Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Epilogues, Prayers after Plays, and Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Epilogues, Prayers after Plays, and Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV

Article excerpt

Recently, the subject of play-endings--in particular, the way plays may have concluded differently at court and in the public theatre--has provoked a flurry of interest. Two possibly Shakespearean epilogues are behind this new preoccupation. James Shapiro has suggested, looking at the moment in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV when the speaker kneels down "But (indeed) to pray for the Queene" (TLN 3350), that Shakespeare angled his epilogue towards court performance; he believes the epilogue to the play as we have it combines two texts, a public theatre epilogue, spoken by William Kemp and leading up to a jig ("Kemp's repeated mention of his legs and dancing signals that a jig ... is about to begin"), and a court epilogue, spoken by Shakespeare, ending in a prayer for the monarch (Shapiro, 38). (1) Michael Hattaway, looking at a freestanding epilogue sometimes attributed to Shakespeare, "As the diall hand tells ore / ye same howers yt had before", attributes its supplication to the "mighty Queen" to the fact that terminal prayers "common in the early Tudor period", continued to occur later. He joins Shapiro in maintaining that prayers for the monarch at the end of plays were "as common at court and private performances as terminal jigs were in the amphitheatre playhouses" (Hattaway, 163, 154).

Both Shapiro and Hattaway do an important service in highlighting the complex relationship between monarch, prayer and epilogue, that is to be found scattered throughout printed plays up to at least 1619 when Two Wise Men and All the Rest Fools had an epilogue that maintains "all our hearts pray for the King, and his families enduring happinesse, and our countries perpetuall welfare" (O2v). What this article will question, however, is the idea that a concluding prayer indicates specifically a court production. Though epilogues directed to the monarch--and therefore necessitating his or her presence--do exist, it will argue, there also seem to have been public playhouse prayers about the monarch that did not demand the dignitary to be there. Of these, it will agree that the "Dial Hand" was a prayer to a monarch attending performance, but will suggest that the section of epilogue leading to a prayer in Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV may reflect a public or touring performance. Exploring the notion that prayers were regularly spoken on public occasions, though irregularly recorded in playbooks, it will raise questions important to theatre historians, editors and actors: on what words and opinions do plays of the time--in any variety of theatre--actually come to an end, and which epilogues (and linked plays) record moments of popular production?

References indicate a variety of addresses to be said after (but sometimes in) an epilogue that necessitate the monarch's actual presence. They sometimes take the form of prayers, but are more often supplications to the monarch (rather than God). Instances include the moments in which the Epilogue becomes cognisant of the audience and "notices" the monarch. (2) Such addresses, clearly for the court, often broadcast as much in their titles. "The epilogue at Court" to Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus entreats "O deere Goddesse / Breathe life in our nombd spirits with one smile" (L3v); at the "presentation before Queene E." of Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humor, Macilente recites how "Envie is fled my soule, at sight of her" (175). On other occasions the dignitary is humbly acknowledged by the Epilogue; in the conclusion to A Pleasant Comedie, shewing the Contention betweene, Liberalitie and Prodigalitie "Vertue, Equitie, Liberalitie, Judge, and all come downe before the Queene" (F4r), and Vertue prostrates himself "before your Princely grace"; the "Dial Hand" epilogue, which is called "to ye Q. by ye players 1598", is of a similar kind: the speaker there bows to "yt Empresse ... now" (Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.5.75). Other court epilogues are physically interactive; they force the monarch to enter their semi-fiction by presenting him or her with a gift. …

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