Thomas of Woodstock
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK
Richard and the flatterers are decked out extravagantly. Tresilian has prepared for blank charters to be sent throughout the kingdom for signing — essentially blank checks on which Richard may fill in the amount he wants. They joke about Tresilian keeping his beard.
Anne enters and Richard shows off the councillors’ newly devised fashions.
Thou seest already we begin to alter
The vulgar fashions of our homespun kingdom.
I tell thee, Nan, the states of Christendom
Shall wonder at our English royalty.
We held a council to devise these suits.
Sir Henry Greene devised this fashion shoe;
Bushy this peak; Bagot and Scroop set forth
This kind coherence ‘twixt the toe and knee
To have them chained together lovingly;
And we as sovereign did confirm them all.
Anne asks Richard to relent regarding his uncles — “They are your noble kinsmen” (III.i.62) — but he wants to show her the Westminster renovations. Greene argues that their new fashions are pointless unless shown off. Richard agrees; they’ll ride through London and then see “Where every day I feast ten thousand men, / To furnish out which feast I daily spend / Thirty fat oxen and three hundred sheep, / With fish a fowl in numbers numberless” (III.i.85-88). When Anne objects to the expenditure, he encourages Tresilian to see to those blank charters. Richard also wants Woodstock back at court: his plainness mollifies the commons.
Tresilian is outraged by Nimble’s ignoring of sumptuary laws: the knave is dressed in the new fashion of the court. Tresilian sends Nimble, Crosby, and Fleming out to spread the charters and eavesdrop on any malcontents. These “privy whisperers” (III.i.133) can be arrested and their lands seized. “But how if we meet with some ignoramus fellows, my lord, that cannot write their minds, what shall they do?” “If they but set to their marks, ’tis good” (III.i.153-155). And don’t forget the widows too.
Woodstock welcomes his brothers to his home and complains about the court extravangances. Lancaster remarks that “I lived with care at court, I now am free” (III.ii.5-6). Woodstock has heard of “the fantastic suits they wear” (III.ii.37). Cheney brings blank charters and Woodstock is more vehement than Lancaster about what the latter calls this “unheard-of vile taxation” (III.ii.67). “Let me be chronicled Apostata” (III.ii.77), declares Woodstock. “O vulture England, wilt thou eat thine own?” (III.ii.84). York advises that they each return home and try to prevent rebellion and Gaunt agrees. Woodstock fears he will not see his brothers again.
A foolishly dressed servant calls on Woodstock. He doesn’t recognize Woodstock outside and mistakes him for the groom, so Woodstock holds the servant’s horse and endearingly addresses the animal a bit. Cheney leads the visiting courtier and the servant to Woodstock. Woodstock mockingly asks the courtier about his fashion, Polonian peak on his shoes and so forth. Regarding the linking of the toe and knee together, the courtier says,
For as for example: the toe a disdainer or spurner; the knee a dutiful and most humble orator; this chain doth, as it were, so toeify the knee and so kneeify the toe that between both it makes a most methodical coherence or coherent method. (III.ii.220-226)
The courtier is there to deliver Richard’s invitation of Woodstock to court. Woodstock refuses, and curses the charters: “I am Plain Thomas still” (III.ii.241). But he invites the guy to dine.
Crosby tells Master Ignorance, the Baily (or bailiff, a sheriff’s deputy) of Dunstable (with a pun on the Dunce part) to assist him, along with Nimble and Fleming, with the blank charters. Ignorance is illiterate: “I cannot write nor read, I confess it, no more could my father, nor his father, nor none of the Ignorants this hundred year, I assure ye” (III.iii.11-13). Yet he will help make sure people don’t give them the slip; he’ll also be on the alert for libelous songs.
Ignorance asks a farmer, a butcher, and Cowtail why they are leaving town. The butcher explains that his landlord blames the new councillors for the oppression, and Nimble jots down this supposed treason. The three lament their coming hangings.
Ignorance repeatedly over- and mis-uses the term “pestiferous.” Next a schoolmaster and his servant stroll along, worried about being overheard. The schoolmaster recites verses, including,
Blank charters they are called
A vengeance on the villain,
I would he were both flayed and balled
God bless my Lord Tresilian.
The schoolmaster naively thinks the last line will get him out of any consequences, but Nimble and Ignorance have these two arrested also. Nimble hears another potential knave approaching, whistling to tune which has been used for another treasonous song. This fellow is similarly arrested, and Nimble calls him a “sheep-biter” (III.iii.281) when Crosby and Fleming return.