“O die a rare example”: Beheading the Body on the Jacobean Stage

Fiona Martin
The University of Waikato

Fiona Martin. “‘O die a rare example’: Beheading the Body on the Jacobean Stage.” Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 19 (2009) 8.1-24 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-19/martodie.html>.

  1. Condemned to death, but offered ‘grave instructions’ on how to die well, individuals about to be publicly executed in early modern England also faced the expectation that they would deliver a final speech from the scaffold.1 In the theatre too, condemned characters often speak formal last words before being escorted offstage for execution; audiences familiar with real-life executions could easily fill in the imaginative details. Alternatively, a false severed head might be brought back onstage shortly after the exit of the condemned. In Dekker and Webster’s Sir Thomas Wyatt, Lady Jane Grey’s head is brought back and displayed before her husband Guilford, who awaits his own execution (5.2.149-57). On rare occasions, however, executions were simulated onstage, such as the judicial hangings of Lincoln in Munday’s (et al.) Sir Thomas More (2.4.52-70), and Pedringano in Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (3.6.104-05). Whereas onstage hangings were relatively straightforward to stage, beheadings posed a greater challenge.2 Margaret Owens notes the existence of four plays associated with the commercial theatre, in which the stage directions clearly indicate that an onstage beheading is intended: Marston’s The Insatiate Countess (first published in 1613), Fletcher and Massinger’s Sir John Van Olden Barnavelt (1619), Dekker and Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr (1620), and Markham and Sampson’s Herod and Antipater (1622).3 Two characters that ‘die’ in such a manner are the focus of this paper: Isabella in Countess is condemned for the murder of a former lover, whilst the statesman Barnavelt is sentenced to death for treason. Despite the audience’s awareness of the artifice involved in onstage beheadings, the conjunction of scaffold speech and severed heads encourages an ambivalent response to the characters’ fates, for their personal struggles on the scaffold become inseparable from the realism and immediacy of their physical dismemberment.

  2. Michel Foucault maintains that the execution “belongs to a whole series of great rituals in which power is eclipsed and restored,” for the crime committed was perceived as a threat to the sovereign and thereby jeopardized the order and stability of the entire realm. The punishment deployed “before all eyes an invincible force,” the state affirming its power and superiority by seizing and “mastering” the body of the condemned; the public execution thus did not “re-establish justice,” but reactivated power (Foucault 48-49).4 J. A. Sharpe argues that when criminals confessed and repented on the scaffold, they helped to “assert the legitimacy of the power which had brought them to their sad end” (156). Lacey Baldwin Smith writes that the majority of prisoners “died in humbleness and obedience to the law and their sovereign because they acknowledged the necessity of doing so.” Their compliance on the scaffold represented “a final act of sacrifice to the principle of the inviolability of the state” (Smith 493). My perspective on public punishment in this paper is essentially Foucauldian, insofar as I interpret the public execution—both the real one and the simulation on the professional stage—as a spectacle demonstrating the power of the state, and the scaffold speech as a restrictive formula adhered to by the prisoner primarily as a political obligation. At the same time, however, I am interested in the departures from convention, particularly as they pertain to the last words of the condemned. In early modern England, nonconformity or even defiance on the scaffold constituted not merely a ‘bad’ death, but also—in addition to the original crime committed—implied a further challenge to the sovereign as God’s chosen representative on earth. Defiance in stage plays may be variously interpreted depending upon the context. In Titus Andronicus, for example, Aaron’s gloating account of the atrocities he has performed is unequivocally evil (5.1.98-150); in his final onstage speech he claims, “If one good deed in all my life I did / I do repent it from my very soul” (5.3.188-89). In Measure for Measure the condemned and conveniently inebriated Barnardine is equally aware of the conventions surrounding execution. He refuses to consent to his own death, arguing, “I have been drinking hard all night, and I will have more time to prepare me,” leading the Duke to pronounce him “Unfit to live or die,” and acknowledging the prisoner to be “unprepared, unmeet for death,” so that to insist upon execution would be “damnable” (4.3.50-66). These are dramatic examples, but reports of similar behaviour at real executions clearly provided rich material for dramatization on the stage. The scaffold scene in Chapman’s Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron (1608) is based on the historical Duke, executed for treason in France in 1602.5 In the play, Byron disputes his sentence then threatens both to pluck out the throat of the executioner and to strangle him, pouring scorn upon the attending officials and spectators alike:
    Let tame nobility and numbed fools
    That apprehend not what they undergo
    Be such exemplary and formal sheep.
    I will not have him [the Executioner] touch me till I will.
    If you will needs rack me beyond my reason,
    Hell take me, but I’ll strangle half that’s here
    And force the rest to kill me! I’ll leap down
    If but once more they tempt me to despair. (5.4.195-202)
    By the end of the play, Byron kneels in submission to his fate, lamenting that “Knees bent too late / Stick you in earth like statues” (5.4.255-56). His final lines strike a more reflective note: “Strike, strike, o strike! Fly, fly, commanding soul, / And on thy wings for this thy body’s breath, / Bear the eternal victory of Death” (5.4.260-62).

  3. Examples such as these, like Pedringano’s misplaced confidence in a last-minute pardon in The Spanish Tragedy, are evidence of the widespread familiarity of the early modern audience with these rituals. Scaffold speeches in the theatre are often problematic, inviting closer attention particularly when the character stands at the centre of conflicting perspectives. Thus, even if scaffold speeches in plays do not openly question the power of the state, the dramatization of dying words is still likely to prompt a more ambivalent response in the spectator. A finer focus on the implications of the scaffold speech is reflected in the more recent scholarship of historians and literary critics who depart from and extend Foucault’s perspective. Thomas W. Laqueur considers public execution as a carnivalesque event dominated by the attending crowd, whilst the problematic nature of the address to the crowd is discussed by Rebecca Lemon and Katherine Royer. Lemon examines the “interpretive complexity” of scaffold speeches in the context of treason following the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, and draws attention to the “instability of the genre even when offered in its most ideal form,” pointing out that repetitions of similar scaffold performances may have prompted audiences to question their authenticity, particularly insofar as they were aware of the pressures exerted on the prisoner by church and state (87-91). Laqueur emphasizes this ambiguity: “Neither contemporaries nor historians know whether the condemned meant what they said, however they chose to die” (319). Royer notes the development of the scaffold speech during the sixteenth century, arguing that the introduction of subjectivity in dying speeches was partially influenced by Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, and observing that the medieval emphasis on “dismemberment and degradation” gave way to a new perception of the (live) physical body as a signifier of the “inner man”. This perspective also acknowledges the importance of the ars moriendi, a type of spiritual treatise on the art of dying well, or what Royer describes (with homage to Stephen Greenblatt) as “an instruction manual for self-fashioning in the face of death” (Royer 75-76). Peter Lake discusses scaffold performances in the context of print culture in post-Reformation England, including murder pamphlets, stage plays and sermons. Importantly, although we are limited to textual accounts and the interpretations of contemporary eyewitnesses, it is essential to acknowledge the range of possible nuances in the performance of the dying speech, particularly within a culture that regularly found, as Steven Mullaney writes, “suggestive analogies” (117) between the stage and the scaffold.

