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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1995
  • Online publication date: August 2009

4 - Factionary politics: John Crowne's Henry VI


… so he have but a Priest at one end of the Play,

and a Faction at 'tother end of the Pit, it shall

be fam'd for an excellent piece.

That he shall know both Parties, now he Glories;

By Hisses th' Whiggs, and by their Claps the Tories.

Thomas Durfey, Sir Barnaby Whigg (1681)

John Crowne's two-part adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy uncovers the problem of being a “Tory” during the religious and political crisis of 1678–83. Scholars consider Crowne a political fence-sitter, like John Dryden, yet Crowne's The Misery of Civil-War. A Tragedy (1680) and Henry the Sixth, The First Part. With the Murder of Humphry Duke of Gloucester (1681) suggest that Crowne rather illustrates the fluidity of party identity, particularly the shifting attitudes toward succession. Perhaps genuinely ambivalent about religious and constitutional issues, Crowne appears to choose legitimacy, the Stuart right to the throne, in the first adaptation but equivocates about the advisability of a Catholic king in the second. In sharp contrast to other party literature, Crowne's adaptations portray both Whig and Tory sympathies. Crowne's indecisive drama thus encodes the faction-ridden ambivalence of 1678–83 even better than, for example, the blatantly Tory satire of Thomas Otway's more familiar Venice Preserv'd (1682).

In part, certainly, Crowne was consciously “trimming,” changing parties to follow political shifts, but he and his contemporaries were also struggling to balance political and religious agendas, muddling through to fundamental party tenets.