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"'See me, and learn to know me':
Teaching Lord Mayor's Shows in the Undergraduate Classroom"[1]

by Dr. Mark Kaethler, University of Guelph

(June 2016 Issue / PDF)

This article advocates that Lord Mayors’ Shows should be taught in the undergraduate classroom because their interdisciplinary nature and unique form provide lessons in textual, performance, and colonial histories, and their content lends itself to cultural studies of gender and race in early modern London. My argument for the benefits of including these texts in syllabi centres upon Thomas Middleton’s Lord Mayors’ Shows, but touches upon the works of Thomas Dekker and Anthony Munday as well in order to elucidate the strengths of these often neglected texts. Indeed, despite serving as an incredibly elaborate account of their authors’ dramatic visions—given their vivid descriptions of the day’s events—and their popular nature in the period,[2] little has been written on Lord Mayors’ Shows in recent years aside from David M. Bergeron’s and Tracey Hill’s studies of the dramatic form and about a dozen shorter pieces. This oversight leads to few modern editions of the Shows, causing this article to cite from Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino’s Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (2007), Janelle Jenstad’s the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) project’s diplomatic transcriptions of Munday’s and Dekker’s Shows, or the facsimiles from Early English Books Online (EEBO).[3] I therefore presume that the reader is interested in either devising a course that is based in Thomas Middleton’s writings (using Taylor and Lavagnino’s compilation as its primary textbook and incorporating one or several of the playwright’s Lord Mayors’ Shows) or in developing a class that surveys civic literature more broadly. Having created both of these undergraduate classes and having successfully integrated Lord Mayors’ Shows into both of them, I present what follows as the achievements and insights gained from extracting the value of these texts.

The Unique Quality of Lord Mayors’ Shows

Lord Mayors’ Shows have a complex and textured form that rewards engaged readers by yielding rich understandings of early modern London society. Directing students’ attention to the following pleasures that the works can generate alleviates the potential for disinterest, dismissal, or alienation.[4] Bergeron’s article “Stuart Civic Pageants and Textual Performance” is an invaluable resource for helping students comprehend the printed materials they are encountering. As he states, “playwrights intend the pageant texts for readers; these texts become commemorative books that both capture and immortalize the event and add to it…they exhibit a growing self-consciousness as books and…these publications do not obliterate theatrical performance or displace it so much as they complete it” (165). Bergeron’s argument allows us to appreciate the way in which these texts present an ideal representation of what the dramatist envisioned rather than a true account of what transpired. Although the Shows’ pageants are initially performed, the descriptive elements that the authors add to frame their speeches communicate the reception that the dramatists desired their art to spur. These details guide not only early modern reading practices but also our own interpretations as modern readers. Students thus gain a greater sense of the interconnections between performance and print, which is especially pertinent since pageant writers were commissioned by the livery company of the given year to print copies of their respective Shows. As a result, the authors had an eye to the press before the performance even began.

If an educator’s institution has access to EEBO, then this advantage opens other possibilities for discussing print culture, a topic, it would seem, of renewed interest in the undergraduate classroom. In my recent fourth-year seminar course, students who had no familiarity with book history or early modern printing practices fervently engaged with these topics and were fascinated by the processes of the early-modern print shop.[5] Working in small groups on laboratory exercises such as modernizing text and locating textual cruces, students reflected upon and presented their findings and thoughts with a surprising amount of zeal. Although these tasks were daunting for them, the ability to try something new and different was also exhilarating. Beyond an appreciation for their ability to input CTRL+P on their keyboard to perform what once was an exceedingly difficult and complicated task, students could now comprehend why “aud and” appeared in a text like Dekker’s Brittannia’s Honor (EEBO, sig. B3r), having learned about compositors’ methods and the frequent inaccuracies these techniques precipitated in the print shop. Comprehending this print history not only offers students an understanding of the mechanics that brought about the Lord Mayor’s Show they are immediately studying, but also helps to undo the cultural hegemony that exalts English authors like Shakespeare. By acknowledging that even the printing of a text that the author was actually commissioned to oversee was imperfect and par for the press, students’ mystifications of canonical authors like Shakespeare as isolated geniuses who composed pristine works of literature can be debunked as well.

