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The Misfortunes of Arthur

por Thomas Hughes

Outros autores: Francis Bacon (Contribuidor), Francis Flower (Contribuidor), William Fulbecke (Contribuidor), Nicholas Trotte (Contribuidor)

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First Published in 1992. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
Adicionado recentemente porbaswood, GurneyStreet, Crypto-Willobie
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An interesting but by no means essential play performed (probably for it’s one and only time) in front of Queen Elizabeth I in 1588 at Greenwich. The sources for the play were Geoffrey of Monmouths 'Historia' and Malory’s [Le Morte D’Arthur] and if it did nothing else it helped foster the King Arthur tradition in English literature. The play takes as it’s starting point King Arthurs return from his wars with Rome and ends with his final confrontation with Mordred. It was not written for the popular theatres of London, but as an entertainment for the Queen and her courtiers, it was written in the classical tradition and some passages were little more than translations from the plays of [[Seneca the Younger]]: it looks backwards rather than forwards.

As theatre it pretty much lacks any stage craft and its text written in blank verse is good but not memorable. It has not been deemed suitable for a modern production. The interest for today’s reader is the political aspects of the play as to what it might tell us about the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the mood of her court. Although it was performed in February 1588 just five months before the Spanish Armada, it was written a year earlier about the time that Elizabeth was hesitating as to whether to sign the death warrant for her cousin Mary Queen of Scots: some readers have identified that family relationship with the King Arthur-Mordred relationship in Hughes’ play, but my reading does not come to the same conclusion.

It was a play written by the grouping known as the University wits and their first priority would be to please the queen. The play opens with King Arthur’s court in turmoil; Guenevera is involved in an incestuous relationship with Mordred (here he is Arthur’s son) and they have just been made aware of Arthurs imminent return from the wars. Guenevera seemingly has no remorse and considers either killing Arthur within an hour of seeing him or committing suicide herself, she finally compromises and gets herself off to a Nunnery. Mordred has usurped Arthurs crown as well as his wife and has little trouble in raising an army to challenge Arthur when he arrived on the South coast. Two things immediately stand out as very different from Elizabeth’s reign; she was in complete control of her court with no intention of leaving the country to fight on foreign soil and she was lauded as the virgin queen with no hint of sexual scandal. As the story of Arthur and Mordred pans out they succeed in killing each other, leaving the realm at the mercy of the Danes, the Saxons, the Picts and anybody who felt strong enough to challenge for part of Arthur’s kingdom. The contrast with Queen Elizabeth could not have been greater especially when taking into consideration King Arthur’s legendary reputation. This is Guenevera:

GUENEVERA. The wrath that breatheth blood doth loath to lurk:
What reason most witholds, rage wrings perforce.
I am disdain'd: so will I not be long.
That very hour that he shall first arrive,
Shall be the last that shall afford him life.
Though neither seas, nor lands, nor wars abroad
Sufficed for thy foil, yet shalt thou find
Far worse at home –thy deep-displeased spouse.


A feature of the play are the dumb shows that precede each of the five acts and a commentary by a chorus at the end. The dumb shows in particular are elaborate performances which would only be understood by an educated audience: they were staged by Christopher Yelverton. Francis Bacon, John Lancaster and others. They are the high point of the dramatic presentation because the actual play is more a series of long speeches with all the action taking place off stage, however there are some one liner sharp interchanges in each of the acts, but these seem stilted and do not work well; they seem forced in an effort to create some drama.

The play can be read with modern spelling and for the most part the iambic pentameters work well enough and there are some good passages, however it never really takes off despite it having an interesting story to tell. The fact that most of it happens off stage does not help. A play for those interested in Elizabethan drama and for me a three star read. ( )
2 vote baswood | Apr 16, 2019 |
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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Thomas Hughesautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculated
Bacon, FrancisContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Flower, FrancisContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Fulbecke, WilliamContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Trotte, NicholasContribuidorautor secundáriotodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Corrigan, Brian JayEditorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Farmer, John S.Editorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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First Published in 1992. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

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