Stuff that Happens
stuff that happens before the play
- Generally: Richard III.
- Specifically: Clarence, brother of King Edward IV, is murdered; the children of Edward IV are sent to the Tower by Edward’s other brother, Richard; King Edward dies; newly crowned King Richard III as Edward’s sons killed; Richard III is killed at Bosworth Field by Richmond, who becomes King Henry VII.
stuff that happens in the play
- A dumbshow showing the death of Clarence in a malmsey butt, a distraught wife and children, the rise of King Richard III, shadowy substitution of two young children for two other young children.
- The two shepherd children, Meg and Ned, discuss their lives with their father, Old Towel, while Ned tells of his early memories of living somewhere else.
- King Henry VII and his Lord Chamberlain get a rundown of the royals schedule from Wigmore; news arrives that James IV of Scotland harbors a boy claiming to be the son of Edward IV who was supposedly killed in the Tower by Richard III. The boy’s name is Perkin Warbeck and he is also being cared for by Edward IV’s sister, Margaret. The Lord Chamberlain suggests that King Henry “stage [him]self to the people’s eyes with a leash of prisoners at [his] heels.” They discuss a prisoner in the Tower: the late Clarence’s son Edward, nephew to Edward IV.
- In Scotland, with his “Aunt Margaret” looking on, Perkin Warbeck (who claims to be Edward V) gets his portrait painted.
- Back in the shepherd fields at night, Meg accuses her brother of “buggering off to London to discover the truth.” Meg disguises herself as Ned’s page and joins him.
- A Pageant of Lunatics traverse the stage with “Edward” on a leash followed by King Henry.
- In Scotland, King James IV sends Scottish troops (the Wallace, the Gavin, the Duncan, and the Nancy) with Perkin on his “invasion adventure” to London.
- Ned mistakes two Oxford students for pirates; the four swap clothes so the students can “embrace a rustic life” while Meg and Ned “rifle Oxford volumes in search of [their] genealogical roots.”
- King Henry laments to the Lord Chamberlain that “Edward” (son of Clarence) was admired by the crowd on the King’s progress; they concoct a plan to put “Edward” on trial.
- On their way to invade London, the Scots do a sword dance with Perkin Warbeck and find a place to sleep for the night.
- The Lord Chamberlain tells King Henry that some suggest the King is “a member of the Court of Titania.” King Henry vows to sign a death warrant for Edward, son of Clarence.
- English soldiers capture Perkin Warbeck.
- Ned discovers more about his past in the books at Oxford and heads for London.
- Arrests, confusions, revelations, and history (sort of) ensue.
Notes from the Executive Director
The Brats of Clarence played only twice in its first season at the Blackfriars. Attendance at the first show as a remarkable 20% higher than the average attendance for a Blackfriars show. That fact in itself would not be enough to raise suspicions, for opening nights were commonly good ones for Shakespeare’s King’s Men. So good, in fact, that to avoid a fluke, management paid playwrights with receipts from the second show. What is odd about the first short run of Brats is that attendance at the second show was even better.
To what, then, can we attribute its bizarre production history? The astonishing answer is that the author of this play is not an assistant professor of English at the University of North Texas named Paul Menzer, and The Brats of Clarence is not the hysterical historical romp it appears to be. The real author of the play is none other than Charles Edward Maurice Spencer, the 9th Earl Spencer, and the play is a trenchant, but coded, blast against the murder of his sister, Diana.
- The play’s withering look at Henry VII interrogates the legitimacy of all English monarchs, obviously including the mother of Prince Charles.
- The character of Perkin Warbeck is part French, part English, and as such is a symbol of an Anglo-Gallic conspiracy like the one behind Lady Di’s death.
- The rejection of Perkin on xenophobic grounds is an obvious allusion to Diana’s planned alliance with someone from another culture.
- Up until the year before this play, the supposed playwright, Paul Menzer, had never written anything more dramatic than a bumper sticker.
- In the year of this play, that same Paul Menzer took credit for a play called Anonymous, a title clumsily intended to fog the issues of plagiarism.
- Brats is a supremely witty piece of work, but people who know Paul Menzer are of the opinion that he is more or less witless.
- Paul Daniel Menzer has only three names. Charles Edward Maurice Spencer, the 9th Earl Spencer, has seven, not including the article.
These hard facts lead to only one conclusion: Voiceless against the cover up of the murder of his sister, the 9th Earl Spencer wrote a play laying out the details of the conspiracy. Fearing the same fate, he decided to produce the play in America where its gradual acceptance could grow to an irresistible force against the crown. He hired an underpaid English professor named Paul Menzer to be his “front” and gull his friends, the founders of the ASC, into staging the play. But Spencer had not foreseen the initial success of Brats, and the ASC had to pull the production under pressure from the royal family.
Now the American Shakespeare Center, fearless in pursuit of beauty and truth (which is all they know), has revived the play for the good of Western history.
Ralph alan cohen