Such close attention to the text also allows for discussions of “remediation.” While the writers of Lord Mayors’ Shows remediated performance into text and, as Bergeron asserts, gave the illusion of an accurate and full account, EEBO also produces elusive differences between printed page and digital image. Diana Kichuk describes this phenomenon as the “digital veil,” which gives the illusion that users are accessing the real thing when in fact they are distanced from its material conditions through photographic technology that frequently produces imperfect digital copies of printed pages. Kichuk’s caveat continues, as she points out that the transcription the TCP offers of an EEBO facsimile “is not just another facsimile; it is a new work” (296). Therefore, these are also novel editions created by modern authors rather than early modern writers, indicating that we should treat these texts with the same respect as modern editions and cite them accurately (i.e., EEBO-TCP when citing the transcription and EEBO when citing the facsimile). Aside from the fact that students rarely have any preconceived ideas about what a Lord Mayor’s Show is,[6] the form allows for a reflexive teaching moment in which an educator can direct students’ attention to the nuanced forms of remediation in early modern England (from performance to text) and in their current experience of those works (from text to facsimile to transcription). We cannot and should not, therefore, presume that students are savvy “digital natives,” as our current media perform the same illusory techniques as earlier media, the complexities of which, as Bergeron’s article elucidates, are still being unravelled. In addition to instructing students in civic history and entertainments as well as print history, then, Lord Mayors’ Shows offer an important means to teach students how EEBO and the TCP function and to help them comprehend the ways in which they are utilizing these digital tools.

Students are equally unfamiliar with the contents of this kind of dramatic material, even if they might have encountered the work of Middleton, Dekker, Heywood, or even Munday in previous courses. The genre is incredibly moral and didactic, as these Shows are written for civic authorities who were sceptical of theatricality. These factors explain why the Lord Mayor’s Show I included in my third-year seminar course on Thomas Middleton’s literature was not appreciated on an aesthetic level. At the end of my courses, I usually distribute an optional and anonymous review of the texts we studied. Although The Triumphs of Truth scored the second-lowest rating out of all the texts we covered in the category of aesthetic pleasure, it received an admirable score on the intellectual enjoyment scale. These rankings corresponded with students’ reactions and their engagement with the text in the classroom. Even though they had read the speech Middleton wrote for The Magnificent Entertainment—the celebrations Dekker wrote for James I’s accession to the English throne—they were a bit disoriented with what they were encountering. The isolated and allegorical narratives of the pageants more closely resemble the poetry of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene than Middleton and Dekker’s play The Roaring Girl (1611), which we had just finished discussing, and the oscillation between descriptions and speeches is incredibly different from the usual dialogue and brief stage directions of early modern dramatic texts. Aesthetically, then, these texts cannot be expected to produce any immediate literary pleasure for the majority of students, but their alien and atypical form has proven appealing on an intellectual pleasure register. It is therefore worthwhile to signal these traits before the students begin reading the texts.

Lord Mayors’ Shows and Interdisciplinary Studies

Aside from the aforementioned potential for brief forays into digital humanities and media studies, Lord Mayors’ Shows offer intersectional nodes that allow students to combine their secondary interests or concentrations with literary studies. For the purposes of this article, I am drawing upon my experience with majors in history and international studies, but these areas of study do not necessarily define the scope of Lord Mayors’ Shows’ interdisciplinary potential; urban studies, for example, is a discipline that immediately comes to mind. Literature classes tend to survey texts that speak to larger ideas of interest to the broad society at the time, even if they locate these writings within the particular habits of thought or topical issues that initially shaped them. For this reason, ephemeral literature, such as Lord Mayors’ Shows, are often ignored for their inability to provide students with a rich understanding of the period. However, the Shows can provide their readers with histories of national legacy from antiquity to the present day and of topical political matters that affected citizens’ lives on a daily basis.

Anthony Munday’s The triumphes of re-vnited Brytannia (1605) is a perfect example of the former history. The prefatory material to the Show paints a picture of the country’s origins, solidifying the legacy of the British empire. Munday describes colonial expansion as a necessary violence to cultivate the land:

The Country thus peopled with Giantes, and continuing after the name of Albion for 600. Years: Brute, (being directed by a viſion in his ſleepe, to finde out a country ſcituated in the Weſt) with the remains of his Troyan folowers, arriued and Landed at the hauen now called Totnes, the yeare of the world, 2850. after the deſtruction of Troy, 66. before the building of Rome 368. and 1116. before Chriſts natiuity. He, ſearching the land ouer from ſide to ſide, found it to be very fertile, and inhabited by vnciuil, monſtrous huge men of ſtature, tearmed Giants, whom he with his bolde and reſolued companions ſlew and deſtroyed. (MoEML, sig. A3r)

The exactitude of these figures shows that Munday was clearly drawing upon the 1587 edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles, which matches the first two numerical values precisely and in the case of “2850. After the deſtruction of Troy” represents an early modern case of plagiarism—a topic of obvious importance for reflection in the classroom (EEBO, sig. ab 4r, 15). Although this might seem to point away from more immediate sources like John Stow’s Survey of London, which had been reissued the previous year, it is worthwhile to note that Munday and Stow formed a bond that likely materialized as a result of their shared civic interests. After Stow passed away in 1605, Munday “inherited Stow’s papers to continue the work of producing two further editions of The Survey of London” (Djordjevic 60).[7] These papers likely included notes on Holinshed, presuming Munday did not have access to the work itself. This connection is beneficial to consider, as MoEML will be publishing multiple transcriptions of the various extant editions of Stow's Survey. This additional resource and the complex histories that these writers developed into a national mythos highlight the Shows’ potential to offer a means of linking early modern historians with authors, thereby establishing grounds for interdisciplinary research.