  4. These various perspectives on public execution and the function of the scaffold speech demonstrate the importance of both political obligations and religious concerns during the early modern period. John Bellamy outlines the stages in the execution of a traitor, ending in the drawing and quartering of the body, the exposure of the traitor’s heart and, sometimes, the display of the severed head on a pike (202-08). The execution thus acted as a warning to deter potential offenders from similar crimes. The standard format for the scaffold speech incorporated a confession of the crime committed, followed by a request “for the monarch’s forgiveness,” and a wish or prayer “for his health and the prosperity of the realm.” Prisoners were also permitted to make requests concerning “debts, money … owed to them and provision for their wives and children” (Bellamy 191-98).

  5. The end of the speech was frequently addressed to God, indicating the prisoner’s spiritual preparedness for death. The clergy was instrumental in bringing this about: according to Sharpe, they appear to have “worked hard to reconcile the convicted person to his or her fate and to prepare them for the next world” (153). In his treatise Disce Mori: Learne to Die (1600), Christopher Sutton offers advice on achieving a good death, of orienting the mind and heart toward God. Dying well is perceived as an inherently theatrical performance: “Wee are but now actors vppon the stage of this world. They which are gon haue played their parts, and wee which remayne are yet acting ours. Onely our epilogue is for to ende” (Sutton 186). Despite the awareness of the public eye, however, the prisoner was expected to be truly prepared for the imminent journey to the hereafter. William Perkins advises that death may “cruelly part asunder both body and soule,” but if we have “our being in Christ,” both shall be “reunited and taken vp to life eternall.” If, on the other hand, “men be out of the couenant, and die out of Christ, their soules go to hell, and their bodies rot for a time in the graue, but afterward they rise to endlesse perdition” (Perkins 135). On the scaffold, then, a demonstration of true piety and contrition was absolutely essential, and it was usual for the executioner to “bring down the axe” whilst the victim was in the midst of prayer (Bellamy 206).

  6. In Countess and Barnavelt there exists a shifting and uneasy balance between spiritual concerns for the soul of the condemned and a darkly comic, carnivalesque preoccupation with the physicality of death. In Countess the gravity of the execution scene is contrasted with the comic subplot; in Barnavelt elements of the festive and the serious are more closely interwoven—that which Mikhail Bakhtin describes as the “double aspect of the world and of human life” (6). The scaffold speeches are central to the scenes and emphasize these opposing tensions, for the inherent solemnity of the event from the perspective of the prisoner is framed and potentially undermined by a surrounding context that includes humour as well as the visual impact of violence, blood and dismemberment. Although violence and death are an integral part of early modern drama, there is a particularly emphatic gruesomeness in the concept of the onstage beheading. The type of sensational effects striven for in Countess and Barnavelt is shared by two ‘murder’ plays, the anonymous A Warning for Fair Women (1599) and Yarington’s Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601), both of which were based on accounts of actual murders, and which include brutal murders and onstage hangings.6 The staging practices implied by these scenes, and the effectiveness of performing them with convincing realism, are indirectly attested to by Reginald Scot in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) and in Thomas Ady’s A Candle in the Dark (1655), each of which I will briefly discuss before focusing on Countess.

  7. In their scenes of vicious murder and onstage beheadings, these particular ‘murder’ plays exploit the opportunities for copious bloodshed and the display of severed limbs for maximum impact on the audience.7 The mutilation of the victims’ bodies is extreme: in A Warning for Fair Women, the character of John Beane lingers on miraculously despite his fifteen stab wounds, so that he “spends more breath that issues through his wounds / then through his lippes” (G4v). He is brought back on stage, where his sudden proximity to Browne, his attacker, causes his wounds to bleed again; he then revives just long enough to verbally identify the murderer before he expires (H1v).8 In Two Lamentable Tragedies, Merry kills the merchant Beech by striking him in the head fifteen times (B4r), and later attacks Beech’s servant Winchester, striking him repeatedly, with the seventh blow leaving the hammer “sticking in his head” (C4r). In this same state, Winchester is brought back onstage for a survey of his wounds (D3v), not “dead outright” (D4r), but with “no hope he should recouer speech” (G1r). Beech’s corpse is elaborately carved up before the audience, the dismembered limbs placed in two sacks and disposed of in separate locations. The grisly cargo discovered and identified, Beech’s body is reassembled, and Winchester’s remains are laid alongside his.

  8. To offer a form of compensation for these spectacles of physical suffering and violent death, the executions of the murderers are simulated onstage at the end of the plays. The original crimes are thereby placed in a providential context, in which God ensures that the murderer is discovered and apprehended.9 Both Browne and Merry make scaffold speeches; Merry’s is characterized by a demonstration of zealous repentance, whilst that of Browne is more problematic in that it is clearly not a ‘true’ confession. In attempting to conceal his lover’s involvement in the murder of her husband, Browne tells a lie on the scaffold, thereby imperilling his soul as he stands on the threshold between life and death.10

  9. In their lurid depictions of crimes and punishments, the ‘murder’ plays offered to audiences a strange blend of what Lake describes as “titillation and entertainment” and “moral edification”. He puts this in “distinctly Bakhtinian terms” by suggesting that the “leaky, disordered, carnivalesque version” of events had to be given a “full airing” before social order could be restored, and for this transition to be successfully made, the death and repentance of the criminal were “absolutely necessary” (Lake xx-xxi). Both the ‘murder’ plays and beheading scenes contain elements of grotesque realism, the “essential principle” of which is “degradation, that is, the lowering of all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract; it is a transfer to the material level, to the sphere of earth and body” (Bakhtin 19). The darker side of the carnivalesque emerges in the gallows humour incorporated in Countess and Barnavelt, for the bloodiness of execution is anticipated by an emphasis on the physical body and its transition from living form to inert corpse.

