Teaching Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay: Reviews (Fall 2010)

Student reviews of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Fall 2010

Para1Each TA provided a summary of the performance reviews their students wrote; these are copied below (with tutorial numbers). It was a wonderful performance—and still remains vivid in my memory.
Para2The oddity of these reviews is that no one really mentioned the fact that the Brazen Head was female in the film clip used to represent it, and that the love affair between Bacon and his mistress was a stunning representation of Bacon’s devotion to his art/scholarship as a magician/scientist. Clearly he is trying to win the golden girl of his dreams, but even the actor-essayists did not address this idea at any length. It’s a good illustration of what can be seen as the singlemindedness of the performers and audience, given that all students had read the text and seen the very different Brazen Head online in Performing the Queen’s Men. For me, the powerful femininity of the Head is an even greater loss for Bacon when it is destroyed later in the play, and Bacon is forced to realize his own responsibility and his own human frailty in the demise of the love of his life. It also makes a stronger parallel to Faustus’s hopeless yearning for Helen of Troy.

T01 & T02

Para3Concept: Highlighting the tension (of scholarly rivalry) between Burden and Bacon.
Para4Roles: Bacon and Miles were awesome—Miles did a wonderful job of being a little, impish minion.The barmaid/Hostess was used to good comic effect. Burden was great (clash of two giants). Hostess was wonderful at acting like a simpleton. The assistant didn’t seem to have her lines memorized (read off clipboard). The Hostess and Burden’s interactions with one another were hysterically awkward (perfect!).
Para5Costuming: I liked Friar Bacon’s black robe—very appropriate. The assistants’ dressing the same showed their lower class (less knowledgeable) status.
Para6Props: The moving background was great initially, but became a bit distracting as the performance went on. Loved the music during the magic episode, although it overpowered the actor’s voices. The background movie did a wonderful job of creating an eerie/scientific setting (dark magic). The onscreen devil was amazing! I liked the use of the pipe prop. The Brazen Head backdrop was wonderfully creepy.
Para7Favourite Moment: The satanic music following the heavy metal entrance of Satan was awesome! When Bacon was talking and Miles was massaging his shoulders. When Bacon performed his magic to the music. I loved the barmaid’s role. When Burden was pretending to not know the Hostess.
Para8Overall: Great concept. Very funny. An attention holder! Good casting. Creative. Entertaining. Nearly perfect. Groundbreaking. Mind-blowing (I would pay to see this!)! Awesome.

T03 & T04

Para9The scene was a modern take on Friar Bacon through film and music. The modernization, however, allowed the scene to retain its original Oxford flavour. The scene was cut to emphasize the power of Bacon and his magic. Students uniformly loved Bacon and Miles, who played their lines off each other effectively. Miles’s adoration of Bacon allowed the latter to show his magical skill while Miles’s exaggerated fawning (and Bacon’s revelling in the fawning) emphasized Bacon’s foolish egotism. The effect was very funny. The students also loved the Hostess’s unabashed flirting and her accent, and Burden’s convincing discomfort at her presence. All the actors knew their lines well, though the second scholar relied too much on her clipboard. Bacon’s black robe was visibly distinct from the clothes of the lower ranking and less knowledgeable professors. The black also subtly revealed him as a dark figure—showing his use of magic is not entirely good. The Hostess’s costume matched her personality. Students loved the feather and book as scholarly props, and Bacon used the feather to further show his arrogance—prodding the others and pushing his weight around. The use of the film was impressive, adding a touch of mad scientist to the scene, as well as an otherworldly quality: the summoning demon was prominent, but intangible. The music was a bit loud, but really effective in adding to the tension of the conjuring and the drama of the Hostess’s entrance. The favourite moments were Miles massaging Bacon’s shoulders, and the Hostess’s entrance: both were hilarious. Overall, the production was funny, creative, and magical.