The overlap of fiction and history allows instructors to direct students’ attention to the ways in which fiction and history clash in these texts. Echoing Spenser’s depiction in Book II of The Faerie Queene, Munday justifies the genocide of the native inhabitants of Britain, which we know today to have been the Picts, by characterizing them as a wild and unruly race of giants that must be purged in order for civil and orderly society to emerge (2.10.7). In Spenser, we are told this from Arthur reading a book on the history of Faerie Land, which is ostensibly representative of Holinshed’s Chronicles or some other history book of Britain. Unlike Holinshed or Munday, however, Spenser does not state that Brute is led to found Britain from a dream vision he has (Holinshed 9). Spenser instead draws upon notions of “fatall error” (2.10.9), a concept that speaks more to the image of London as Troynouant, or New Troy. Although Holinshed, Munday, Stow, and others draw attention to this ubiquitous tradition of establishing a historical legacy in which Britain’s founder, Brute, was the direct descendant of Aeneas—linking Britain with Rome and thus with Troy—Dekker makes this tradition the focus of his Show Troia-Nova Triumphans (1612), possibly drawing inspiration from Spenser.[8]

Unlike Spenser, whose reference to a fatal error hints at a tragic history that threatens to repeat itself, Munday’s adoption of the Trojan legacy represents an effort to solidify the present moment as a cultural pinnacle. Continuing from his precise historical figures, Munday writes,

Brute thus hauing the whole Land in his owne quiet poſſeſsion, began to build a citty, neer to the ſide of the Riuer Thamſis, in the ſecond yeare of his raign, which he named Troynouant, or as Humfrey Lhoyd ſaith, Troinewith; which is, newe Troy: in remembrance of that famous citty Troy, whence hee and his people (for the greater part) were deſcended. Now beganne he to alter the name of the Iland, and according to his owne name, called it Brytaine, and cauſed all the inhabitants to bee named Brytons[.] (MoEML, sig. A3v)[9]

Although Munday draws attention to the same history that authors like Dekker do, he is only aggrandizing London for the wider purpose of championing the united kingdom of Britain. The history that Munday summarizes is significant since, as the title of his Show suggests, Britain was promised to be reunited under the reign of King James VI and I:

…our ſecond Brute (Royall king Iames) is truely and rightfully deſcended: by whoſe happye comming to the Crowne, England, Wales, Scotland, by the firſt Brute ſeuered and diuided, is in our ſecond Brute re-united, and made one happy Britania again: Peace and quietneſſe bringing that to paſſe, which warre nor any other meanes could attaine vnto. (MoEML, sig. B2r)

The triumphes of re-vnited Brytannia is thus an interesting selection for Arthur F. Kinney to include in his anthology Renaissance Drama, for its celebration of the monarch rather than the mayor seems atypical of the genre. Kinney’s introduction to the piece, however, compensates for this by providing a concise history and overview of Lord Mayors’ Shows (469). Moreover, his reading of Munday’s analogous positioning of the mayor alongside James as suggesting “the importance not only of Sir Leonard [the mayor] but of his and the other livery companies” in securing the king’s aim to dominate local government as well as that of Britain marks a departure from the tendency to discuss this Show in relation to the monarch and his politics.

Even though Munday is foregrounding monarchical policies, then, he is nevertheless presenting the topical matters which altered the city that year. Kinney’s apt reading illuminates the tendency to uphold the crown as the centre of English culture, a proclivity that has caused critics to overlook the possibility that the Show is in keeping with standard practice. Lawrence Manley identifies Lord Mayors’ Shows’ investment in the ephemeral topical matters of the year and their efforts to steer the mayor on an adroit course, thereby indicating the circularity of early modern governance as well as the changing conditions that shaped everyday life in a given year (215). James’s accession and his plan to unite the kingdoms obviously had significant ramifications for Londoners, and the Lord Mayor was involved in this agenda as the representative of the city’s livery companies. However, the Show remains fixed on James rather than the community and its elected leader.

