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  • Drunk Thesps, Faith’s Vomit and a Cake-Caked King September 2, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    christian iv

    Christian IV of Denmark (r. 1596-1648) was a proactive, alcoholic king and one of the strongest arguments Beach knows for a republic. He got Denmark embroiled in several useless wars but made up for this by renaming Oslo Christiania after himself. In July 1606 this troublesome and vain individual descended on Britain and he and his ‘sacred majesty’ James I indulged an orgy of wine and women (well, actually James stuck to wine). In the middle of this month long bender a masque or court play was put on. It would prove the most disastrous dramatic performance in British history. The description that follows comes from Sir John Harrington who was a witness.

    One day, a great feast was held, and, after dinner, the representation of Solomon his Temple and the coming of the Queen of Sheba was made… But alas! as all earthly things do fail to poor mortals in enjoyment, so did prove our presentment hereof.

    Note that masques were often ‘interactive’. Members of the royal family were encouraged to take a part in the play or at least to be included in some of the action: today the thesps calls it ‘audience participation’.

    The Lady who did play the Queen’s part, did carry most precious gifts [sweets, cakes etc] to both their Majesties; but, forgetting the steps arising to the canopy, overset her caskets into his Danish Majesties lap, and fell at his feet, though I rather think it was in his face. Much was the hurry and confusion; cloths and napkins were at hand, to make all clean.

    Christian IV could be, sometimes, an oath. But happily on this occasion he seems to have, at least temporarily, risen to the occasion.

    His Majesty then got up and would dance with the Queen of Sheba; but he fell down and humbled himself before her, and was carried to an inner chamber, and laid on a bed of state , which was not a little defiled with the presents of the queen [of Sheba] which had been bestowed on his garments; such as wine, cream, beverage, cakes, spices, and other good matters.

    It should be noted at this point that Christian IV had not just himself got drunk on numerous occasions but had managed to persuade much of the court to do so as well: Sir John noted with horror (or with admiration?): ‘The ladies abandon their sobriety and are seen to roll about in intoxication.’ Remarkably this seems to have extended to the professional actors or those in court who filled in for them.

    The entertainment and show went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down; wine did so occupy their upper chambers. Now did appear, in rich dress, Hope, Faith, and Charity: Hope did assay to speak, but wine rendered her endeavours so feeble that she withdrew, and hoped the King would excuse her brevity: Faith was then all alone, for I am certain she was not joined with good works, and left the court in a staggering condition: Charity came to the King’s feet, and seemed to cover the multitude of sins her sisters had committed in some sort she made obeisance and brought gifts, but said she would return home again, as there was no gift which heaven had not already given his majesty. She then returned to Hope and Faith, who were both sick and spewing in the lower hall.

    Victory came next, but had to be led away and fell asleep on some steps. Peace, meanwhile (what a tedious sounding play) somehow got caught in her olive branches and fell over. Remarkably, just five months after this farce Shakespeare gave the first performance of King Lear…

    Oh to have been alive in 1606 and present at this meeting of monarchs… Other catastrophic performances: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com