Whilst still at school, Steve was staggered when his English teacher and director, Ronald Russell Craps explained a point in the text by referring to the original layout of the Globe. ‘Why can’t we go and see such a layout?’ was met with the explanation that in 1968 there was nowhere to see in this country other than a few coaching inns. So when in 1992 he read of what Sam Wanamaker was doing on the South Bank, Steve made a point of going down to the building site on his day-off to investigate. His subsequent support for the project is still signified by one of the inscribed pavement slabs at Shakespeare’s Globe, and he has been a regular ever since.
Fast forward to Autumn 2015 and a different subject: Running out of leads in research for a pamphlet on a local mathematician who had lived in his parish in the 1600s, Steve decided to think laterally, and investigate one of the mathematician’s friends and travelling companions, Cornelius Fermedo.
Working in the British Library, he called up a manuscript that had ‘senseless’ written on the front and back, warned by all the literature that referenced it, that it was ‘garbled’. But Steve’s love of literature enabled him to see, even before he had properly tuned in to the difficult 17th century handwriting, that the person who had created the play he was examining was purposeful, with an original creative streak. It was also apparent that the text, judging by vocabulary, was earlier than some commentators had made out.
Enlisting his colleague Jean Yates’ help, over the next three months they painstakingly transcribed all 96 pages, refusing to accept that the problems that were clearly there were insurmountable.
In this, the ability to trace a thread that properly linked all that was known about the play was helped by Steve’s serendipitous way-in to the original author.
Dale B.J. Randall in Winter Fruit: English Drama, 1642-1660 (University Press of Kentucky 1996) pp.357-358 ̶ who tries to give a good account of The Governor, and likes much that he can see ̶ half admits defeat when he says that unfortunately we know “nothing of the man himself”. But in fact Steve did. And it became clear that the few scholars who had looked at the manuscript had been chasing their tails with all sorts of false assumptions.
Like nearly all plays of this period the manuscript we now have has had a complex life, but it is straightforwardly traceable once sheer forensic logic, and what theologians like to call the principle of Occam’s Razor, are applied : both these principles are things that Steve, with his early studies in Biochemistry and Theology brought to the task. He set out to write a Commentary.
Added to all of this, the reputation of the play had been hampered by one fact in particular that seems to have escaped anyone that had bothered to look at it. Very early in its history it had been mis-bound.
One memorable day in December 2015 Steve and Jean laid out every page on the dining room floor and –– again applying Steve’s mathematical intuition and knowledge of how early MSS were created, and additionally with Jean’s detective background –– the play that had been dubbed ‘senseless’ slotted back perfectly into place as a brilliantly constructed six-act tragi-comedy utterly worthy of being played – as it was, Thursday 16th February 1637 – before King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.
Steve and Jean offer talks on The Governour:
1 A Once in a Lifetime Find, a lost ‘Shakespearean’ play found (SJW / JVY)
2 How a lost C17th Tragi-Comedy was brought back to Life. (SJW / JVY)