  10. Before focusing directly on these plays, however, there are two brief assessments of the realistic effects of staged violence, similar to that in the ‘murder’ plays, which are relevant in terms of staging and in their impact upon audiences. Such an interest is evident in Scot’s description of a juggler’s trick called “The Decollation of John Baptist,” which could have been adapted for use on the commercial stage.11 In his Discoverie of Witchcraft, Scot claims that this trick had been performed before an audience in London in 1582. This method of showing “a most notable execution” requires a board made of two planks, each with half a hole at either end of the plank, so that when they are pushed together a flat surface is created with two holes, each large enough for a boy’s head. This is covered with a tablecloth and platter, each with corresponding holes, the cloth concealing the space under the table. Two boys participate: one lies upon the board with his head thrust down through the hole, whilst the other sits beneath the table so that his head appears to have been laid in the platter. Special effects are suggested to “make the sight more dredfull,” and “to astonish the beholders”: Scot advises, “put about his necke a little dough kneded with bullocks bloud, which being cold will appeare like dead flesh; & being pricked with a sharp round hollow quill, will bleed, and seeme verie strange” (Scot 290, illustration 296).12 In his treatise A Candle in the Dark, Ady resumes Scot’s discourse on witchcraft, describing a similar illusion and also emphasizing the “anatomical accuracy” of the trick (Owens 118). Ady describes how the neck may be artificially constructed so that “the very bone and marrow of the neck appeareth”; so convincing is this spectacle, he claims, that “some Spectators have fainted at the sight hereof.” The “bare bloudy neck” is displayed to the “view of the deluded beholders, some gazing upon the neck, some upon the head, which looketh gashful, some beholding the Corps tremble like a body new slain” (Ady 39).

  11. Most theatre companies apparently decided that an onstage decapitation was too labour-intensive and too costly in terms of the extra materials required for successful staging. Yet the small number of plays that dramatized the full execution ritual no doubt drew in the same audiences who flocked to real executions, permitting them to witness the strange conjunction of the grotesque with the solemn and spiritual.13 The audience must certainly have embodied a wide range of responses to the performance. Regina Janes’s observation regarding the pike and the guillotine is equally relevant to beheading: she writes that they “evoked contradictory responses—fascinated horror, queasy relish, and the shrug of indifference” (242). Owens suggests that the spectator’s “sense of his or her own spiritual and corporeal fragility” is both “excited and assuaged” by witnessing the mutilation of another (120). Whilst some attended, then, for purposes of sheer entertainment, others undoubtedly remained sensitive to the spiritual implications of the event.

  12. Countess is characterized by the dual polarities of comedy and tragedy, body and spirit.14 Whilst my primary focus is on the scaffold conduct of Isabella, her final scene is contrasted with and contextualized by a comic subplot which incorporates gallows humour and represents an inversion of the elements of public execution that occur in the tragic plot. Both plots involve murder charges, marriages and issues of infidelity; they also incorporate the shadow of execution, manipulating the established conventions associated with sentencing, pardons and appropriate conduct on the scaffold. The comic plot involves two newlywed couples, Claridiana and Abigail, and Rogero and Thais.15 The mutually antagonistic husbands are unaware of their wives’ long-term friendship; each husband is thwarted in his attempt to sleep with the other’s spouse by means of a double bed-trick contrived by the conspiring wives. Believing themselves cuckolded, however, the husbands seize the opportunity afforded by a supposed killing to present themselves before Duke Amago as the murderers. Preferring the death sentence to the imputation of cuckoldry, they argue vehemently that they must both be hanged, despite their actual innocence and the repeated suggestion that they may sue successfully for pardon. Rogero instead urges the duke to show no leniency: “Make not us precedents for after wrongs; / I will receive punishment for my sins: / It shall be a means to lift us towards heaven” (4.1.52-54). When the two are led in for what they believe to be their execution, Claridiana curses the wives, in an inversion of the “prayers” and “orisons” expected of prisoners (5.2.38-39). The dire punishments he imagines for them suggests a carnivalesque preoccupation with the body and its functions, completely at odds with the state of mind required immediately before facing God:
    O may bastard-bearing with the pangs
    of childbirth be doubled to ’em: may they have every twins
    and be three weeks in travail between
    may they live to ride in triumph in a dung-cart and be
    crowned with all the odious ceremonies belonging to’t:
    may the cucking-stool be their recreation, and a dungeon
    their dying chamber. (26-34)
    Rather than bestowing forgiveness, Claridiana berates Abigail, declaring, “I had / rather Chirurgeons’ Hall should beg my dead body for an / anatomy, than thou beg my life” (81-83), alluding to the practice of using the bodies of executed criminals for dissection.16 Duke Amago, aware of the husbands’ innocence but continuing the charade for his own amusement, releases them in the final scene amidst general merriment and the prospect of a banquet. The repeated references to hanging and death in the comic plot have little potency, for the situation is understood from the outset to be artificial. That which is treated facetiously in the subplot, however, is given serious expression in the depiction of the Countess’s tragedy. As I shall discuss later, the juxtaposition of Isabella’s execution scene with the charade of Rogero and Claridiana’s mock condemnations and pardons complicates the spectator’s response to her death, the similar issues of marital infidelity linking the two plots.

  13. Isabella’s quickly-inflamed passions and her trail of previous lovers earn her the label ‘insatiate’. As Giorgio Melchiori notes (19-20), her character is based upon the real-life figure of Bianca Maria, Countess of Challant, who was executed in Milan in 1526 for the murder of a former lover, and it is for the same crime that Marston’s Isabella is condemned to die.17 Even before her arrival at the scaffold the Countess demonstrates her unpreparedness for death, for it is reported that she has sent Duke Medina twenty thousand pounds in the false hope of a pardon (5.1.46-50). When she enters, she is confronted with the corpse of her former lover Guido, for whose murder she had hired Don Sago. In an inversion of the husbands’ plight in the comic plot, Don Sago quickly seizes the opportunity to sue for pardon and to demonstrate public repentance for the murder he has committed. He performs well, lamenting that his hands will never be free of the “sanguinolent stain” upon them, to which Medina replies, “God pardon thee, we do” (5.1.44-45). This act of mercy on the part of the duke does not extend to the Countess, however, for even Don Sago is perceived as a victim of her lust, which would “make a slaughter-house of Italy” (5.1.55). This misogynistic double standard, as Martin Wiggins points out, suggests that Isabella is “killed as much for her promiscuity” as for murder, particularly as Don Sago is freely pardoned (xii). Janet M. Spencer considers the royal pardon, in relation to execution, as an “equally viable display of power”; comic treatment in plays ‘carnivalizes’ the subject matter, “producing scenes replete with the ambivalence of popular festivity” (55-58). This is true of the mock sentencings and pardons of Claridiana and Rogero in the comic plot, but the pardon of Don Sago at the beginning of the execution scene instead “sets up an uncomfortable association between the operations of crime and of punishment … which must make us at least open-minded about the execution’s claim to just impartiality” (Wiggins xii).

