May 25, 2016

Hanseatic Characters at the Hanse Festival - script and pictures

Watch a film of the live show here

Guitar plays. Brunham dances and speaks.

pics by Bhas Allan

Now I sit in my seemly sale,
I trot and tremle in my true throne;
As a hawk I hop in my hende hale;
King, knight and kaiser to me maken moan.
Oh God ne of good man give I never tale.
As a liking lord I leyke here alone.
Whoso brawl any boast, by down or by dale,
Those gadlings shall be ghasted and grisly groan iwis.
Whoso to the World will draw
Of God ne of good man giveth he not a hawe
Such a man by lands law
          Shall sitten on my dais.

Allow me to introduce myself.  John Brunham. The Merchant of Lynn. Mayor. 5 times. MP. twice, JP, royal agent, alderman, merchant-prince, benefactor, the uncrowned king of Bishop's Lynn-

That speech I started with is the way I would have spoken to you at the end of the fourteenth century.
I died in 1421.  Unlike my fellow parishioners William Sawtrey, my parish priest, and Margery Kempe, my daughter, I never got to heaven because I never really believed in it. 

(Harp plays whenever heaven is evoked,fades whenever the world is emphasised)

Margery Kempe was the opposite. Even on earth she was always seeing and believing heavenly things. A loving God, a beautiful Jesus, a Virgin Mary, a robin Redbreast singing merrily in her right ear which she thought was the Holy Ghost.  To my ear, the angels she heard singing were the lawless trade winds beating in the sail of my ships down there on the frantic Hanseatic quay. We are all at sea in this world. Anchorless  - and quite alone. Love is like our relationship with the Hanse - sometimes we're trading partners, sometimes we're trading rivals, occasionally we're enemies in an all out trade war. But we need each other. Grain out, herring in. Lynners living and working in Lubeck and Danzig; Germans living and working here in Lynn.  One of my greatest political achievements was helping the king sign a peace treaty after which the Germans established a permanent trading post in Lynn that they ran for 400 years. 6 centuries later, it's still standing, the only remaining Hanseatic building in England. And still good for business. Margery's side of the business was the pilgrims sailing in from all over the British isles and all over Christendom to visit Walsingham. Richeldis had an authorised vision of the Holy Virgin there in 1061. A pity none of Margery's visions was authorised because then the pilgrims would have stayed here instead and that would have been even better for business. What did they see as they sailed in? 5 dreaming friaries on the skyline and a giant harbourside cross, reassuring them that this was the official point of embarkation for Walsingham pilgrims. But they weren't the first to be drawn to Lynn's magical confluence of sky, lowland and water.  The Celts held water sacred and it is their word for water, or pool, that still names the town. Lynn. Imagine then if you will a mediaeval Liverpool on a marina twice the size of the modern Wash and with an airport for Margery's angels. In the good old age of Faith when everybody sang from the same hymn sheet. Give or take a legion of burned heretics like Smouldering Bill Sawtrey late of St Margaret's pulpit. Even in the flames of an earthly hell he followed the music of his soul here to heaven. More of him in a moment. First let's hear a bit more about Margery, some of which she doesn't emphasise or even mention in her Book.  (indicate Book)

She was born in 1373. She grew up through the economic downturn of the 1390s. She wrote the first autobiography in English-

Enter Geoffrey Chaucer, flustered, late.

Chaucer: Sorry.

Brunham: First time in Lynn?

Chaucer:  Second.  I was born here.  The name's Chaucer. Geoffrey Chaucer.

Brunham: Ah! The Father of English Poetry. I hear you’re up here researching a Merchant’s Tale?

Chaucer: A Magistrate. "Of Northfolk was this reeve of which I telle/Byside a toun men callen Baldeswelle".

Brunham: ‘Of Northfolk was this merchant whom you should sing/ In a port that men call Bishop’s Lynn.’ Take a pew.

Chaucer sits.

Brunham …in the generation after Geoffrey Chaucer was also born here. It's a town of pioneers. Margery married Lynn burgess John Kempe and had 14 children in 20 years, not counting those she lost in childbirth.  She tells us in her Book that after the first, a very difficult pregancy and labour, she started seeing things that other people couldn't. Which is why, even though she's standing here now smiling down at you from heaven, you can't see her.  -  Fortunately, owing to my position stranded  somewhere between heaven and Lynn, I can bring you an embodiment of the Flesh she tried all her life  to deny and an angel. (indicates harp) And the music of her Soul. And together they can sing you - the Ballad of Margery Kempe.

