“A true Copie”: Gascoigne’s Princely Pleasures and the textual representation of courtly performance (1)


Susan Anderson
University of Leeds

Susan Anderson. "'A true Copie': Gascoigne’s Princely Pleasures and the textual representation of courtly performance". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May, 2008) 6.1-43 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-1/article5.htm>.


1. The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle describes events which took place during Elizabeth I’s visit to Kenilworth in 1575, giving an account of the various devices which were prepared for her amusement by various contributors. Additionally, this text preserves a dramatic entertainment written by George Gascoigne, which was prepared for the visit but which was not performed. The cancellation of this part of the planned spectacle has been explained as a consequence of the subtle (and less subtle) political resonances of the ‘shew’ and its language (2).  What have not been explored are the implications of the presence of this abandoned dramatic script for the work that the text as a whole is doing in relation to the visit, the entertainments, and the contributors that provided them.

2. This article explores the presence of Gascoigne within this text, examining its portrayal of his role at the event, and arguing that the text commemorates his importance as poet and presenter, as much as it does the event itself. Whilst the vignettes and devices written for the event dramatise the tension between aristocratic and royal authority, they also highlight the contribution of the poet to these contestations. This article will show that, within the context of collaborative authorship, Princely Pleasures asserts the importance of poetic authority. The influence of its textual strategies will be traced in later Elizabethan entertainments, showing that the text’s presentation of the event enhanced its importance for the development of modes of addressing and representing the Queen. Ultimately, however, it will be argued that attempting to resolve the interpretation of such texts to a singular set of concerns underestimates the variety of centres of authorship and address that these texts incorporate.

3. The extant text of The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle is the version which was printed as part of the 1587 publication of the Works of George Gascoigne. Having been issued anonymously as The Princelye Pleasures, at the Courte at Kenelwoorth in octavo in 1576, its inclusion in the Works is surely a significant factor in the way that Gascoigne has been seen as the primary ‘author’ of this collaborative, compiled text. The octavo text is no longer extant, but was reprinted in 1821 (3), and this version manifests some differences which are significant for our understanding of the conditions of production of this entertainment and its textual description, as we shall see.

4.  Both versions of the text feature an anonymous narrator who links the disparate verses with short passages of commentary explaining the import of the poetry, taking care to specify who was responsible for which parts of the text. It is noted, for example, that Sibilla’s welcome of Elizabeth to the estate ‘was invented, and the verses also written by M. Hunneys, master of her Majesties Chappell’ (p. 92) (4).  By providing this information, the text implies that knowing who the ‘author’ is for each poem will be significant to the reader. Furthermore, care is taken to differentiate between the types of involvement of the contributors. Thus, Hunnis is the poet who wrote the verses for Sibilla, but he is also the inventor who came up with the device (5).

5. Gascoigne’s contributions to the event seem to be highlighted more emphatically than those of other writers. For instance, we are told that the exchange with Eccho on the second day of the entertainment was ‘devised, penned, and pronounced by master G[a]scoyne: and that (as I have heard credibly reported) upon a very great sudden’ (p. 102). The commentary between the verses does seem to be more interested by and knowledgeable about Gascoigne’s contribution than any other, making plausible the hypothesis that Gascoigne himself wrote these remarks. Referring to himself in the third person would have enabled Gascoigne to emphasise his own contribution without appearing ungracious to the other writers and performers who contributed to the entertainments (6).

6. Yet the earlier version of the text, printed during Gascoigne’s lifetime, included an address to the reader by the printer, Richard Jones, which co-opts for himself some aspects of the authorship of the composite text. His statement that he gathered the material together emphasises the ‘travayle and paine’ (p. 570) he has undergone to gain access to the texts that he prints (7).  Jones goes to some length to differentiate his version from another, earlier account of the progress, referred to as ‘the Pastime of the Progresse’. This earlier account, Jones asserts, gives only a generalised description of the time that Elizabeth spent at the Castle, rather than reporting what went on in the entertainments and devices themselves. Jones’s text, by contrast, is a more ‘perfect Copy: for that it plainlye doth set downe every thing as it was in deede presented, at large: And further doth declare, who was Aucthour and deviser of everye Poeme & invencion’ (p. 570). Jones thus expresses a rivalry between these texts, focusing on detail and accuracy as markers of quality. Jones’s publication improves on the earlier text by describing both the event itself and the particularities of authorship with greater precision.

7. The text as included in Gascoigne’s Works extends this sense of accurate reporting from the outset. Introducing itself as a briefe rehearsall, or rather a true Copie of as much as was presented before her majesti[e]’ (p. 91), the text presents itself as unmediated and unambiguous, an unbiased account which gives the reader access to an experience which has passed. The term ‘rehearsall’ carries with it the implication of neutrality, because it gives the sense of unaltered repetition. It implies that the text is a vessel which does not materially alter the information it contains. The corrective ‘or rather a true Copie’ clarifies this further, presenting the text as a means by which the reader can perceive the event itself.

8. Both forms of the text thus present it as a transparent and reliable record of events, yet as we have already seen, it incorporates extra material which was not part of the event. Significant information about the event is also omitted, as we shall see. Furthermore, the certainty which characterises these openings is undermined later in the text. For example, 13 lines of Latin (by Richard Mulcaster) are given as part of the first day’s entertainment yet they are followed by the narrator’s comment that ‘I am not verye sure whether these or master Patens were pronounced by the Author, but they were all to one effect’ (p. 95). This lack of clarity belies the text’s assertion of its reliability, undermining its self-proclaimed trustworthiness. The narrator exposes the fact that not everything about the event is knowable, something which is implicitly rejected by the way that the text is presented.

