Images: Wikipedia [click on image for a larger view]
Title page of the first printed edition. It depicts the Fat Bishop saying “Keep your distance”, and the Black Knight tempting him with “A letter from his holiness”. The characters’ faces are caricatures of de Dominis and Gondomar.
Written by: Thomas Middleton
Date premiered : August, 1624
Place premiered: Globe Theatre, London
Original language: English
Subject: Anglo-Spanish relations, Protestantism and Catholicism
Genre: Satire, allegory
Setting: A chessboard
Chess is a game where there is a war taking place. [luckily without violence and blood] The chessboard is a very popular setting to depict situations or to learn lessons – from the past as well as current. Chess is also popular in movies. On THIS LINK I’ve posted an entry about chess and the movies.
I was searching for something completely different – than chess – when I came across this play – about chess – and really enjoyed reading about it. I’ve copied from the link, but you can read on the Wikipedia link more about the Acts, the Scenes and the characters in this play. Interesting:
The play was stopped after nine performances (August 6–16, Sundays omitted), but not before it had become “the greatest box-office hit of early modern London.
Please click HERE to read more about the play on Wikipedia.
King James I of England, model for the White King
King Philip IV of Spain, model for the Black King
Count Duke of Olivares, model for the Black Duke [Rook]
The drama seems to be about a chess match, and even contains a genuine chess opening: the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Instead of personal names, the characters are known as the White Knight, the Black King, etc. However, audiences immediately recognized the play as an allegory for the stormy relationship between Spain (the black pieces) and Great Britain (the white pieces). King James I of England is the White King; King Philip IV of Spain is the Black King. In particular, the play dramatizes the struggle of negotiations over the proposed marriage of the then Prince Charles with the Spanish princess, the Infanta Maria. It focuses on the journey by Prince Charles (the “White Knight”) and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (the “White Duke”, or rook) to Madrid in 1623.
Among the secondary targets of the satire was the former Archbishop of Split, Marco Antonio de Dominis, who was caricatured as the Fat Bishop (played by William Rowley). De Dominis was a famous turncoat of his day: he had left the Roman Catholic Church to join the Anglican Church—and then returned to Rome again. The traitorous White King’s Pawn is a composite of several figures, including Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, a former Lord Treasurer who was impeached before the House of Lords in April 1624.
The former Spanish ambassador to London, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, conde de Gondomar, was blatantly satirized and caricatured in the play as the Machiavellian Black Knight. (The King’s Men went so far as to buy discarded items of Gondomar’s wardrobe for the role.) His successor recognized the satire and complained to King James. His description of the crowd’s reaction to the play yields a vivid picture of the scene:
- There was such merriment, hubbub and applause that even if I had been many leagues
- away it would not have been possible for me not to have taken notice of it.
The play was stopped after nine performances (August 6–16, Sundays omitted), but not before it had become “the greatest box-office hit of early modern London”. The Privy Council opened a prosecution against the actors and the author of the play on Aug. 18 (it was then illegal to portray any modern Christian king on the stage). The Globe Theatre was shut down by the prosecution, though Middleton was able to acquit himself by showing that the play had been passed by the Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert. Nevertheless, further performance of the play was forbidden and Middleton and the actors were reprimanded and fined. Middleton never wrote another play.
An obvious question arises: if the play was clearly offensive, why did the Master of the Revels license it on July 12 of that summer? Herbert may have been acting in collusion with the “war party” of the day, which included figures as prominent as Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham; they were eager for a war with Spain and happy to see public ire roused against the Spanish. If this is true, Middleton and the King’s Men were themselves pawns in a geopolitical game of chess.