T06 & T07

Para10Interpretation/Concept: The emphasis was on Bacon’s arrogance and foolishness, and on his magical prowess. Music emphasized the climax, when Bacon summons the hostess.
Para11Roles: Miles was very entertaining and very comical. He was the favourite of most students, one of whom noted that while in the text he is annoying he was entertaining on stage in this performance.1 The Hostess was very funny. Her loose attitude worked well and added to the context. Her cockney accent was enjoyable. Bacon was also a favourite—he was enthusiastic and well-rehearsed.
Para12Costuming: Bacon looked like a mystical man. His robe made him seem more like a friar and less like a magician. The barmaid’s costume was great, and Burden was also well dressed. The assistant’s clothing worked to indicate he was Burden’s assistant.
Para13Props/Sets: The backdrop was fantastic. One student wrote that it gave the sense of forbidden arts and particularly liked the switch to video. The lighting was great and everyone thought the multimedia was impressive.
Para14Favourite Moments: Burden trying to hide from the barmaid. When the music started playing—it provided a great climax to the play. Although a few people commented that the music was too loud and they missed some of the lines while it was playing, nearly everyone commented on it as their favourite moment.

T05 & T08

Para15Audience members were unanimous in their enthusiastic praise for this scene. They wrote that it was entertaining, funny, and well-performed, full of risk and fun, very funny, very clever and visually and aurally stimulating. Audience members felt that the actors all worked well together and that conversation flowed very smoothly between everyone. Justin was singled out as an amazing and especially good performer, and for portraying Bacon as full of himself but still having good intentions. The audience members also loved Jamilla as Miles, with one writing that everything she did was great; viewers especially appreciated the interaction between Bacon and Miles, with many marking it as their favourite part of the play. Grant was praised for his delivery and comic timing, while other audience members singled Hailey out, noting that her entrance was brave and impressive and that her character was well-played with excellent delivery. One audience member mentioned that she found Alana too quiet. The stage set was described as simple but effective, and the background screen was commended as impressive, very effective, a creepy, interesting touch that gave the scene a Dr Frankenstein feel; one audience member, however, found the projection distracting at times. Bacon’s conjuring was a clear crowd favourite; viewers remarked that the music was unexpected and added to the scene immensely and allowed the audience to really be absorbed in the scene. A number of people noted that the music was rather overpowering, though still effective.

Instructor Reviews for Fall 2010

Dr. Ostovich on Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay

Para16This scene is a little gem. The theatrical treatment was brilliant. The accusations of unprofessional research behaviour by an administrative professor who plays cards with a bar-wench at night were hilarious! The fun of this scene was the impressiveness of the ’scientific spectacle’: the brazen head, the alchemy vessels, the devil with horns on the screen above. Bacon has the upper hand in this scene because he is not a hypocrite, and he is sincere in his pursuit of his research. All the actors except for the assistant professor with Burden were excellent. Jamilla as the clown Miles was splendid—she had the right air, and carried off some lovely bits, like the backrub for an overly tense Bacon, and the shared whispers over lab results. Her voice was excellent, as was Bacon’s and Burden’s. The Hostess from Henley was a fantastic Teutonic surprise, complete with red crinolined skirt, Bavarian busty blouse, and German tankard. Costumes were very well planned: the dark robe on Bacon, Burden in a suit (why did he take off his jacket at one point? Hot as hell in that lab? The action was bizarre, as he was centre-stage). The other professor was under-dressed, and seemed more like an RA or secretary with clip-board and quill = problem props, because she read her lines. But the film sequences, Burden’s pipe (how professorial is that?), and the music were all excellent choices, even though the music was too loud. Technical problem was not intended by the cast. Brilliant choice: making the brazen head female! Now this is a love affair completely beyond Burden! No sex—it’s all about the mind. Favourite moments: Miles giving a back-rub; the on-screen devil who delivered the Hostess; the Hostess herself; and generally Bacon’s impatience with the stupidity of Oxford’s establishment/authority figures. Overall, this was a splendid scene.

Invited colleague’s View

Para17Great coordination of scene with video clips and music: very ambitious, despite the overly loud sound. Miles as sycophant: very good at showing how much Bacon is propped up by Miles’s cheering and support. Brazen head was lovely bit of video as backdrop, with glowing lights. Bacon’s spell was sync’d up with the music, as he chanted along. Great comic choice.

