Daniel Staniforth’s The Groundlings of Divine Will (Skylight Press 2013) http://www.skylightpress.co.uk sees Shakespeare’s first audience, ‘the groundlings of the pit’, as a secret society addressing the Master Of Revels in a glorious riposte to the ways in which Shakespeare studies have taken the playwright away from his historical context. The groundlings, with their ‘ears to hear and eyes to behold’, speak out as one voice in their defence of Divine Will against all manner of heresies. It is great fun, satirically astute and tightly written using quotations from the plays to reinstate the work in its historical time frame.
‘Twas while shivering at the Winter’s Tale when we heard the
accused Paulina quip – It is an heretic that makes the fire not
she which burns in’t. (Measure for Measure)
The groundlings stand in the pits facing the heavens, their apostolic gazes emboldening the players in their holy writs, clinging to their Divine Will and his sacred trinity of Seneca, Plutarch and Hollinshead, ingesting the pit-rolls and piss-ales of their transubstantiation. They speak out as ‘the human wick, the Temple candle, the alchymy of light’ against theological orthodoxies and their torturing and tortuous ways garnering their evidence and support from the Divine Will, the cauldrons of dark hags, Ralegh’s School of Night, Dr. John Dee, mystical and neo-Platonist writings. Written in period vernacular and ablaze with fire, the killing of heretics, sorcerers, witches, mediums and wizards, classical and mythological references, the Gods of love, which seep in and out of the plays, the book highlights the themes that would have been more pronounced in Shakespeare’s time. The groundlings, imbued with folklore and paganism, see what characters represent and hide, connect Hamlet with Dr. Dee, note the shadowy characters, enjoy Iago’s lies, Lear’s fool and Hamlet’s gravedigger and all the allegories.
The book is beautifully designed by Rebsie Fairholm and printed in 1651 Alchemy, a Garamond type reconstructed from historical sources and comes with humorous back cover blurbs by Rev. Obadiah Horseworthy, Emanuel Swedenborg, Frater Nubilus and Ben Johnson.
It is great fun and highly recommended.