Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 Spring 1999 v39 i2 p239(1)

Dramatic images of kingship in Heywood and Bale. Happe, Peter

Abstract: John Heywood's 'The Play of the Wether' and John Bale's 'King Johan' give political insights on England's history in the 1500s. They promote impersonations that arise in a literary and dramatic context, and embody a sense of theatrical values. They also feature several historical events and interpretation. It is suggested that Heywood's play was written long before Shrovetide 1433 and was printed later in the same year, while King Johan was written about 1536.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1999 Rice University

This realm of England is an Empire ... governed by one supreme head and king, having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same.

These words in the Act in Restraint of Appeals of 1553 underlie the dramatic treatment of Henry VIII in John Heywood's The Play of the Wether and John Bale's King Johan.(1) That the plays were written within a few years of one another may give some political insights for the period, but I am primarily concerned with the way these impersonations arise in a literary and dramatic context, and the theatrical values they embody. Though the argument for neither play is simple, I am assuming as a working hypothesis, that Heywood's play was written not long before Shrovetide 1533, and printed later in the same year, and that one version of King Johan was in existence by about 1536, though the extant text can be dated in part as late 1538, and in another part as after 1560. While I shall deal with a number of historical events and interpretations, for which I must gratefully rely upon the work of several eminent historians, I am aiming my comments at dramatic aspects of the two characterizations which have, I think, been neglected.

I. The Play of the Wether

The overriding intention of Wether is reconciliation. If it was written before Shrovetide 1533, it occurs after Sir Thomas More gave up the Chancellorship in May 1532, having lost the battle for power in the third session of the Reformation Parliament (January-May 1532), and before his arrest over the Oath of Succession in April 1534. This was a time when his writings against heresy were most vigorous, especially the Confutation of Tyndale Part 2: indeed it appears he had very little else to do.(2) After a period in office in which he had pursued heretics with exceptional zeal, there is every chance that he was more and more vulnerable, especially as he persisted in speaking out. It seems likely that he significantly overplayed his hand.(3) Richard Marius, his biographer, describes him as "loquacious, argumentative and righteous," and the editors of his Collected Works note his "exasperated and savage authoritarianism" at this time.(4) Moreover, Henry VIII's move away from Rome continued as he married Anne Boleyn in January 1533, and, through Parliament, ensured the Act in Restraint of Appeals.

It might seem that More had little ability to restrain himself over heretics: "I hate that sort of men so utterly that unless they repent, I want to be as hateful to them as anyone can be since as I contend with them more and more I vehemently fear what the world will suffer from them."(5) The tone of his condemnation of heretics was insistently vituperative, however pure the underlying faith. Thomas Hutton was described as "the dyvyl's stynkyng martyr"; Richard Bayfield was "well and worthely burned in Smythfelde" and John Tewkesbury burned "as there was never wretche I wene better worthy."(6) Thomas Cromwell's scrutiny in January 1534 of William Rastell, Heywood's brother-in-law, who printed both More's polemical writings and also Heywood's plays, and More's subsequent letter to Cromwell suggest that his writings were being closely watched. Perhaps More was seen as a threat by Cromwell and the king, but equally he may have been so eminent that his opposition could not be tolerated. Either view might have led to his initial inclusion in the Act of Attainder against the Nun of Kent in February 1534. The chronicler Edward Hall described More as a "foolishe wyseman or a wise foolishman," and added: "undoubtedly he, beside his learnyng, had a great witte, but it was so myngled with tauntyng and mockyng that it semed to them that best knew him that he thought nothing to be wel spoken except he had ministred some mocke in the communicacion."(7)

Thus More, by temperament, belief, and action was exposed because what he was and what he did would not be likely to produce safety and security in volatile times. It is apparent that he himself was aware of being at risk: he may have become a little more cautious but the matters of belief which he held so strongly were not likely to allow much accommodation. Heywood's careful and comic exploration of the interface between various factions was perhaps an attempt to soften the impact of his relative (More was the brother of Heywood's mother-in-law).