TA Reviews of this Performance


Para18Well done! Your production was ambitious and well executed. The video backdrop (which was spellbinding, pun fully intended) provided an eerie glow without overly distracting from the action on stage. I greatly enjoyed Bacon, Miles, and Burden’s performances. Jamilla’s brilliant comedic timing as the overeager, quasi-hyperactive Miles clearly conveyed that Bacon and Miles believe Bacon’s own hype about his powers. In this way, your scene looks forward to Bacon’s fall in some very important ways. I also appreciated your careful attention to costuming. You clearly differentiated between the characters, and Bacon’s robe managed to convey that he was a friar (the cross was clearly visible, even from the back row) while leaving room for us to also see him as a boxer in that moment when Miles massages his shoulders to warm him up for his great magic trick. I particularly liked this moment because it conveyed your interpretation of Bacon as England’s great champion in this scene. I also loved that the Hostess was differentiated from the other characters in terms of both her accent and her colourful, non-modern costume. These touches suggested that the Hostess has come from an even greater distance than the text implies, which worked to make Bacon’s magic seem even more impressive to a modern audience whose sense of geographical distance differs considerably from that of a sixteenth-century audience.


Para19I really enjoyed this performance. I liked the contest between Bacon and Burden. It became almost like a boxing match (an idea that was highlighted both by Bacon’s robe and by Miles’ massage). This was definitely a clash between giants. I was also intrigued by your eerie, pseudo-scientist depiction of magic. It was ominous—and that feeling was only highlighted by your use of music. All roles were amazingly well performed (except that the assistant had to read her lines off the clipboard). The chemistry between Miles and Bacon was wonderful and Burden’s reaction to the Hostess was similarly delightful. I also liked the added bit with the pick-pocketed pipe (adding insult to injury after Burden’s failure). This was simply a delightful performance—the highlight of the day. The only criticism I can offer is that the music overpowered the actors for a while. My favourite moments included the shh scene, the arrival of the Hostess, and the interplay between Miles and Bacon.


Para20The performance seemed built around showing Friar Bacon as a powerful but narcissistic magician and scholar. The group struck an excellent balance of showing Bacon’s skill and knowledge while using comic elements to also how his foolishness. Miles and Bacon had an excellent rapport: little details like Mile’s nigh-dropping of the stack of books on Bacon’s desk, and his adoring gesture showed him as a young impressionable scholar in awe of his teacher. Bacon played to Mile’s adoration, pronouncing his words with flourishes of hand gestures and heroic posing, showing his narcissism. Miles also often imitated Bacon’s gestures when speaking with Burden and co., revealing he is learning Bacon’s narcissism. The Hostess was excellent, not at all shy, delightfully and brazenly flirty (and had a wonderful London accent). Burden spoke his lines well, and to the audience—very engaging. The second scholar spoke somewhat too quietly, and tended to hide behind the other actors. Costume indicated the degree of scholarship, with Bacon’s robe not only indicating his mastery of the magical and scientific mysteries, but also distinguishing him from the less knowledgeable academics. The Hostess’s bar wench dress was hilarious, with the bright colours matching her unabashed personality (much to Burden’s dismay!). The chicken leg and beer mug allowed her to extend her presence in a hilarious way. Great imagination in the creation of the set, the brazen head and the summoning demon. The music could have been quieter, but it really worked at the Hostess’s sudden entrance. Many favourite moments in this one: the Hostess’s appearance and entire time on stage, Mile’s championing of Bacon with hand in air, giving him massages, and acting as his Vanna when showing off the brazen head were all very comical.


Para21I loved this scene for its clever and elaborate staging, and for the excellent work the actors did to bring out the mingled comedy and drama of the scene. As with most of the audience, I found the relationship between Miles and Bacon especially compelling, but all of the actors did an excellent job (although Alanna was too quiet and shy). I found the use of multimedia extremely effective, and I thought the conjuring scene was fantastic, aside from the unfortunately over-loud music. Further, Hailey’s performance as the Mistress of Henley was delightful, and she showed excellent comic timing. The use of props (beer stein, pipe) was clever and added further detail and texture to this scene.


1.This is a common comment on Queen’s Men clowns.


