Histriomastix

Histriomastix

This entry refers to the 1632 work by William Prynne; for the play by John Marston, see: Histriomastix (play).

Histriomastix: The Player's Scourge, or Actor's Tragedy is a critique of professional theatre and actors, written by the Puritan author and controversialist William Prynne.

While the publishing history of the work is not absolutely clear, there is reason to believe that Histriomastix was published late in 1632 by the bookseller Michael Sparke, although it had been in preparation by its author for almost ten years prior to its final printing. (The title page of the first edition is erroneously dated 1633; as a result many sources cite this as the date of publication.) Depositions given in connection with Prynne's trial indicate that the actual writing of the text was accomplished between spring 1631 and mid-to-late 1632.

Histriomastix represents the culmination of the Puritan attack on the English Renaissance theatre. Running to over a thousand pages, and with a main title of 43 lines, it marshals a multitude of ancient and medieval authorities against the "sin" of dramatic performance. The book condemns most aspects of dramatic performance it its era, from the practice of boy actors representing women to the "obscene lascivious love songs, most melodiously chanted out upon the stage...."

Prynne's book was not by any means the first such attack on the stage, though it certainly was the longest. Its Puritan theology was in any case unwelcome to the ecclesiastical authorities led by the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. Prynne had to appear before the Star Chamber and was sentenced in 1634 to be pilloried, branded, imprisoned for life and was fined £5,000. At his trial, some fifty separate and allegedly treasonous excerpts from the book were quoted; but the one that has attracted most attention from subsequent critics is Prynne's attack on women actors as "notorious whores," which was, at the time, taken as a direct reference to Queen Henrietta Maria. (The Queen had a speaking role in Walter Montagu's masque The Shepherd's Paradise, which was staged on Jan. 9, 1633, most likely after Prynne's book was in print. But she had also appeared and danced in two earlier masques, and performed a spoken part in French in a private performance of Honorat de Racan's pastoral, Artenice, in 1626.)

The notorious book was never fully suppressed, however; in the next generation, even King Charles II had a copy in his library.

References

External links

Further reading

  • The Idolatrous Eye: Iconoclasm and Theater in Early Modern England by Michael O'Connell ISBN 0-19-513205-X contains an attempt to shed light on the Puritans' fanatical opposition to the theatre.

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