It is one of my chief objectives here to reveal the importance of Heywood's organization of the presence of Jupiter in his play. His selection of Jupiter owes much to Lucian's Icaromenippus, a poem which shows Jupiter hearing claims about the weather. More possessed several copies of the Latin translation by Erasmus.(8) Jupiter's active time on stage is somewhat limited. He has an opening soliloquy in which he sets up the problem of what to do about the weather. This is by far his longest speech and it initiates the circumstances of the action to follow in showing that there is a problem to be explored, since the gods themselves are in disarray. The speech establishes a comic tone. Having appointed Merry Report to manage the pleas for different kinds of weather, Jupiter withdraws to contemplate his own glory. As the suitors come forward, Merry Report allows the Gentleman and the Merchant to speak directly to Jupiter who defers a response so that he may remain "indifferent" (impartial) until the end. Merry Report also presents the Gentlewoman to Jupiter, but he declines to attend to her. When the suits are completed, Merry Report goes to Jupiter with a summary of the pleas; Jupiter delivers his judgment which is accepted in turn by each suitor. Jupiter, proclaiming peace, ends the proceedings by ascending to heaven.

All of Jupiter's speeches are in rhyme royal except for the couplets in the setting-up dialogue with Merry Report, and in the deferring of the Gentleman and the Merchant; and he has one quatrain to dismiss the Gentlewoman. Very few rhyme royal stanzas are given to other characters. This intention of distinguishing Jupiter by prosody is echoed by the stage configuration.

A particular part of the acting area is designated for Jupiter's throne, which may be surrounded by a curtain, or traverse. This is an effective theatrical device because he is thus both on the stage and off it. It is somewhere to withdraw to, and at one point he has a song played "in his trone." His presence is thus sustained throughout, and it is continually exploited by explicit references to him even though he makes no discernible response.(9)

Cardinal Wolsey's Eltham Articles (1525) concerning access to the king's privy chamber are related to Merry Report's function as an usher. The political implications have been discussed elsewhere, but theatrically the usher's role helps the interaction between the central acting space and the space reserved for Jupiter.(10) Merry Report demands respect from the audience because he is a "squyre for goddes precyous body."(11)

Running through the play are a number of images or metaphors which allow us to interpret Jupiter's function. Many of these are politically oriented and it is their presence which leads me to the conviction that the play, though never losing its high entertainment value, is actually dependent upon the historical and political circumstances which surround its presumed date of composition and its actual date of publication. Because these images of Jupiter are so specific there is little reason to doubt that the composition of the play would be in the year 1533, or perhaps a little before, and that its publication would follow later in the same year.

The choice of Jupiter, described as "bove all goddes syns our fathers fale" (lines 6-7), may well be suggested by Heywood's awareness of John Skelton's identification of Henry VIII in Speke Parrot, where he "rules the English realm." This is perhaps made more certain by the first known printing of Magnyfycence (ca. 1530), a play which in all probability also presents a version of King Henry in the eponymous hero (though I do not think the latter is simply King Henry). It is apparent too that on 6 May 1527 there was a debate in the Court revels at Greenwich introduced by Jupiter and his messenger, Mercury, in which the king was asked to arbitrate in a debate between Love and Riches.(12)

Such an identification by Heywood might indeed seem somewhat risky, though he did attempt a similar but briefer one in his characterization of the Master Devil in The Four PP, who on his birthday, attired in a special jacket, is busily watching the devils play tennis when the Pardoner arrives in Hell with a petition (lines 881-2). It is indeed hard to believe that entertainers such as Heywood, working in the ambiance of the Court, could possibly avoid incorporating Henry in their work in some form or another.

