Sir David Lyndsay’s Ane Satire of the Thrie Estaitis (‘A Satire of the Three Estates’) is one of only two surviving sixteenth century Scottish plays. As such it would have a seminal status for Scottish literary history regardless of its quality. But it is also a remarkable piece of dramatic literature, as challenging and radical in political terms as it is dramaturgically innovative. Its theme is the failure of Scottish governance. It charts the fall into vice of a young king, and laments the impoverishment of the commonwealth through the self-interest of the aristocracy and clergy. The solution it offers is root and branch reform, both of the king’s behaviour and the realm at large, inspired by God’s revenging angel, Divine Correction, and engineered through a Parliament (the three Estates of the title) which forms the second half of the play.
The play was performed only twice, both outdoors, once in Cupar, Fife (1552), then in Edinburgh (1554), before an audience of citizens, the regent, Mary of Guise (mother to the future Mary Queen of Scots), and the ‘greater part of the nobility of Scotland’. It was said to have lasted eight hours. There was also another performance which sounds very like Lyndsay’s drama a decade earlier in 1540, at Linlithgow Palace, before a courtly audience of King James V, Queen Mary, and the royal council. All that survives of this play, however, is an eye-witness account which describes the principal action and James’ reaction to it.
The project, funded by the AHRC, brought together drama scholars, historians, archaeologists, curators, and theatre professionals to work on the play on the page and in performance, to explore the relationship between the lost interlude and the surviving texts, and to discover both what it meant to Scottish performers and audiences in the sixteenth century and what it might mean now.
The Satire of the Three Estates: Performed on the Peel, Linlithgow, 6-9th June, 2013
The Interlude of 1540: Performed in the Great Hall, Linlithgow Palace, 10-11th June and the Great Hall, Stirling Castle, 13th and 14th June 2013.
The Young King, Rex Humanitas (James Mackenzie) surrounded by the vices who
about The Young King, Rex Humanitas (James Mackenzie) surrounded by the vices who
will bring him to ruin. Clockwise from top left, Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm), Covetice (Martin Docherty), Falset (Barrie Hunter) and the musician and Licent (Annie Grace).
The working script.
about The working script.
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.
about Rehearsals begin.
Oppression (George Drennen) practices his wiles on Theft (Stephen Docherty). The project was a collaboration between drama scholars (Greg Walker (Edinburgh), Tom Betteridge (Brunel), and Eleanor Rycroft, (now Bristol)), an art historian (Sally Rush, Glasgow), and film scholar (Ann Gray, Lincoln)), working with the curatorial and interpretative staff at Historic Scotland and AandBC Theatre Company, led by the director Gregory Thompson. A large research grant from the AHRC allowed us to employ a stellar cast of professional Scottish actors, each of whom brought their own insights to the project, and to Enthuse TV, directed by Richard Jack, to film the productions in HD digital video for open-access presentation on the project website. http://www.stagingthescottishcourt.org/
about The Clergy.
Clockwise from the top, Parson (Michael Daviot), Spirituality (Tom McGovern), Prioress (Angela Darcy) and Abbot (Peter Kenny). Working with Greg Walker and Ellie Rycroft, Gregory Thompson turned recreating the lost 1540 script into the subject of a new interlude, making the academic challenges of recovering the lost performance the subject of its own drama. The project’s outreach team (Carrie Anne Newman and Neville Miller) engaged local people, school and college classes, and disadvantaged youngsters in discussions about the problems of Scottish identity and politics raised in the play. A series of public lectures in Linlithgow shared with Historic Scotland discussed the history, architecture, and culture of the Scottish Renaissance, and workshops for drama teachers explored aspects of the Satire in performance. ‘The Cupar Banns’, a short, bawdy advertisement for the 1552 performance toured local towns, culminating in a performance outside the Scottish Parliament.
The set on the Peel, Linlithgow.
about The set on the Peel, Linlithgow.
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.
Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson) with Linlithgow Palace behind.
about Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson) with Linlithgow Palace behind.
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.
Dame Sensuality and her ladies.
about Dame Sensuality and her ladies.
From left, Danger (Helen McAlpine), Fund Jonet (Joyce Falconer), Hamelines (Sally Reid), and Sensuality (Ruth Milne). The Three Estates is a play that most Scots think they know. But what we know is actually a very partial version of the play (in every sense). For the Tyrone Guthrie production of 1948 used a script (edited by Robert Kemp) which cut the text by roughly two thirds, removing the more vulgar sexual satire and much of the serious engagement with politics. And since 1948 it has been variations on that bowdlerised version that people have seen, and which has informed their sense of Scotland’s dramatic and political history.
Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm) drives off Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson)
about Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm) drives off Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson)
Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm) drives off Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson), with John Keilty (The composer and director of music) and his troupe behind. ‘Staging and Representing the Scottish Court’ took the play back to its roots – literally, in that it sought to ‘recover’ and restage the 1540 interlude in the same hall for which it was written – and by producing the full five-hour outdoor version so people can see it for the first time since 1554 in all its complex, bewildering grandeur. Our aim was both to discover what we could about the play’s relationship with its original settings, and what it suggests about Renaissance culture in Scotland, but also to test what it means to Scottish audiences now, when presented whole, rather than cut to reflect modern agendas.
Divine Correction (Tam Dean Burn) promises reform.
about Divine Correction (Tam Dean Burn) promises reform.
‘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.
Diligence (Liam Brennan) is ready as prompt with Chastity (Cara Kelly) in the foreground.
about Diligence (Liam Brennan) is ready as prompt with Chastity (Cara Kelly) in the foreground.
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.
Pauper (David McKay) begs for alms among the audience.
about Pauper (David McKay) begs for alms among the audience.
It became increasingly clear through the rehearsals that it is the arrival of Pauper in the play that turns a broadly allegorical play about the redemption of a king into a powerfully realistic play about political and social reform. He enters the arena during an interval, as the other actors are leaving the stage. He comes begging for help him get to St. Andrews, where he hopes the ecclesiastical courts will help him to get back the cows that his vicar has seized from him in death duties. So at first the audience is unsure whether he is part of the play or not, whether his demands are fictional or all too real. And that is clearly the point. Pauper introduces not only a new tone to the drama; he brings a whole new social class and agenda into the purview of the British stage. Here is an uneducated, working man sharing the stage with princes and their advisors, and sharing the same language and register with them. His needs seem concrete and immediate, and he speaks to the king and to God’s avenging archangel without fear or favour, daring to suggest what he would do if he were king, or even pope. No equivalent figure can be found in Shakespeare, nor indeed in British drama as a whole, until the modern era.
The Vices are hanged.
about The Vices are hanged.
From left, Theft (Stephen Docherty), Falsehood (Barrie Hunter), and Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm). Flattery (Billy Riddoch) acts as hangman. And, as Falsehood dies, a raven (bottom left) flies up ‘as if it were his soul’, as the script demands. The Three Estates is a complex, uneasy play which explores how notions of Scottish nationhood, politics, national character and identity were debated at a seminal moment in history, the decades prior to the Reformation. It retains the power to touch nerves in contemporary Scotland and speak to issues of pressing importance, not least at moments when national identity, good governance, the causes and consequences of poverty, and the moral responsibilities of governors and churchmen are once again at the forefront of the (inter)national conversation.
Folly (Gerry Mulgrew) preaches his sermon.
about Folly (Gerry Mulgrew) preaches his sermon.
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.