  14. Isabella appears before the scaffold as a virginal Ophelia figure, with her hair loose, a “chaplet of flowers on her head” and a “nosegay in her hand” (5.1.66 s.d.). When the waiting Cardinal welcomes her to her “dance of death,” she jests, “I sent today to my physician, / And as he says he finds no sign of death” (5.1.69-72).18 The Countess exhibits all the signs of dying ‘badly’, by resisting the spiritual advice she has been given to prepare for death. When the Cardinal hands her a book to “instruct” her soul, she summons Medina and again requests a reprieve (5.1.94-104). Instead of confessing to murder, Isabella shows no remorse for the death of her former lover, insisting that he “died deservedly” for writing libels against her, and declaring, “I … would not wish him living / Were my life instant ransom” (5.1.78-89). When the headsman is urged to proceed, she erupts into curses, rather than prayer: “Now God lay all thy sins upon thy head, / And sink thee with them to infernal darkness, / Thou teacher of the Furies’ cruelty” (5.1.141-43). She refuses to “die in quiet” whilst the Duke remains on the scaffold; he does exit the stage, but at this point there enters unexpectedly a character who initiates a profound change in the atmosphere on the scaffold (5.1.146).

  15. Isabella’s estranged husband Roberto, now a friar, climbs the stairs to join her on the scaffold. He speaks, at first seemingly to remind her of her infidelities; as he continues, however, it is obvious that he is still captivated by her. Roberto explains that he has hoped for her reform, yet has come forward upon hearing that she is condemned to die. Then, strangely, he “clasps” her and “falls into a trance” (5.1.160-82). Ironically, it is this unexpected embrace from a former lover that creates a crucial transformation in Isabella. Whereas the Cardinal has been unsuccessful in prompting her to contrition and care of her soul, Roberto’s speech and the closeness of his physical embrace appear to awaken a form of latent self-awareness in the Countess. She acknowledges that had she lived with her husband in “lawful pleasure,” she “might have lived in honour, died in fame,” and on her knees she asks his pardon, which, she says, “shall confirm more peace unto my death / Than all the grave instructions of the Church” (5.1.185-90).19 Roberto does so freely: “Pardon belongs unto my holy weeds, / Freely thou hast it” (5.1.191-92). He thus pardons the Countess as Medina refused to, and confers upon her the blessing she would not accept from the Cardinal. This blessing, like the embrace, evokes an earlier physical intimacy, as he remembers her kiss on their wedding day and urges her to die well:
    Farewell my Isabella. Let thy death
    Ransom thy soul: O die a rare example;
    The kiss thou gavest me in the church, here take,
    As I leave thee, so thou the world forsake. (5.1.193-96)
    Whereas the scaffold scene begins with Isabella’s fear, denial and defiance, she now moves toward readiness for execution. Her encounter with Roberto is the catalyst for Isabella to transcend the physicality of her body—associated with lustfulness and shame — and to both imagine and accept her separation from it. Her compliance is evidenced in her bestowal of forgiveness upon the executioner and her request for further instructions. The focus turns to the Countess’s hair as the executioner directs her to tie it up. As she obeys, Isabella exclaims,
    O these golden nets
    That have ensnared so many wanton youths,
    Not one but has been held a thread of life
    And superstitiously depended on … (5.1.201-204)
    Like Atropos poised to cut the ‘thread of life,’ the executioner likewise awaits his moment. In the Countess’s speech there is both a residual vanity and an awareness of its emptiness, as she contemplates the imminent demise of her own physical beauty. In a continuing blazon of her best features, she meditates upon her eyes as she is asked to secure her blindfold. They have been, she says,
    … more gazed at than the god of day:
    Their brightness never could be flattered,
    Yet thou commandest a fixèd cloud of lawn
    To eclipse eternally these minutes of light. (5.1.210-13)
    Here, death and the blindfold merge, to extinguish the brilliance of her eyes.

  16. The previous stages of the ritual fulfilled, Isabella makes the final part of her scaffold speech, now asking the Cardinal’s blessing and demonstrating her readiness to take the stroke:
    Lord, I am well prepared:
    Murder and Lust, down with my ashes sink,
    But like ingrateful seed perish in earth,
    That you may never spring against my soul,
    Like weeds to choke it in the heavenly harvest;
    I fall to rise, mount to thy Maker, spirit,
    Leave here thy body, death has her demerit. (5.1.219-25)
    At this point, the executioner strikes.20 In her speech, the physical body is described in terms of earth, death and descent, whilst the spirit is associated with ascension. The Countess balances on the border between presence and absence; she indicates her association with spirit through externalizing and distancing the body as a material object. She does not pray as the axe descends, yet these lines indicate clearly that at the final, crucial moment her concern is for the salvation of her soul. Isabella’s flaws are clearly demonstrated throughout the play—she is fickle, selfish and lustful, her body an instrument of pleasure. Had Roberto not appeared at the scaffold to take his farewell, Isabella’s submission would undoubtedly have been achieved through violent physical coercion, her death perceived by the audience as shameful and demeaning. As it is, her ‘insatiability’ is replaced with humility and penitence, and although her transformation is sudden, it appears to be genuine. Paradoxically, although her initial resistance may be considered a form of defiance against the authority of the church, she finally observes the protocols of execution, not through a formulaic, public acknowledgement of her crime, but through personal confession to Roberto. In the ritual, she ultimately finds meaning relevant to her own experience, thus infusing her final moments with an unexpected dignity.