In Wether there are the various references to heads, including the extended joke about "head" between Merry Report and the Gentleman (lines 295-316), and the timing of the events of the play after the assembly of"our hye parlyament" (lines 21-4). These touches point to Henry's assumption of the Headship of the Church through the Act of Supremacy. If, however, the dating assumed here is correct, the play precedes the Act itself (1534) and is a contribution instead to the period of development before it (as Henry gradually became aware that royal supremacy was the most convenient way of achieving his marital ambitions regarding Boleyn, and of concomitantly developing his authority and control of the Church). There is also the possibility that "Weather" actually suggests religion, a point which may be taken up by Jupiter's assertion that the disputing Gods, recognizing Jupiter's

puysaunt power of deite, Of wysedome and nature so noble and fre,
have in conclusyon holly surrendryd Into our handes...
The full of theyr powrs for terme everlastynge.
(lines 67-74)

The presentation of such details is done however with a degree of pomposity and wordiness which is never quite absent from this Jupiter. At one point he says:
And now accordynge to your obedyens Rejoyce ye in us wyth joy most joyfully And we ourselfe shall joy in our owne glory. (lines 183-5)

This form of working a word to death, sometimes called a "leash," appears so frequently in Heywood's plays that it acquires a kind of special authority, and indeed it is an index that his underlying meanings are often transmitted by such word games and associated performance tricks.(13) Perhaps Heywood may have escaped censure because he knew how to turn a joke in this way, and was loved for it; it is beyond doubt that he survived in or around the Court under various monarchs from about 1519 to the accession of Elizabeth in 1558. In some way his fooling may have been "allowed."(14)

The theatrical identification of this God as a God continues in various ways, oblique and direct, throughout the play - even the last suitor, the small boy, calls him "Godfather God" (line 1235) - and it is supported by references to him as governor, and his function of giving judgment, which in fact is the intention of the presentation of the suits and their resolution. The end of the play is particularly rich in references to Jupiter's all-powerful authority as "Hed and governour of all in every place" (line 1151). The question then arises as to whether there might be a hint of ridicule in this linking of Henry with the divinity, and my feeling is that the leash I have mentioned, and a number of other repetitive phrases, together with the Boy's ascription all point in this direction. There is certainly a suspicious amount of overstatement.

To this we may add what may seem an even more pointed way of characterizing Jupiter in the references to his well known, if mythical, sexual activities. Jupiter as a god was nothing if not sexual. If the supposition about the dates of composition and printing is correct, these are the years when Henry's courtship of Boleyn reached its climax. Heywood was interested in bawdiness and sexual innuendo in most of his plays, but in Wether the sexual references reach a high point, emphasized structurally in the treatment of the Gentlewoman followed by the Launder with whom she overlaps. I suggest that Heywood's structural method in creating this forum for a sexual exchange may be anticipated and prepared by the double encounter of the two Millers which precedes it. There we also find a sexual content in the elaboration of the working of the "mill" and its "pecker," and the attitude of the Miller's wife to it. Heywood, an acknowledged reader of Geoffrey Chaucer, makes much of the image of Millers.

In fact I want to make two points here. One is that Heywood develops the structure of Wether significantly when he uses these double episodes in succession in which two suitors fall into dispute. The second point is that Heywood is working toward this sexual peak from quite early in the play - as for example, with the rather commonplace jokes about the Gentleman's "horn." Merry Report is an eager participant in the sexual games and he is especially alert and verbally ingenious during the episode with the Gentlewoman. He repeatedly refers to St. Anne, and he draws attention to what Jupiter is doing behind the curtain: he is making a new moon, the old one having been found to be leaky, an idea which he pointedly elaborates by a discourse on wetness, drops, and a flood. Initially he seems rather divided between his own sexual interests and Jupiter's. He offers to "chat awhyle" with the lady, but when she insists on speaking with Jupiter, Merry Report approaches the throne lasciviously to offer this darling to Jupiter "by Saint Antony." In addition to the possible play on "Anne" (Boleyn) the choice of Antony who was subjected to sensual temptation in the desert fits deliciously. It is a marvelous paradox that at this point Jupiter replies with absolute propriety to this offer as though Merry Report ought to know better than to make such a suggestion (in the unique quatrain I mentioned above): "Sonne, that is not the thynge at this tyme / ment" (lines 786-9). It is sharpened because the words which Merry Report uses contain the phrase "yf yt be your pleasure to mary" (line 783). Of course Heywood may have been tactfully backing off too specific an intimation of Henry's sexual activities, but since so much else points to these, I do not think it can be doubted that we are invited to interpret Jupiter's rejection of the Gentlewoman as a kind of ironic negative. And all this leaves aside the possibility already hinted at, that one gesture, or color, or movement on her part in performance might have led to an identification. (See below.)

