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Pauper (David McKay) begs for alms among the audience.

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.