9. A further challenge to the confidence of both forms of the text is presented by the narrator’s appeals to memory. For instance, the account of the visit opens by stating ‘Her majesty came thether (as I remember) on saterday being the nienth of July last past’ (p. 91). The parenthetical qualification of this information introduces the possibility of error because it categorises it as derived from memory. Yet perhaps this statement, placed near the beginning of the text, actually attempts to reinforce the reader’s sense of the speaker’s veracity. It refers to a verifiable fact, and should be read not as implying ‘if I recall correctly’, but ‘as I do recall correctly’.

10. Assertions of uncertainty are used creatively elsewhere within the text, however, because they enable the narrator to elide any information which presents a challenge to the competence of Gascoigne and the other writers of the entertainments. The narrator avoids having to explain why the Zabeta device was cancelled, for instance, by asserting an ignorance that seems positively disingenuous: the ‘shewe was devised and penned by M. Gascoigne, and being prepared and redy (every Actor in his garment) two or three dayes together, yet never came to execution. The cause whereof I cannot attribute to any other thing, then to lack of opportunitie and seasonable weather’ (p. 120). Whether ‘cannot’ here refers to a failure of imagination, or a prohibition relating to the cause of the cancellation, it provokes a sense that there is another, unmentionable, cause for the event’s abandonment. The detail of the actors in their costumes, waiting to perform, conveys the sense of frustrated effort that must have surrounded the discarded show.

11. The inclusion of the device of the quest for Zabeta in Princely Pleasures supplies material which exceeds the text’s promise to provide the devices which were presented to Elizabeth . This is understandable on one level as an acknowledgement of the effort put into a moment, which, once missed, was only salvageable through the text. The corollary of this is a sense that one of the functions of a textual account of an event is to preserve the work of a poet or poets, a sense which is promoted by the text’s concern with attributing authorship. This sense of the importance of attribution is apparent in other texts, such as, for example, the description of the entertainments at Bisham in 1592. The narrator (who identifies himself as ‘I.B.’) (8) disavows the accuracy of the text, saying ‘I gathered these copies in loose papers I know not how imperfect, therefore must I crave a double pardon; of him that penned them, and those that reade them’, indicating that the printed text itself is fragmentary and possibly deficient. Although the writer also goes on to claim that ‘the matter [is] of small moment, and therefore the offence of no great danger’, the sense remains that entertainment texts undertake to reproduce the contributions of the writers that ‘penned’ the poetic devices (9).

12. The inclusion of Princely Pleasures within the issuing of Gascoigne’s works is therefore understandable, even if there are large parts of the text which are not by him. Furthermore, Gascoigne’s contributions to the entertainments are longer than those attributed to all the other writers put together. There is an exchange with Eccho, a playlet divided into two acts with scene breaks (the abandoned device that deals with the hunt for Zabeta), and a lengthy farewell sequence which involved long prose sections delivered by Gascoigne (allegedly ex tempore), as well as a verse speech and a song.

13. Most noticeably, Gascoigne’s motto, ‘Tam Marti, quam Mercurio’, appears twice within the text, once after the Eccho device, and once at the end of the entire text. However much of the rest of the text is not by Gascoigne, he certainly seems to have got the last word in more ways than one (10).  Asked to invent the final device to entertain the Queen as she left the estate, Gascoigne was given the opportunity to conclude the visit. The positioning of this device has a structural importance which gives Gascoigne the potential to retrospectively alter the import of the earlier shows. Whether or not Gascoigne’s ending parable of Deep Desire and Due Desert (discussed below) was received favourably at the event, the textual representation effectively stamps the end of the document with Gascoigne’s seal, making it seem indeed as if the whole text is by him.

14. This belated adoption of interpretive finality is more obvious in the Eccho device, where Gascoigne’s view of the import of the previous day’s welcoming entertainments is imposed over and above the interpretation offered when the welcoming entertainment had occurred. The exchange with Eccho at Kenilworth took place on the second day of the entertainment. Gascoigne played a Savage Man, presenting himself as a hermit with limited contact with the outside world, and ignorant of the identity of the grand visitor. Having noticed the visit’s effect upon the landscape of the castle and grounds, however, he proclaims himself anxious to discover who is visiting. Getting no answer from his audience, he appeals to Eccho as a friend who will not fail him and whose answers can be trusted.

15. Notwithstanding his professed ignorance, the Savage’s interrogation of Eccho goes over the welcoming events of the previous day, the answers to his questions being contained in the final one, two or three syllables of his line, which are repeated by Eccho. For example, at one point, the Savage asks ‘But wherefore doe they so rejoyce? | is it for King or Queene?’, to which Eccho, of course, replies ‘Queene’ (p. 97). The device’s function within the visit is, therefore, reiterative, recalling the splendours of the previous day and restating their intended import. This subject-matter plays on the nature of echo, of course, but it also draws attention to the echo-device’s own status as a display which contains certain encrypted messages for observers to decipher. Its decoding of the meaning of the previous day’s events offers its audience an example of how to respond to its own gnomic statements.