The sexual orchestration of the play next moves up a gear as Merry Report begins to exploit the opportunity for himself. The dialogue is full of innuendo - "When serve ye God?... How spende ye the nyght?" - and they sing a presumably amorous song which unfortunately, tantalizingly, is lost. Since the Gentlewoman seems to be offering him some encouragement, Merry Report tries a kiss, and as she refuses him, the Launder enters with a deflating bawdy joke and a denunciation of the Lady as a "symper de cokket."(15) The argument which develops between these two women is actually about female virtue; although the Launder is outspoken and indeed vulgar, she carries a great deal of conviction in her satirical exposure of idle and evil women. Heywood is exploiting a difference between messenger and message. But she is too much for Merry Report who sees her as a threat to his manhood, and exclaims that "Ye shall washe me no gere for feare of fretynge" (line 976). Though this sequence after the refusal does not directly involve Jupiter sexually with the Gentlewoman, it seems to me that Heywood has created an ambiance in which the traditional and mythical sexuality of Jupiter is exploited as part of the characterization, and it helps to direct attention to the particularity of the topical reference. We should not here overlook the continuing presence of Jupiter, unseen behind his curtain.

Thus the chief effect of the dramatic strategies I have been discussing is to create a character for Jupiter which is essentially comic and, I feel sure, very entertaining in terms of irony, paradox, and perhaps gentle mockery. Any such mocking would be a matter of fine judgment, something at which Heywood excelled. Perhaps we should add that the simplest physical clue as to a positive identification with Henry would have an enormous effect upon the comic devices here discussed. The same would be true, though the implication different, if the Gentlewoman, by gesture, movement, or costume, in any way suggested Boleyn. We should note too that although the rather pompous nature of this Jupiter is brought out by Heywood, he does not leave Merry Report beyond reproof, so that both characters are perceived with a critical eye.

In the last sequence of the play Jupiter comes to give judgment. Merry Report gives an important clue in his summation alleging that it is impossible "for all to be sped," and his suggestion that these suits are very far apart from one another even though there are only ten of them. Jupiter's stand upon temperance and his decision that all the weathers shall continue in variety, bring out the important point that to favor one request at the expense of all the others would not do.

There is no doubt that division at Court was a serious problem for Henry at this time. J. A. Guy notes that "Henry's ambassadors at Rome received instructions to stall throughout 1531 precisely because of incessant conflict between his domestic advisers, and should be given credit for skillfully freezing the king's case before the Rota until after Cromwell's victory over More."(16) The effect of this is to concentrate power within Jupiter's authority as a god. But, if one is tempted to interpret weather as religion, the analogy will not hold up here, for Heywood could not really have been advocating that all kinds of religion should have their way. Nevertheless, it was a period of great religious uncertainty, and, as Bale shows, there was always a risk of being caught up in the shifts of policy: to some extent, religion was being made up on the hoof. If there were such an idea earlier in the play, Heywood skillfully shifts his ground, and such a shift may indeed be essential to the point he ultimately wanted to make. The direction is rather toward the need for Jupiter to exercise his power worthily and to avoid sectarian controversy by relying upon his own judgment and authority. In itself this looks a bit like an endorsement of royal supremacy, hardly an acceptable doctrine for Catholics like Heywood or More.(17) Yet such an endorsement would perhaps give an extra persuasiveness to the underlying need for Jupiter to sustain temperance and harmony, which I suggest is Heywood's main purpose. By this means would the extreme predicament of More be relieved. I do not for a moment suppose that Hevwood's concern for his kinsman was his only interest in this subject matter, but it may very well have played a part in the anxieties of a dramatist who was known for his wit, and who yet reflected more and more the political realities of his time from his position at Court where he could observe the flow of events, and also the character of the king. As a Catholic he may have been disappointed that Henry was excommunicated on 11 July 1533.