  17. If the simulated beheading of the Countess was, in fact, the first of its kind on the commercial stage, then it was an innovation that undoubtedly sparked a variety of reactions. As the text stands, the play does not end with Isabella’s death, but is concluded with a return to the comic subplot in which the two husbands are officially pardoned. Don Sago, Claridiana and Rogero thus remain living, whilst Isabella dies despite her observance of the appropriate rituals. In contrast, the husbands’ intended ‘dying’ speeches conspicuously parody the accepted formula of confession, repentance and prayer, rather than respectfully adhering to it; they demonstrate neither remorse for the murder they claim to have committed, nor genuine preparedness for death. Had Marston completed the work, the Countess’s execution may have formed the tragic finale to the play, but instead the audience’s response to the immediacy of her ‘death’ must be modified by the general air of festivity, as the confusion of the comic subplot is finally cleared. From this perspective, the Countess’s execution may be seen in a metatheatrical context; understood to be a clever stage device, the simulated beheading of the actor may be perceived as a trick parallel to the deception played upon the two husbands. If so, then the tragedy is undercut by the atmosphere of carnival, as the separation of Isabella’s head from her body reduces her merely to a grotesque body and the execution is experienced as a mock ritual enjoyed as sensational visual entertainment. In an entirely tragic context, it might be argued that the beheading is required in order to create a corresponding sense of relief when the husbands are pardoned, but this too is problematic, for the pardons themselves are artificial and the comic context does not support this type of awareness. Moreover, the minor elements of humour that immediately precede Isabella’s execution are not sustained throughout the scaffold scene. At the time this play was first performed, members of the audience who retained the awareness that the stage beheading represented, in one sense, a recreation of the actual death of Bianca Maria, may also have remained susceptible to the ghastliness of the display. They may have experienced, as Patricia Palmer describes, the “wrenching quality of still-life death, of animation abruptly arrested,” for the severed head, she argues, is “a terrifying figure of liminality, staked on the no-mans-land between life and death” (41-42). From this perspective, the act of beheading in the play represents a visual echo of the scaffold speech, spoken on the threshold that separates living from dying. Certainly to a modern audience Isabella appears to be at least partially the victim of obvious gender inequality, but her execution, in the Jacobean context, is unavoidable. As in the murder plays briefly discussed earlier, Isabella’s arrangement of the killing of Guido demands her death. Yet the extremity of her situation encourages sympathy for her plight, and the impact of her death is increased through the choice to depict her decapitation; the same response would not be achieved were she simply escorted offstage to die. If the play in its entirety is considered from the perspective of the justice of public execution in comparable scenarios, then Isabella’s tragedy appears in the midst of uneasy comedy as a disturbing and unforgettable episode.

  18. If Isabella’s confrontation with death is distinctive, the scaffold scene in Barnavelt is equally so.21 The play dramatizes topical news from the Netherlands concerning the fall and execution of the Advocate of Holland. According to T. H. Howard-Hill, the play was quickly written, for Oldenbarnevelt was executed on 3 May 1619, and the play was ready for performance in August of the same year (50). The subject matter was sensitive in terms of current political and religious issues; King James I was a supporter of the Prince of Orange (who decreed Oldenbarnevelt’s execution), and Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels, was therefore careful to have removed from the play any negative interpretation of the Prince’s conduct. From the religious perspective, Oldenbarnevelt’s espousal of Arminianism and his hopes for religious toleration were central to his fall from favour, for he thereby placed himself in direct opposition to the Calvinist prince.22

  19. Like Isabella, the character Barnavelt is depicted as flawed. He is proud, overly ambitious, and endangered by his religious and political views. Moreover, he is directly implicated in the suicide of his former colleague, Leidenberch. Visiting him in prison, prior to his own fall, Barnavelt is devastated to learn that Leidenberch has ‘confessed’. As a challenge to the authorities, he argues, Leidenberch’s only honourable action is to “Dye uncompelld: and mock their preparations, / Their envyes, and their Justice” (3.4.83-84). Barnavelt warms to his topic, suggesting that to submit to the “hands of Infamy” is to die a “doble death” (3.4.97-100), whilst self-slaughter in such circumstances will preserve one’s name:
    One blow, one short peece of an howre do’s this
    And this cures all: maintaines no more phisitians,
    Restores our memories, and ther’s the great cure,
    Where, if we stay the fatall Sword of Justice
    It moawes the man downe first, and next his fashion,
    His living name, his Creadit. (3.4.109-14)
    Barnavelt is an impassioned and persuasive statesman, clearly adept at manipulating others, yet he is also presented as a tired and disillusioned old man who appears genuinely puzzled by the disfavour into which he has fallen. Alone in his study, he dwells on his past glories and begins to despair:
    Must all theis glories vanish into darknes?
    And Barnavelt passe with’em, and glide away
    Like a spent Exhalation? I cannot hold,
    I am crackt too deepe alredy: what have I don,
    I cannot answeare? (4.3.20-24)
    These opposing tensions are transferred to the scaffold, where he assumes the role of tragic actor, vowing, “I shall not play my last Act worst” (5.1.204).

  20. As Isabella’s final scene is preceded by comic manipulations of the conventions surrounding execution, so Barnavelt’s last performance is anticipated by a grotesquely comic scene which emphasizes the brutality and depersonalization associated with the ritual. Prior to Barnavelt’s arrival at the scaffold, three executioners appear on the scene, eager to demonstrate their skills. These figures, embodying gallows humour and a shared obsession with the decapitated body, are described as “hungry vulturs” who have “smelld out their imployment” (5.1.212-13). Leyden, Harlem and Utricht boast of their prowess with the sword, playing dice to determine who shall have the privilege of dispatching Barnavelt.23 Harlem draws upon the popular trope of the sword as healer:
    Heer’s a Sword would doe a mans head good to be cut of with it,
    Cures all rhumes, all Catharrs, Megroomes, virteegoes,
    Presto, be gon. (5.2.2-4)
    Jonathan Sawday points out the “intersection of the trade of the executioner and the profession of the physician,” both of whom practised their skills upon the “frail human body” (81). Just as the executioner and physician intersect, so do the barber and surgeon, as execution here is ironically perceived as the ultimate form of bloodletting. Leyden describes himself as an “old Cutter,” who has “polld more pates / And neater than a Dicker of your Barbers, / They nere need washing after” (5.2.7-9). As he brandishes his sword, Utricht evokes an image of a dismembered body as he combines the concept of barbering with the biblical metaphor of flesh as grass:24
    Look on’t, but come not neere it: the very wind on’t
    Will borrow a leg, or an arme; heer’s touch and take, boyes,
    And this shall moaw the head of Monsieur Barnavelt:
    Man is but grasse, and hay: I have him here,
    And here I have him … (5.2.23-27)
    Utricht wins at dice, and gloatingly describes how he will perform his office:
    first, how ile take my leave of him:
    With a few teares to draw more money from him:
    Then fold up his braunchd gowne, his hat, his doblet,
    And like the devill, cry mine owne: lye there boyes:
    Then bind his eyes: last, stir myself up bravely
    And in the midle of a whollsome praire
    Whip: and hic jacet Barnavelt … (5.2.52-59)
    Utricht alludes to the established rituals associated with public executions: the prisoner giving payment and garments to the executioner, the binding of the eyes of the condemned, and the anticipated recitation of a final prayer. For Utricht, however, these procedures merely represent easily exploitable opportunities for personal gain. Whereas a skilled headsman’s proficiency could promise a quick and uncomplicated beheading—implying at least an element of compassion toward the victim—Utricht’s gallows humour characterizes him as little more than a butcher, whose callousness further compromises Barnavelt’s dignity and strips him of his personal identity by making him just another victim, a “generall game” (5.3.68).