16.  This self-consciousness is enhanced by the emphases that an echo enables. These can be rather unsubtle: the Savage, for example, asks Eccho how he might know the Queen ‘from the rest, | or judge her by her grace?’, to which Eccho replies ‘her grace’ (p. 100). A more interesting effect is achieved, however, by the careful deployment of the only echo which is a proper pun rather than just a straight repeat (11).  This occurs when the Savage describes the gifts that had been left out for the arriving guests the previous day, and asks for their meaning. In response, the name of Robert Dudley as patron and gift-giver is declared by Eccho, promoting him as the benefactor and animating force behind the entertainment:

Gifts? what? sent from the Gods?
as presents from above?
Or pleasures of provision,
as tokens of true love
Eccho                                         True love
And who gave all those gifts?
I pray thee (Eccho) say?
Was it not he? who (but of late)
this building here did lay?
Eccho                                         Dudley

17. One fictive option – the idea that the gifts have magically appeared as expressions of divine approval of Elizabeth’s visit – is discarded in favour of emphasising the role of Dudley in providing and hosting. The gifts are not ‘presents from above’, but symbolic objects which make a deliberate statement on behalf of the entertainment’s host. This directly contradicts the explanation provided the previous day in Latin, which asserted that the gifts were indeed presents from the gods, declaring ‘Haec (Regina potens) superi dant munera divi’ (p. 95). Gascoigne’s device of the echo, which supposedly accidentally reflects the sounds which produce these assertions, trumps the Latin of the previous day with a device that presents itself as even more skilful in order to present the ‘true’ meaning of the entertainment.

18.  The device’s model of interpretation is one that both audience and reader are implicitly encouraged to apply to their understanding of the rest of the event/text. Poetry, visual display and sound are enlisted at the event to create a multilayered spectacle which required deciphering in the way that Gascoigne’s echo device had demonstrated. At Kenilworth , this mode of meaning and understanding was present from the opening of the event. On Elizabeth ’s arrival, the ceremonial fanfare that usually welcomed her wherever she went was writ large, literally, by giant trumpeters. Princely Pleasures makes clear how this worked:

Her Majesty passing on to the first gate, there stode in the Leades and Battlementes therof, sixe Trumpetters hugelie advaunced, much exceeding the common stature of men in this age, who had likewise huge and monstrous Trumpettes counterfetted, wherein they seemed to sound: and behind them were placed certaine Trumpetters who sounded in deede at her majesties entrie (p. 92) (12).

This display impresses with both spectacle and sound. The real trumpeters provided the requisite fanfare for the Queen’s approach, while the outsize models impressed onlookers.

19.  The narrator’s description of the spectacle as a ‘dumb shew’ (p. 92) refers to the way in which spectators were expected to understand the symbolism of these visual and aural elements (13).  This sense of an esoteric meaning hidden in the display is analogous to the emblem book (14).  This allegorising process is identified by Javitch as a characteristic of courtly poetry. He cites Whitney’s 1586 A Choice of Emblemes, where Whitney defines emblems as ‘having some wittie devise espressed with cunning workemanship some thing obscure to be perceived at first, whereby, when with further consideration it is understood, it maie the greater delight the beholder’ (15).  The textual description converts the impact of the spectacle, performing an act of exegesis which assumes its own clarity and veracity as a given, but which still invites the same active scrutiny as the event it describes.

20.  The progress entertainments combined features of several allegorical modes of addressing and representing Elizabeth . Scholars, most famously Roy Strong, have identified a set of images which form a recurrent vocabulary for depictions of Elizabeth (16).  Elements of this vocabulary, such as Elizabeth ’s exemplary virginity, are often invoked in entertainments. Furthermore, the way that Elizabeth ’s relationship to her court is often presented in terms of courtly love (17), can also be traced in entertainment texts (18), as can pastoral themes (19).  These modes of representation provided entertainments with a discourse flexible enough to articulate the concerns of the real world within an idealised fantasy, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the obligations of hospitality (20).  The entertainments themselves, however, are always in the midst of the process of creating and modifying such mythologies, participating in them rather than being simply produced by them (21).

21. As Suerbaum points out, ‘eulogies in the mythological mode are unassailable, because they are patently “feigned”. You can be as hyperbolic as you like without being guilty of untruth or absurdity’ (22).  Not only did the poetic mythology of the Elizabethan court enable these entertainments to create ingenious and entertaining worlds for themselves, it also provided the potential for a re-imagining of social hierarchy in the figurative representations of the entertainment. This re-imagining suggested a more flattering view of the host’s place in the social order, a view which was reflected back into reality by the printed text of the entertainment. The text itself thus adds a further element by re-presenting this representation with its own bias. As Palmer puts it, a progress entertainment ‘appropriates community life and submits it to narrative’ which ‘produces imaginary resolutions of real contradictions between class, economic, and political interests’ (23).

22.   That power relations were continually in the process of negotiation at such events themselves is exemplified by the irritable response of Elizabeth to the Lady of the Lake’s address as described in the account of the 1575 Kenilworth entertainment known as Langham’s or Laneham’s Letter. Having been offered the lake on the estate as a gift, the Queen replied ‘we had thought indeed the Lake had been oours, and doo you call it yourz noow?’ (24), which, as Frye points out, reminded Dudley and everybody else present of her theoretical dominion over all property, and also referred to the fact that she had presented the estate to Dudley herself in 1563 (25).  Despite his ownership of it, Elizabeth implies that the gift is on trust, dependent upon the maintenance of a good relationship between herself and Dudley.