II. King Johan
Bale gives us an interesting treatment of his protagonist, King Johan, by killing him off at line 2185 and then continuing for more than 500 lines to line 2691.(18) As I have already hinted, there is a complex story of revision in this manuscript which I shall not detail here, except to say that the appearance of Imperial Majesty occurs after the point where Bale in later years set out to make a fair copy embodying many revisions.(19) However, it is reasonable to suppose, from the evidence of some canceled sheets which have fortunately survived, that Bale's method of revision involved incorporating practically every word of the earlier version.

To see Imperial Majesty as a partial reincarnation of the dead King Johan would fit with fundamental and presumably innovative decisions about the design of the allegory. The play is well-known for the protean allegorical figures of Sedition, the Vice, who appears at times as Stephen Langton, Private Wealth, who is manifested in Cardinal Pandulphus, and Usurped Power, who has a scene as the Pope. It is apparent that these are not simply examples of doubling, but exist as a means of making important moral comments in the objectives of the play - the play would simply not mean what it does mean without these links, and Bale's innovative use of allegory needs to be recognized.

Perhaps the best way to discuss Imperial Majesty is to consider the context in which he appears. The death scene of Johan was elaborated by Bale in revision, partly to enhance the comic role of his murderer, Dissimulation, and partly to extend the appreciation of Johan's good qualities now lost. His last speech is in rhyme royal, addressed to Widow England whom he failed to help in spite of good intentions, and to the audience ("good people") to ask them to pray for him. The stage is then cleared.

Thus the last sequence of the play begins with the entry of Veritas, who, also speaking in rhyme royal in the form of a soliloquy, brings out Johan's valiant and godly qualities, devoting a stanza to each. At this point Bale is also concerned with the rather difficult topic of Johan's bad historical reputation, which he seeks to attribute to papal distortion (though such an attempt might not be generally accepted).

Veritas is joined by the three estates characters, Clergy, Nobility, and Civil Order (a lawyer) and, in the sequence before the arrival of Imperial Majesty, he brings them to the point of repentance for their failure to be true to Johan. This is done partly by promoting the idea that the king and the man are inseparable: "The crowne of it selfe without the man is nothynge" (line 2235). The role of the king is linked with Solomon and David. The latter Barry B. Adams has shown derives from William Tyndale's Obedience of a Christen Man. As to the former, King Henry appears as Solomon in one of the windows of King's College Chapel (ca. 1535).(21) The comments by Veritas are particularly sharp against Clergy, who is a dramatic target here. In the main part of the play Clergy has appeared the most duplicitous of the estates, and here Veritas is given a word play on cleros as either the apostolic taking of lots, or as a worm. Of the two extremes Veritas seems inclined to chose the latter because Clergy is so "ungodly." He is especially indignant that John has been held in disdain and painted as a tyrant (lines 2272 and 2300).

Thus Imperial Majesty's entrance is prepared by Veritas who extracts from the estates promises of obedience. Though at his death Johan had appeared a beaten figure, Imperial Majesty enters with some eclat. One possibility is that he would wear an imperial crown. In the 1570 edition of John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, King Henry himself appears triumphant, having unhorsed the pope, and he wears the imperial crown on top of the familiar feathered bonnet.(22) As with Jupiter, we cannot really tell how far the stage character would visually resemble King Henry; but since Bale's intention is to work positively with what Henry had achieved in encouraging Protestantism and there is no need for satire, a degree of impersonation might have been acceptable. But, even without specific indications, Bale's audience would hardly miss the link. The structure of Imperial Majesty's episode is a continuation of the work of Veritas, signified by the kneeling of the estates, the exposure of Sedition (who is induced by Imperial Majesty to speak the truth though it is a revelation of his own evil practices as well as those of others), and the final reconciliation of the estates with Imperial Majesty (embodied in a kiss which is marked with a stage direction in Bale's hand). As there are very few such directions in the holograph sections of the manuscript, the significance of this one is enhanced to be more a matter of symbolism than merely telling the actors what to do.

