Academic journal article Early Theatre

The Politics of Horse-Racing and Regional Identity in the Humorous Magistrate

Academic journal article Early Theatre

The Politics of Horse-Racing and Regional Identity in the Humorous Magistrate

Article excerpt

In their respective treatments of the amateur household play The Humorous Magistrate, Mary Polito, Jean-Sebastien Windle, and Margaret Jane Kidnie have noted several significant differences between the two extant manuscript versions. (1) In addition to lacking the prologue and epilogue that appear in the Arbury 414 version (itself heavily revised), the copy purchased by Edgar Osborne omits one character entirely, a figure described by Polito and Windle as 'Scottish Jony, a horseman'. (2) This omission entails the removal of hundreds of lines; none of the character's speeches are reallocated to other characters, nor are the dialogues in which he takes part reproduced even partially in the later copy's version of the play.

As with any apparent omission or emendation in two versions of any play-text, the omission of Jony raises questions about the agent or agents responsible for the differences we detect; the differences themselves likewise invite consideration of the impact of such lacunae on the plays' plot and thematic content. Moreover, much like the variants found among printed plays produced and licensed for performance at the public theatres, the differences between the Arbury and Osborne copies encourage us to examine social and historical contexts as well as other literary works as factors that may have occasioned variants in the manuscripts. Polito and Windle have presented convincing cases for dating each manuscript, establishing the Arbury copy's composition between 1632 and 1637, and the Osborne's composition shortly after 1640. (3) The range of likely dates for both manuscripts locates the composition and revision of the play within a period of escalating conflict between England and its neighbour to the north and growing discontent between subject and crown within England itself.

Because the play offers two examples of amateur household drama in manuscript form, Jony's presence and absence may also provide insight into the lives of English subjects in the country in those years. Jony's character is configured in the Arbury copy of the play primarily in brief exchanges with his master, Wild, a young man whose recreational pursuits involve riding, racing, and wagering on horses. Jony apparently cares for and prepares the horses for riding and racing and thus his lines not only provide accounts of these animals' condition but also give readers a rather colourful impression of Wild's leisure activities and the labour of 'jockeying' as it is dutifully performed by his man. As I will argue here, Jony's removal in the Osborne copy bears the traces of a complex and compelling negotiation of larger political developments that had a bearing on both the state and local pleasures.

Among the many questions raised by the omission, this essay primarily focuses on two broad facets of Jony's characterization: his dialect and his profession. Because Jony's dialect provides somewhat inconclusive evidence about whether he was intended to represent an Englishman from the north or a Scot, we cannot positively identify his speech as a regional form of English or as the voice of what Shakespeare's Henry V referred to as England's 'giddy neighbor' (1.2.145). (4) Nonetheless, I read the verbal markers of regional identity embedded in Jony's speech and his subsequent omission from the later work as an unambiguous act of erasure of cultural difference from the play. Along with the removal of other passages that resonate with the northern or Scottish sensibility that the horseman brings to the text, the Osborne copy, I will suggest, seems to indicate a concerted effort to remove any marker of geographical diversity and site specificity from the social world of the play.

I will consider, in this regard, the potential impact of the deteriorating relationship between England and Scotland in the late 1630s, exemplified in the rise and fall of James Arran, the Scottish marquis of Hamilton, at one time Charles I's master of the horse and, later, his chief advisor on Scottish affairs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.