The King And The Playwright: A Jacobean History (2012) s01e03 Episode Script

Legacy

1 "In 1607, London experienced its coldest winter in 40 years.
"Stalls were built on the frozen Thames, whilst city dwellers "played bowls and skated across its frozen surface.
"But beneath the ice, fish perished" wrote the historian John Stow, ".
.
and waterfowl and small birds were found dead upon the shore.
" It was an omen of the difficult years to come.
The same year, Somerset House here would welcome a new and permanent resident, Anne of Denmark, James's Queen.
The King did not move in with her, the ice would thaw, their marriage would not.
At much the same time, Shakespeare's plays began engaging in the themes of fractured royal families, dynastic marriages and the loss of royal children.
From the troubled Sicilia of The Winter's Tale, to the magical island of The Tempest, and the corruption of the court of Henry VIII, Shakespeare continued to collaborate with other writers, to experiment with lighting and music in plays that marked the climax of an extraordinary decade that gave us the King James Bible, the 5th of November, and the beginnings of Britain's Empire, and the future USA.
A Jacobean decade that left a remarkable legacy, a legacy of the king and the playwright, William Shakespeare.
It is 1610.
King James has been on England's throne for seven years.
He is a complex figure - brilliant but unpopular.
His dream of union between England and Scotland, symbolised by a new flag and a new coin, is disliked on both sides of the border, and lies in tatters.
His debts are rising, and relations with Parliament are strained.
And his obsession with a young Scottish favourite, Robert Carr, is becoming a source of scandal and political instability.
Clearly James is bisexual.
He has no problems in his married life, he fathers children, but, equally, he falls madly in love, it would seem, with first Carr, and then with Buckingham, and doesn't hesitate to show physical affection to them in public, and that almost, more than the nature of the relationship, I think, is what scandalises ambassadors, scandalises his court.
and homosexual relationships, but it's a matter of propriety when it's the King.
And James loses that sense of appropriate behaviour.
James turns to his children to further his political ends.
For his son, and heir, Prince Henry, and his daughter, Elizabeth, he hopes to arrange powerful dynastic marriages to shore up royal authority at home and abroad.
Sifting the tone of the times as he always did, Shakespeare produces a new play.
At its heart is a seemingly bucolic royal family that suddenly unravels.
The Winter's Tale.
Though The Winter's Tale is included among Shakespeare's comedies in the First Folio, it's about as grim as comedy gets.
It begins cheerfully enough with Leontes, King of Sicilia, entertaining his childhood friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia, who's been staying with him for nine months.
Polixenes is ready to go home, but Leontes wants him to stay longer, so asks his wife, Hermione, to work her charms on him, which she does.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Leontes is thrown into a jealous rage which plunges his family and his kingdom into chaos.
Early on, there's no hint of what's to come.
The Queen is proudly pregnant.
Young Mamillius, heir to the throne, is admired by all.
King Leontes looks happily on.
Then, all of a sudden, Leontes is convinced that his wife is pregnant by his best friend, Polixenes.
He even doubts the young prince's legitimacy.
Give me the boy.
I'm glad you did not nurse him.
Though he does bear some signs of me, yet you have too much blood in him.
What is this? Sport? Bear the boy hence, he shall not come about her.
Away with him, and let her sport herself with that she's big with, for tis Polixenes has made thee swell thus.
Well, I'd say he had not.
And I'll be sworn you would believe my saying.
Howe'er you lean to the nayward.
You, my Lords, look on her, mark her well, be but about to say, "she is a goodly lady," and the justice of your hearts will thereto add, "tis pity she's not honest.
" You, my lord, do but mistake.
You have mistook, my lady, Polixenes for Leontes.
I have said she's an adulteress I've said with whom, More, she's a traitor, and Camillo is a federary with her, and one that knows what she should shame to know herself, but with her most vile principal, that SHE'S a bed-swerver.
The collapse of the court into chaos is rapid.
Leontes sends the pregnant Hermione to prison and orders that the baby be cast out to die.
Disastrously, his beloved son and heir, Mamillius, dies of grief over the treatment of his mother.
And she, we're told, dies of grief soon after.
The cracking of that world really was so powerful and so connected to the loss of the son.
