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"It lak'th but life": Redford's Wit and Science, Anne of Cleves, and the Politics ofInterpretation Hillary Nunn In The Boke Named the Gouernor (1531), Sir Thomas Elyot upholds the merits of staged comedies, arguing that "they be undoutedly a picture or as it were a mirrour of man's life, wherin iuell is nat taught but discouered."1 Elyot's comment proves particularly fitting in regard to John Redford's play Wit and Science, for not only does the play use both a portrait and a mirror as stage properties, it also exploits its audience's investment in these objects to create a drama that represents as well as reflects its viewers ' concerns. The play's advice on the proper attainment of knowledge—a subject that would presumably concern its schoolboy performers, the Children of St. Paul's—leads most critics to classify Wit and Science as an educational morality. For the play's audience at court, however, a performance of Wit and Science would produce associations with far more tangible political matters, ones that critics of the play have heretofore overlooked. Though many commentators have pointed out the play's similarities to the romantic quest,2 few have considered the play as a vehicle for advice on the subject of courtship and marriage. Such matters would undoubtedly interest most sixteenth-century courtiers , but those watching Wit and Science would be particularly interested given the difficulties that their reigning king, Henry VIII, experienced in making and maintaining marriages. The travails that Wit undergoes in his pursuit of Science, moreover, bear a striking resemblance to the events that led to Henry's disastrous marriage to, and subsequent annulment from, Anne of Cleves. Both Henry's courtship and the one in Redford's play, after all, rely on portraits as a means of introducing one prospective mate to another, and, in both cases, the subjects of these portraits fail to match their painted depictions. 270 Hillary Nunn27 1 Though the play's audiences might well link Henry's courtship with the one in the play, Wit and Science exploits the theatrical potential of both the portrait and the mirror to strengthen such associations even further. While on one level the play uses Wit's portrait to suggest Hans Holbein's flattering painting of Anne of Cleves, the "picture of Wit" also offers the audience a valuable lesson on portraiture's methods of representation. Similarly, the play's "glas of Reason" calls upon medieval and early modern notions of the unmasking powers of mirrors to reveal the foolishness that underlies both Wit's and his courtly audience's attempts at explicating portraiture. Thus, when Wit holds his glass of Reason up to the audience, he more than involves its members in the play; he also forces his observers to acknowledge their own roles as both interpreters and presenters of images, both living and painted, within as well as outside of dramatic contexts. This resemblance between Henry's failed marriage to Anne of Cleves and Redford's staged courtship, along with the play's concluding royal dedication, suggest that Wit and Science might have been performed at court to celebrate one of the king's two subsequent marriages, perhaps the one to Catherine Howard (28 July 1540). No records of Wit and Science's performance survive, however, and no firm date has been attached to its text, though most scholars concur that Redford wrote the play between 1531 and 1547, the years of his tenure as the choirmaster at St. Paul's. The play's closing dedication, however, restricts the years in which it could have been acted. Following Science's wish of "Joy without end" for all (1093),3 Reason focuses his daughter's blessing on the play's royal audience in particular. "First in this life," he tells the audience, he wishes that these joys "fall/ To our most noble king and quene in especiall" (1097-98). Reason's dedication thus allows us to narrow the possible dates ofperformance to those times when Henry had a wife in good standing. This dedication not only requires that Henry have a queen, but it also places special emphasis on her, blessing her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 270-291
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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