Nicola Royan

‘You should read the poem’: The James Plays in Discussion with Older Scots Poetry

The James Plays by Rona Munro address a part of Scottish history that does not often sit at the forefront of public consciousness of the Scottish past: there is no Bruce nor Braveheart, or Mary Queen of Scots nor Knox. Yet the Scottish fifteenth century bears witness to some extraordinary Scottish literature in both Scots and Latin, a point at which we can read the Lowland Scots reflecting on themselves, their history and their government, in poetry and in narrative, in both fiction and non-fiction. Some of this material Munro quite consciously draws on: The Kingis Quair, for instance, is a recurrent text in James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock. This paper considers ways in which Munro’s 21st C plays reflect the concerns of 15th C literature, Scottish and English: it will start with explicit quotation and evocation, but move on to consider significant tropes, such as the mirror and the key, expectations of kingship and queenship, and the importance of political performance, then and now. It will conclude by addressing the ways in which engaging with 15th C conceptions of Scotland and Scottishness affect 21st C representations, both at home and abroad.

Nicola Royan, University of Nottingham