Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

Scottish Histories: Robert Greene's James the Fourth (C. 1590) in the Light (and Shadow) of David Lyndsay's Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (1552)

Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

Scottish Histories: Robert Greene's James the Fourth (C. 1590) in the Light (and Shadow) of David Lyndsay's Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (1552)

Article excerpt

The approach of this essay is frankly intertextual, not only because the English and Scottish plays at its centre are inextricable from large political issues and their multiple discursive expression, but also because the question of direct influence must finally remain indeterminate. Robert Greene would seem unlikely, on the face of it, to have had access to a text of the Satyre. It was partly (but not wholly) on textual grounds that Douglas Hamer, the editor in the 1930s of David Lyndsay's Works, dismissed any idea that the Satyre influenced English drama at all, although he did not pursue the question as far as Greene. (2) In any case, the argument for inaccessibility depends strictly on negative evidence: the fact that there is no trace of a printing before the 1602 Edinburgh edition of Robert Charteris. Yet nothing proves there wasn't one, or more--if so, probably by Robert's father Henry--prior to Greene's composition of The Scottish History of James the Fourth. It is notable that Robert made no claim in 1602 to be publishing the Satyre for the first time. Nor is it included in his several subsequent collections of Lyndsay's Warkis, which derive from the volumes his father had begun to issue in 1568 and reissued through the 1570s, 1580s and 1590s; the latter, therefore, form a quite independent strand of production from which nothing can be inferred about the Satyre.

Then, too, since there was demonstrably a manuscript, or manuscripts, of the Satyre--including the one Robert Charteris printed from and the one George Bannatyne copied (and adapted), seemingly in the 1560s (3)--circulation in that form is also conceivable. Improbable as it appears that Greene might have seen such a manuscript, the manifold and urgent involvements of the English government in Scottish affairs through the 1580s--involvements implicating members of the London publishing and theatrical milieux ranging from Thomas Vautrollier to Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon (4)--might just have produced that result. As for Greene's possible interest, the image still dominating criticism of the dissipated dilettante divided between cony-catching criminality, pastoral fantasy and ostentatious penitence needs to accommodate at least two religious propaganda pamphlets not out of line with his Scottish play: one (from 1585) aimed scornfully at Catholicism generally and one (from the post-Armada year of 1589) gloating in caricature over its recent Spanish humiliation. (5) These productions led Arthur Freeman to speak of 'a side of the man's character which has remained obscure', (6) but they might equally, given Greene's precarious finances and the English government's sponsorship of controversialist interventions, represent commissions accepted for pragmatic reasons.

From the broader perspective of cultural transmission, given the multiple reissues of Lyndsay's collected works prior to and including that of 1590, some copies of some of which must have made their way south of the Tweed, Greene and many of his potential spectators are likely at least to have known of the Satyre. Henry Charteris, early in his prefatory epistle to the reader, gives a summary description of its contents, dramatic method and circumstances of performance (in Edinburgh in 1554). (7) This is part, moreover, of a vivid evocation of Lyndsay personally as a disaffected courtier and dauntless critic of corruption in Scotland, particularly in the Catholic clergy, one who exploited his privileged relation with the monarch yet escaped charges of heresy by the skin of his teeth--not to mention the grace of God, although Charteris abundandy does so from his militantly Reformist point of view. All his editions follow the epistle, moreover, with an unsigned verse 'adhortation'--the 1582 edition terms it 'Ane Adhortatioun of all Estatis, to the reiding of this present warkis' (8)--in which corrupt 'Oppressouris of the pure' in all stations are summoned to learn their lesson from the author. …

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