Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

Pathos and Politics in John Banks' Vertue Betray'd, or Anna Bullen (1682)

Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

Pathos and Politics in John Banks' Vertue Betray'd, or Anna Bullen (1682)

Article excerpt

Crescit sub Pondere Virtus.

[Virtue thrives ever under oppression.]1

The place of pathos in English culture and civic life was being reconce ived as John Banks wrote his series of four history plays for the London stage in the early 1680s. Recent work on early modern theories of the passions has made clear that the relationship between pathos and action was die subject of productive scrutiny in seventeenth-century medical, theological, literary, and philosophical texts.2 On one hand, writers trained in the Scholastic tradition deriving from Aristotle via Augustine and Aquinas inherited a view of the passions as powerful, even essential, prompts to virtuous action and located ethical deliberation "not in their eviction but in their proper orientation" (Schoenfeldt, "Commotion" 52). 3 On the other hand, medical discourses derived from Galen imagined the humoral self as the passive subject of transitory and potentially dangerous passions that operated on the body from outside its fungible economy of liquid humors and threatened to upset its delicate humoral balance.4 Discussions of the place of pathos in English civic life drew freely on both discourses, as well as on a host of Protestant, Catholic recusant, Stoic, republican, and royalist traditions that differed markedly in their approach to appeals to the emotions in political contexts. 5

The aim of this article is to demonstrate how John Banks' Vertue Betray 'd, or Anna Bullen partially resolves the tension between available models of the passions by presenting the species of passion known as sympatiiy or compassion as a necessary precondition for virtuous political action. Vertue Betray 'd depicts the rise and fall of Anna Bullen (Anne Boleyn) as a principled "Lutheran Queen" (1.1.3) who falls victim to royal tyranny allied with Catholic conspiracy. In Anna's story, two dominant ways of looking at the passions - as enemies to virtuous action and as precursors to it - collide abruptly. The result, I would argue, is an early affective tragedy that politicizes affective response in ways that qualify traditional views of seventeenth-century historical drama as degenerating into essentially apolitical romance. 6

Employing in its first production run both Elizabeth Barry as Anna and Thomas Betterton as her former lover Piercy, Vertue Betray 'd became one of the most popular and enduring plays of its type, remaining in the repertoire of the London theaters until the middle of die eighteenth century.7 It is a carefully constructed play, and there is circumstantial evidence that Banks may have produced an alternate version or draft - an enigmatic manuscript of uncertain date and provenance in the holdings of the Huntington Library that is entitled Anna Bullen and bears an obvious resemblance to the printed play. While conclusive proof is lacking, I am persuaded in the main by Edythe Backus' argument based on textual evidence that this eighteenth-century manuscript, which I will refer to by its call number as Huntington MS 973, represents an early draft of Vertue Betray 'd.8

Banks draws on heterogeneous sources in the manuscript and printed play. In presenting Anna as a Reformation martyr, Banks follows a tradition of Protestant hagiography extending back to John Foxe's Book of Martyrs? Into this established tradition, Banks injects more contemporary accounts of the sorrows of Anne Boleyn and Princess Elizabeth to be found in the newly-popular French "secret histories" being translated into English in the early 1680s. The story of Anna's childhood romance with Piercy (Henry Percy), for example, is taken from Madame d'Aulnoy's The Novels of Elizabeth Queen of England; Containing the History of Queen Ann of Bullen (1680). 10 Banks' characterization of the princess also reworks and expands Shakespeare and Fletcher's treatment of the infant Elizabeth in Henry VTII, as discussed more fully below.

As the diversity of its sources may already suggest, the resulting play crosses generic boundaries freely. …

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