The winner of the prestigious Wolfson Prize for history 2019 has praised the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for supporting curiosity-driven research that “helps people really understand the past”.
People across England and Wales are being invited to share their own poetry about the places they live in and love as part of an ambitious plan to create a digital map of Poetry for England and Wales.
These textiles explore the influence of content, cloth and context on viewer perceptions. The images were developed to create a visual narrative about the experiences of John Edgar Bell, a Quaker and conscientious objector in WW1.
Underpinning the project was the concept of ‘practice-based research’: the idea that new forms of knowledge might be generated about texts, ideas, and spaces by recreating historical performances, over and above those created by literary, archival, or archaeological research alone. In this case we aimed to see what additional understandings of Lyndsay’s Satire and the culture which produced and received it could be created by performing a version of the 1540 interlude in its original setting in Linlithgow Palace and in Stirling Castle, and the 1552 text in Linlithgow Palace’s grounds, known locally as the Peel. Intensive rehearsals in Glasgow and Linlithgow brought together academics and theatre professionals to work on the script, set design, and costumes over five months from January to May 2013.
The play has long been assumed to have spoken powerfully to early-modern Scottish audiences about their sense of individual and national identity, and their engagement with the political process in a period of dramatic political and religious uncertainty. But what might it say to modern spectators when performed in its entirety at a moment when such issues were once again under intense scrutiny? The project offered the academics and actors a unique opportunity to test their hypotheses about the Satire’s enduring capacity to move and challenge spectators and embody a political message as relevant to modern audiences as to their Stuart forebears.
The Three Estates speaks powerfully not only to lovers of Renaissance theatre, but also to a wider spectrum of Scottish society. It stages social and religious reform, and its strident, vulgar advocacy of the rights of the poor, and of women, has made it an icon of an alternative, popular Scottish history. It inspired John McGrath’s ground-breaking 1970’s drama, The Cheviot, The Stage, and the Black, Black Oil and his critique of the newly globalised media, A Satire of the Fourth Estate. And its influence can be seen in the strong tradition of ‘alternative’ Scottish popular theatre.
‘What is ane king?’, the play asks at one point, answering, ‘nought but ane officer’, appointed by God to serve the people: a potentially radical view of the divine right of kings. It also condemns an over-powerful established church, and speaks memorably of the sufferings of the labouring poor. But at the same time it condemns all those who will not work, the shirkers of all social classes, in ways that suggest the agenda of the modern political right. And it widens its attack to include jugglers, poets and minstrels – hinting at post-Reformation Kirk suspicions of music, dance and the Arts that inform stereotypical aspects of Scottish identity to this day.
Reconstructing the 1540 interlude from the eye-witness description revealed just how much of the 1552 play was already there in 1540. Despite their very different political contexts, the two evidently shared a desire to open up the political sphere to the needs of the commonwealth and to reform the governance of church and state. What had changed between the two productions was the death of James V, which robbed the nation of the readiest agent of political and social reform. In the absence of a king to whom he might address his concerns the playwright refashioned the play for a Scotland in which political authority and the will to reform were considerably more precarious, fragmented, and internally conflicted.
Working on the texts and contexts of the play suggests just how robust Scottish court and civic culture must have been in the mid-sixteenth century, how open to criticism and vigorous debate, in ways that other Renaissance courts and public spheres seem not to have been. It also suggests how versatile, accommodating, and implicitly democratic were both the dramatic form and the Middle Scots language in this period. That Lyndsay could use the same dialect, and broadly the same lexicon to voice both a Cupar tailor and the king of Scotland, a poor cottar and the archangel Michael, suggests a capaciousness and social inclusivity to Scots ‘Inglish’ that was seemingly not available to English writers of the same period.