James Shirley, St. Patrick for Ireland (1640)

Wells and Bergquist, Microcards: St. Patrick for Ireland, Pt. 1 [no second part was written] (Lon 1640).

The Prologue is unsure of the audience’s tastes: ‘We know not what will take, your pallets are various / … And not considering cost or pains to please / We should be very happy if at last / We could find out the humour of your taste [so that] You were constant to yourself and kept that true / … St Patrick, whose large story cannot be / Bound in the limits of a single play, if ye / First welcome this, you grace our poets art / And give him courage for a second part.’

Chars. are Leogarius, Conallus (son), Dichu, St. Patrick, Archimagus, ‘great priest of Saturn and Jove’, Emeria, Ethna.

Arch: ‘Frighted with a shadow / A tame, a naked Churchman and his tribe / Of austere starved faces?’

Loegarius’s dream of ‘the pale man’; Rodomant is a low-life apprentice of Archimagus, is jostled by his own devil, and loves the Queen; the statue of Jove moves and demands the blood of Patrick.

Dichu’s sons are condemned to die, but saved by Archimagus who disguises them as statues. Meanwhile, Loegarius’s eldest son Corybreus, disguises as the head-god Ceanerarchius, and rapes Emeria ( beloved of Conallus), who stabs him to death. Milcho leaps into the flames of his own burning house, which has been ignited to trap St. Patrick who is attending the Queen, a convert, imprisoned there.

Finally, in the scene before the cave of Dichu, now a hermit, St. Patrick banishes the snakes conjured up to poison him by Archmagius. Conallus accepts Emeria, and St. Patrick proclaims: ‘This nation shall in fair succession thrive, and grow / Up the world’s academy, and disperse / As the rich spring of human and divine / Knowledge, clear streams to water foreign kingdosms / Which shall be proud to owe what they possess / IN learning to this great all-mothering island.’ (V. iii). F.

R. Boas comments: ‘Such a prophesy must have sounded strangely ill-suited to the distracted Ireland of 1640, and Shirley was evidently not encouraged to write the second part of the play to which he had looked forward in the prologue and the epilogue. The works as it stands, including also a farcical element of a servant in love with the queen, and a Bard whose songs form a semi-operatic feature, is a curious pastiche, but has the special interest of the last excursion of the English theatre into the supernatural before the Civil War. … includes tragic episodes …’ (Introduction to 18th c. Drama, 1946, p. 371).

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