On Friday the 23rd of March, it was happening … The 13th annual King’s College London Medieval / Renaissance Latin play: George Ruggle’s Ignoramus. It was first performed for King James I in 1615, who liked it so much that he asked to see it again.
We started rehearsing in February. Our directors, Laura Vivio and Alessandro Trinca, were very professional and, first things first, taught us about stage directions (upstage, downstage, stage left, stage right, counter, etc.). We blocked the various scenes, so we would know where we had to be throughout each of them. Of course, we also had to learn our lines! I was playing Ignoramus himself, which meant I had to speak a mix of Latin, French and English. Such a mix of Latin and other languages is known as macaronic Latin. Funnily enough, the vernacular words with Latin endings and the inaccurate Latin grammar did not make my lines that hard to remember (in places, they were very memorable). I struggled the most with the legal Latin in my part, because I wasn’t sure what it was saying. Looking at a legal dictionary frequently didn’t help; as the brief introduction to our script (the performing edition prepared by Dr. D.K. Money for performance at the conference of the International Association for Neo-Latin Studies, 2000) points out: “in some places the meaning is less than clear”. However, I managed to learn all of it and so did the other performers. And in spite of our busy schedules and ‘the Beast from the East’ getting in the way, it all came together on the night. We had a nice and hard-working team, consisting of students from BA to PhD level. Some of them had done very little Latin, but were brave enough to take on the challenge of performing in Latin – very impressive!
The plot premise of the play is a familiar one: a fool who falls in love with a pretty girl who isn’t interested in him, is tricked into giving up his pursuit of her (the threat of castration plays a role) by a cunning character so she can end up with the man who loves her.
Playing Ignoramus was great fun! I really enjoyed making a fool out of myself. I could be dramatic (o valde caleor; o chaud, chaud: precor Deum non meltavi meum pingue!) and be angry with scholars (Sunt magnae idiotae. Et clerici nihilorum, isti universitantes). In the final scene, I got to hide behind Trico (the cunning servant who devised the plot to betray me), before being discovered by my opponent Antonius, holding a pair of huge scissors.
The response of the audience really contributed to the experience. It is very encouraging to hear laughter whilst performing. And the humour of this play is timeless; the actions of the characters are frequently very much like slapstick. A great example is the scene in which Rosabella (Ignoramus’s and Antonius’s love interest) and Antonius are finally able to talk, while Trico is distracting Surda (Rosabella’s deaf servant who has been instructed to keep an eye on her). In an attempt to deceive Surda, the lovers pretend to be angry with each other while they say loving things. Meanwhile, Trico pretends to be in love with Surda, passionately calling her the most hideous things.
People in the 17th century must have enjoyed the play’s humour as well. Once we knew that Ignoramus would be performed at King’s, we started to notice extracts of verse from the play (such as Ignoramus’s Versus legales de Rosabella) during the survey for our project on verse miscellanies. In fact, we had come across it several times during our survey before this point, which shows just how popular it was.
To read a bit more about the literary context of the play, see Victoria’s programme notes, which we’ll post as a blog tomorrow.