Rollo Duke of Normandy

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Rollo Duke of Normandy, also known as The Bloody Brother, is a play written in collaboration by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and George Chapman. The title character is the historical Viking duke of Normandy, Rollo (lived 846-c.931). Scholars have disputed almost everything about the play; but it was probably written sometime in the 1612–24 era and later revised, perhaps in 1630 or after. In addition to the four writers cited above, the names of Nathan Field and Robert Daborne have been connected with the play by individual scholars.

Performance and publication[edit]

Details of the play's earliest productions are not preserved in the historical record. The play was seen at the Globe Theatre on 13 May 1633,[1] and was acted at Hampton Court Palace on 24 January 1637 (new style). It was entered into the Stationers' Register on 4 October 1639 by the booksellers John Crook and Richard Sergier, as the work of "J. B." It was first published later in 1639, in a quarto printed by R. Bishop for John Crook and Thomas Allot, under the title The Bloody Brother. The title page of this quarto attributes the play to "B. J. F." A second quarto appeared in 1640 under the title The Tragoedy of Rollo Duke of Normandy, published at Oxford by stationer Leonard Lichfield, "Printer to the University." Q2 assigns the play to Fletcher, and asserts that it was acted by the King's Men.[2] Q2 appears to derive from a theatre prompt-book, while Q1 shows less sign of direct contact with the stage and is a more "literary" text.[3] The play was included in the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1679.

A suppressed performance[edit]

Though the theatres were officially closed from 1642 to 1660, surreptitious performances occurred sporadically through the era. 1647 was a year of relative official lenience, when the actors were surprisingly active; but the London authorities soon cracked down. On 5 February 1648, King's Men players were arrested in the midst of a clandestine performance of Rollo at the Cockpit Theatre.[4] Joseph Taylor was acting Rollo; John Lowin played Aubrey, Charles Hart Otto; Nicholas Burt was Latorch, and Thomas Pollard the Cook. The actors were arrested, and imprisoned in Hatton House for a time; their costumes were confiscated.[5]

Authorship[edit]

Scholars have been divided about the nature of the play's authorship. Some have regarded it as a play that was originally written by Jonson and Chapman and later revised by Fletcher and Massinger; while this scheme makes a good deal of sense, others have disputed it. In his sweeping study of authorship problems in the Fletcher canon, Cyrus Hoy provided this breakdown among the shares of the four dramatists —[6]

Massinger — Act I; Act V, scene 1 (lines 1–90);
Massinger and Fletcher —Act V, 1 (remainder) and 2 (first part);
Fletcher — Act II; Act III, 1 (middle portion) and 2; Act V, 2 (second part);
Chapman — Act III, 1 (excluding middle portion); Act IV, 3;
Jonson — Act IV, 1–2.

Synopsis[edit]

Rollo is a Viking leader, a powerful Danish duke at loggerheads with his brother Otto the king of Denmark, urged on by the sycophantic Torchy LaTorch, who then dies and leaves his two sons, Gurim and Rollo, leaving Rollo to be expelled and Gurim killed.

Rollo, Duke of Normandy, is locked in a struggle for power with his brother Otto, whom, urged on by the sycophantic LaTorch, he eventually murders. After he commits a number of other bloodthirsty deeds, he is lured into a private meeting with the beautiful Edith, daughter of one of his victims, who plots to murder him; as she hesitates, one Hamond, Captain of the Guards and brother of another of Rollo's victims, breaks in and murders him instead; he is himself killed in the process. Aubrey, Rollo's cousin, succeeds to the Dukedom; he has Edith cloistered, LaTorch whipped and hanged.

With his followers (known as Normans or northmen), Rollo invades the area of northern France, and besieges Paris. From the moonlit terrace of the royal palace, King Charles III gazes on the Princess Gisella, who is feasting with her father Rollo and his men. The voice of his brother, count of Lorraine, echoes from a deep cistern, where he is imprisoned by the king, who fears him. Gisella demands the head of the King's brother in a silver ewer, ignoring Charles's desperate alternatives, war with the Normans or with his own feudal vassals. The terrified king finally gives in. After a tense pause, the arm of the executioner rises from the cistern, offering the head to Rollo.

After he commits a number of other bloodthirsty deeds, he is lured into a private meeting with the beautiful Edith Roister, daughter of one of his French victims, who plots to murder him; as she hesitates, one Hamond Egz, Captain of the Guards and brother of another of Rollo's English victims, breaks in and murders her instead.

Concluding the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, Rollo pledges feudal allegiance to the king and converts to Christianity. At the city gates, victory is celebrated in parade and dance, a ceremony observed by the King and Gisella. Gisella delivers a speech in praise of dancing. The Viking army plans to launch an invasion of England.

The plot is based loosely on the historical Rollo of Normandy and the foundation of the Duchy of Normandy.

References[edit]

  1. ^ G. E. Bentley, "The Diary of a Caroline Theatergoer," Modern Philology Vol. 35 No. 1 (August 1937), pp. 61–72; see p. 63.
  2. ^ E. H. C. Oliphant, The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher: An Attempt to Determine Their Respective Shares and the Shares of Others, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1927; pp. 457–9
  3. ^ Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds., The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1978; p. 71.
  4. ^ Andrew Gurr, The Shakespeare Company 1594–1642, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004; pp. 203–4.
  5. ^ Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, "New Light on English Acting Companies in 1646, 1648, and 1660," Review of English Studies Vol. 42 No. 168 (November 1991), pp. 487–509.
  6. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 70–2.