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Posts Tagged ‘Tudors’

The new film Anonymous offers one of several theories about whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays. Theories surrounding Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays focus on whether he had enough education to do so and whether a learned man who was a noble, and therefore, feared people would think it beneath him to write the plays, may have asked Shakespeare to take the credit for them. Scholars have debated these questions for years and will continue to do so.

Few people, other than Shakespearean scholars, know that besides the thirty-seven plays generally attributed to Shakespeare, there are a group of “apocryphal” plays that have been attributed to him, either with him being the author in full or in part. Even editions of Shakespeare’s works that include these apocryphal plays do not always include all of the same ones, including The Birth of Merlin. In all, over forty additional plays have been attributed to Shakespeare besides the thirty-seven usually agreed upon as his work.

The Birth of Merlin—the only Arthurian play ever attributed to Shakespeare—first had Shakespeare’s name placed on it when it was published in 1662. The play is noticeably absent from the First Folio of his plays published in 1623. In fact, it was not performed on stage until 1622—six years after Shakespeare’s death. It has been attributed to Shakespeare with William Rowley as co-author. Most scholars believe Rowley wrote the play himself and Shakespeare’s name got attached to it to give it popularity. Rowley was himself a playwright who lived from 1585-1626.

William Shakespare First Folio

The first page of The First Folio, the first collection of Shakespeare's plays. The Birth of Merlin is noticeably absent from it.

After having read The Birth of Merlin, I personally feel it unlikely it was written by Shakespeare. It has some elements typical of Shakespeare—such as iambic pentameter and nobles speaking in verse while commoners speak in prose—but these were common in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. My first thought was that it could be a very early play of Shakespeare’s—at best it might be ranked with his early Titus Andronicus, but even that play is far more dramatic and has a stronger plot. And since it wasn’t performed until 1622, it is unlikely a part of Shakespearian juvenilia—and Shakespeare retired after The Tempest, one of his best plays, so a falling off in his powers seems unlikely if he wrote it at the end of his life—after all, he died at the young age of fifty-two; and again, if he did write it, why would it not have been staged until six years after his death? Furthermore, the play is lacking in the poetic element, the double-meaning word play, or really any scenes that stir the heart or imagination. I have a hard time believing it could be Shakespeare’s play, although his interest in history would have made it a likely topic for him.

Arthurian scholars have often noted the falling off of popularity in the Arthurian legend during Elizabethan and Jacobean times, save for some masques and the Tudors’ attempts to claim a family relationship to King Arthur. The only reference in all of Shakespeare to King Arthur, actually, is in King John where Prince Arthur, upon dying, hopes to rest in “Arthur’s bosom.” We will never know whether Shakespeare ever considered writing a play based on the Arthurian legend or why he may have decided against it. That said, The Birth of Merlin does reflect that the Arthurian legend was still well-known and popular in Jacobean times.

William Rowley, or whoever wrote the play, did know his Arthurian legend. All the basic elements of Merlin’s story, as told in Geoffrey of Monmouth and other authors, are here, with some odd additions. In the play, Aurelius has defeated the Saxons and chosen as his bride Artesia, the sister to the Saxon leader, who ultimately plots to overthrow him and poisons him toward the end of the play. Meanwhile, Joan, a young commoner, has become pregnant and goes to her brother, simply named “Clown” in the play, to tell him of her misfortune; together, they try to find her a husband so her child will not be a bastard. The “Clown” character is typical of comedies of the era and there to add comic relief, although admittedly, the play is not very funny, and it does not fit into standard definitions of comedy or tragedy but rather would have been classified as a “History” play.

Joan does not even know the name of the man who impregnated her, although eventually it is revealed to be the Devil. When Merlin is born, he is already grown and has the start of a beard. The rest of the story follows the traditional one of Vortigern trying to build his castle. Merlin goes to him since Vortigern believes he needs to sacrifice one without a human father to keep his castle from falling. Merlin, however, reveals the dragons beneath the castle. He goes on to reveal that Aurelius has been slain and Uther will become king. He then makes a prophecy about Uther’s descendants, similar to the prophecy in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, including predicting King Arthur’s coming.