  21. The exchange between executioners is followed by a brief conversation between two Captains, who represent opposing loyalties25 and who question whether the execution will actually take place. Whilst one Captain argues that Barnavelt is a “guilty man” and a “Traitor,” the other observes, “You know hee’s much lov’d, / And every where they stir in his Compassion” (5.3.9-13). A Burgher, also awaiting the arrival of Barnavelt, predicts, “He will make a notable Speech I warrant him” (5.3.49), testimony both to Barnavelt’s eloquence and to the expectation that such a “notable” execution must include an address to the crowd.

  22. Barnavelt is spared the grisly exchange between the executioners, but he is unable to escape the physical presence of Leidenberch’s coffined corpse, suspended on the scaffold and awaiting his arrival. In accordance with actual events in Holland, the play includes Leidenberch’s suicide whilst in prison (3.6.47-62), but the addition of the coffin containing his body is historically inaccurate. The body of the historical Leidenberch was in fact coffined and “strung up on a gibbet,” but not on the day of Oldenbarnevelt’s execution. In reality, the coffin with which the condemned was confronted on the scaffold was his own (den Tex 650, 688). The playwrights’ deliberate juxtaposition of Leidenberch’s corpse with Barnavelt’s execution recalls Barnavelt’s earlier coerciveness, but it simultaneously suggests a particular element of psychological cruelty in the spectacle of public punishment. In an abrupt return to the earthy language of the body, the executioner is quick to observe that Leidenberch “stincks like a hung poll cat” (5.3.32), and refers to the body as a cut of meat: “This venison wants pepper, and salt abhominably” (5.3.34). He assures the Provost, “If ere he run away againe, ile swing for him: / This would make a rare signe for a Cookes shop: the Christmas pie” (5.3.36-37). Barnavelt is “much moved” at the sight of the coffin (5.3.77), his brief silence followed with the outburst, “Are theis the holly praires ye prepare for me, / The comforts to a parting soule?” (5.3.78-79). His initial response, presumably both repulsed and remorseful, is transmuted into bold defiance as he challenges the Lords:
    Hang up a hundred Coffins, I dare view’em,
    And on their heads subscribe a hundred treasons,
    It shakes not me: thus dare I smile upon’em
    And strongly thus out looke your fellest Justice. (5.3.86-89)
    Barnavelt throws out a further challenge in the next part of his speech, as he urges the Lords to remember the many services he has rendered to his country. He presents himself not only as a healer who has lovingly bound up the wounds of an orphan-like Holland, providing food and opening up avenues for trade, but as a martyr who has suffered “throaes, and grones,” “dangers,” and “almost gripes of death” to bring glory and prosperity to his country:
    Thinck through whose care, you are a Nation
    And have a name yet left, a fruitfull Nation,
    (Would I could say as thanckfull,) bethinck ye of theis things
    And then turne back, and blush, blush for my ruyne. (5.3.94-96, 112-15)
    Barnavelt’s position is subversive, for he is publicly disputing the justice of the Prince’s sentence. The two Lords’ refutation of this part of Barnavelt’s speech, however, is cast in religious terms rather than political, as they urge him to “Confes, and dye well” (5.3.145). The Advocate maintains his guiltlessness, claiming simply, “I dye for saving this unthanckfull Cuntry” (5.3.149). Admonished that he should “Play not with heaven,” Barnavelt replies, “My Game’s as sure as yours is: / And with more care, and innocence, I play it”; to the executioner he adds, “Take of my doblet: and I prethee fellow, / Strike without feare” (5.3.150-53). From this point to the time of his execution, Barnavelt is compliant, appearing outwardly calm. In an ironic moment, he grants forgiveness to the executioner, unwittingly echoing Utricht’s earlier jests about the healing properties of the sword:
    heer’s my hand: I love thee too; thy phisick
    Will quickly purge me from the worldes abuses:
    When I speak lowdest, strike. (5.3.155-57)
    The final part of Barnavelt’s scaffold speech follows the formula whereby the penitent prisoner praises and blesses the sovereign, and he bestows his forgiveness upon all (5.3.169-178). Jan den Tex reports that Oldenbarnevelt’s last words were “Be quick about it, be quick” (688), whilst in the play his final words are abruptly concluded by Utricht’s sudden impatience:
    Honour, and world, I fling ye thus behind me,
    And thus a naked poore-man, kneele to heaven:
    Be gratious to me, heare me, strengthen me,
    I come, I come: ô gratious heaven: now: now:
    Now I present — [Head struck of.] (5.3.179-83)
    Utricht’s earlier grotesque imagery of dismemberment is graphically realized as Barnavelt is beheaded onstage, at the same time losing two fingers. This was, in fact, what happened as Oldenbarnevelt was decapitated (den Tex 688), but here the executioner triumphantly asks, “Is it well don mine Heeres?” The first Lord replies, “Somewhat too much: you have strooke his fingers too / But we forgive your haste” (5.3.183-185). In the image of the two fingers, presumably displayed to the audience along with the head, is combined the comic and the tragic: the fingers are unintentionally removed because they have been raised to Barnavelt’s lips in an act of final prayer, but the accident is inseparably associated with the earlier grotesque physicality of the executioners’ black-humoured jokes. This minor blunder is an indication of how any execution was “susceptible to ludicrous and macabre mishaps” (Lacqueur 323), and how the inherent solemnity of the event might be undermined by what Nicholas Brooke describes as “horrid laughter,” in which the “opposites of laughter and tears” could “easily and bewilderingly transpose into each other” (3). The detail of the two fingers, then, invites contradictory responses to Barnavelt’s end on the scaffold, for the incident increases our sympathy at the same time it is likely to prompt spontaneous, if uncomfortable, laughter.