23.Within the context of Elizabeth ’s apparent sensitivity over the estate’s ownership, the textual description of the giant trumpeters on the gate is itself cleverly ambiguous. The narrator explains that their presence showed that Kenilworth was still maintained by ‘Arthurs heires and their servants’ (p. 92). This could be understood to mean that Elizabeth and her immediate ancestors are the heirs of Arthur, with courtiers like Leicester as their servants, but it could also imply that Leicester himself is one of the ‘heirs’, and his retinue, including the large number of people involved in the entertainment, are his servants. The text’s presentation of the entertainment’s reception of Elizabeth is clearly written in the light of her problematising response to it, using a carefully ambiguous mode of description which enables different levels of implication and interpretation.

24. This process of textual re-presentation can smooth over inconsistencies within the entertainment’s performance, or even blunders. For example, Langham’s Letter describes how Gascoigne’s enthusiastic performance during the echo device accidentally endangered the Queen by startling her horse (26).  The episode is not mentioned at all in Princely Pleasures, and no wonder, as it was obviously embarrassing for all concerned. Thus the text constitutes a more perfectly realised account of the entertainment than the performance itself, one in which the fantastic myth of the pageant world is not challenged or threatened by reality.

25.  The text of Princely Pleasures therefore becomes a showcase for the skill of the contributors involved in putting together the entertainments for Elizabeth, especially Gascoigne. It emphasises the dexterity and effort that created the poetic double-meanings and ingenious devices that were on offer. Viewing the text in this way enables us to recognise the ways in which the mode of address of the text widens the potential audience at the same time as appearing to narrow it to a single figure (27).  Gascoigne’s addresses to the Queen may seem ill-advised, tactless, or even foolish, but the Queen was not the only person to hear his approaches. Even as his appeal for patronage is directed exclusively towards her, it makes his skills all the more attractive to other patrons and more of a model for other writers.

26.  Gascoigne’s Zabeta device directly alludes to Elizabeth ’s difficult years under the reign of her sister, its rhetorical questioning adopting a somewhat hectoring tone:

Were you not captive caught?
were you not kept in walles?
Were you not forst to lease a life
like other wetched thralles?
Where was Diana then
why did she you not ayde?
Why did she not defend your state,
which were and are her maide? (p. 119).

The assertion of marriage as the protection against such humiliations is part of Gascoigne’s repeated construction of Elizabeth as a figure of feminine vulnerability, which constantly undermines her independence and autonomy, from the unmarried princess in need of a patriarchal guidance and protection in the Zabeta device, to the vulnerable traveller in need of safe conduct through the ‘perillous passages’ (p. 121) of the woods in his closing address to her. Gascoigne’s undertaking of the marriage question as a subject for his device, his use of loaded images and aggressive metaphors does seem deeply tactless, and therefore rather unwise, considering his pursuit of patronage from the Queen. Despite the fact that it was not performed, the text of the Zabeta entertainment shows that although Gascoigne’s mode of address is necessarily directed exclusively towards the Queen, no address made to her in these circumstances can fail to take account of the presence of other constituencies of power.

27. The concluding device performed at the entertainment, featuring the holly bush of Deep Desire and the laurel tree of Due Desert, also figures these alternative focal points whilst maintaining the apparent concentration upon the Queen. Gascoigne (as Sylvanus) presents himself as the hard-worked poet of the gods, commissioned to produce a device to express their esteem for Elizabeth. He describes to her the unsuccessful suitors of the cold-hearted Zabeta (or Ahtebasile), their metamorphoses into various plants demonstrating the consequences of female resistance to male desire. Desire itself is legitimised, particularly through the assertion of its kinship with Due Desert. Gascoigne/Sylvanus laments that ‘although it bee very hard to part’ (p. 126) these brother qualities, Zabeta has done just that through transforming them into different plants.

28 .  Deep Desire is construed as an active, positive force which motivates good works. Gascoigne/Sylvanus declares that ‘neither any delay could daunt him: no disgrace could abate his passions, no tyme could tyre him’ (p. 126). When Deep Desire sings that his ‘deedes did more delight deserve’ (p. 130), favour is commodified, and detached from any sense of Elizabeth’s own agency. Desire automatically deserves reward, and a refusal to bestow it is therefore irrational and unfair. The show engages with the experience of the failed suitor (political or amatory), enacting and ventriloquising the frustrated ambitions of the under-appreciated male courtier.

29.  Despite her apparently dominant position in the signification of entertainments and their texts, Elizabeth ’s role is often limited by those very texts, which construct her as a passive auditor. Even when Elizabeth is called upon to act in a progress entertainment, her options are heavily circumscribed, and the reporting of those actions is shaped by the priorities of the text, often deliberately minimising her participation. One such text is Sidney ’s The Lady of May, which describes how Elizabeth was invited to choose between two suitors for the Lady’s hand. Declining to give the reasons for what may have been a deliberately perverse choice on the part of Elizabeth (28), the description notes ‘it pleased her Majesty to judge that Espilus did the better diserve her but what words, what reasons she used for it, this paper, which carieth so base names, is not worthy to containe’ (29).  The narrator is aware of what the Queen said, but uses a thin pretext of modesty to excuse himself from having to be beholden to her words. Her interpretation of the scenario differs from his own, and therefore cannot be admitted to the text.

