Lacy's Love Test

Margaret Near Laugh

Lord Lacy and Margaret.

The love test scene in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is a good example of the complex dynamic created by the representation of gender in the SQM productions. Prior to this scene Lord Lacy has sent a letter to Margaret breaking off their engagement and telling her he has decided to marry an aristocrat instead. Margaret has decided to enter a convent and in this scene we discover that Lacy only sent the letter in order to test Margaret’s faithfulness. Before proceeding to the discussion, you may want to print out the scene and read it to familiarize yourself with the text (Adobe PDF format).

A Popular Motif in Elizabethan Drama

The love test is a popular motif in Elizabethan drama; indeed the action of King Leir is begun by a comparable scene. To modern eyes the behavior of the man jealous of the women’s affections is suspect, but an Elizabethan audience might have seen their actions as justified. For men living in a patriarchal society the chastity of women is extremely important as the continuation of a man’s family name is dependent on the legitimacy of his children. All the humour surrounding cuckolds in this period is now read a sign of male anxiety about the chastity of women. Given this wide-felt anxiety, it is possible, that members of the Elizabethan audience might have viewed love tests as clever ways to establish a woman’s faithfulness. Such an audience member might respond with nods of approval for Lacy’s wise action, and with delight at the discovery that Margaret proves herself to be the ideal wife, so loyal and chaste that she would enter a convent rather than find another man.

An Acting Challenge

Margaret Near Laugh

Playing the scene "straight" proved difficult for the actors.

The actors not surprisingly found the premise of this scene ridiculous but I insisted that they try to play it straight. Although I did not direct in the traditional manner I did try to remain true to our understanding of the society that created these plays. Maintaining a sense of cultural difference was particularly challenging in this scene and in practice it proved impossible. In spite of the actors best efforts to play the scene seriously, the audience found it amusing and as their performances developed over the course of the run the scene became funnier and more ironic.

Performance Videos

Password Required

In order to respect the rights of SQM actors, the following performances have been password-protected. Please contact us for access privileges.

Early Scene View an early performance of the scene.

In this early performance, the actors are still trying to remain fully engaged with the emotional dilemmas of their characters but it is impossible for them to ignore the response of the audience. Throughout our rehearsal process the actors were encouraged to remain aware of the audience at all times and to interact with them whenever the opportunity presented itself and as the company became more comfortable with this relationship the audience started to have an active effect on their performances. Maintaining their commitment to the conservative, patriarchal interpretation of the scene I had promoted proved difficult in the extreme. At each performance this scene became funnier and the actors’ performances became more and more ironic. If you watch carefully you can see the actors vacillate between commitment to their character’s emotional journey, and a smirking acknowledgement of the gap between the character’s Elizabethan attitudes, the perspective of the audience. Watch for the twinkle in their eyes in the final performance of the scene and Julian barely avoiding a fit of laughter.  

Later Scene View the final performance of the same scene.

By the time of the final performance, the patriarchal aristocrat Lacy had become a sheepish boyfriend who has played a bit of a silly trick on his girlfriend and is trying to save face in front of his male friends. He is partly delighted with the results of his trick, but is also a little concerned that his plan has backfired and he is going to lose his girl to the convent. Julian DeZotti’s performance of Margaret is deeply sincere at one moment and openly ironic the next and the fact that he comes close to corpsing is a sign of a humorous distance that has arisen between him and his character. His line “Women are frail” is delivered with a knowing sigh and gets a huge laugh. The laughter is so rich in part because the audience contained many academics from the conference who were fully familiar with the convention of the love test and the cultural background from which it arose. In this performance the line “Women are frail” became the comic clincher in a scene that was now about the folly of patriarchy, a joke that was shared by actors and audience if not the playwright. By this final performance, the actors developing their performances in interaction with their audiences had changed the nature and effect of the scene.