If you can lay hands on it, the first part of Sandra Billington's Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama (OUP, 1991) might help with the 'kynges games, as it were staige playes'.


Sarah Carpenter
English Literature
University of Edinburgh
School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
50 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LH

From: REED-L: Records of Early English Drama Discussion <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Al Magary <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: 05 April 2021 22:06
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Subject: Re: Thomas More's "staige plaie"

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Gloria Betcher asked why I chose to gloss "scaffoldes" as execution platforms. The fuller context for the swatch of More that I quoted is that Richard, duke of Gloucester, has play-acted reluctance in taking the crown, after a stage-managed set of events in the spring of 1483 that included at least four executions (two nobles and two knights) on execution platforms and several arrests, not to mention the rumored murder of the Princes in the Tower. So while More has an analogy to a "staige plaie," the stage for Richard's play is more likely a scaffold set up for beheading.

A bit more. In the longer context, More reinforces that Richard has been putting on a performance by referring to what seems to have been the traditional practice of a man having to be asked three times to be bishop before he accepts. Richard finally accepts the crown, supposedly at the behest of nobles and commons, and the people cry "King Richard!" More comments (quoting Hall's version) that "the people departed talkynge dyuersely of the matter, euery man as hys fantasye gaue him, but much they marueyled of this maner of dealing, that the matter was on both partes made so straunge, as thoughe neuer the one part [Richard] hath communed wyth the other parte [Buckingham] thereof before."

In other words, they know they have seen play-acting between Richard and Buckingham but conclude that this is what kings do, by means and for reasons the people cannot know. "Howbeit, some excused that again, saiyng: al thing must be done in good ordre, and menne must somtyme for the maner sake not bee aknowen, what they knowe..." Then followed More's comments about the "staige plaie" including a sultan character in a miracle play played by an amateur actor who is in real-life a shoemaker. In this royal performance, an ambitious duke has removed obstacles between himself and the throne. "[T]hese matters be kynges games, as it were staige playes, and for the moste part plaied vpon scaffoldes [execution platforms], in which poore menne be but lookers on, and thei that wise bee will medle no ferther, for thei that steppe vp with them when thei cannot plaie their partes thei disorder the plaie and do theim selues no good." An ordinary person best not question what Richard is doing lest his head rolls too.

Bill Ingram: nice note that builders' scaffolding is also called staging.

Al Magary
Hall's Chronicle Project

On 4/5/2021 7:30 AM, Betcher, Gloria J [ENGL] wrote:


On another note, the explanation “plaied vpon scaffoldes [execution platforms]” is limiting, I think. The primary meaning of “scaffoldes” in a theatrical metaphor would have been raised stages, rather than execution platforms. Of course, the term means both here, and it’s commonplace for commentators to note the pun on the term “scaffoldes” to evoke the execution platform. I’m curious why you chose to define the term using only the secondary meaning rather than the less-well-known one or both meanings.


Gloria J. Betcher, PhD (she/her/hers)

Associate Teaching Professor

Department of English

419 Ross Hall

1527 Farm House Lane

Ames, IA 50014

From: Al Magary<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, April 5, 2021 1:08 AM
To: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Thomas More's "staige plaie"

Thanks to Anne Lancashire and Michael Winkelman for leads on what the "staige plaie" reference in More's Richard III was all about. The Warnicke article I found at JSTOR. I especially needed that correction to my misapprehension: More was not referring to some skit in which a sultan (character) was really a shoemaker (character)--which is good comedic stuff for later decades and centuries--but a civilian shoemaker acting in the role of the sultan in a morality play who would not want anyone in the audience to call him by his actual name.

I won't be doing much explaining of More's influences (not just the miracle plays but Latin dramatists too) as my work is about Hall's Chronicle. Thus I am more interested in the interplay of the two texts, with reference to some Latin version passages that Hall omitted (he seems not to have been aware of More's Latin version) and differences in wording. Responsibility for many variants could be placed on Hall's publisher, Richard Grafton, who was first to include More's history in his prose continuation of Hardyng's metrical chronicle (1543), and of course on typesetters. But a footnote explaining More's connection to miracle plays he may even have acted in will catch some interest.

Al Magary
Hall's Chronicle Project

On 4/4/2021 1:59 PM, Michael Winkelman wrote:

It's been ages since I've read it, but Retha Warnicke's article, "More's Richard III and the Mystery Plays," in Historical Journal 35 (1992): 761-78, may also be helpful.

~Michael A. Winkelman

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