30. Princely Pleasures elides Elizabeth ’s role at the event. In particular, she is curiously absent at the end of the text. Despite the fact that the device centred around an appeal to her to intercede on behalf of Deep Desire and restore him ‘to his prystinate estate’ (p. 131), no mention is made of any response to this request for participation in the performance. There is merely a short prayer for her preservation, followed by Gascoigne’s motto, stamping the text with his authority. The motto itself seems to signify a level of non-committed availability, an ability to devote his talents to any cause, and has been interpreted as an appeal for patronage from the Queen (30).  Here, that self-promotion can be extended to include the alternative centres of power and opportunity for a poet like Gascoigne at the English court.

31. Gascoigne’s death in 1577 nullified any effectiveness this appeal for patronage might have had. It is clear, though, that Gascoigne’s contributions to Kenilworth and Princely Pleasures provided models for later entertainments and their texts (31).  An echo device reappears in two later entertainments, at Elvetham and Bisham in 1591 and 1592 respectively (32).  At Bisham, Elizabeth was again greeted by a Wild Man. In a speech which seems to refer directly to the entertainments at Kenilworth in 1575, he gives an account of hearing magical music (33).  Like Gascoigne’s Savage, the Wild Man asks desperately for an indication of who has caused this frightening and awesome noise, and, similarly, gets no answer from anyone but Eccho. The difference is that the Bisham encounter with Eccho takes place offstage, so to speak, and is conveyed in reported speech by the Wild Man in his address to the visiting party. He says ‘I, it may bee, more stout than wise, asked, who passed that way? What he or she? None durst answere, or would vouchsafe, but passionate Eccho, who said Shee’ (34).  This constitutes a partial summary of Gascoigne’s encounter with Eccho seventeen years previously.

32.  While the entertainment at Bisham offers a straightforward repeat of Kenilworth’s use of the echo, the Elvetham entertainment reconfigures the echo device as a song. At Kenilworth, the audience was invited to admire the contrivance of a verbal device which advertises the possibility of double meanings. At Elvetham, it was a display of musical virtuosity which sought to impress. Whereas Kenilworth projected a kind of knowing artlessness, the echo device at Elvetham was characterised by a self-conscious artfulness which aimed to set it apart from the earlier entertainment that it imitates.

33.  A further ‘echo’ of the Kenilworth entertainment at Elvetham can be found in the use of the instrumental configuration of the mixed (or ‘broken’) consort. Peter Holman argues that the musicians at the English court in this period tended to be based in ensembles made up of instruments of the same family (35).  The mixed consort genre is thought to have been developed by Edward Johnson at Hengrave in the 1560s, and Holman suggests that the loan of this musician to Leicester may have enabled this new form to be heard at the 1575 entertainment (36).  The music of a consort, therefore, had the opportunity not only to intrigue its audience with new and unusual sounds, but also to display the host’s taste and awareness of fashionable and sophisticated new trends.

34.  The reference in Princely Pleasures to ‘a Consort of Musicke’ (p. 104) is the earliest example of the use of the English word ‘consort’ in a musical sense, and is accepted by music historians as one of the first, and certainly the most public, early manifestations of this distinctive group of instruments (37).  It reappeared at Elvetham, where it provided the musical background of the entertainment and was at Elizabeth’s disposal during the visit, to play at any time she wished. In the Elvetham text, the instruments involved are carefully enumerated in the description of a dance display: ‘the Fairy Queene and her maides daunced about the garland, singing a song of sixe partes, with the musicke of an exquisite consort; wherein was the Lute, Bandora, Base-violl, Citterne, Treble-violl, and Flute’ (38).  

35. This list of instruments constitutes the first instance where this particular ensemble is so precisely named, which suggests a desire to ensure that the quality of the entertainment is properly emphasised. The preciseness of the list in the Elvetham text is evidence of a sense of competitiveness with the 1575 Kenilworth entertainment. As Breight points out, as a much smaller estate than Kenilworth, Elvetham would not have been expected to host the same scale of event, but Hertford’s lavish spending made up for the estate’s defects (39).  For instance, where Kenilworth Castle had a pre-existing pond, Elvetham had an artificial lake created especially for the occasion, with water inhabitants performing songs, processions and acrobatics. Musical resources were one prominent area in which the relative quality of the hospitality of the entertainment could be displayed. As Hulse notes, musical instruments were both practical tools for providing ceremonial and recreational music, and also ‘conspicuous examples of the patron’s wealth, social status, and artistic taste’ (40).  The text reproduces this sense of superiority by carefully listing the instruments, a strategy which conveys the significance of the event’s aural qualities through a form of systrophe.  

36. The relationship of Elizabethan progress entertainment texts to the events they describe is thus a transformative one. Masten’s understanding of playtexts as ‘recapitulations’ can be of use in describing this status (41).  Entertainment texts summarise and encapsulate a varied and complicated series of events seen during a visit, and this recording process inevitably involves a certain amount of telescoping of non-verbal elements in order to represent them on paper.

37. They offer reportage of events involving rich, famous and powerful individuals, and thus constitute part of the nascent European market for printed news and journalism (42).  Their commentaries thus promise an insight into the workings of courtly power, yet they also provide the details of staged performances and poetic recitations with highly involved, and sometimes obscure, allegorical import, which appear to demand rather different reading strategies. It is through these allegorical engagements, however, that the entertainments presented political issues and suits, and in doing so participated in shaping the mode of such political address at the same time as enacting it. The texts which describe these events not only reflect these political engagements, but also continue and extend them.