We can perhaps obtain a better idea of civic life by attending to the historical contexts that inform another prominent Show. In both his introduction to Middleton’s The Triumphs of Truth in Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works and his chapter on Middleton from English Civic Pageantry, Bergeron provides an excellent overview of the magnitude and lavishness of The Triumphs of Truth (Bergeron English Civic Pageantry, 242; Bergeron Triumphs of Truth, 965). This grandiose event represents the largest expense paid for an early Lord Mayor’s Show (£1300), and Bruce R. Boehrer provides further reasoning for this extravagance by elucidating the complex ecological issues that underpin the 1613 performance, particularly the changing developments in the city’s water conduits and reservoirs as a result of the New River project. Taylor and Lavagnino’s collection helps to make the connection between the Show and this civic engineering readily identifiable to students, given their anthology’s chronological ordering of the Show after The Manner of his Lordship’s Entertainment (1613). This adjacent text entails pageantry Middleton devised to commemorate Hugh Myddelton’s engineering of the New River project. As Boehrer points out, although Hugh was instrumental in seeing the project through to fruition, it had been a long time coming, and it was only with James I’s support that it ever took shape—a point that Middleton neglects despite acknowledging the hardships that the project faced (572). Hugh’s brother Thomas Myddelton was the Lord Mayor whose legacy, advancement, and forthcoming year in office were celebrated in The Triumphs of Truth. As Bergeron notes, this particular historical backdrop illuminates the environmental interests of the year, which brought about a better distribution system that flowed cleaner water into the city. Boehrer takes Bergeron’s observations further by acknowledging the ways in which Error, his train, and his mists are associated with the pollution of the city that this project sought to help reduce. Error’s immoral spirituality becomes intertwined with this topical social vice that the Lord Mayor and his retinue are helping to expunge from the city. Despite the presence of sulphurous odours and mists in other dramatic works of the period, Boehrer identifies the following unique qualities in Middleton’s Show:

…only in Middleton’s pageant does the fog/mist comprise such a prominent, recurring feature of the entertainment, and only there is it identified as poisonous and foul-smelling. These descriptions seem more than coincidental; in effect, they provide an added physical dimension to a fog that might otherwise seem primarily moral or intellectual in its effects. (574-75)

Beyond functioning as an example of the ways in which Lord Mayors’ Shows paint a picture of the particular socio-political climate of a given year, the ecology of The Triumphs of Truth provides us with an instance of what Gillen D’Arcy Wood calls “eco-historicism,” or “the study of climate and environment as objects of knowledge and desire, analyzed through ‘thick’ descriptions of specific episodes of ecological micro-contact” (3). Despite the anthropocentric attitudes of the age, instances like this provide students with the ability allow students to bridge the environmental conscientiousness of today with early, albeit far less deliberate, forms of eco-awareness in early modern London.

While Lord Mayors’ Shows focus on the immediate ecology at home in London, they also attend to the broader networks of global empire. Various ambassadors regularly attended these ceremonies, and several accounts survive from their visits. Studying the reactions and viewpoints from these representatives who developed international relationships yields insight into xenophobic agendas that these Shows had. In his account of Middleton’s The Triumphs of Honour and Industry (1617), the Venetian ambassador Orazio Busino recounts a pageant in which “the Spaniard, in zeal as virtuous as he, utters” a speech in Spanish followed by an English translation of it; this takes place after a Frenchman has finished speaking to the Lord Mayor in both French and English (127). The figure of the Spaniard, however, was conceived in order to mock the people of that country, or at least their representative, for Busino recalls the manner by which Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, was ridiculed:

Other stages carried the figures of Trade, and the nations which traffic with the Indies. Among these, a Spaniard was perfectly impersonated, the gestures of his nation expertly mimicked, with small black mustachios, hat and cape after the Spanish fashion, a ruff at the throat and little palm-length muffs on his hands. He was continually blowing kisses to the onlookers; but to the Spanish Ambassador, who was a short distance from us, he did it to such a superlative degree that the entire crowd roared with laughter. (194-203)

Middleton’s depiction is symptomatic of a much wider disliking for the Spanish, which Busino identifies when he observes “that they are considered harpies in this country; it seems to me that they are not as well known elsewhere” (137-39). Busino appears to rationalize this xenophobia through the refusal of Spanish visitors or dwellers to assimilate to English habit or popular French trends, choosing instead “the prerogative of dressing in their own fashion,” which according to Busino makes them “easily recognized and mortally hated” (124-26). Prior to any of these insights and accounts, we can see that Busino adopts a similar understanding of the Spanish when he describes an encounter with “two Spaniards; badly dressed, emaciated, with sunken eyes, ugly as ogres” (84-85). Busino must further clarify that his characterization of these men stands “apart from our natural loathing of the nation” (83-84).[10] His alignment with Londoners in this moment, which is emphasized through the collective use of “our” to represent English and Venetian people, shows an interest to belong that manifests itself out of a Hispanophobic mindset.[11] The accentuation of London and England’s supremacy through this desire to assimilate and adopt the oppressor’s culture offers lessons in the roots of the hegemonic English empire, which takes further shape during these international relations.