I'm curious about, in your production, how other characters responded to the death of the young boy? Well, I suppose it connects to a deep idea in the play about Eden, which is that there is mentioned quite often in the early part of the play, Polixenes, in particular talks about this, this sense of him and Leontes as having been young kids, he calls them twinned lambs, there are these young people.
So, there is a feeling that before the terrible moment, the fall, connected by the jealousy, there was a time of innocence, and that innocence is for ever lost when Mamillius dies, it seems.
Through his sexual jealousy, Leontes appears to have destroyed all hopes for his succession and legacy, but unbeknownst to him, the baby will survive, it is she who will give the royal house a future.
An echo, perhaps, of James's hopes for his own children.
16 years pass, Leontes' grief has worn him out.
Then, in an extraordinary scene at the end of the play, Leontes visits a statue of Hermione, which magically comes to life before his eyes.
Shakespeare had never attempted such a bold piece of staging and he could only do it now because in 1608 his company had taken possession of a second theatre.
Blackfriars.
An intimate indoor space, formally home to children's theatre companies, where the audience was smaller, but more upmarket than at the much larger Globe.
Young writers like John Fletcher, who Shakespeare would later collaborate with, had been developing an increasingly sophisticated dramatic style there, and at London's other indoor stage, St Paul's.
Located in the former Blackfriars monastery, at the heart of the city, nothing now remains of the theatre.
But its ghost lingers in a solitary street sign.
Playhouse Yard.
Just across the Thames at the Globe though, work is about to begin on the construction of a replica indoor theatre.
The first in Europe to be created out of the shell of an existing space.
The Globe's resident academic, Farah Karim-Cooper, is immersed in the many questions that the new project is raising.
Farah, I'm really excited to be here today.
Tell me what I'm watching.
Well, as part of the research for our indoor Jacobean theatre, we do practical experiments, and this one in particular is interested in the relationship between candlelight, cosmetics and costume in the indoor space.
And what would be the difference between the kind of make-up you would use at the outdoor Globe and the indoor Jacobean theatre? The audience were sitting much more closely to the actors, some of them would have been on stage, as we know, so we use the same white base.
On the Globe stage we would paint her much more thick, because people wouldn't have been able to see her from quite a distance away.
Indoors you can see very well, but we would use on top of that a light dusting of crushed pearl, which is what Amy's doing right now.
Can I see that for a second? So this is real crushed pearl? It is.
It is real crushed pearl.
In 1616, Thomas Tuke, who wrote the treatise against painting, said that the wealthier sort liked to use pearl on their faces.
So, this was expensive, then as now? It was expensive.
Wow.
So, what's the effect of crushed pearl? The effect is lustre, is the glow, the sort of neo-Platonic glow that beautiful women were supposed to have, and in the indoor theatre space, lit with candles, it would bring it out even more in candlelight.
Ellie Piercy is playing Hermione in that crucial moment in The Winter's Tale when the curtain is drawn aside, and the statue is revealed.
A moment that relies completely on visual impact.
So, Leontes is standing here, looking at what he believes to be a statue of his wife.
He's this close, wants to touch the paint on her face, and gets to watch, what to my mind is the most extraordinary scene in late Shakespeare, that clearly could only happen with this kind of atmospherics for its full effect.
Yeah, absolutely, for its full intensity.
It's a scene in which Shakespeare uses words about looking, marking, beholding over 20 times.
So, he clearly wants us to focus on her in this moment.
So, let's find out, I always knew that Shakespeare spoke of his audience as auditors.
Late in his career he called them spectators.
I can see why you're just drawn into the statue at this point.
Absolutely.
Shakespeare really wants you to look at her.
As the music strikes, and the statue comes to life, Shakespeare pulls off a moment of pure theatrical magic.
Leontes steps forward to embrace the living statue, and utters the words, "Oh, she's warm.
" And in that moment, somehow, his years of pain are washed away.
In over 20 years of play writing, in which he had written over 30 plays, Shakespeare had never attempted anything as audacious as bringing a statue to life.
What this experiment made so clear to me was that he must've understood that you needed the lighting, the intimacy, the music, the make-up, the atmosphere that Blackfriars afforded.
Only in this theatre was it possible to create the kind of magic that we've just witnessed.
Mamillius, though, the young prince presented as the future hope of the kingdom at the start of the play, is not brought back to life.