Wikipedia states that “The play is rich with visual effects of varying types, including devils and magic and masque-like spectacles. It was clearly designed to provide broad, colorful, fast-paced entertainment.” Among these spectacles is the comet that Merlin interprets to make his prophecies. Having only read the play, and it being unlikely ever to see it performed, I cannot speak to how entertaining it would be on stage, but it is a solid piece of Arthuriana in terms of following traditional stories about Merlin’s birth and youth.

As for Shakespeare, we can only dream what his Arthurian play would have been like had he ever written one. If only….

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The British Royal family has long tried to claim descent from King Arthur, particularly through the Plantagenets, but any possible claim might more likely be through the Tudors because of their Welsh origins.

While the Tudor family’s connection to King Arthur remains unconfirmed, the Tudors certainly took full advantage of the possibility, beginning with the first royal Tudor, Henry VII.

After King Henry V died in 1422, his widow, Catherine of France, fell in love with the Welsh prince, Owen Tudor, who claimed Arthurian descent. Their son Edmund Tudor would marry Margaret Beaufort, a member of the English royal family (of the Plantagenet line and a descendant of King Edward III). Through this marriage the future King Henry VII was born. Henry VII, as a member of the House of Lancaster, had the Red Rose of Lancaster as his symbol. To strengthen his claim of an Arthurian descent, he had the Red Rose of Lancaster painted in the center of the Round Table at Winchester. King Henry VII also named his eldest son Arthur, but the prince died before he could become King Arthur, and so his brother instead succeeded to the throne as King Henry VIII.

Round Table Henry VIII King Arthur

Henry VIII had King Arthur's image (with Henry's face) painted on the Round Table at Winchester

Henry VIII continued the belief in a descent from King Arthur through his Tudor ancestors by having a figure of King Arthur painted on the Round Table, with Henry VIII’s own face painted as that of Arthur (Le Morte D’Arthur). A family resemblance between the ancient and present king was the purpose, and since no one can say what King Arthur looked like, no one could deny that Henry VIII did not resemble his supposed ancestor of a thousand years before.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603)

Queen Elizabeth I continued the Arthurian tradition in the family. Brinkley declares that “the Arthurian ancestry of Elizabeth was given especial emphasis at the time of her coronation” . When Elizabeth visited Kenilworth in 1575, an Arthurian costume party and masque were held. Upon the queen’s arrival, she was met by a woman dressed as Morgan le Fay, who greeted the queen as Arthur’s heir. During the revels, a set of trumpeters signified that the men of Arthur’s day were superior to modern men. Elizabeth talked with the Lady of the Lake, and her presence allowed her to free the Lady of the Lake from the persecutions of Bruce sans Pitee. A song was also sung of Rience’s demand for Arthur’s beard. It is clear that these events of Kenilworth were based upon Malory’s writings (Merriman 201), and the masque in Chapter 37 of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth borrows and fictionalizes from this historical event.

For more about the British royal family’s claims to being King Arthur’s descendants and how they tried to promote the idea, despite a lack of proof, see King Arthur’s Children at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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At least one attempt in recent years has been made to show that Prince William may be descended from King Arthur (Le Morte D’Arthur). Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, in Royal Highness, a study of the ancestors of the future King of England, Prince William, conveniently states that it is very probable for King Arthur to be among the warrior chieftains of fifth and sixth century Britain from whom the Royal Family is descended (Moncreiffe 12). Finally, as Geoffrey Ashe has pointed out, Prince William’s middle name is Arthur, and should Prince William choose to use his middle name rather than William when he is crowned, he will be the next King Arthur (199).

            Still, no direct or indisputable genealogical line connects the British royal family to King Arthur. One other possibility may exist in the theory that the King Arthur of legend is the historical Riothamus. Riothamus had a son David who then had a son Budic. This Budic lived in Britain as an exile for some time. It is possible that Budic might be an ancestor of the Tudors, and a closer look at Welsh and Breton genealogies could then give us a connection between Riothamus and the British royal family (Ashe 196).