Imperial Majesty praises the achievement of Veritas and promises protection, especially against prelates. But still Veritas has a direct ideological role, bringing out the need to respect Kings who are near to God:

He that a prynce resisteth doth dampne Gods ordynaunce And resisteth God in withdrawynge hys affyaunce. All subjectes offendynge are undre the kynges judgement: A kynge is reserved to the Lorde Omnypotent.
(lines 2352-5)

Bale's continuous attack upon the Clergy is sustained as Imperial Majesty ridicules a slip of the tongue whereby Clergy claims to act at royal pleasure when it should be not a matter of human wish but of God's will. The point is sharpened by a proverb - "The crowe wyll not chaunge her hewe" (line 2395). Thus the visual effects of costume and action are supplemented by linguistic devices.

The pope's domination of kings is condemned with abusive and satirical imagery - he is called a "blody bocher," a leviathan sitting in Moses' seat, and the "slauterman of the devil." It is a vein of language which Bale used readily and it raises interesting questions about how the audience might receive it. One account suggests that the play was much liked, and another record suggests that the play was done at Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's house at Christmas 1538. Given the audience which might have been assembled there, Bale's combination of scriptural learning and polemic is likely to have been very appealing, and the characterization of Imperial Majesty, would match this well. Moreover, there are plenty of other similar political events such as the river battle played on the Thames on 17 June 1539 showing the defeat of the pope. After various nautical maneuvers, the pope and his cardinals were thrown into the Thames. I like the comment which shows that even such vigorous political activity needed an eye on safety: "howbeyt there was none drowned for they were persons chosen which could swim and the King's barge lay by hoveringe to take them upp as they were caste over the borde which was a goodly pastime."(23)

Imperial Majesty plays a significant role in the final punishment of Sedition, the Vice. Bale's allegory has ensured that this character embodies a political evil: the danger to the nation through the treason stimulated by the clergy, especially by means of the confessional. It is appropriate that his wickedness and threat are exposed by means of interrogation by the imperial figure. This may reflect Henry's known interventions into trials and public hearings, for in this sense he was always a theatrical king, as his appearance in white from head to toe for the interrogation of the sacramentarian John Lambert suggests. As it happens, Bale avoids this doctrinal issue in King Johan, but, as a staging device, such royal actions are a rich resource; Sedition, under close questioning, is induced to reveal the truth at last. Imperial Majesty cuts through the Vice's conventional word games about his name and identity: "I saye tell thy name or the racke shall the constrayne" (line 2478).

The interrogation centers around treason. Sedition reveals that the clergy have not followed the royal injunctions, and that they have temporized, waiting for a time when the pope may again be set up: "We lyngar a tyme and loke but for a daye / To sett upp the Pope if the Gospell woulde decaye" (lines 2550-1). Bale's perception here fits well with recent commentary which has suggested that Catholic culture was by no means as unacceptable to many people as had been thought - as indeed Foxe might have wanted his readers to believe - and that its revival could readily be effected.(24) Praising the pope, Sedition admits that he intended to serve Imperial Majesty as he had served Johan. This thematic link is effective in itself, but it is turned to a call for his punishment. The theatrical tension of this exposure should not be overlooked as Imperial Majesty intervenes in Sedition's self-exposure fifteen times (lines 2483-573). The severity of Imperial Majesty's condemnation is exemplary, even though he had previously promised a pardon: Sedition is to be hanged and quartered at Tyburn, and his head bestowed on London Bridge, the punishment for a traitor.