Flesh, Angel and Soul perform The Ballad of Margery Kempe.

William in prison near a bonfire with guy of William on it.

William: I am William Sawtrey, a Lollard of Lynn;
Priest of this Parish, in Death’s Door Nailed;
The Bishop Dispenser has bruised me in Limb
And broken my Spirit for two days in gaol:
(resisting) I don’t believe in Signs, Rites, Blessings;
In Prayers by the Hour, Priests, Pilgrims, Grails;
Saint-Adoration; Idolatrous bread; leprous blind Latin;
Fat church Patriarchs piling on the shillings;
In Confessions, Crusades: that ‘what Christ was the Cross is.’

Enter Bishop Dispenser, furious.

William: I do believe that what we’re for
Is Apostling and preaching and teaching the poor;
In Scripture and Christ above Roman Church Lore;
In plain English speech for our priestly office!

Bishop Dispenser: You no longer have an office. By the Statute of Heresies, 1400. (strips off William’s priestly rank) (vestments, tonsure etc)
William: Through seven steps of degradation
Reduced from magic priest to bare doorman.
(new hope) Did Christ not come this Way? Would Christ not also say:
The peasants got Word, their simple souls sang
‘When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?’
They call peasants (Bishop with him) ‘revolting’. Christ’s blessed I say!

Bishop Dispenser: Tell that to the flames. (sarcastic) Have a nice Pray! (diabolical laugh, exit)

William prays. Flesh appears with drum (fearful heartbeat).

William: (looking at bonfire, tries to pray) Oh God-

Flesh: Never mind God. You should listen to your Body, son.
(sings with drum)     (Hear it here)

I bide as a broad bursten-gut aboven on these towers,
Everybody is the better that to mine bidding is bent.
I am Mankind’s fair Flesch, flourished in flowers.
My life is with lusts and liking i-lent.
With tapets of taffeta I timber my towers.
In mirth and in melody my mende is i-ment.

Though I be clay and clod, clapped under clowrys,
Yet would I that my will the world went,
Full true I you behight
I love well my ease
In lusts me to please:
Though sin my soul seize,
I give not a mite.
(like a bad angel, spoken) Recant, William, and enjoy!
William is about to recant when-
William: I want to recant but the music of my soul won't let me.

Soul plays harp.… Devil lights the candle. As harp plays-

William: If by this act, I can light a flame,
Feed the wax of flesh to burn love's name
In the unlettered lives of Jesu's people,
The ground down to earth, the poor, the meek, the faithful,
The pain of flesh passing is well worth the candle.
It's a heaven to die for.

A musical struggle

Flesh:  drowns out the harp.

              William you’re a Lynn boy
Where’s your Norfolk grit?
Your Mind’s like a frightened girl,
You make me blooming spit.

This is Boudicca’s country,
Stand your ground:
The battered woman
Who would not lie down!

Where’s your knuckle?
Your Biblical kicks
Against the odds,
Against the pricks!?

Flex neck! I’ve got the nerve,
Meat balls! I’m gonna put you down!
Flesh pecs! I got the guts, 
Pump blood! I’ll blow you out of town! 

Soul: Flesh be quiet. Listen to your Soul!

She plays her harp. Flesh quietens. Devil with fork and Bishop circle and repeat 'toast' after William.

William:     They told me that the bread became
Christ's Body not his ghost
I said a priest’s no sorcerer.
That did it: I was toast.

They tortured me, ‘recant
Your reasoning, or roast!’ 
I said a I cannot bear your cross.
That did it: I was toast.

They told me Latin prayer and Mass
Would keep me in my post.
I said ‘an English sermon’s best.’
That did it: I was toast.

'Our sacraments are spirit gold,
The brassy bishops boast’
I - ‘all that gilders isn’t God!’
That did it: I was toast.

They Credo-bashed and then defrocked
My body to their post.
I answered them with balaam's ass.
That did it: I was toast.

They told me that the bread became
The hostage not the host
I said ‘Man needs the bread as well.’
That did it: I was toast.

They burn me like a fallen Eve,
A holy without smoke,

The musical scream. Harp and bodhran contend. Bishop mimes flames. Devil exults. 

Soul: Flesh be quiet!

I climb up like a morning star
Of love and faith and hope.

William in crucifixion pose looks at audience.


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