Article Title

"It lak'th but life": Redford's Wit and Science, Anne of Cleves, and the Politics of Interpretation


Hillary Nunn


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

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.

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