While Sedition treats his punishment as a grotesque martyrdom, Imperial Majesty turns again on the estates as though detecting further sedition in them. Their response is to show how in biblical and classical history sedition had not prospered, how God has always preserved "governors" in scripture, and how the governance by the priests led the Hebrews into disaster. In a rhyme royal stanza Imperial Majesty recognizes that these memories are consonant with his authority, and enjoining each estate to do its duty - the Clergy to preach God's Word, the Nobility to defend the realm, and Civil Order to administer justice - he promises to support the kingdom with "wholsom lawes and decrees." These three roles are an integral part of the ideal of kingship which Bale is advocating - one which King Johan had been unable fully to achieve, through no fault of his own, but one which Imperial Majesty more confidently assumes, and with significant dramatic contrast. This reflects Bale's urgent concern that King Henry should act in the nation's Protestant interest, going further than he has already done. The psychology of such prompting is intriguing since there is evidence that given the right circumstances, some might say anxieties, Henry was very open to suggestion, even if he repented afterwards.(25) Evidence from slightly later suggests that he did not support the vigorous suppression of purgatory by 1543.(26) J. J. Scarisbrick shows that the pope and Cardinal Campeggio believed that Henry could be persuaded back into the fold in 1536.(27)

It is at this climactic moment that the action culminates in the kiss given by the estates to the Imperial Majesty: a sign of submission, but also one which is related to the traditional and scriptural kiss of peace and reconciliation ending the debate of the Four Daughters of God in earlier times.28 Once this symbolic act is complete, Imperial Majesty leaves the stage, but, in doing so, his last word is to exhort the estates to remember his "injunction." They complete the play by showing how kings and princes may be abused, especially by Sedition. The last three rhyme royal stanzas, written some time after 1560, specifically mention Queen Elizabeth, linking her with Johan and Imperial Majesty by her apocalyptic struggle against the papists and the Antichrist.

The theatrically dominating presence of Imperial Majesty can be seen as a fitting conclusion to a play which had shown King Johan as a proto-Protestant martyr in that it lifted the idea of kingship from being the servant of the people to a more exalted carrying out of God's justice and securing the spread of the Word. The dominating role of Imperial Majesty is perhaps to be seen alongside a striking contemporary parallel. The frontispiece of the Coverdale Bible (1535), designed by Hans Holbein, positioned King Henry at the foot of the page as the inheritor of the roles of Solomon and David. By the time of the appearance of the Great Bible of 1539, he had moved to the top of the page. This was the Bible which, with heavy backing from Cromwell, was intended to be placed in every parish church. Bale's anxiety to get as much done as possible is vindicated by indications that this process took many years to complete.

The two stage characterizations of King Henry discussed here are packed with theatrical or staging details which enable identification to be virtually beyond question. They also give both playwrights a chance to intervene persuasively in specific political contexts and with specific, though differing, political objectives. It is possible that Bale knew of Heywood's play. His attention to books and booksellers in the 1530s is attested, and his role as a dramatist close to the center of political power exercised by Cranmer and Cromwell would make this likely.(29) Perhaps the patronage afforded to him by Cromwell as part of a propaganda machine suggested that Heywood's methods, inherited in part from Skelton, might be adaptable or translatable by Bale.

A last word about Henry himself. He has been given a steadily worsening reputation by G. R. Elton and J. J. Scarisbrick. Elton, commenting on Henry's political victims throughout the reign, says "real viciousness palpably enters these cases only with his personal participation." Scarisbrick calls his pursuit of More and Fisher "vindictive" and notes that on the day of Catherine of Aragon's death he appeared in a yellow costume.(30) Though it is difficult to be certain how unpleasant he actually was and therefore to gauge the risks taken by these dramatists, there is no mistaking the inherently theatrical nature of his kingship. I feel sure that both Bale and Heywood, each with his own keen sense of theater, were close in their perception and exploitation of this factor even though their political objectives as well as their chosen theatrical modes differed.


1 24 Henry VIII, c. 12. 1533, ed. Charles H. Williams, in English Historical Documents, 12 vols. (London and Edinburgh: Eyre and Spottiswood, 1967), vol. 5 (1485-1558), p. 738.

2 In addition to Confutation of Tyndale Part 2, Sir Thomas More published in 1533 the Answer to a Poisonous Book, the Apology of Sir Thomas More Knight, and the Debellacion of Salem and Bizance.