But his sister, Perdita, is saved by a kindly shepherd, grows up in the countryside, and in the end marries Prince Florizel, son of Polixenes.
The rift between the two families is healed, the legacy and succession of both kingdoms assured.
In the real world, James's older children had also reached marriageable age.
For both Henry and Elizabeth, the King still hoped to broker grand dynastic unions with European royal houses.
Henry, now 16, formally became Prince of Wales in 1610.
A key moment for James's dynastic goals that was immortalised in this beautiful deed of investiture.
It's a gorgeous document, with a great seal attached by gold threads and lavish illustrations of a martial quality.
And an extraordinary image.
One significant both for the royal family and the nation.
That rarest of images of Henry with his father, King James, at the very moment when he's become Britain's king in waiting.
It marks a rite of passage, as Henry moves from child to adult, an adult with very real powers of his own.
For England's people, it was also a moment of real significance.
They had been ruled by three childless monarchs in a row.
Now they had a Prince of Wales for the first time in over 60 years.
Here at London's National Portrait Gallery, curator Catherine MacLeod is putting together the world's first major exhibition on the legacy of Prince Henry.
What can you tell me about this painting? Well, what the portrait's about is Henry's wealth, Henry's status, all as expressed through material objects, and especially textiles, which we can easily forget were one of the most expensive things that people owned.
And, of course, jewellery, and that's the other thing that's really prominent in this picture, Henry's wonderful hat jewels, with diamonds and pearls, and the brooch that has "HP," for Henricus Princeps.
Then through the window, you can see what we think is the garden of Richmond Palace, which was one of Henry's palaces, and he had spent, and was spending, a lot of money on designing a fabulous garden for Richmond Palace, with all kinds of extraordinary things.
A giant on a mountain, automata, fountains, caves, extraordinary things that really we don't associate with gardens today.
It was one of the most expensive areas of Henry's patronage.
So, I think this painting is really about him as a prince, a prince of status and wealth and material richness.
Everybody thought he was very promising, he seemed to be good at everything, he conformed exactly to what people imagined a prince ought to be like.
Do you have a favourite portrait, of these many portraits of Henry? Well, I think I have several favourites.
I think one that sometimes gets a bit overlooked because it is not as glamorous as some of the other portraits, but it's really interesting, is this print of Henry, which shows him in armour to the waist.
The head of Prince Henry is shown in profile, which is quite an unusual way of showing somebody at this time.
And when profile portraits are made at this period, they usually refer explicitly to classical portraiture, to heads of Roman emperors on coins and medals, and that, I think, is being suggested by this head.
The design of the whole print was made by Isaac Oliver, the miniaturist, and there's also a miniature by Oliver just of Henry's head in exactly that pose, showing his swept back hair and his big aquiline nose, a very distinctive profile, but in the miniature, Henry wears Roman armour and a Roman toga, so he's being explicitly compared to Roman heroes, Roman military heroes.
Isaac Oliver, painter to King James, and one of the greatest miniaturists of the age, was one of the many artists and scientists drawn to Henry's new court.
Over 100 books were dedicated to him, from a cutting edge work on perspective by the French engineer Salomon de Caus, who also designed Henry's gardens at Richmond, to the first English translation of Homer by the dramatist and poet, George Chapman.
And Sir Walter Raleigh's remarkable History Of The World, a book that reflected England's widening horizons.
And widening they were.
At this moment, the English were establishing their first permanent colony in North America.
Laying the foundations for the Empire, and for the future USA.
This remarkable letter and map, showing the coast of Virginia, and the fledgling settlement of Jamestown, testify to the keen personal interest that Prince Henry took in the endeavour.
Peter, I've never seen this map before, what am I looking at? You're looking at the first surviving map of the Jamestown colony.
It was created in 1608, and is a copy of a draft map that was sent over to Prince Henry by its maker.
There is Jamestown.
But that black speck is the first established English colony, permanent English colony, in the Americas.
It is.
And not only is Jamestown named here, and there's some Indian villages with Indian names, but it looks like the rivers themselves have been given English names.
They have indeed.
Because here you see "King James, his river," and here, in a tributary, you have "Prince Henry, his river.
" What's amazing to me is that Prince Henry is just a teenager at this time.