  23. Like Isabella, Barnavelt comes to the scaffold unprepared for death, in an attitude of resistance and defiance. Whereas Isabella undergoes a form of secular conversion, however, Barnavelt seems rather to demonstrate a last-minute acceptance of the inevitable. Throughout his scaffold address he progresses through a range of emotional reactions: from bitter sarcasm to dismay and disgust; from shock to anger to open defiance; from impassioned rhetoric to increased self-control. By the time the blade strikes, however, he has become humbled, resigned. Whereas the comic and the tragic are treated in separate plot strands in Countess, in Barnavelt there is a closer integration of comic physical elements with the tragedy of his downfall. In Countess the accommodation of Roberto within the execution ritual allows Isabella to see herself from an alternative perspective, to gain a sense of personal peace before death, and to ensure salvation of her soul. In Barnavelt, the executioners epitomize the physical brutality of public punishment, whilst the presence of the Lords on the scaffold serves to emphasize—in Laqueur’s phrase—the “thunderous reaffirmation of the state’s might and authority” (308).

  24. Although it is impossible to determine precisely why Countess and Barnavelt featured simulated onstage beheadings, there were a number of objectives that may have been realized through this practice. First of all, the novelty of the event would have attracted audiences to the theatre. Secondly, the scaffold speech, functioning as an induction to the beheading rather than the mere signifier of an offstage execution, became a form which permitted more creative experimentation on the part of the playwrights. Finally, whilst I have focused primarily on the impact of staging, it is clear that this spirit of experimentation could also include engagement with issues of political justice, implying a critique of situations bearing suggestive parallels to the world outside the theatre. The completeness of the execution scene thus offered festive excitement for those who desired entertainment, elements of potential subversiveness for those who enjoyed witnessing a challenge to the established formulas, and serious matter for those more inclined to contemplate issues of mortality and the mystery of what lay ‘beyond.’ The few instances of onstage beheadings during this period would also seem to represent unique and memorable performances in the history of the Jacobean stage.


    1I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to the organizers of the 2008 ANZSA Conference for the receipt of a Joyce Williams travel bursary, and also to the University of Waikato for generously providing additional funding. My thanks to those who offered insight and encouragement at the conference, particularly David Carnegie, Bruce Smith, John Hale, Tom Bishop, Aneta Mancewicz, MacDonald Jackson, Laurie Johnson and Darryl Chalk; and to the editors and anonymous readers of this paper. Special thanks to Mark Houlahan and Kirstine Moffat for providing continuous support and for feedback on multiple drafts.

    The phrase ‘grave instructions’ is taken from Marston’s Insatiate Countess, 5.1.190. Peter Lake writes that prisoners awaiting execution were instructed as to the appropriate formula for the scaffold speech (xix), whilst Rebecca Lemon observes that the condemned were also offered spiritual guidance from the clergy, for “the confession of sins and the expression of penitence were vital to gaining salvation after death” (90).

    2 I am indebted to Margaret Owens’ work, particularly Chapter 5, in which she discusses simulated onstage beheadings. She emphasizes the psychological difference between the two types of execution: “beheading was distinguished from hanging and from other forms of mutilation (quartering, disemboweling, amputation of body parts) as the preferred mode of execution, not so much because it was believed to be more rapid and less painful, but because it was reserved exclusively for the aristocracy” (123). Camille Naish further suggests that decapitation was preferable partially because it “enabled the victim to die without being touched by the headsman” (56). Charles Dale Cannon discusses possible strategies for the staging of hangings in his introduction to A Warning for Fair Women (54-55).

    3 Owens 138. Owens notes that an onstage beheading “occurs in the B text of Doctor Faustus (printed 1616), but the date at which that episode was first performed is unknown and remains a matter of considerable debate” (138). She also notes R. B.’s Apius and Virginia (1559-67) as the only extant morality play with an onstage beheading, which makes it a “conspicuous exception to the rule” and reveals “the struggle to reconfigure the theatrical body in the wake of the Reformation” (87). Owens draws attention to the possibility that there may have been onstage beheadings in plays that have been lost, or that they were performed, yet not specified in the stage directions (139). Interestingly, William J. Lawrence had earlier suggested that the “trick” of hanging onstage had been done so often that it had been “quickly perfected,” whereas—up until the first simulated beheading in The Insatiate Countess, somewhere between 1610 and 1613—the players had been “wholly unable to procure the illusion” (241-43).

    My discussion here does not include The Virgin Martyr or Herod and Antipater, partially due to considerations of space, but primarily because the execution scenes in these plays lack the complexity and ambiguity of those featured in Countess and Barnavelt. Dekker’s Dorothea is martyred and therefore the focus of audience sympathy, whilst the characters of Herod and Antipater are unabashedly evil and therefore undeserving of spectators’

    4 For an alternative viewpoint and a challenge to Foucault, see Lorna Hutson, who focuses on the involvement of the early modern community in dealing with crime, looking at the ‘displaced jury trial’ in Titus Andronicus.

    5 Owens argues that Chapman’s play was highly influential, in that echoes of Byron’s “words and gestures figure in almost all succeeding dramatizations of scaffold scenes,” including Countess and Barnavelt (134-35). The scaffold scene was closely modelled on Edward Grimeston’s 1607 translation of Jean de Serres’ work, A General Inventorie of the Historie of France. George Ray, editor of the Garland edition of Chapman’s two-part play, believes it possible that the decapitation was staged, for the theatre company at Blackfriars may have had “the technology for bringing off a beheading and silencing Byron in just the emphatic way Grimeston described the Executioner’s act: ‘he cut off his head, even as he was speaking. The blow was so sodaine, as few men perceived it, the Head leaped from the scaffold to the ground’” (qtd. in Ray 571). See Ray’s Appendix A in Volume 2 for the parallels between Grimeston and Chapman in the scaffold scene (603-05).

    6 For summaries of selected accounts of murders and listings of these events recorded in pamphlets, folio sheets and plays, see Joseph H. Marshburn. See also Lake.

    7 In discussing the popularity of the Grand-Guignol theatre during the pre-World War II period, John M. Callahan observes that these “horror plays” were “designed to terrorize and amuse” their audiences; I imagine that the ‘murder’ plays appealed to a large proportion of the early modern play-going audience for similar reasons. As Callahan suggests, most people are “vicarious lovers of violence and danger, and the majority of people find the theatrical depiction of violence to be cathartic” (165-67).

