Published: 30 April 2014

Henry VIII, Shakespeare and the ‘vices of youth’

LiverpoolUniPlayers

A satire on Henry VIII’s youthful follies and vices will be performed by The Liverpool University Players in a special Tudor showcase to mark the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.

The Interlude of Youth, thought to have been commissioned by Henry Percy, Fifth Earl of Northumberland, between 1513 and 1514, centres on the travails of a handsome youth given to exploring pleasure, who later achieves redemption through embracing the more wholesome virtues of “Charity and Humility”.

Dr Sarah Peverley, a Lecturer in the University’s Department of English who specialises in medieval literature, is directing the play with Martin Poile, an AHRC funded postgraduate, who is studying the text for his MA by Directed Research in English.

Dr Peverley said: “The play is both a moral allegory – a very popular theme in medieval and Tudor times – and also a political dig at the early years of King Henry VIII’s reign.

“Youth is portrayed as a handsome individual between the ages of 25 and 35 years old, who is prone to impulsive and misguided behaviour. The action of the play traces Youth’s progress, from his state of riotous arrogance, indulging in the sins of Pride and Lechery, to his redemption through the virtues of Charity and Humility.”

Wealthy noblemen of the time, like Percy, prided themselves on being patrons of the arts and often kept small groups of actors who also had household responsibilities. These troupes would normally consist of four men and a boy (to play female roles) doubling up where necessary, and performing at banquets and other celebrations such as Easter, Shrovetide and Christmas.

Using minimal props, the actors would take up their roles during a break – or ‘interlude’ – in the evening’s proceedings. The Liverpool University Players’ interpretation features an all male cast of five actors, with pronunciation of the 16th Century text given a modern lilt to aid the audience.

The performance takes place in the Banqueting Hall of Rufford Old Hall, near Ormskirk and once home to the wealthy Hesketh family, who probably hosted similar shows in the setting.

Dr Peverley added: “The young King Henry VIII was renowned for excessive spending, gambling, vanity, and pursuing beautiful ladies (all vices of youth!) and Northern lords like Percy, fifth Earl of Northumberland, frequently complained of the difficulties of imposing justice and order in their domains after the King diminished the power of local officials to convict rioters.

“Commissioning an ’interlude’ that centred on the riotous figure of ‘royal’ Youth who eventually casts aside vice and embraces the virtues extolled by Charity would have been a perfect way of making a political point – whilst at the same time flattering the temperamental monarch.”

The Interlude of Youth, with The Liverpool University Players, takes place at Rufford Old Hall, near Ormskirk, on Friday May 2.

Tickets are £5 and can be pre-booked or purchased on the door. Please call 01704 821254 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ruffordoldhall

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