), sig. A2ˇ.                                          

[44] Neill, Issues of Death (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 63.

[45] Gilles D. Monsarrat, Light from the Porch: Stoicism and English Renaissance Literature (Paris: Didier-Erudition, 1984); Amelia Zurcher, 'Untimely Monuments: Stoicism, History, and the Problem of Utility in The Winter's Tale and Pericles', English Literary History 70.4 (2003), pp. 903-928.

[46] Loiola scena est Amsterodami (London, 1648), pp. 161-248. 

[47] All quotations are taken from W. Reavley Gair's edition, see John Marston, Antonio's Revenge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1978), p. 88.

[48] All quotations are taken from Philip Massinger, Believe as You List (London: Malone Society, 1927).

[49] Horace, Epistles, in Satires, Epistles, Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (London: William Heinemann, 1961), VI, 1, pp. 286-7.

[50] Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences, pp. 58-9.

[51] Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), p. 1.

[52] Keir Elam, 'In What Chapter Of His Bosom?': Reading Shakespeare's Bodies', in Alternative Shakespeares, Vol. 2, ed. Terence Hawkes (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 154.

[53] Ibid, p. 153.

[54] Ibid, p. 163.



Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).