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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Old Man's War
John Scalzi
Hero And Leander
Christopher Marlowe
Progress: 24/100 pages
Charles Darwin
David C. King
An Introduction to Magnetohydrodynamics
P.A. DAVIDSON, E.J. Hinch, S.H. Davis, Mark J. Ablowitz
Progress: 47/452 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 359/700 pages
Plasma physics
R.A. Cairns
Progress: 4/244 pages
Selected Short Stories - Conrad (Wordsworth Classics)
Keith Carabine, Joseph Conrad
Progress: 37/272 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 108/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe

Reading progress update: I've read 842 out of 1344 pages.

The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) - William Shakespeare, John Jowett, Gary Taylor

The Book of Sir Thomas More

 

The editors believe Shakespeare wrote a three page passage in the extant "book" of this play, which was originally composed by Munday. Those pages were included in the 1st Ed. of this volume but, as with Edward III, here in the 2nd Ed. they print the full text of the play. The parts attributed to Shakespeare are higher quality than the rest but some of the material by Munday is almost as good. However, for me the real interests of this play, which overall is disjointed, unbalanced and a second rate work of the period, are twofold and not really related to Shakespeare directly, namely, the portrayal of More and the insight into the politics, censorship and mode of operation of playwrights of the period.

 

What we have is a playbook originally written by Munday dealing with the rise and fall of Thomas More, which was heavily criticised by the Master of the Revels who read all plays before performance and had the power to demand any alterations he deemed fit or suppress the play entirely. More was a controvercial figure in Elizabethan politics still, being considered a Catholic martyr by many and a champion of the working people to boot. Catholicism vs. Protestantism was inextricably mixed up with the right to the throne and international power politics. Nevertheless, the Master of the Revels didn't ban the play out-right but instead gave copious instructions for deletions and modifications that were written directly on the play-book.

 

Subsequently various authors, including Chettle, Heywood and Dekker as well as Shakespeare, revised the play, replacing passages and altering existing ones - it's a professional critic's wet dream. The demand for original material for the stage was difficult to keep up with and collaborations between playwrights were commonplace, as were revisions of extant plays. (Middleton appears to have revised two of Shakespeare's plays, for example.) Here we get a good look at an extreme example of attempting to rescue a play because writing a new one from scratch was too long a process, as well as an insight into the role and attitudes of the Master of the Revels, which clearly was considered politically important and taken seriously. Despite all of the effort by nearly everyone, it seems the play was never performed on the contemporary stage.

 

Which brings me to the character of More himself. Here he comes over as a trickster and humourist who uses pranks to teach more pompous folks and genuine fools various lessons but also a champion of mercy and restraint in keeping the peace between the lower classes and the aristocracy. He goes in humble and brave fashion to his martyrdom, refusing to break with his Catholic principles regarding Henry VIII's divorce.

In A Man for All Seasons More is presented as a much more serious but still saintly martyr who dies for his principles. A biography of William Tyndale that I once read, gives a different picture, by illustrating what some of those principles were: More had a network of agents who spied and informed on anybody connected with translating the Bible from Latin to English or printing or distributing such. Anybody found guilty of said "crimes" were burned alive at the stake - no mercy whatsoever.

 

All of these authors had a partisan agenda regarding More: Catholic martyr, champion of the unprivileged, murderer of anybody who opposed the Church's control of Christian thought. Could he have been all of these things?