Internet Shakespeare Editions

Become a FriendSign in

About this text

  • Title: Shakespeare and the Queen's Men (SQM) Repertory Productions
  • Author: Peter Cockett
  • Editor: Peter Cockett
  • Textual editors: Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best
  • Production editor: Peter Cockett

  • Copyright Peter Cockett. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Peter Cockett
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Shakespeare and the Queen's Men (SQM) Repertory Productions

    The Politics of the Queen's Men

    McMillin and MacLean argue that the Queen's Men were formed in 1583 for political purposes. The company was the brainchild of Walsingham and the Earl of Leicester and under their influence became a tool for royal propaganda (18-36). In their persuasive interpretation, the plays of the Queen's Men are designed to promote a firmly protestant, English nationalism. In the SQM productions, I attempted to maintain this political interpretation of the plays. I provided the company with two "Players' Handbooks" that laid out in broad and (in hindsight) simplistic terms, the conservative politics I saw represented in the plays. These handbooks served as a guide to the actors in their interpretation of their roles.

    The rehearsal process involved much negotiation around political issues. As noted above, my attempt to insist on a conservative, patriarchal interpretation of the female characters met well-founded resistance from the actors playing the roles, who insisted on solid textual evidence that their roles did not fall within the confines of conservative patriarchal ideology. Understanding and committing their characters' fates to Christian faith and divine providence was challenging at times, but the actors were willing and able to accept this philosophy, once understood, as part of the world of the plays. The actors struggled, however, with the glorification of the English monarchs in the play and were irresistibly inclined towards an ironic interpretation of the most overtly patriotic moments, a response perhaps typically Canadian. In this instance, I felt the text and historical context justified my interpretation of the play. I did my best to hold what we consider to be the Queen's Men's political line but once the plays reached performance the actors' inclinations were supported by the response of their modern audience and the performances took on an increasingly ironic tone. Robert Cushman picked up on this in his review of Famous Victories:

    This Henry's [the play's Henry V] attitude to all things and people French is unabashedly contemptuous and acquisitive. It must have warmed every patriotic Elizabethan heart. We now see things a little differently, and Paul Hopkins, playing the role here, could hardly avoid winking with us at his own outrageousness. His was altogether an irresistible performance, bold and fluent and charming. (At a couple of points he helped himself to the audience's beer.) He went, as his remote predecessors must have done, with the flow; only now it was a different flow. (Cushman "Play")

    An historical reading of the transformation of our political intentions by the responses of our live audience can be found in my chapter of Locating the Queen's Men (Cockett "Performing the Queen's Men") and in the annotations for these editions I track the specifics of this process in each of the performances.

    .