38. In such a context, multiple identities are simultaneously invoked and constructed. Images of the monarch, the host, performers, courtly observers, and writers are variously introduced at events where the fashioning of selves and others is constantly in play. The text itself then forms a refashioning of these portrayals, a further space in which political identities can be refined and reiterated. For a writer such as George Gascoigne, the fluidity of this mode of representation offered a writerly authority through which apparent failure could be reconstituted as success. That writerly authority in itself, however, was constructed within the context of a composite text which reflects the collaborative nature of the entertainment it purports to record.

39. Courtly and public spectacles of whatever genre are collaborative in their production by necessity. G.E. Bentley makes this point in relation to the London theatre companies, pointing out that ‘every performance [...] was the joint accomplishment of dramatists, actors, musicians, costumers, prompters [...] and [...] managers’ (43).  This assertion also holds true for occasional entertainments, and is perhaps even more apt when one considers that they were inherently occasional events, whose texts were not, and not expected to be, subject to repeat performances under different conditions. The text and its author(s) do not, therefore, gain a special status as a point of commonality between multiple performances. Instead, authorship must be seen as part of a set of conditions that shape the production of an occasional entertainment and its textual traces, despite the claims to authority that individual authors may make.

40. A court entertainment provided an environment where all involved could enhance their own particular career and their prestige in their field, as a writer, as a performer, as a courtier. James Knowles identifies Robert Cecil’s employment of Ben Jonson to write a series of entertainments for him as an example of ‘dual self-fashioning’, whereby patronage operates in a ‘dialectic, dynamic fashion, involving both patron and client in a mutual economy of self-presentation and fashioning’ (44).  Thus, the recognition that occasional entertainments could be important propaganda for one party should not efface their significance for others. Furthermore, Knowles’s formulation can be extended to apply to more than two constituents. In the entertainment at Kenilworth, as we have seen, Robert Dudley’s contract of patronage with the writers he employed conflicted with the generic imperative of the entertainment to flatter the Queen. This has prompted Nash to describe it as a failed entertainment which ‘collapses in on itself’ under the pressure of the opposing centres of power it is obliged to acknowledge (45).  Yet simultaneously praising the Queen and asserting the priorities of the host is a task common to all large-scale, politically charged entertainments. Princely Pleasures shows how such texts can exploit the inherent selectivity of the transformation of event into narrative to create an ambiguous textual space where alternative power centres can co-exist. Authorship in occasional entertainments is, therefore, an unstable and shifting category which is always a contested field, intrinsically linked to the negotiations of power taking place.




41.  Progress visits required diversions which would occupy the leisure hours of the Queen and retinue, but also portray both the royal visitor and the host, in as flattering a light as possible. This is primarily achieved by creating a sense of artistic ingenuity, and it is precisely that sense of wittiness that constitutes Gascoigne’s presentation of himself within Princely Pleasures, through devices which invite close reading and interpretation.

42.  Gascoigne’s death in 1577 means that the reprinting of Princely Pleasures as part of the posthumous Works is clearly not part of his appeals for patronage to the Queen or anybody else, although the sense that the printed text advertises Gascoigne’s availability for such work can still be traced within this version. The text presents Gascoigne’s contribution to the poetic means of constructing the relationship between subject and monarch, asserting the importance of an active voice in utilising the poetic fantasy that had the potential to shape political reality. In doing so, it proffers an example for later devisers of entertainments to follow, an authority which manifests itself in the influences that have been observed in the Bisham and Elvetham entertainments. The feat of successfully navigating the expectations of the court was, therefore, to produce an entertainment which fulfilled conflicting criteria of tradition and novelty, flattery and self-promotion. The challenge of deciding what these expectations were, and precisely how to meet them, was articulated within a discourse which had much to say about the dire consequences of getting this calculation wrong, but very little concrete guidance on how to get it right. For example, Thomas Elyot’s advice on magnificence is full of moral precepts and warnings against prodigality, but gives no indication of what would be the appropriate manner to greet a monarch, or what kinds of entertainment fit particular kinds of occasion (46).  For this, a prospective host, and the writers they employed, had little to turn to but precedent. Gascoigne and Princely Pleasures not only provided a template for the way to perform an entertainment for the Queen, but also the way to present it in the text after the event.

43.  The ambiguity of the authorship of Princely Pleasures is not an issue which requires resolution, rather, it is a manifestation of the way that ambiguity is the stock in trade of courtly entertainment, and the only way in which the poets whose work featured could negotiate the complex demands of courtly patronage. The text notes that Gascoigne’s concluding device was prompted by Elizabeth ‘hasting her departure’ (p. 120), a comment which has been seen as a hint of Elizabeth’s displeasure at the import of some of the shows. Indeed, it does seem to have been a generally compromised and unsuccessful entertainment in these narrow political terms. Yet it does exercise a type of authority over later entertainments and their texts. It established some of the terms, and shaped the vocabulary of the cult of Elizabeth, whilst it advertised Robert Dudley’s wealth and magnificence. The text itself draws attention to the malleability of meaning at the event, and the ingenuity that can take advantage of this instability, showing Gascoigne to be a skilful and worthy client of his patron.



1 Thanks to David Lindley for his helpful comments on this article.

2 In particular in Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 56-96. See also Ilana Nash, ‘“A Subject Without Subjection”: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle’, Comitatus, 25 (1994), 81-102.

