286. The Battle of Alcazar by George Peele, 1589.

“Ah, sweet Sebastian, hadst thou been well advised,

Thou mightst have managed arms successfully!

But from our cradles we were markèd all

And destinate to die in Afric here”

Stukeley, Act V, Scene 1, lines 223-226

Source :  Again, website elizabethandrama.org, in this case both annotated and text-only versions are available http://elizabethandrama.org/the-playwrights/george-peele/battle-alcazar-george-peele/

Plot : The naive King Sebastian of Portugal becomes embroiled in the succession war over the throne of Morocco, as an excuse to further his own vision of returning Christianity to Africa. He sides with the usurper Muly Mahamet, son of the previous Sultan, but the rules of succession mean that the Sultan’s brothers are next in line. Mahamet kills his eldest uncle, as well as his own two brothers. Andelmelec, the next surviving legitimate successor, raises an army with the support of the Ottoman Turks, to take the throne.

Thoughts : Despite this being a recent slice of history (the battle was fought in 1578, barely ten years before the play was written), it is fairly tepid stuff. Without the powerful central character of a Tamburlaine, most interest centres on Thomas Stukeley, an English rogue and opportunist who has enveigled himself into the Papal good-books and carries the title of Marquis of Ireland. He is off to install himself in Ireland when a storm drives him ashore in Portugal and he becomes involved in Sebastian’s crusade. Stukeley crows loud and often that he is only interested in his own fortunes, desiring to become a King, and any realm will do. A biography of Stukeley might be more entertaining, indeed the text at elizabethandrama.org includes a postscript giving more details of his twists and turns.

Sebastian is portrayed as honest and loyal, yet his supposed allies trick him with false promise (Philip of Spain who does not show up with the promised Spanish forces) and the villainous Muhamat who is using Portuguese lives to win the Crown and will never honour his vow to allow Portugal rule Morocco. Muhamat is more a stock villain, especially in his cowardly attempt to escape when cornered, while Andelmelec and the youngest uncle Seth are the only characters to show both wisdom and valour.

Favourite quotes/scenes:  Two memorable speeches are (i) a rather over the top section praising England’s Queen Elizabeth, from the mouth of the young King of Portugal, no less! (since Peele could hardly have the roguish Stukeley speak this – he was famously quoted as saying to Queen Elizabeth that he would rather be king of a molehill than the subject of the greatest King in Christendom ) and (ii) Stukeley’s dying speech which stretches to fifty lines! Perfect for any aspiring ham actor.

Personal rating: 4/10

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