Theoretical Inquiries

Although Middleton infuses his verse and iconography with Hispanophia in The Triumphs of Honour and Industry, his portrait of non-English persons appears at first to be less troublesome in The Triumphs of Honour and Virtue (1622). The Black Queen of Merchandise delivers the first speech of the Show, which conveys the value of blackness.[12] She attributes the acknowledgement of her beauty to the acuity of discerning spectators:

You that have eyes of judgement and discern
Things that the best of man and life concern,
Draw near: this black is but my native dye,
But view me with an intellectual eye,
As wise men shoot their beams forth, you’ll then find
A change in the complexion of the mind:
I’m beauteous in my blackness. (52-58)
The conversion process that the Black Queen describes, in which spectators “with an intellectual eye” will be able to discern her beauty, results from their recognition of blackness’s beauty. In her introduction to this Show, Ania Loomba notes how unique Middleton is to allocate this commanding speech to the queen: “Middleton is the first, to the best of my knowledge, to give blacks a speaking part in the civic pageants, although Jonson’s Masque of Blackness had done so earlier with respect to courtly shows” (1715). When compared to Dekker’s silent pageant in London’s Tempe (1629), in which an ostrich appears carrying “an Indian boy, holding in one hand a long tobacco pipe, in the other a dart,” it would seem as though Middleton’s depictions are quite progressive (104-5). Dekker objectifies the boy by fashioning him into a commodity, an act which is augmented by the fact that this is the only pageant from Dekker’s Show of 1629 that contains no speeches, dialogue, or sound. The Indian boy becomes a stage property rather than a person.[13] It would appear that Middleton’s Queen of Merchandise is more progressive by comparison; however, this cosmopolitan appearance is deceiving. Loomba remarks in her introduction upon the ways in which peoples of other nations are used to represent trade and commerce: “Blacks and other outsiders were represented even more insistently in the Jacobean mayoral shows: their presence, either within the spectacle or in processions preceding it, signified the new territories that held the promise of commercial expansion for the Companies that sponsored the pageants” (1714). Indeed, we are led to understand later in the speech that Middleton’s Black Queen attains her virtuous disposition only through commerce with the English empire:
All wealth consists in Christian holiness.
To such celestial knowledge I was led,
By English merchants first enlightened
In honour of whose memory only three
I instance here, all of this brotherhood free;
To whose fames the great honour of this hour
Aptly belongs[.] (79-85)

The latter half of her speech thus reveals the ways in which English Protestant virtues were carried out in trade and imparted to the nations with whom they interacted and traded. The choice that these non-English countries made ostensibly secured them from supposedly nefarious dealings with Catholic Spain. Therefore, although the Black Queen eschews racist prejudice by identifying the beauty of her blackness, she still steers her audience’s attention toward the parties who have supposedly made this possible, namely the Lord Mayor and his retinue, who were members of the East India Company. Such subtle nuances allow students both to avoid making reductive binary readings in which Middleton is good and Dekker is bad and to appreciate the cosmopolitan attitudes of early modern London while also remaining sceptical of the degree to which these early modern affinities are guided by English governors’ own self-interests.[14]

In The Triumphs of Truth, Middleton conveys a similar image of English prowess through his King of Moors and the way in which this character directs the audience’s gaze. The ship’s king, queen, and two attendants “of their own colour” arrive on a ship emblazoned with the motto “Veritate gubernor: I am steered by Truth” in gold lettering on a white band that is spread across its mast (405, 402-3). Although we have previously noted that Truth’s cleanliness has the positive effect of spurring an early form of eco-awareness, her white cleansing force, in this pageant, conveys the way in which the English empire justifies its ambitions by believing that it purifies and civilizes foreign nations through its colonial practices. Middleton frames the King of Moors as an alien in London, who readily presumes that his exoticism garners attention:

This king seeming much astonished at the many eyes of such a multitude, utters his thoughts in these words.