    8 The phenomenon called cruentation is defined by Malcolm Gaskill as “the ordeal whereby a corpse was supposed to bleed in the presence of the murderer.” He observes that it is both “factually dubious” and “providentially impressive,” and was used to great effect as a stage device (8). Instances of cruentation occur in Richard III (1.2.53-59); Arden of Faversham (16.4-6); A Warning for Fair Women (H1v); and it is referred to in The Insatiate Countess (5.1.7, 24).

    9 For a classic study on the role of providence in the ‘murder’ or ‘domestic’ plays, see Henry Hitch Adams.

    10 The Sheriff prompts Browne to confess, otherwise he has made “no true contrition”; declining, he is reminded, “Browne, thy soule knowes” (I3v). Karl S. Guthke refers to the tradition that last words were considered truthful and, sometimes, prophetic. See 37-45 for a brief discussion of the relevance of these concepts in relation to Shakespeare’s King John, Richard II, Hamlet, 1 Henry IV, King Lear and Othello.

    11 In a diary entry in 1598, Philip Henslowe makes one tantalizing reference to a “frame for the heading in Black Jone,” suggesting that this lost play may have featured an onstage decapitation (Foakes 321).

    12 A stage direction in T.B.’s play The Rebellion of Naples, printed in 1649, gives a similar instruction: when Massenello is executed, the text specifies, “He thrusts out his head, and they cut off a false head made of a bladder fill’d with bloud” (73).

    13 By “full execution ritual” I refer to the simulated beheading as a conclusion to the scaffold speech. There are no stage directions indicating that drawing and quartering took place onstage, although the head may have been displayed as the finale to the execution. Although the post-decapitation dismembering would have resembled, for example, the mutilation of Beech in Two Lamentable Tragedies, the inclusion of this part of the ritual would have required a specially prepared dummy, making repeated performances of these scenes significantly more difficult.

    In regard to staging, I also make the assumption that these beheadings were performed in the English manner, with a block and axe rather than a sword. The latter method, favoured on the continent, required the victim to remain upright in a kneeling position, whilst the headsman struck from behind. The historical figures on whom the Countess and Barnavelt were based were both executed in this fashion. English-style beheadings in the theatre would have been easier to simulate, for the block could be used to obscure crucial stage business, allowing the substitution of a fake head for that of the actor.

    14 Giorgio Melchiori, editor of the Revels edition of the play, suggests that Marston “devised the plot and underplot of the play” no later than 1607 or 1608, and that William Barksted and Lewis Machin revised and completed the play, probably in 1608 or 1609 (16-17). He also favours Marston as the author of Isabella’s execution scene (11-12), surmising that it was intended to represent the conclusion of the play. Instead, the final scene (5.2) attempts a resolution of the comic plot, thereby undermining the tragic impact of the Countess’s death. For a full discussion of authorship issues, dates, textual problems and sources, see Melchiori’s introduction.

    15 Due to the confusion arising from inconsistencies in the first Quarto regarding characters’ names, editions vary widely, particularly in the designations of the names Rogero, Mizaldus and Guido. For information on the editing issues associated with the various Quartos, see Melchiori’s introduction; see also the brief discussion of the play in Martin Wiggins’s introduction to Four Jacobean Sex Tragedies.

    16 Michael Neill points out that dissection was performed upon the corpses of criminals, to deliberately and “disgracefully” expose their bodies to the “prying gaze of the crowd”. This practice not only ensured the “humiliation of the malefactor beyond execution,” but also functioned to enhance “the moral lessons of the whole theatre of punishment” (118).

    17 There is a popular tradition that the woman in a fresco by Bernardino Luini is the Countess of Challant. Depicting the beheading of St. Catherine, the image shows the executioner with his sword raised, about to decapitate his victim. Melchiori cites Bandello, one of the original accounts of the Countess’s story: “whoever wishes to see her face pictured to the life, should go to the church of the Monastero Maggiore, and there will see it painted” (qtd. in Melchiori 21). See Sandrina Bandera and Maria Teresa Fiorio for a reproduction of the fresco (205).

    18 The humour seems uncharacteristic of Isabella, but the trope of execution as the ultimate form of curative medicine was a commonplace. In the play Sir Thomas More, More jestingly claims, “I come hither only to be let blood: my doctor here tells me it is good for the headache” (5.4.83-84). Executed in 1618, Sir Walter Ralegh ran his finger along the edge of the axe, and observed to the executioner, “This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physitian for all Diseases” (qtd. in Greenblatt 20).

    19 Isabella married Roberto whilst still in mourning for her deceased husband, abandoned Roberto for Guido (whom she arranges to have murdered), then displaced Guido with Gniaca. Ironically, when she betrays Guido with Gniaca, Isabella pretends to be repentant, claiming that she wishes to be reconciled with her husband (3.4.126-46).

    20 Melchiori includes the word “Strike”, printed in the right-hand margin of the various quartos, as the concluding word of the Countess’s dying speech. He acknowledges the possibility that the word may have been intended to refer to “a ‘noise’ off stage,” but ultimately concludes that “Strike” is “not a stage direction, but the dramatically effective conclusion of Isabella’s speech, addressed to the executioner” (174-75 n226). I have consulted facsimiles of the quartos of 1613, 1616 and 1631, and am not entirely convinced that the word is intended for Isabella; what I consider to be of greater importance, however, is the clear indication in each quarto that the beheading occurs onstage.

    21 To avoid confusion, I shall refer to the historical person as Oldenbarnevelt, and to the dramatic character as Barnavelt.

    22 For an excellent summary of the play’s action, see the 1922 edition edited by Wilhelmina P. Frijlinck, which also discusses authorship issues, sources and literary perspectives. See John E. Curran for a discussion of the implications of Calvinism and Arminianism to the play.

    23 Owens points out that this game “recalls the games that Christ’s torturers conduct in order to decide who will keep the convict’s clothes (the traditional prerogative of the hangman),” thus drawing a parallel between the execution of Barnavelt and the crucifixion of Christ (142).

    24 See Isaiah 40.6-8: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth … but the word of our God shall stand forever”. See also Psalms 103.15: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth”.

    25 Curran argues that, in England, “few would have had cause to identify with or mourn for Barnavelt,” for his “association with Arminianism and opposition to Calvinism would have marked him as among the reprobate” (239). Jan den Tex, however, suggests that opinion in England was divided (692 n2-3).

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