Jesuit Carnival Plays

An-early-diagram-of-the-Venerable-English-College-RomeNewly returned from the Bindery is our collection of Jesuit Latin plays from the Venerable English College in Rome (shelved at qPA 8140.E7). These are photocopies of 8 manuscript plays probably performed during Carnival seasons between 1612 and c1618. There are 3 plays (Thomas Morus, Sanctus Thomas Cantuariensis and Roffensis) each with an Intermedium (a short play which would originally have been performed between the acts of the main drama) and  2 versions of the play Captiva Religio.

These plays are sometimes described as ‘martyr plays’ as their subject matter is the lives of Thomas More, Thomas à Becket and Bishop John Fisher. Their tone is distinctly Catholic of the period: in Thomas Morus Anne Boleyn is described as a whore, possibly Henry VIII’s daughter and having a ‘dubia sobole’ (doubtful offspring) i.e. the future Queen Elizabeth. There is also comedy at the expense of Protestants, such as the clergymen described in Captiva Religio planning to go dancing disguised as satyrs and hoping not to be spotted by any of their congregation.

For transcriptions and fascinating introductions to these plays see the section ‘The Library of Humanistic Texts’ on the website of the Philological Museum at www.philological.bham.ac.uk. These plays and many others are in the Anonymous section.

Kate Welch, Information Assistant (SIL)

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