Contexts

Historical Contexts: Religious Drama & 'Morality' Plays

The Ideals of Christian Charity and Forgiveness in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and in the Anonymous The Play of the Sacrament

David Bevington

Abstract: In both Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Jewish figures are involved in conflicts with Christians, both plays deal with religious conversion, and in both the moral, spiritual, and ethical superiority of Christian faith seems to triumph. The Play of the Sacrament, an anti-Semitic play about faith and doubt, focuses on the definition of evil and its helplessness in the presence of true belief. The play complicates the idea of 'conversion' as presented in The Three Ladies of London. In Wilson’s play, Gerontus the Jew shows the Christian Mercatore sudden and unexpected forgiveness that rescues the merchant from a false conversion to Islam. Audiences, performers, and critics often interpret the moment with skeptical modern eyes. But the conflict between Christian and Jew in Three Ladies asks to be read in the context of earlier dramas from the ‘Age of Faith’: dramas like the Play of the Sacrament, in which conversion is unexpected and miraculous, and a sign of the divine history of the world in the care of an overseeing providence.

Citation: Bevington, David, ‘The Ideals of Christian Charity and Forgiveness in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and in the Anonymous The Play of the Sacrament’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DavidBevington.htm.

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Anti-Catholicism and Protestant Polemic in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London

Erin Kelly

Abstract: The Three Ladies of London critiques Catholicism not just by associating it with non-English, obviously immoral characters like the Italian Mercadorus but also by linking it to corrupt figures within the English church like the Vice Simony, who favours the priest Peter Pleaseman who has studied in continental colleges over the Protestant preacher Sincerity. As such, Wilson's play bridges mid-sixteenth-century Protestant morality plays and 1580s Protestant print polemic. Recognizing connections to both earlier and later anti-Catholic discourse suggests how many of Wilson's characters might have been presented onstage. More significantly, this relationship between Three Ladies and more explicitly polemical works calls into question arguments that characterize the religious ideology and politics of the Queen's Men as ‘moderate’.

Citation: Kelly, Erin, ‘Anti-Catholicism and Protestant Polemic in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/ErinKelly.htm.

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Simple Judgment and The Three Ladies of London

Lloyd Edward Kermode

Abstract: This essay is an initial attempt to understand the moral use of the concept of simplicity in The Three Ladies of London. It studies the conflict in the play (and arguably in Wilson himself) between the desire to produce ‘moral drama’ (ie theatre that presents moral issues for the betterment of its audiences) and the conservative religious conviction that the theatre is inherently bad. The play assumes that simplicity and singleness denote purity and perfection whereas duality entails antagonism, rebellion, and deception (Dissimulation); in the context of the theatre, whose very existence depends on deception, disguise, and duality, the attempt to present moral goodness and simple faith seems like a difficult task, if not an impossibility. The second part of the essay uses Gosson’s critique of the stage as a theatre of moral and political judgment to assess Wilson’s success or failure in combining his moral message with his immoral medium.

Citation: Kermode, Lloyd Edward, ‘Simple Judgment and The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/LloydKermode.htm.

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The Spotting of Lady Conscience in The Three Ladies of London

Andrea Stevens

Abstract: The allegorical figure of ‘Usury’ brings on stage a ‘paynted boxe of incke’ out of which Lady ‘Lucre’ paints the face of Lady ‘Conscience’, possibly in full view of the audience. The ‘painted box’ likely contained black face paint: by 1581, besmirching the face with black paint was a common method for signaling ugliness and moral corruption. In scripting this scenario from beauty to blackness, Wilson was invoking a complex performance tradition, from the symbolic use of blackface in late medieval drama, to the similarly symbolic use of blackness in Tudor interludes and morality plays, and finally to the use of blackface paint to signify racial difference in court masques and popular plays. This paper considers the dramatic analogues for this scene (in performances that both pre- and post-date The Three Ladies of London) before addressing how Wilson exploits the real-world religious, cultural, and medical associations of face paints to reinforce his allegorical narrative of the fall of Conscience.

Citation: Stevens, Andrea, ‘The Spotting of Lady Conscience in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/AndreaStevens.htm.

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Wilson, Tarlton, and the Scourge of Simony in Elizabethan Drama

Paul Whitfield White

Abstract: I argue 1) that Wilson’s London plays, like The Return from Parnassus, Part 2, focuses on simony as a problem of lay rather than ecclesiastical patronage of church benefices; 2) that the significant parallels between Three Ladies and the court jest ‘How a parsonage fell into Tarlton’s hands’ suggests that Queen Elizabeth is implicated in simoniacal abuses, that Tarlton himself performed the role of Simplicity in Three Ladies, and the lead role in another Queen’s Men play on 'Don John’s Cellar' satirizing simony; 3) that the satire in these entertainments represents the universal outcry in Elizabethan England against governing-class lay patrons who buy and sell multiple clerical livings, nominate extremist or unqualified candidates, or siphon off tithes for personal profit; 4) that this financial racket, parallel in the sacred sphere to usury in the secular world, is illustrated via the court ‘gallant’ Simony (‘dainty diamond knaue’) who, in Three Ladies, takes a financial cut from the corrupt Peter Pleaseman’s benefice but denies one to Sincerity, the godly minister.

Citation: White, Paul Whitfield, ‘Wilson, Tarlton, and the Scourge of Simony in Elizabethan Drama’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/PaulWhite.htm.

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