Britain now wear's the sock; the Theater's clean Transplanted hither, both in Place and Scene.
Martin Butler and Jonathan Dollimore have recently documented the importance of drama in English political life before 1642. Such scholarship, however, has stopped cold at the great divide of 1642. Except for Lois Potter in “‘True Tragicomedies’ of the Civil War and Interregnum,” no one has considered the relationship between politics and theater while the theaters were officially closed. Scholars have thereby missed a seminal question in understanding the discourse and complex political maneuvering enveloping the act of regicide in 1649. What is the relationship between the theatrical tradition and the execution of Charles I?
Even though historians frequently comment on the “tragic” nature of the execution of Charles I, thus far neither historian nor literary person has bothered to examine the immediate and popular reactions to the act of regicide. This is understandable. An odd mix of imaginative projection and verifiable fact enshrines the execution of Charles, and documentation is admittedly difficult. The available assortment of primary literature, however, indicates that many Englishmen responded to the execution as theater, more specifically, the dramatic genre of tragedy. A 1649 sermon (attributed to the Royalist Robert Brown) exemplifies both the tragic response to the act of regicide and the mid-century employment of the theatrical tradition: Brown describes the execution as “the first act of that tragicall woe which is to be presented upon the Theater of this Kingdome, likely to continue longer then the now living Spectators.”