I see amazement set upon the faces
Of these white people, wond’rings and strange gazes;
Is it at me? does my complexion draw
So many Christian eyes that never saw
A king so black before? no, now I see
Their entire object, they’re all meant to thee,
Grave city-governor, my queen and I
Well honoured with the glances that pass by. (409-18)

Subtly instructing the crowds to move their gaze from him, which he frames as exotic fascination, to the Lord Mayor, whom he fashions as a sublime object of authority, the King of Moors shows humility to his white counterpart by expressing gratitude to have Londoners’ eyes pass by him and his queen to the “city-governor.” He continues by paying homage to “English merchants, factors, travellers, / Whose truth did with our spirits hold commerce” (437-38). His and his people’s devotion at the conclusion of his speech to Truth, who is figured as the epitome of cleanliness, brightness, and whiteness over the course of the Show, solidifies the manner by which Middleton’s culture values black bodies only if they are guided by empirical ideologies (454-57). His ensuing description of Error as angry “to see such a devout humility take hold of that complexion” drives the point home (462-63). While Middleton’s pageantry might seem to offer insight into the ways in which black lives matter in early modern London, it is vital that students recognize the ways in which this empathy takes shape through larger economic forces that have white interests at heart.[15]

Middleton’s treatment of women, on the other hand, has tended to strike students as more agreeable, and his Lord Mayors’ Shows are no exception. Still, the representations are questionable and lead to fluctuating representations of women as weak or powerful in these texts and the Middleton canon as a whole. The following interpretation of women in The Triumphs of Truth emulates this ambiguity by offering competing viewpoints that do not settle on a unified claim that Middleton does or does not portray empowered female characters in his Show. This dialogic method has produced invigorating debate in previous classes and allows students to formulate their individual conceptions of Middleton’s women while recognizing these conflicting and contradictory portraits.

London itself was frequently personified as a woman, and early modern culture’s attitudes toward her tended to create a binary view of their metropolis. As Gail Kern Paster has shown in her landmark study of the early modern city, Londoners’ religious habits of thought personified the city as either a mother or a disorderly “whore” (2-3).[16] Middleton’s pageantry identifies this dualism through the feminine personification of London and her opening speech to the Lord Mayor and his train before they embark upon the Thames for Whitehall; however, he distorts the traditional bifurcated logic of the traditional either/or construction of the city as woman:

This place is the king’s chamber; all pollution,
Sin, and uncleanness must be locked out here,
And be kept sweet with sanctity, faith, and fear:
I see grace takes effect: heaven’s joy upon her. (188-91)

Although London points out that she is either clean with virtue or dirtied with sin, thereby playing into the good/bad woman that Paster identifies, she displaces blame for her condition onto the men who govern her. It is the Lord Mayor’s responsibility to guard “the king’s chamber” from miasma.

This configuration of femininity, however, remains passive and allocates action to her male counterpart or son, as she calls the Lord Mayor. London’s inaction continues through to the Show’s final pageant. Her last words indicate that Time, the father of Truth, is about to end the day, which would at this point be transitioning into night, and so she relinquishes her authority as a speaker to him. Obeying Time, she directs the Lord Mayor to observe Truth:

But see, Time checks me, and his scythe stands ready
To cut all off; no state on earth is steady;
Therefore, grave son, the time that is to come
Bestow on Truth; and so thou’rt welcome home. (708-11)

Truth, however, desists her father’s scythe:

Father, desist a while, till I send forth
A few words to our friend, that man of worth. (716-17)

These “few words” in fact continue for some time, imbue the Lord Mayor with duty, and caution him regarding his future year in office. The patriarch Time is forgotten, and Truth takes on the role of director, which only makes sense, for after all these are her triumphs.

Truth, however, remains a manifestation of a male author and of patriarchal values that, as aforementioned, are emblazoned on the King of Moors’ ship. Even though Truth challenges her father, she is still a product of a male author operating within the material conditions of performance (i.e., a male actor played Truth) and writing for the interests of the masculine governor of the city. These circumstances conflict with the yearning for a proto-feminist author. The matter remains contentious but has the potential to yield valuable and lively discussion, as well as further insight. Beyond the fact that Truth would be played by a male actor, Sue-Ellen Case’s feminist examination of goddesses in drama from antiquity is useful to heed here as well. Case shows that although these idealized figures are exalted, they remain imagined authorities constructed by men (318).[17] Female empowerment in such cases only gratifies the current needs of systemic patriarchal authority. While this caveat is worth keeping in mind, it is equally valuable to point out that Truth continues to direct and command the action of the Show to the very end. Although Zeal claims that he “burn[s] in divine wrath” and wishes to incinerate Error and his train, who still looms in the background (775), he must first obtain Truth’s permission. It is only after she states, “Strike, then; I give thee leave to shoot it forth” (776), that Zeal follows through with this desire. Women remain inactive, but Middleton nevertheless allocates Truth the ability to command and govern both her Father and her general, Zeal.

