Friday, October 16, 2009

Height and raptures

It is 330 years since the death of Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery, a man who managed to combine life as a soldier and statesman with that of being a playwright. As far as I know he didn’t keep a diary, but he was a contemporary of the most famous diarist of all - Samuel Pepys - who wasn’t short of a comment or two on Boyle’s plays, and on paying to see them!

Roger Boyle, son of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, was born in Lismore Castle, Ireland, in 1621. (Robert Boyle, who became a scientist and gave his name to Boyle’s Law, was one of his younger brothers.) He was created Baron of Broghill while still a boy; later he studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He fought against the Irish rebels in 1642, and then sided with Cromwell during the English Civil War, becoming one of his advisers. He was returned to Cromwell’s parliaments of 1654 and 1656 as member for the county of Cork, and also served as lord president of the council in Scotland for the latter year.

After Cromwell’s death he returned to Ireland, and manage to secure favour with Charles II, and was created earl of Orrery. He was appointed a lord justice of Ireland in 1660, and drew up the Act of Settlement. In 1661, he founded the town of Charleville, County Cork, near his estate at Broghill. And towards the end of the decade, he successfully defended himself before Parliament on charges of having tried to seize the lord lieutenantship of Ireland. He died three centuries and three decades ago today, on 16 October 1679.

Apart from his administrative and diplomatic abilities, Boyle was also a noted writer and playwright. Among his works were the romance Parthenissa, and The Black Prince, a verse tragedy. More information is available from Wikipedia and the History of Parliament website. But here is what the diarist Pepys had to say about Boyle’s plays - thanks as ever to Phil Gyford and his website The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

13 August 1664
‘. . . and to the new play, at the Duke’s house, of Henry the Fifth; a most noble play, writ by my Lord Orrery; wherein Betterton, Harris, and Ianthe’s parts are most incomparably wrote and done, and the whole play the most full of height and raptures of wit and sense, that ever I heard; having but one incongruity, or what did, not please me in it, that is, that King Harry promises to plead for Tudor to their Mistresse, Princesse Katherine of France, more than when it comes to it he seems to do; and Tudor refused by her with some kind of indignity, not with a difficulty and honour that it ought to have been done in to him. Thence home and to my office, wrote by the post, and then to read a little in Dr Power’s book of discovery by the Microscope to enable me a little how to use and what to expect from my glasse. So to supper and to bed.’

28 September 1664
‘. . . So to dinner, and after dinner by coach to White Hall, thinking to have met at a Committee of Tangier, but nobody being there but my Lord Rutherford, he would needs carry me and another Scotch Lord to a play, and so we saw, coming late, part of The Generall, my Lord Orrery’s (Broghill) second play; but, Lord! to see how no more either in words, sense, or design, it is to his Harry the 5th is not imaginable, and so poorly acted, though in finer clothes, is strange. And here I must confess breach of a vowe in appearance, but I not desiring it, but against my will, and my oathe being to go neither at my own charge nor at another’s, as I had done by becoming liable to give them another, as I am to Sir W Pen and Mr Creed; but here I neither know which of them paid for me, nor, if I did, am I obliged ever to return the like, or did it by desire or with any willingness. So that with a safe conscience I do think my oathe is not broke and judge God Almighty will not think it other wise. . .’

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