“University Fools” at Tours

EDOX researchers Elisabeth Dutton and James McBain were invited to speak at the XIVth Tudor Theatre Round Table, held on the 3-4 September at the Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance in Tours.

Wee Three Loggerheads

Wee Three Loggerheads, c. 1600-25.

The conference continued its recent theme of Folly, this time focusing on “Folly’s Family, Folly’s Children”, and Dutton and McBain presented “University Fools”, a paper developed from research into Grobiana’s Nuptials, which was staged at St. John’s College in January 1637. The original performance is notable for having been securely documented; the play is mentioned in a letter from Richard Baylie, Vice-Chancellor of the University as well as President of St. John’s, to William Laud, Chancellor and notable St. John’s alumnus, thus:

Young Charles May presented us with a mock-shew on Saturday last, ye subject was slovenrie it selfe, ye marriage of Grobian’s daughter to Tantoblin; but ye cariadg and acting soe hansom and cleane, that I was not better pleased with a merriment these many yeares.[1]

As one might expect from Baylie’s brief description, and indeed from its engagement with the pan-European tradition of Grobianism, the play contains more than its fair share of scatological and ‘uncivil’ humour. But, as the EDOX paper argued, it is simultaneously an extremely clever and inventive work that develops references to a wide range of intertexts, drawn from professional theatre and popular literature as well as more conventional scholarly material.# Above all, Grobiana’s Nuptials is insistently metatheatrical, considering what it is to perform whilst delighting in playing, and it therefore deserves to be considered alongside more familiar defences of the value of academic drama.

Little is known about Charles May, other than some details of his family and that he matriculated on 4 July 1634 aged 15 and then took his BA in 1638. The play, complete with its extensive references, is all the more impressive as the sole extant work of an Oxford undergraduate. The full research will be published in a forthcoming volume of essays, edited by Professor Richard Hillman.

# Visitors directed here via our Twitter feed might well have recognised that the quoted line from Tantoblin’s soliloquy, “Is shitten come shites the beginninge of love?”, is developed from a proverb – a category of reference that spans both learned and popular sources. Incidentally, in a diary entry of 17 April 1661, Samuel Pepys records how he met with Mr Allen of Chatham at the Mitre and “did get of him the song that pleased me so well there the other day, ‘Of Shitten come Shites the beginning of love’”. Pepys might well be referring here to a ballad later printed as “The Youngman’s careless wooing…All done out of old English Proverbs”, and so Tantoblin’s line might also be derived from popular song.

[1] REED: Oxford, 1, p. 556.