Yet both the letter and the map are given to him, and directed towards his interest.
So, he must have been extraordinarily interested in exploration.
This is absolutely true.
He was very much in the mood of the age.
The Virginia venture, though, had bumpy beginnings.
Most of the initial colonists were dead within the first year.
But in 1609 a fleet, backed by hundreds of English investors, set sail to re-supply it.
The ships, though, were hit by a huge storm, four made it to Jamestown.
But one, the Sea Venture, was wrecked on Bermuda, with the death, it was feared, of all on board.
News that was greeted with despair back in London.
Then, in this town of news and gossip, came a truly unexpected report.
The Sea Venture had indeed wrecked off the coast of Bermuda, but everyone on board had survived.
Not only that, they had salvaged the ship, built two boats, and sailed nearly 800 miles to join their friends in Virginia, where their arrival was greeted as nothing less than miraculous.
One of the passengers, William Strachey, wrote an account A True Repertory of the Wracke of the Sea Venture.
It was a tale not just of shipwreck and survival, but of an attempted coup among the survivors that was defeated by those in authority.
Shakespeare surely read it, and saw its dramatic potential.
In 1611, he produced a new play, magical, unsettling, bristling with the dynastic politics of the time.
The Tempest.
'The Royal Shakespeare Company is about to begin 'rehearsals for a new production of the play.
' One of the things that Shakespeare was really trying to do was to begin by staging a storm.
'I am thrilled to have been asked to come in to talk to the cast.
'Something I've had a chance to do 'for the past few years with the RSC.
' I'm going to put you in a room, much as Shakespeare was in a room at the time he was inspired to write this play, so that you can feel how his imagination was stimulated, or the juices started to get flowing for him.
Just feel the storm scene, and think about how you are going to create The Tempest.
A true repertory of the wreck and redemption of this ship.
St James' day, July 24, being Monday.
"A dreadful storm and hideous began to blow out from the northeast, "which swelling and roaring as if it were by fits, "some hours with more violence than others, "at length did beat all light from Heaven.
"For four-and-twenty hours, the storm in a restless tumult "had blown so exceedingly "as we could not apprehend in our imaginations "any possibility of greater violence.
"Sir George Somers, who was in charge of the vessel, "when no man dreamed of such happiness, "had discovered and cried, 'land!' "We found it to be the dangerous and dreaded island, "or rather islands, of The Bermuda.
" Unknown suppressed thing.
Yeah, cool.
Let's go from the top.
Is it helpful for you? Yeah, go on then.
Just even for the time Let's just do it, yeah, let's just do it.
Fine.
The storm that opens the play has just happened.
The teenage Miranda has witnessed it, and is appalled at the suffering she's seeing, thinking that her father, the magician Prospero, caused it.
But I would fain die a dry death.
If by your art, my dearest father, you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch, but that the sea, mounting to the welkin's cheek, dashes the fire out.
O, I have suffered With those that I saw suffer, a brave vessel, who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her, Dash'd all to pieces.
OK, let's just pause there.
I think, try, if you can, pulling down the very top.
Yeah.
I think I'm just thinking storm.
Prospero tells her how they were washed up here 12 years earlier, after he was overthrown in a coup by a treacherous brother.
My brother and thy uncle, call'd Antonio, I pray thee, mark me that a brother should be so perfidious! Being once perfected how to grant suits, how to deny them, who to advance and who to trash for over-topping, new created the creatures that were mine, I say, or changed 'em, or else new form'd 'em, having both the key of officer and office, set all hearts I' the state to what tune pleased his ear, that now he was the ivy which had hid my princely trunk, and suck'd my verdure out on't.
Be much bolder, and go, "Right, I'm going to listen.
" 'Prospero stage-manages everything in this play.
'His treacherous brother, Antonio, 'is among those shipwrecked on the isle, 'along with the King of Naples, his son Ferdinand, and assorted others.
'There's treachery and betrayal, 'just as there was on the Sea Venture.
'There's colonial politics and deep questions about the nature 'of leadership that resonate with the tensions of James's regime.
' It feels like the interest of the play lies in the real dirty modern politics.
It's politics between houses, between countries, between families, but it's also colonial politics.
I mean, colonial in the broadest possible sense, not necessarily in a traditional British sense, but you have a piece of land, someone has occupied it.