            Of course, if Cerdic is Arthur’s son, as Geoffrey Ashe has also suggested, then the British royalty would also be descended from Arthur because Cerdic was the ancestor of Alfred the Great, and through him, the British royal family. The fact that Debrett’s Peerage, the official heraldic society in Britain, backed Ashe’s book suggests that the British, if not the royal family itself, still wish to make this link between their present day monarch and King Arthur.

            If there is a link between King Arthur and Prince William, it may be years, if ever, before it will be discovered or researched thoroughly enough to be convincing. It also seems unlikely that a tradition of descent that does not seem to have begun until Henry II in the twelfth century is any more than a convenient forgery. If there is a connection, it is probably through the Welsh Tudor family, and it is there that the greatest scrutiny may need to be used.

For more about the British royal family’s many attempts over the last thousand years to claim descent from King Arthur, be sure to read my book King Arthur’s Children available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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The first two charts on the Arthurian Genealogy page of www.ChildrenofArthur.com have been posted with more soon to come. Both of these charts are reprinted with detailed commentary in my book King Arthur’s Children.

These first two charts show possible claims by families to be descendants of King Arthur. The first is scholar Geoffrey Ashe’s theory for how the English royal family might be descended from King Arthur. The other is an obscure claim by the Scottish Clan Campbell for descent from King Arthur. These are two of a few claims by living people to be of Arthurian descent. Both are questionable of course. Other claims have been made by numerous people. While Ashe’s claim for English royalty’s descent goes back through the House of Wessex, later claims for the English royal family go back to the Tudors, who claimed descent not through their own royal blood that could be traced back to King Edward III, but to Owen Tudor, himself a Welshman, just as King Arthur was himself Welsh.

Most Arthurian genealogies, if not all, are fabricated for political reasons–royal houses trying to make legitimate their claims to rule over Britain–or simply the creative fancy of authors. Numerous authors have tried to trace ancestors and descendants for King Arthur, perhaps most notably the late Laurence Gardner, in books like Bloodline of the Holy Grail. Gardner’s books are great entertaining reading as he traces royal lineages from ancient times through the Middle Ages, although he rarely cites his sources in detail so that they can be verified–or believed. Whatever legitimacy his sources may have had are unlikely to be known now since he died in 2010. They make a great source of ideas for novelists, however–including Dan Brown apparently having been influenced by Gardner’s theories when he wrote The Da Vinci Code.

Gardner’s own theories were probably inspired more by imagination than research, but they spring from medieval traditions concerning King Arthur and his ancestors. Medieval writers were obsessed with Christianity, and they created traditions about many of the saints and apostles. One notable such legend is that Joseph of Arimathea was a relative (possibly uncle to Jesus Christ) and settled in Glastonbury, England. Medieval Arthurian writers depicted Joseph of Arimathea as an ancestor of the Grail Kings (see Gardner’s Genesis of the Grail Kings and Realm of the Ring Lords for more elaborate discussion); the Holy Grail being a significant part of the Arthurian legend, King Arthur was of course then a relative to the Grail family. In Gardner’s Bloodline of the Holy Grail elaborate charts show Arthur’s descent on both his maternal and paternal sides from St. Joseph of Arimathea.

Medieval traditions also cited Magnus Maximus, a Roman Emperor, among Arthur’s ancestors, and Roman blood ultimately allowed them to trace him back to Aeneas, founder of Rome. Arthur often makes a bid for being Roman Emperor in versions of the legend, a title he feels is his by right, based on Magnus Maximus being among his ancestors, and Welsh tradition often claims Magnus Maximus as the founder of several Welsh houses. Geoffrey of Monmouth drew on these Welsh legends in writing History of the Kings of Britain, a work that chronicled the various kings of Britain–some legendary, others possibly historical. The work highly influenced later romancers and chroniclers who expanded upon and kept creating more relatives, descendants, and ancestors for Arthur.

Who really were King Arthur’s ancestors and descendants? Since no amount of scholarship has yet been able to pinpoint whether King Arthur was a historical person, probably we will never know, but the more theories we spin, the more fascinating versions of the Arthurian legend are created–a story that we never seem to tire of hearing and recreating.

Check out the two genealogy charts at www.ChildrenofArthur.com. More are to come, including Arthur’s ancestors, as well as my own possible descent from King Arthur, and Arthurian family trees as represented in various modern novels.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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