Friday, October 16, 2015

Feeling Good

One of the more unusual elements of Or, is the music. The script notes that "The play is set in the Restoration period, but plays off the echoes between the late 1660s, the late 1960s, and the present." And so liberties are taken, especially in the sound design, to show that Aphra Behn was truly a woman ahead of her time. One of my favorite moments occurs at the end of the show because it's underlined by the fabulous Nina Simone. 

A perfect Friday song isn't it? Or, runs for two more weekends so come join us for a history story that I have been describing as a cross between Shakespeare and Noises Off. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who Was Nell Gwyn?

Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687; also spelled GwynnGwynne) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of RestorationEngland and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. She was the most famous Restoration actress and possessed a prodigious comic talent. Gwyn had two sons by King Charles: Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). The surname of her sons is pronounced 'Bo-Clare'. Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.

In her early teens, Nell Gwyn was engaged to sell oranges at the King's Theatre. Her natural wit and complete lack of self-consciousness caught the eye of the actor Charles Hart and others, and Dryden wrote plays to exploit her talents as a comic actress.
She became Charles Hart's mistress, she called him Charles the First, and was then passed to Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whom she dubbed Charles the Second, and later the King, calling him her Charles the Third.
Lady Castlemaine (Barbara Palmer) had been King Charles' mistress for many years when he became enamoured of Nell.
"Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore" was Nell Gwyn's cheeky retort to the masses pushing around her coach in the mistaken belief that it was that of the Duchess of Portsmouth, the Catholic Louise de Keroualle, one of Charles' other mistresses.
Unlike Charles' other mistresses, Nell never received a title herself, but by using clever tactics she obtained a title for her son.
"Come here you little bastard" she is reputed to have said to her small son in the Kings presence. The King was horrified, but as Nell asked, "what should she call him, was not bastard true?" The King immediately made him Duke of St. Albans.
When the King died in 1685 Nell's creditors descended upon her - she never did starve, but was in grave danger of being sent to a Debtors prison. She appealed to King James and to his credit, he settled her immediate debts and gave her a pension of £1500 a year.
James asked in return that her son should become a Catholic but James was to be disappointed.
Nell survived Charles by only two years and was only in her thirties when she died. She became a legend, the only royal mistress in English history to provoke popular affection.

Who Was King Charles II?

Early Life 

Charles II was born in St. James’s Palace in London, England, on May 29, 1630. Signs of political turmoil were on the horizon in England. Two years prior, his father, King Charles I, had reluctantly agreed to the passage of the Petition of Right, which placed limits on the king’s authority.

In 1642, civil war broke out between Parliament and Charles I over his claim of divine right to rule. By the end of the decade, Parliament, led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, was victorious. Young Charles II fled to France, and Charles I was executed in 1649.

During the 11-year period of Interregnum, Charles was forbidden from being crowned king. Supporters in Scotland offered him the throne if he supported home rule. Inexperienced and untested in battle, Charles led a force into England but was quickly defeated at the Battle of Worcester, in 1651. Charles fled to the continent and spent nearly a decade in exile, forced to move from one country to another due to Cromwell’s reach.

The Restoration

The English republican government collapsed following Cromwell’s death in 1658, and Charles was reinstated to the throne in 1661. In his restoration agreement with Parliament, he was given a standing army and allowed to purge officials responsible for his father’s execution. In exchange, Charles II agreed to honor the Petition of Right and accept a limited income. The early years of Charles' reign was marked by a terrible plague (1655) and the Great Fire of London (1666) which led to a substantial rebuild of the city of London. He also went to war with the Dutch (1665-1667) which resulted in a Dutch victory and led to Charles' alliance with France. In general, Charles' reign was marked by tolerance - both for the people who overthrew his father and for varying religious factions.

By this point, Charles was cynical and self-indulgent, less skilled in governing than in surviving adversity. Like his father, he believed he possessed the divine right to rule, but unlike Charles I, he didn’t make it his priority. The Royal Court was notorious for its wine, women and song, and Charles became known as the “Merry Monarch” for his indulgence in hedonistic pleasures.

Later Years

In 1670, Charles signed a treaty with French King Louis XIV in which he agreed to convert to Catholicism and support France’s war against the Dutch in return for subsidies. The French assistance allowed him a little more breathing room in his dealings with Parliament.

Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine, failed to produce a male heir, although he had many sons by a number of mistresses, and by 1677 many feared his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York, would assume the throne. To appease the public, Charles arranged for his niece, Mary, to wed the Protestant William of Orange.

A year later, the “Popish Plot” to assassinate the king emerged. Further investigation revealed no conspiracy existed, but anti-Catholic hysteria in Parliament led to false accusations against Charles’s chief advisor, Lord Danby. Tired of the conflict, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1679 and ruled alone for his remaining years.

On his death bed, Charles finally went through with his promise to convert to Catholicism, angering many of his subjects. He passed away in London’s Whitehall Palace on February 6, 1685.


King Charles II and his wife Catherine left a lasting impact on both England and the world. Catherine is credited with making tea a popular drink in England. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was named for Charles as it was the lapdog of choice in his reign. Part of Catherine's dowry included the Seven Islands of Bombay. Charles II rented out the land to the East India Company which took up headquarters there and resulted in Bombay becoming the dominant city in India and started the colonization of India by the British.