KCL Medieval/Renaissance Latin play: playing Ignoramus

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.

 

The Festival of Imagined Worlds

On the 9th of February, Bianca and I (Sharon) went to Oxford to represent the Society for Neo-Latin Studies (SNLS) at the Iris Festival of Imagined Worlds, which was taking place at Cheney School. The festival started at 3 pm and we arrived at 1 to set up. There were various worlds in different rooms, such as Harry Potter World, Tolkien World and C.S. Lewis World. Some of the stalls in a room were related to the imagined world it was named after, others had some other link to the theme. Our stall was in C.S. Lewis World, which was based in the library.

At our stall, we explained to visitors a bit about what neo-Latin is, with a short, interactive powerpoint presentation. Starting with the multiple-choice question “Who do you think spoke Latin?” which had as possible answers ‘Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Isaac Newton’, we told them a little bit about the importance of Latin in the 16th and 17th centuries; explaining its role as the international language and the standard language of education from when a child began school at age 8 right up until they left university.

The imagined worlds that could be discovered at our stall were, of course, also neo-Latin ones: Thomas More’s famous Utopia (1516) and Ludvig Holberg’s Klimii iter subterraneum (1741). Because of More’s novel, the word ‘utopia’ is now used to refer to a perfect society.

Bianca on our stall

The adventures of Holberg’s hero reminded many of the visitors of Gulliver’s Travels. Children could have a go at writing some Latin with a quill, just like pupils in the 16th and 17th centuries did. There were some images from manuscripts as inspiration!

Having a go at writing with a quill.

There were hundreds of people attending the festival and it was a very enjoyable afternoon. So many people were interested to find out about neo-Latin: children (ranging from the very young up to A-level students), parents, grandparents and other stallholders, as well as academics from related and different fields. Many people were familiar with Thomas More’s Utopia, but unaware that it was originally written in Latin. The quill activity proved very popular too: everyone wanted to have a go! Even the children who were shy or too impatient to talk about Latin in the early modern period were telling each other about the stand where you can write with feathers and ink, and there was often a bit of a queue!