Sir John Oldcastle is an Elizabethan play about John Oldcastle, a controversial 14th-15th century rebel and Lollard who was seen by some of Shakespeare's contemporaries as a proto-Protestant martyr. Romance and reality The Victorian era and the early twentieth century idealised the Elizabethan era Sir John Oldcastle (d December 14, 1417) English Lollard leader was son of Sir Richard Oldcastle of Almeley in northwest Lollardy was the political and religious movement of the Lollards from the mid- 14th century to the English Reformation. William Shakespeare ( baptised Protestantism refers to the forms of Christian faith and practice that originated in the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The term martyr ( Greek μάρτυς martys "witness" is most commonly used today to describe an individual who sacrifices their life (or personal freedom
The play was originally published anonymously in 1600 (Q1), printed by Valentine Simmes for the bookseller Thomas Pavier. Valentine Simmes ( fl 1585 &ndash 1622 was an Elizabethan era and Jacobean era printer he did business in London "on Adling Hill near Bainard's Thomas Pavier (died 1625 was a London publisher and bookseller of the early seventeenth century In 1619, a new edition (Q2) carried an attribution to William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare ( baptised  The Diary of Philip Henslowe records that the play was written by Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathwaye and Robert Wilson. Anthony Munday (or Monday) (1560? &ndash August 10, 1633) was an English Dramatist and miscellaneous writer Michael Drayton (1563 &ndash December 23, 1631) was an English Poet who came to prominence in the Elizabethan era. Richard Hathwaye (fl 1597 - 1603 was an English Dramatist. Little is known about Hathwaye's life Robert Wilson (flourished 1572 &ndash 1600 was an Elizabethan Dramatist who worked primarily in the 1580s and 1590s (An entry in Henslowe's Diary records a later payment to Drayton for a second part to the play,which has not survived; because of this fact, the extant play has sometimes been called Sir John Oldcastle, Part I or 1 Sir John Oldcastle. )
In 1664, the play was one of the seven dramas added to the second impression of the Shakespeare Third Folio by publisher Philip Chetwinde. Philip Chetwinde ( fl 1653 &ndash 1674) was a seventeenth-century London bookseller and publisher noted for his publication of the Third Folio
Like other subjects of Elizabethan history plays, Sir John Oldcastle was an actual person, a soldier and Lollard dissenter who was hanged and burned for heresy and treason in 1417—thus earning himself a place in the seminal text of the Protestant Reformation in Tudor England, the Actes and Monuments of John Foxe, better known as the Book of Martyrs. Heresy is an introduced change to some system of belief especially a religion that conflicts with the previously established canon of that belief In Law, treason is the Crime that covers some of the more serious acts of disloyalty to one's sovereign or Nation. Social and economic revolution Following the Black Death Plagues and the agricultural depression of the late 14th century population growth John Foxe (1517 &ndash April 18, 1587) martyrologist is remembered as the author of what is popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs (See Foxe's Book of Martyrs. The Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe, is an Apocalyptically oriented English Protestant account of the Persecutions of ) Oldcastle was also a minor character in the early Elizabethan history play The Famous Victories of Henry V (c. 1586?), which is generally thought to have been one of Shakespeare's sources for his plays on Henry IV and Henry V. Henry IV (3 April 1367 &ndash 20 March 1413 was King of England and Lord of Ireland (1399&ndash1413 Henry V (16 September 1386 &ndash 31 August 1422 was one of the most significant English warrior kings of the 15th century
The genesis of Sir John Oldcastle is crucially linked to the fact that when Shakespeare's Henry IV plays premiered on stage in 1597–8, the character Sir John Falstaff was called Sir John Oldcastle. Sir John Falstaff is a Fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare as a companion to Prince Hal the future King Henry V. This is indicated by abundant external and internal evidence. The change of names, from "Oldcastle" to "Falstaff," is mentioned in seventeenth-century works by Richard James ("Epistle to Sir Harry Bourchier," c. 1625) and Thomas Fuller (Worthies of England, 1662). It is also indicated in details in the early texts of Shakespeare's plays. In the quarto text of Henry IV, Part 2 (1600), one of Falstaff's speech prefixes in Act I, Scene ii is mistakenly left uncorrected, "Old. Henry IV Part 2 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed written between 1596 and 1599 " instead of "Falst. " In III,ii,25-6 of the same play, Falstaff is said to have been a "page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk"—which was true of the historical Oldcastle. In Henry IV, Part 1, I,ii,42, Prince Hal calls Falstaff "my old lad of the castle. Henry IV Part 1 is a History play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597 " Iambic pentameter verse lines in both parts are irregular when using the name "Falstaff," but correct with "Oldcastle. Iambic pentameter is a type of meter that is used in Poetry and Drama. " Finally, there is the blatant disclaimer at the close of Henry IV, Part 2 that disassociates the two figures: "for Oldcastle died [a] martyr, and this is not the man" (Epilogue, 29-32).