Middleton’s association with the feminine remains equally paradoxical. He seems to identify with Truth in his conclusion to the printed text: “I now conclude, holding it a more learned discretion to cease of myself than to have Time cut me off rudely: and now let him strike at his pleasure” (790-93). Both Truth and Middleton are happy to stay the patriarch Time’s hand and to instruct the Lord Mayor on how to comport himself during his year in office. Despite this alignment, the final passage also points to the ways in which Middleton utilizes the feminine personification of Truth to mime his own authority. Although Middleton associates himself with the female voice, and in doing so appears to question “rude” patriarchal authority, it seems equally, if not more likely that he is establishing this connection in order to portray himself as the poetic voice of truth and Truth. This complex characterization of women regularly creates a vibrant undergraduate classroom, wherein as soon as the class believes it has arrived at a conclusion, someone offers a counterpoint that requires us to reconsider our previous interpretation. Such in-depth and sustained explication of the text exemplifies that a Lord Mayor’s Show can be a much more complex and nuanced literary work than has been previously acknowledged.


These close readings of the individual pageants comprising a given Show illuminate the benefit of Lord Mayors’ Shows for focusing students’ attention on a particular verse or character. Although soliloquies in plays arguably provide students with a similar independent speaker, their variegated audience makes it more difficult to develop a claim.[18] This is not to say that students should not study soliloquies, but Lord Mayors’ Shows provide a unique instance in which we know who their verses are directed toward and have a clear sense of the regular trajectory these dramatic pieces took.[19] While this can be viewed as a repetitive dynamic, the recurring motifs of Lord Mayors’ Shows can allow students to concentrate on particular interests and explore them across a host of Shows, for once students learn what Lord Mayors’ Shows are and how they take shape, they can approach any other Show and immediately grasp its sequence. Previous students have focused on the differences and similarities concerning depictions of non-English persons and women across Shows written by a given pageant writer or several different ones, but explorations of history, as already mentioned, or location (e.g., water pageants on the Thames) are also possible to analyze across several Shows.

The quotation from the title, “See me, and learn to know me,” is taken from Middleton’s The Triumphs of Integrity (1623) and serves as a fitting maxim for teaching Lord Mayors’ Shows (206). As I have demonstrated, the atypical, alienating, repetitive, and moral qualities of Lord Mayors’ Shows can be transmuted from presumed weaknesses into strengths when we recognize that students appreciate, what are to them, new forms of literature. These entertainments showcased the city’s interests each year; they offer us a glimpse of London life in a particular year and should be seen as valuable opportunities to investigate this topical history rather than dismissed as ephemeral and inconsequential literature. Although the Shows promote the patriarchal, and often colonialist, mission of nation building through the cityscape, they offer opportunities both to reflect upon these deleterious effects and to observe the complicated questionings of the tacit authority these governing Englishmen hold. Lord Mayors’ Shows, then, offer us the chance to see London in a given year and to learn about the early modern city and its citizens, for better or for worse.

End Notes

[1] A small fraction of this article derives from chapter two of my dissertation research, but the bulk of its content emerges from my teaching practice at the University of Guelph, specifically my ENGL*3960 class on Thomas Middleton in the fall of 2012 and my ENGL*4240 course on Lord Mayors’ Shows in the winter of 2016. I thank the students in those classes for their keen engagement with the ideas expressed here and for their enthusiasm in approaching this atypical literature.

[2] Accounts reveal that the entire city crowded the streets to witness these spectacles.

[3] Bergeron has provided compilations of Anthony Munday’s and Thomas Heywood’s Shows (1985, 1986), and Fredson Bowers edited Thomas Dekker’s three shows in his The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker (1953-1961). On rare occasion one of the Shows finds its way into an anthology of literature from the period, as with Arthur Kinney’s Renaissance Drama, but they are usually omitted from such collections. This dearth has led me to use Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (a tome that contains modern-spelling editions of Middleton’s Shows, each of which is accompanied by a critical introduction), EEBO (in tandem with transcriptions provided by the Text Creation Partnership), and MoEML (an open-access recourse that offers an alternative to EEBO-TCP, which is only accessible to institutions with subscriptions to the database) as required materials for the assigned readings.

[4] Their repetitive structure and sharp difference from the early dramatic texts that students are accustomed to reading might produce such reactions.

[5] Although Russ MacDonald’s The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare and Peter Blayney’s “The Publication of Playbooks” provide invaluable overviews of this history for students, Gabriel Egan has kindly offered his book The Struggle for Shakespeare’s Text, along with all of his other publications, in open-access form on his personal website. If an institution does not have access to these print resources or have a library budget to accommodate e-reserve materials, then Egan’s first appendix, “How early modern books were made: a brief guide,” will serve as a means to familiarize students with bibliographical studies.