3 J. A. Guy, The Public Career of Sir Thomas More (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1980), p. 174.

4 Richard Marius, Thomas More: A Biography (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1986), p. 424; More, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 9, ed. J. B. Trapp (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1963-), p. xxi.

5 Marius, p. 443.

6 More, vol. 8, ed. Louis A. Schuster, p. 17; 9:113, 8:21.

7 Edward Hall, Henry VIII, ed. Charles Whibley, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, 1904), 2:165.

8 Kenneth Walter Cameron, John Heywood's "Play of the Wether": A Study in Early Tudor Drama (Raleigh NC: Thistle Press, 1941), pp. 18-9, especially p. 19, n. 54.

9 Richard Axton suggests that at line 780 Jupiter has fallen asleep ("Royal Throne, Royal Bed: John Heywood and Spectacle," METh 16 [1994]: 66-75, 72).

10 See Axton and Peter Happe, ed. The Plays of John Heywood (Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1991), p. 51. Greg Walker has an important view of the role of Merry Report as controller of access to the king (Plays of Persuasion: Drama and Politics at the Court of Henry VIII [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991], pp. 140-4). Walker's reading of the political predicament of More and John Heywood is close to mine. I am grateful to him for allowing me to see his chapter "John Heywood and the Politics of Contentment," from his The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 1998), pp. 76-116.

11 John Heywood. The Play of the Wether, in Plays, pp. 183-215, line 191. All citations will be to this edition and hereafter will be made parenthetically in the text.

12 Cameron, p. 20.

13 For a discussion of such devices in A Play of Love, see Happe, "Spectacle in Bale and Heywood," METh 16 (1994): 58-63.

14 Developing points made by Walker, pp. 138, 140, one might even suggest that if Heywood was one of Henry's personal servants, the position might also have given him some immunity'.

15 Line 876; by which she means a "flirt." The phrase also appears in John Skelton's Eleanor Rummyng. line 55; see Skelton, The Complete Poems, ed. John Scattergood (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 215.

16 Guy, p. 141.

17 Seymour Baker House calls Wether "a tacit admission of the royal supremacy," ("Literature, Drama, and Politics," in The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and Piety, ed. Diarmaid MacCulloch (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; London: Macmillan, 1995), pp. 181-202, 184.

18 John Bale, King Johan, in The Complete Plays of John Bale, ed. Happe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1985-86), 1:29-99. All references will be to this edition and will be cited by line numbers parenthetically in the text.

19 The unraveling of the manuscript was achieved principally by John H. Pafford in King Johan by John Bale (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1931).

20 Barry B. Adams. ed., John Bale's "King Johan" (San Marino CA: Huntington Library, 1969), lines 2366-86 n.

21 J. N. King, Tudor Royal Iconography (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1989), p. 87, fig. 20.

22 Dale Hoak, "Iconography of the Crown Imperial," in Tudor Political Culture, ed. Hoak (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 54-103, p. 92, plate 19.

23 Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 269-70: see also p. 270 (and n. 2) for the French ambassador's comments on the frequency of antipapal elements at village entertainments.

24 Susan Brigden, London and the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); Robert Whiting, The Blind Devotion of the People: Popular Religion and the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989); Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1992).

25 G. R. Elton, "Henry VIII," in The Tudors, ed. Joel Hurstfield (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1973), pp. 46-71, 53.

26 MacCulloch, "Henry VIII and the Reform of the Church," in The Reign of Henry VIII, pp. 159-80, 177.

27 J. J. Scarisbrick. Henry VIII (London: Methuen, 1976), p. 437 (and n. 2).

28 Derived ultimately from Psalm 84:10 (Vulg.); cf. 88:15.

29 Bale does not mention Heywood's plays in the entry devoted to him in the Summarium (1548), fol. 235v, but he lists Wether and A Play of Love in the Catalogus (1558-59).

30 Elton, pp. 46-71, 57; Scarisbrick, p. 436.

Peter Happe, retired principal of Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, is a visiting fellow at the University of Southampton (1995-99). He has just published English Drama before Shakespeare for Longmans and is completing an edition of Ben Jonson's The Magnetic Lady for Revels.