Tag Archives: England

Thomas Malory

Thomas Malory

Thomas MaloryWriter, fiction
(1410 – 1471)

Thomas Malory is recognized as a towering figure of medieval English literature. His masterwork, Le Morte d’Arthur (1485), is the best-known treatment in English of the tales of the exploits and deeds of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Fought in Hundred Years’ War Malory’s birth date is uncertain, but believed to be just before 1410. He was probably the son of John Malory, esquire, of Newbold Revel. As a young man, Malory served with the Earl of Warwick’s forces in France. England had been at war with France since 1337 in what came to be known as the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453). The conflict was over territories controlled by the English in France. At the war’s end, England was expelled from the continent except for Calais.

Criminal Activities

Thomas Malory succeeded to his father’s estate in 1433 or 1434. Far from being the sort of man likely to write what William Caxton called a ‘‘Noble and Joyous book,’’ Malory was a ruffian of the most extreme kind. He was indicted for theft in 1443 and served in parliament later in the decade. He is next heard of in 1450, when he evidently embarked upon an appalling career of rape, robbery, and brutal violence. All together, this ‘‘servant of Ihesu [Jesus] bothe day and nyght’’ (as he claimed of himself) was to spend years in prison for his crimes.

The most damaging document relating to Malory is the memorandum of an inquisition held at Nuneaton in 1451. Therein, it is stated that on January 4, 1450, Thomas Malory led an attempt to murder Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham. A few months later, he raped Joan Smyth of Monks Kirby, and the following week he extorted one hundred shillings from Margaret Kyng and William Hales. He raped Joan Smyth again on August 6, stealing forty pounds Sterling in goods belonging to her husband. On August 31 he extorted twenty shillings from John Mylner. Almost a year later, on June 4, 1451, Malory and five others stole seven cows, two calves, a cart worth four pounds Sterling, and 335 sheep from a Warwickshire farm.

He was arrested a month later and placed in custody, but he broke out of prison by swimming the moat. The very next day, he reconvened his band of abettors. That night, he led an attack on Coombe Abbey, stealing jewels, cash, religious objects, and other valuables. The next night, he returned to Coombe for more booty, this time inciting a riot in which he may have personally beaten the abbot bloody with a stick.

Imprisoned

In spite of the seriousness of the charges brought at Nuneaton, Malory was never brought to trial for the crimes enumerated in the memorandum, though he was summoned in March 1452 to answer charges not sufficiently explained the year before. For a time, he apparently continued his criminal enterprises, jumping bail in 1454 to avoid felony prosecution. He was subsequently imprisoned in Colchester, but escaped and was recaptured and sent to Marshalsea Prison. Malory was called before the King’s Bench on January 16, 1456, and released on a royal pardon. He was sent to Ludgate, a debtor’s prison, and released on bail in 1457. Read the rest of this entry

Restoration Drama in England (1600–1800)

Restoration Drama in England (1600–1800)

Drama during Puritan Commonwealth

Despite a decree of the Parliament in 1642 that outlawed dramatic performances, the stage did not completely disappear from English life during the English Civil Wars and the subsequent Commonwealth. In the years between 1640 and 1660, English Puritans tried to refashion many elements of English life, government, and politics. Since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the Puritans had battled against the theater, and the movement’s most outspoken critics of the stage had long judged London’s playhouses to be haunts of Satan. Puritan opposition to the theater arose, in part, from an astute understanding of the role that the medieval church had played in the development of drama, and the many figures that attacked the theater in the period realized that the custom of staging plays had arisen from the mystery and morality plays that had been common in the country before the rise of the Reformation.

The exterior of the Drury Lane Theater, London. MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY.

The exterior of the Drury Lane Theater, London. MARY EVANS
PICTURE LIBRARY.

At the same time, Puritans shared an abiding distrust for all ritualized and theatrical displays, and they believed that evil lay at the heart of the pomp and magnificence of the stage as well as in the elaborate rituals of kingship and the Church of England. But while the parliamentary ordinances enacted in 1642 against the theater were clear, several loopholes in the law still allowed some minor forms of drama to flourish. During the period of the Puritan Commonwealth (1649–1660), it became a common custom for England’s great noble families—many of whom had sided with the royalist cause—to stage plays and operas in their homes. Some of these productions were actually staged by professionals and performed for paying audiences.

Short dramas, too, were sometimes performed furtively at fairs or in small towns on holidays; and the rise of drolls or traveling wits that toured the country entertaining crowds with short skits was yet another way in which theater survived in England during the 1650s. In the country’s great public schools, institutions that had served to educate sons of nobles and gentlemen since the later Middle Ages, dramas continued to be used, as they were in Catholic Europe, to teach Latin and Greek as well as to expose students to ancient rhetoric and style. At the same time, while regulations against the theater were sometimes ignored, circumvented, or relaxed by the government during the Puritan period, the age was nevertheless a definitive break from the vigorous tradition of public drama that had flourished in England since the last quarter of the sixteenth century.

Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I had each thrown their support squarely behind the theater and had opposed Puritan efforts to rid the country of drama. As a result, most of London’s actors, playwrights, and theater owners had been royalist supporters during the Civil War, and when their side was defeated, many were consequently forced into exile. Many of those who stayed in England took up other occupations. Very few who were active on the London stage in the years before 1642 lived to see the Restoration of the monarchy and the revival of the theater after 1660. Thus when Charles II returned to assume the throne in that year and permitted theatrical performances, the London theater by and large had to be created anew. Read the rest of this entry