[6] With Shakespeare students initially have an idea of who he is, what his texts mean, or a way in which they wish to approach his work, but even a course or lesson on revenge tragedy, city comedy, etc., likely intrigues the student at an expository level rather than inspiring a primary interest in form.

[7] I am indebted to Katie Ryan for providing me with this resource and for directing me to this connection between Stow and Munday.

[8] Cyrus Hoy’s commentary to Fredson Bowers’s The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker reveals that Dekker’s Shows are heavily influenced by The Faerie Queene.

[9] This is a case where using MoEML has pedagogic advantages that EEBO or EEBO-TCP do not possess. The ability to highlight “Humfrey Lhoyd” and discover that he was a “Welsh antiquary and mapmaker” is not available in these other formats. This TEI tagging protocol provides students with a wealth of information that does not disrupt the text as a conventional footnote might.

[10] It is entirely likely that Busino’s Hispanophobia manifests out of his own culture’s disdain for Spain; however, given the account’s contents, Busino depicts these Spanish men living in England as especially vile.

[11] Thomas Michael Stein’s claim that “Middleton was, of course, no racist” should give us pause to reflect upon the fact that the early modern period did not necessarily share the modern sensibilities or at least awareness of racism (223). Middleton’s depiction, however, is clearly racist insofar as it manifests through the idea of community, which inevitably (and here overtly) entails a degree of exclusion.

[12] In addition to addressing the fact that race is a social construction, it is equally important to show the manner by which Londoners would have understood the idea of one’s “race.” Ania Loomba and Jonathan Barton have compiled and edited a documentary companion on the topic; they provide an accurate definition of “race” that had cultural currency during the period: “at the time ‘race’ connoted family, class, or lineage rather than the classification of modern imperial times…the defining features of racial ideologies—the quasi-biological notion that physical characteristics denoted distinct types of human beings with distinct moral and social features—had not yet come into being” (2). This understanding brings historical context to the classroom, but also allows for radical reflection upon the ways in which taxonomies change over time, thereby revealing the notion of “race” to be truly a cultural construction.

[13] Abram Booth’s account of London’s Tempe includes the only visual evidence we have of these Shows. His sketches have been reproduced in Jean Robertson’s Malone Collections V, James P. Lusardi and Henk Gras’s article in Shakespeare Bulletin, which provides a translation of Booth’s account of the Show as well, and most recently in Tracey Hill’s book (Robertson 1-2; Lusardi and Gras 23; Hill 123-25).

[14] As Jean Howard remarks in her study of London places in comedies, there were competing attitudes toward non-English people: “if there was a xenophobic impulse in English culture during the period, it was countered, especially in London, by a competing cosmopolitanism more tolerant of difference and more inclined to look beyond the boundaries of the nation-state with something other than contempt or fear” (9). In the case of Lord Mayors’ Shows, educating students of these conflicting attitudes leads to stimulating dialogue, but these conversations ought to be tempered with the reminder that the Shows’ cosmopolitan visions ultimately derive from English economics rather than a desire to celebrate diversity.

[15] When I refer to white empirical interests, I am speaking of the Lord Mayor and his retinue rather than a conglomerate whole that is London. As Tracey Hill points out in her response to Rebecca Bach’s interpretation of race in Lord Mayors’ Shows, we should remember that “[n]ot all who witnessed the Shows would have shared the city oligarchy’s ideological stance (inasmuch as it is possible to generalise about this), let alone its wealth. Such was the heterogeneity of the population of London in this period that some of the onlookers may even have been black, or Irish, themselves, and thus hardly likely to ‘celebrate’ their ‘whiteness’ or their supposed status as colonial oppressors” (294).

[16] As Paster identifies, this split perception derives in part from Augustine’s competing conceptions of the city of God and the worldly city, both of which he describes in De Civitate Dei.

[17] As a point of contact with contemporary life, it is worth briefly comparing this construction with the modern misogynist notion of putting women on pedestals, which also resembles Petrarchan sonnet conventions.

[18] This statement takes the Lord Mayor and his train as the intended audience rather than the crowds who were likely prey to the same distractions that they would have experienced in the playhouse. In fact, according to Paster, the conditions would have been worse: “there is…no denying that a show unfolding along a processional route can only have been intelligible to the members of the procession, not to the outer audience stationed throughout the city” (139).

[19] MoEML’s introduction to The Triumphs of Truth provides students with an excellent visualization of the route this Show took. The Show’s divergence from the common trajectory—given that the Lord Mayor and his train landed at Baynard Castle after the ceremonies at Whitehall—makes this resource particularly useful for discussing the path and exceptions to that norm (

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