Historical Contexts: Simony

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,

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