3 As Cunliffe notes, the octavo version was reproduced in Kenilworth Illustrated: The History of the Castle, Priory and Church of Kenilworth (Chiswick: C. Whittingham, 1821). Cunliffe reproduces the printer’s address and collates the differences between these two versions in an appendix to his edition of Gascoigne (The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, ed. by John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), pp. 569-71). For ease of reference, I give page references for both versions of the text to Cunliffe’s edition.

4 This is presumably the William Hunnis who died in 1597 and was made Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal in 1566, a position which would have enabled him to arrange for a well-trained young performer to execute his device, and perhaps those of other writers at the event. Hunnis had received payment for presenting a play by the Children before the Queen in January 1571/2. See Records of English Court Musicians, ed. by Andrew Ashbee, vol. VIII (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995), p. 31, and The Cheque Books of the Chapel Royal, ed. by Andrew Ashbee and John Harley, 2 vols (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), I, 19.

5 A distinction which was to became very important to Ben Jonson’s understanding of his role in his masque-writing, as argued by D.J. Gordon in ‘Poet and Architect: The Intellectual Setting of the Quarrel between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’, in The Renaissance Imagination: Essays and Lectures by D.J. Gordon, ed. by Stephen Orgel (London: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 78-101.

6 Gascoigne also has ‘form’ in passing off his own work as that of others in his 1573 publication of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, a collection of his own poems that he presented as an anthology of works by courtly poets. See G.W. Pigman III, ‘Editing Revised Texts: Gascoigne’s A Hundredth [sic] Sundrie Flowres and The Posies’, in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts, II: Papers of the English Renaissance Text Society, ed. by W. Speed Hill (Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1998), pp. 1-9 (pp. 2-3).

7 The possibility that Jones himself might have written the passages of commentary within the text seems unlikely from the text. Jones signs off his prefatory material with the date, separating it off from the rest of the text. He also displays a lack of familiarity with the events of the progress at odds with the narrator’s initial confidence.

8 See Alexandra F. Johnston, ‘“The Lady of the Farme”: The Context of Lady Russell’s Entertainment of Elizabeth at Bisham, 1592’, Early Theatre, 5.2 (2002), 71-85 for a discussion of this entertainment. Johnston asserts that I.B. signifies the text’s printer, Joseph Barnes (p. 71).

9 The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, ed. by John Nichols, 3 vols (London: John Nichols, 1823, III, 130. This acknowledgement of the compromised nature of the text is rare, however, as most entertainment texts assert the reliability of their account of the events they describe. In fact, what seems to be at issue in the Bisham text is the quality of its representation of the papers, not the papers’ representation of the event. The material itself is never doubted. Had the narrator had knowledge of and access to all the written material, it is implied, the text would have been a more accurate version, more reflective of the true nature of the event itself.

10 Ilana Nash describes how ‘Dudley’s authors ultimately give male authority the last word’ in her discussion of the entertainment (p. 95).

11 For more on the potential of the echo form, see Lathrop P. Johnson, ‘Theory and Practice of the Baroque Echo Poem’, in Daphnis: Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutsche Literatur, 19 (1990), 189-221, and Joseph Loewenstein, Responsive Readings: Versions of Echo in Pastoral, Epic, and the Jonsonian Masque (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).

12 This use of miming could be a relic of a technique of religious drama, where, according to Rose, actors playing angels would appear holding musical instruments whilst musicians would play ‘off-stage’ (Adrian Rose, ‘Angel Musicians in the Medieval Stained Glass of Norfolk Churches’, Early Music, 29 (2001), 186-217, (p. 191)).

13 For more on the dumb show genre, see Dieter Mehl, The Elizabethan Dumb Show: The History of a Dramatic Convention (London: Methuen, 1965).

14 Although Michael Bath cautions against describing pageant devices as ‘emblematic’ in Speaking Pictures: English Emblem Books and Renaissance Culture (London: Longman, 1994), p. 24. In discussing Geffrey Whitney’s ‘normative model’ of the emblem, Bath identifies a tripartite structure in which the ‘emblem presents us with an epigram which resolves the enigmatic relation between motto and picture by appealing to received meanings which its images have in established iconographic systems of Western culture’ (Bath, p. 74). Contra Bath, the entertainment’s combination of visual symbol and textual explication can be emblematic. For instance, the gifts present the spectators with a visual statement whose enigmatic relationship to the visit of the Queen is resolved by the explanatory speeches.

15 Daniel Javitch, Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 79 .  

16 Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry (Hampshire: Thames and Hudson, 1977).

 17 See Catherine Bates , The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

 18 Most noticeably in Sidney ’s ‘The Lady of May’, staged at Wanstead in 1578.

 19 For example, Gascoigne’s presentation of himself as a hermit at Kenilworth in July 1575, and at Woodstock in the September of the same year, the latter as memorialised in his textual presentation of Hemetes the Heremyte.

 20 For more on the importance of the concept of hospitality, see Felicity Heal, Hospitality in Early Modern England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

 21 For more on Gascoigne’s participation in the cult of Elizabeth , see Stephen Hamrick, “‘Set in portraiture’: George Gascoigne, Queen Elizabeth, and Adapting the Royal Image”, Early Modern Literary Studies 11.1 (May, 2005) 1.1-30 <http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-1/hamrgasc.htm>, and Frye, pp. 56-96.

 22 Ulrich Suerbaum, ‘Performing Royalty: The Entertainment at Elvetham and the Cult of Elisa’, in Word and Action in Drama: Studies in Honour of Hans-Jürgen Diller on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1994), pp. 53-64 (p. 63).

