A Satire of the Three Estates

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.

Production Details:

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.

  • Image of The Young King, Rex Humanitas (James Mackenzie) surrounded by the vices who
    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
  • Image of The working script.
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  • Image of Rehearsals begin.
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  • Image of The Clergy.
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  • Image of The set on the Peel, Linlithgow.
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  • Image of Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson) with Linlithgow Palace behind.
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  • Image of Dame Sensuality and her ladies.
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  • Image of Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm) drives off Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson)
    Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm) drives off Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson) about Deceit (Jimmy Chisholm) drives off Good Counsel (Gerda Stevenson)
  • Image of Divine Correction (Tam Dean Burn) promises reform.
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  • Image of Diligence (Liam Brennan) is ready as prompt with Chastity (Cara Kelly) in the foreground.
    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.
  • Image of Pauper (David McKay) begs for alms among the audience.
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  • Image of The Vices are hanged.
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  • Image of Folly (Gerry Mulgrew) preaches his sermon.
    Folly (Gerry Mulgrew) preaches his sermon. about Folly (Gerry Mulgrew) preaches his sermon.