(There is even a hint that Falstaff was originally Oldcastle in The Merry Wives of Windsor too. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a Comedy by William Shakespeare, first published in 1602, though believed to have been written prior to 1597 When the First Folio and quarto texts of that play are compared, it appears that the joke in V,v,85-90 is that Oldcastle/Falstaff incriminates himself by calling out the first letter of his name, "O, O, O!," when his fingertips are singed with candles—which of course works for "Oldcastle" but not "Falstaff. Mr William Shakespeares Comedies Histories & Tragedies is the first published collection of William Shakespeare 's plays " There is also the "castle" reference in IV,v,6 of the same play.  (Falstaff, or Sir John Fastolf, was also a historical person—allegedly a greedy and grasping individual but a brave soldier, whose reputation for cowardice at the Battle of Patay was undeserved. Sir John Fastolf (died 5 November 1459) was an English Soldier during the Hundred Years War, who has enjoyed a more lasting reputation The Battle of Patay ( 18 June 1429) was a major battle in the Hundred Years' War between the French and English in north-central France Fastolf, however, died without descendants, making him safe for a playwright's use. )
The name change and the Epilogue disclaimer were required, it is generally thought, because of political pressure: the historical Oldcastle was not only a Protestant martyr, but a nobleman with powerful living descendents in Elizabethan England. These were the Lords Cobham: William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham (died March 6, 1597), was Warden of the Cinque Ports (1558–97), Knight of the Order of the Garter (1584), and member of the Privy Council (1586–97); his son Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, was granted the paternal post of Warden of the Cinque Ports upon his father's death, and made a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1599. See Baron Cobham for other simultaneous creations of the title The Most Noble Order of the Garter is an Order of chivalry, or Knighthood, originating in Medieval England, and presently bestowed on recipients See also Baron Cobham for other simultaneous creations of the title Knight is the English term for a social position originating in the Middle Ages. The Most Noble Order of the Garter is an Order of chivalry, or Knighthood, originating in Medieval England, and presently bestowed on recipients Even more so, Frances Brooke, the 10th Baron's wife and 11th Baron's mother, was a close personal favorite of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I (an Elizabethan could not have been more or better connected than the Cobhams).
The elder Lord Cobham even had a strong negative impact upon the lives of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the theater. The company of actors formed by Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Will Kempe and the others in 1594 enjoyed the patronage of Henry Carey, first Lord Hunsdon, then serving as Lord Chamberlain; they were, famously, the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Richard Burbage ( January 7, 1568 &ndash March 13 1619) was an Actor and theatre owner See Will Kempe (actor for the contemporary television actor William Kempe (died 1603? also spelled Kemp, was an English The Lord Chamberlain or Lord Chamberlain of the Household is one of the chief officers of the Royal Household in the United Kingdom, and is to be distinguished The Lord Chamberlain's Men was the Playing company that William Shakespeare worked for as Actor and Playwright for most of his career When Carey died on July 22, 1596, the post of Lord Chamberlain was given to William Brooke, Lord Cobham, who definitely was not a friend to the players, and who withdrew what official protection they had enjoyed. The players were left to the mercies of the local officials of the City of London, who had long wanted to drive the companies of actors out of the City. Thomas Nashe, in a contemporary letter, complained that the actors were "piteously persecuted by the Lord Mayor and the aldermen" during this period. Fortunately, for the players and for English literature, this interval did not last; when Cobham died less than a year later, the post of Lord Chamberlain went to Henry Carey's son George, second Lord Hunsdon, and the actors regained their previous patronage. 
Soon after the premier of Shakespeare's Oldcastle/Falstaff in 1597–8, literary and dramatic works began to appear that defended the reputation of the historical Oldcastle; scholars argue that the muse that inspired these works was Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham. In 1601 a narrative poem, The Mirror of Martyrs, by one John Weever, was published; it praises Oldcastle has a "valiant captain and most godly martyr. " And two years earlier, in 1599, the play Sir John Oldcastle was performed by the Admiral's Men, the main theatrical rivals of Shakespeare's company. The Admiral's Men (also called the Admiral's company, more strictly the Earl of Nottingham's Men; after 1603, Prince Henry's Men; after Curiously, this effort to redeem the Oldcastle name was at best only partially successful; allusions to the Falstaff character under the name of Oldcastle continued to appear in succeeding years—in Nathan Field's play Amends for Ladies (1618) and in the anonymous pamphlets The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary (1604) and The Wandering Jew (c. Nathan Field (1587 &ndash 1620 was an English dramatist and actor his father was the Puritan Preacher John Field and his brother Theophilus 1628), among other works. 
Sir John Oldcastle treats its subject matter in ways acceptable to the values and biases of its audience, and the interests of Elzabethan officialdom (inevitably; if it did anything else it would never have escaped censorship). Oldcastle is a religious but not a political dissenter; his quarrel is with the Roman Catholic Church, and he remains loyal to the Crown and to Henry V personally (II,iii). The villain of the piece is the Bishop of Rochester, aided by his summoner Clun. The same cast of rebels and conspirators is active in this play (II,ii, III,ii, etc. ) as in Henry V, but Oldcastle keeps scrupulously separate from them. The play offers a comic character, Sir John of Wrotham, a pale imitation of Falstaff, who interacts with a disguised Henry V (III,iv) much as in Shakespeare's plays. The later scenes are devoted to Rochester's pursuit of Oldcastle and his wife, and their escapes; the play ends on a temporary positive note, with the Oldcastles evading imprisonment. (Presumably, the lost second half of the play would have had the inevitable grimmer ending of Oldcastle's grisly death. )
For a defense of the Shakespearean attribution, see: Mark Dominik, A Shakespearean Anomaly.
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