Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Chapter Five: Public Enactments, Gender, Community and Language

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Chapter Five: Public Enactments, Gender, Community and Language

Article excerpt

Previous chapters have made clear that, if we define Scottish drama and theatre in inappropriate terms, we will fail to see its rich origins. James Shapiro in an illuminating television documentary series about the reaction of Shakespeare to the arrival in London of James VI, their subsequent relationship and its impact on the dramatist's play writing concerns, observed that when James reigned in Scotland alone, it 'had no theatres'.1 This is strictly true in the sense that in common with many other places in Europe at the time Scotland did not have playhouses on the model developed in London in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign. Indeed, in that, Scotland was closer to the European cultural norm than England. That did not mean, however, as we have seen, that, lacking theatre as defined by playhouses, Scotland (or the rest of Europe) did not have theatre. What it had was, of course, public and private spaces in which plays were performed. These included, not least James's Scottish court and, as we have seen, the courts of his predecessors, whether his grandfather James V, who saw David Lindsay's Interlude, the first short version of his Thrie Estaitis in his great hall in Linlithgow Palace, or his remoter ancestor Alexander III, whose marriage was enlivened by an early form of the court masque to which we have already referred.

There may have been no theatres in Scotland in the definition Shapiro implicitly employs, but there were many playfields, not least those at Stirling where poor Kyllour's play was performed and at Cupar and Edinburgh, where Lindsay's play was presented during the regency of James's grandmother, Mary of Guise. In other words, we have to be alert to the risk of category error: we may miss the theatre there was because we define 'theatre' too narrowly - or in fact quite inappropriately. As the last chapter has shown, there is a considerable range of theatrical drama to be found in the Scotland before and after the Reformation which is too often and too simply supposed to have suppressed and oppressed drama. If George Buchanan wrote his two original and important dramatic masterpieces not for a playhouse, but for the pupils he was teaching and those plays, in turn, became widely published and produced across Europe and influenced the later development of professionally staged neoclassical theatre, then we need to be sensitised to the varieties and potentially, to a modem mind, unexpected range of theatre at his time and since.

It clearly did not matter to Buchanan's contemporaries that his work was not premièred in a professional playhouse. If that is so, any definition of theatre during his period, not to mention earlier and later, has to be able to cover a wide range of theatrical activity. Otherwise, we risk excluding vibrant drama because it does not easily or obviously fit the definitional frameworks we are used to employing. In such an exclusion, we migrate the limitations of the practices of an Eliotesque monolingual or Leavisite 'Great' tradition to the study of theatre, and specifically in this case Scottish theatre. Of course and nevertheless, this does not mean that received definitions of theatre in terms of playhouse provision must be entirely abandoned in thinking about Scottish drama, but a more nuanced and broader understanding is required.

Bearing this caveat in mind, this chapter considers the diverse and divergent ways in which Scottish dramatic and theatre provision expressed itself in a variety of styles and modes throughout the later eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. As the last chapter has shown, there was a wide variety of dramatic expression in post-Reformation Scotland of which playhouse and professional theatre was an interesting, but not always a particularly important or central, part. Nevertheless, there was a steady, if, as we have seen, slow-starting expansion of the provision of legitimate theatre in playhouses in Scotland during the eighteenth century. …

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