289. Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay by Robert Greene, c. 1590

A fun comedy with several rather unconvincing plots, and elements of its better-known contemporary, Doctor Faustus.

Prince Edward, son of the English King Henry III, falls in lust with Margaret, a local peasant beauty, and is determined to have her. He sends one of his entourage, Earl Lacy to plead his suit, while he hares off to Oxford to avail himself of Friar Bacon’s devil-provided magic to break down her chastity. Of course Lacy and Margaret fall in love, but before their local Friar Bungay can complete their marriage, he is whisked away on devil-back to Oxford where he becomes partners with Bacon to finish a talking bronze head which will make predictions and speak philosophy. Lacy returns to court, where he sends Margaret a letter renouncing his love as he must marry another by the King’s command, but he later returns to try and stop Margaret entering a convent with reassurances that he does indeed love her and is free to marry her.

Much is made of this play having multiple plotlines, but none are strong enough or teased out to provide a sustained and satisfying story. Despite sharing the cast members around each plot thread, things tend to be resolved rather quickly and unconvincingly. The Prince’s rage at Lacy’s ‘treachery’ quickly cools and they are all friends again, followed immediately by the Prince racing back to Oxford to marry Princess Elinor of Castile, who is content with the idea of sharing her wedding day with a peasant girl in a joint ceremony. Bungay’s motivation in helping his abductor Bacon is left a mystery as we don’t see him again. Was Lacy’s letter to ‘test’ Margaret’s love as he claims, or was he genuinely ordered by the King who then relented again on a whim? And if Bacon’s talking brass head is the culmination of his life’s work, why does he conveniently go to sleep leaving his less than accomplished assistant Miles to watch over its critical awakening? Much has progressed in playwriting, but much more is imminent.

Source :  My copy was the annotated online script provided at elizabethandrama.org

Favourite quotes/scenes:

Lacy comes to terms with his love for Margaret over his duty to his Prince

“Honour bids thee control him in his lust;

His wooing is not for to wed the girl,

But to entrap her and beguile the lass.

Lacy, thou lov’st, then brook not such abuse,

But wed her, and abide thy prince’s frown;

For better die than see her live disgraced.”    Lacy, Scene VI, lines 85-90

Lacy admits his love to Margaret, although still pretending to be a commoner like her

“I pleaded first to get your grace for him;

But when mine eyes surveyed your beauteous looks,

Love, like a wag, straight dived into my heart,

And there did shrine the idea of yourself.

Pity me, though I be a farmer’s son,

And measure not my riches but my love”    Lacy, Scene Vi, lines 107-112

Prince Edward faces the pair to kill Lacy in his rage, but is overmastered by his better self and the self-sacrifice evident in the lovers’ pleas as each tries to save the other:

Margaret : Rid me, and keep a friend worth many loves.

Lacy: Nay, Edward, keep a love worth many friends.     

Scene VIII, lines 119-120.

Personal rating:  Fun but a bit disjointed. 5/10

Other reading:  Completely unrelated, but I have also been reading My Penguin Year by Lindsay McCrae, a BBC wildlife photographer’s account of his time in the Antarctic filming the Emperor Penguins. After reading what these amazing birds endure, I ‘ll never complain of feeling the cold again (or at least, for a few weeks)




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