 23 Daryl W. Palmer, Hospitable Performances: Dramatic Genre and Cultural Practices in Early Modern England (West Lafayette: Purdue Research Foundation, 1992), p. 126.

 24 Robert Langham: A Letter, ed. by R.J.P. Kuin (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983), p. 41. This text also has an uncertain authorship. Although it is clear that there was a real Robert Langham (identified by R.J.P. Kuin in ‘Robert Langham and his “Letter”’, Notes and Queries, n.s. 25 (1978), 426-7) who was intended to be identified as the author of the text, the veracity of the narrator’s self-presentation has been questioned by several critics, who assert that Langham was the target of a lampoon by William Patten. The letter was clearly written by someone who had attended the entertainment, and thus remains an invaluable piece of evidence, albeit one that must be used with caution. See Brian O’Kill, ‘The Printed Works of William Patten (c.1510-c.1600)’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 7 (1977-80), 28-45, David Scott, ‘William Patten and the Authorship of “Robert Laneham’s Letter”’, ELR, 7 (1977), 297-306, and R.J.P. Kuin, ‘The Purloined Letter: Evidence and Probability Regarding Robert Langham’s Authorship’, The Library, series 6, vol. 7 (1985), 115-25.

 25 Frye, p. 69. See also M.E. Hazard, ‘Leicester, Kenilworth , and Transformations in the Idea of Magnificence’, Cahiers Elisabethains, 31 (1987), pp. 11-35 (p. 18).

 26 Robert Langham: A Letter, p. 46.

  27 Hamrick emphasises the way that Gascoigne’s The Noble Arte of Venerie places Gascoigne himself as ‘yet another “object” of attention gazed upon by other courtiers and the Queen, thereby literally embodying a multisubject aesthetics in which Elizabeth represents only one subject or focus’ (para. 24).

 28 There are various interpretations of the symbolism of this entertainment. See, for example, Edward Berry, ‘ Sidney ’s May Game for the Queen’, Modern Philology, 86 (1989), 252-64, and Alan Hagar, ‘Rhomboid Logic: Anti-Idealism and a Cure for Recusancy in Sidney ’s Lady of May’, in ELH, 57 (1990), 485-502.

 29 ‘The Lady of May’ in Sir Philip Sidney, ed. by Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 5-13 (ll. 282-4).

  30 See G. W. Pigman III, ‘Gascoigne, George (1534/5?–1577)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10421, accessed 3 February 2007]

 31 Richard Braithwait, fifty years later, saw the Kenilworth entertainments as the absolute height of Elizabethan hospitality, describing them as ‘the greatest state that ever I did hear of in an Earles house’ (cited in Hazard, p. 11).

 32 As Ringler recognises, Gascoigne’s device for the 1575 Kenilworth entertainment is the earliest example in English of the dramatising of the figure of Echo (William A. Ringler, The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), p. 402).

 33 Nichols, Elizabeth , III, 131.

 34 Nichols, Elizabeth , III, 131.

 35 Holman describes ‘the instrumental sets or families as alternatives on a musical menu, rather than as ingredients in a single dish’. Peter Holman, Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court , 1540-1690 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 131.

 36 Holman, p. 133.

 37 See Warwick Edwards, ‘Consort’, Grove Music Online ed. by L. Macy (Accessed 20 April 2006), <http://www.grovemusic.com>. Gascoigne’s 1575 usage predates the earliest examples cited in OED by over a decade. The term ‘consort’ on its own without any prefix seems to have implied a group comprised of different types of instruments (David D. Boyden, ‘When is a Concerto not a Concerto?’, Musical Quarterly, 43.2 (Apr 1957), 220-32 (pp. 228-9)).

 38 Anon., The Honorable Entertainement gieven to the Queenes Majestie in Progresse, at Elvetham in Hampshire, in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. by R. Warwick Bond, 3 vols (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1902), I, pp. 431-52 (p. 450).

 39 See Curt Breight, ‘Realpolitik and Elizabethan Ceremony: The Earl of Hertford’s Entertainment of Elizabeth at Elvetham, 1591’, Renaissance Quarterly, 45 (Spring 1992), 20-48, p. 26. Breight interprets the Elvetham arrangements as evidence of Hertford’s sense of inadequacy over the facilities of the estate. Additions to the estate are carefully listed in the text, and included, amongst other things, a spicery, an extra larder, several extra kitchens, and a new wine cellar.

 40 L.M. Hulse, ‘The Musical Patronage of the English Aristocracy, c.1590-1640’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of London , King’s College, 1992), p. 115.

 41 Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, Authorship, and Sexualities in Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 16.

 42 For a discussion of the emergence of news culture, see Brendan Dooley, ‘Introduction’ in The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Brendan Dooley and Sabrina Baron (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 1-16 (p. 8). That Jones’s preface to the text engages with the emerging public appetite for news is indicated in his closing promise ‘to be styl occupied in publishing such workes as may be both for thy pleasure and commoditie’ (p. 570).

 43 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 198.

 44 James Knowles, ‘“To raise a house of better frame”: Jonson’s Cecilian Entertainments’, in Patronage, Culture and Power: The Early Cecils, ed. by Pauline Croft ( New Haven : Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 181-95 (p. 186).

 45 Nash, p. 89.

 46 Thomas Elyot, The Boke Named the Governour (London: J.M Dent, 1907), pp. 158-61.

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