Helen Ostovich

Helen Ostovich, professor emerita of English at McMaster University, is the founder and general editor of Queen’s Men Editions. She is a general editor of The Revels Plays (Manchester University Press); Series Editor of Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama (Ashgate, now Routledge), and series co-editor of Late Tudor and Stuart Drama (MIP); play-editor of several works by Ben Jonson, in Four Comedies: Ben Jonson (1997); Every Man Out of his Humour (Revels 2001); and The Magnetic Lady (Cambridge 2012). She has also edited the Norton Shakespeare 3 The Merry Wives of Windsor Q1602 and F1623 (2015); The Late Lancashire Witches and A Jovial Crew for Richard Brome Online, revised for a 4-volume set from OUP 2021; The Ball, for the Oxford Complete Works of James Shirley (2021); The Merry Wives of Windsor for Internet Shakespeare Editions, and The Dutch Courtesan (with Erin Julian) for the Complete Works of John Marston, OUP 2022. She has published many articles and book chapters on Jonson, Shakespeare, and others, and several book collections, most recently Magical Transformations of the Early Modern English Stage with Lisa Hopkins (2014), and the equivalent to book website, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context containing scripts, glossary, almost fifty conference papers edited and updated to essays; video; link to Queenʼs Mens Ediitons and YouTube: http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/index.htm, 2015. Recently, she was guest editor of Strangers and Aliens in London ca 1605, Special Issue on Marston, Early Theatre 23.1 (June 2020). She can be contacted at ostovich@mcmaster.ca.

Janelle Jenstad

Janelle Jenstad is a Professor of English at the University of Victoria, Director of The Map of Early Modern London, and Director of Linked Early Modern Drama Online. With Jennifer Roberts-Smith and Mark Kaethler, she co-edited Shakespeare’s Language in Digital Media: Old Words, New Tools (Routledge). She has edited John Stow’s A Survey of London (1598 text) for MoEML and is currently editing The Merchant of Venice (with Stephen Wittek) and Heywood’s 2 If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody for DRE. Her articles have appeared in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Elizabethan Theatre, Early Modern Literary Studies, Shakespeare Bulletin, Renaissance and Reformation, and The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. She contributed chapters to Approaches to Teaching Othello (MLA); Teaching Early Modern Literature from the Archives (MLA); Institutional Culture in Early Modern England (Brill); Shakespeare, Language, and the Stage (Arden); Performing Maternity in Early Modern England (Ashgate); New Directions in the Geohumanities (Routledge); Early Modern Studies and the Digital Turn (Iter); Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers (Indiana); Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (Minnesota); Rethinking Shakespeare Source Study: Audiences, Authors, and Digital Technologies (Routledge); and Civic Performance: Pageantry and Entertainments in Early Modern London (Routledge). For more details, see janellejenstad.com.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is LEMDO’s Consulting Programmer and Designer, a role he assumed in 2020 after three years as the Lead Developer on LEMDO.

Kate LeBere

Project Manager, 2020–2021. Assistant Project Manager, 2019–2020. Textual Remediator and Encoder, 2019–2021. Kate LeBere completed her BA (Hons.) in History and English at the University of Victoria in 2020. During her degree she published papers in The Corvette (2018), The Albatross (2019), and PLVS VLTRA (2020) and presented at the English Undergraduate Conference (2019), Qualicum History Conference (2020), and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute’s Project Management in the Humanities Conference (2021). While her primary research focus was sixteenth and seventeenth century England, she completed her honours thesis on Soviet ballet during the Russian Cultural Revolution. She is currently a student at the University of British Columbia’s iSchool, working on her masters in library and information science.

Martin Holmes

Martin Holmes has worked as a developer in the UVicʼs Humanities Computing and Media Centre for over two decades, and has been involved with dozens of Digital Humanities projects. He has served on the TEI Technical Council and as Managing Editor of the Journal of the TEI. He took over from Joey Takeda as lead developer on LEMDO in 2020. He is a collaborator on the SSHRC Partnership Grant led by Janelle Jenstad.

Peter Cockett

Peter Cockett is an associate professor in the Theatre and Film Studies at McMaster University. He is the general editor (performance), and technical co-ordinating editor of Queen’s Men Editions. He was the stage director for the Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men project (SQM), directing King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V, and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (2006) and he is the performance editor for our editions of those plays. The process behind those productions is documented in depth on his website Performing the Queen’s Men. Also featured on this site are his PAR productions of Clyomon and Clamydes (2009) and Three Ladies of London (2014). For the PLS, the University of Toronto’s Medieval and Renaissance Players, he has directed the Digby Mary Magdalene (2003) and the double bill of George Peele’s The Old Wives Tale and the Chester Antichrist (2004). He also directed An Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy (2005) for the SQM project and Inside Out: The Persistence of Allegory (2008) in collaboration with Alan Dessen. Peter is a professional actor and director with numerous stage and screen credits. He can be contacted at cockett@mcmaster.ca.



The LEMDO Team is based at the University of Victoria and normally comprises the project director, the lead developer, project manager, junior developers(s), remediators, encoders, and remediating editors.