Now, someone else has occupied it and replaced them and enslaved them.
Somewhere in the past, there was a point where no-one occupied it and so there is a whole series That's politics, that's incredibly political.
The political tensions in the play, though betrayal, colonialism, the nature of good government are resolved by a dynastic marriage.
Prospero engineers the joining of his daughter with the young Prince Ferdinand.
We can imagine Shakespeare's audience feeling the echo of James's plans for his own children and legacy.
Shakespeare's isle is a place not just of politics but also of magic.
To create the atmosphere, he turned to a resource in which Blackfriars had long excelled - music.
The Tempest is rich in songs used not just as interludes but as an active part of the narrative.
It is a song, Full Fathom Five, sung by the sprite Ariel, that leads the young Ferdinand to Miranda to seal Prospero's all-important dynastic ambitions.
Full fathom five thy father lies Of his bones are coral made Those are pearls that were his eyes Nothing of him that doth fade The words were Shakespeare's but to create the music, who better for the King's player to collaborate with than the King's lutenist? Hark! Now I hear them.
The best court composer in the land, Robert Johnson.
So, tell me about Robert Johnson.
He's known as the King's lute player because one of his main appointments was to the Court of James I and he was really in charge, not only of lute music, but of a lot of concerted music and music for plays and dramas as well.
So that was Full Fathom Five that Matthew sang so beautifully and you played.
That's one of the great moments in The Tempest and I'm curious, when you're playing or thinking about this score, what qualities this music has for you? I think the main quality is magic.
I think that's what this song sets up and what was needed at this moment in the play.
I think for the character of Ariel, his magic is associated with his voice.
It's the perfect play for magical effects.
Absolutely.
I can just imagine a conversation between these two extraordinary artists, each one at the top of his game saying, "Look, I'm creating this play about magic.
"We're doing it in Blackfriars and then moving to the Globe.
"I need something special.
"Here are some lyrics I've mapped out.
"Can you create something with this?" That's right.
I think the crucial thing is that it's a creative team.
Shakespeare could bring the text and Robert Johnson could bring an idea of the melody and then they could hand it on to whoever was singing and playing Ariel to add some of his own performer improvisation or his own vocal magic.
For some, though, the refinement and theatricality of plays like The Tempest and The Winter's Tale was all going in the wrong direction.
Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's great rival, was no stranger to the rough end of Jacobean life.
He was a former bricklayer, imprisoned for killing a fellow actor in a duel and twice jailed for causing offence on stage.
His play, Bartholomew Fayre, written a few years later, was set in the rowdiest annual gathering in London and it begins with a sideswipe at Shakespeare, dismissing him as one of those "that beget tales and tempests "and such like drolleries.
" The play has a terrific opening.
A crotchety old stage keeper comes on to sweep up and he starts to complain that the playwright Jonson is out of tune with the times.
He says, He does not hit the humours.
He doesn't know them.
He has not conversed with the Bartholomew-birds, as they say.
But, of course, it's Jonson who knows these things and not, by implication, Shakespeare.
The play, for me, is a direct challenge to the Tempest.
You don't need to send your characters to an uninhabited island to show what life is really like.
Just bring them to a no-holds-barred London fair where all humanity is on display, and monstrousness too.
Bartholomew Fayre was a wild creation, first performed at London's Hope Theatre, famous for alternating between plays and bear-baiting.
When Samuel Pepys saw the play many years later, he called it profane and abusive.
Jonson, you feel, would have been delighted.
The two plays, Bartholomew Fayre and The Tempest, have a lot to tell us about the sheer range of writing and of audience sophistication at this, the height of the Jacobean moment.
Jonson and Shakespeare were both at the top of their game, packing them in, taking on the great issues of their day.
It's striking to me that each would turn to comedy.
Jonson, sharp and satiric.
Shakespeare's, dark and philosophical.
King James himself was part of this high-achieving Jacobean moment.
Yes, there were scandals and political problems but he was also an intellectual, the most widely published author ever to sit on England's throne.
An expert philosopher and theologian who left his own literary legacy.
He took the lead in the creation of a book that deservedly still bears his name.
Commissioned by him in 1604 and finally published in 1611, the year Shakespeare wrote The Tempest.
Here it is, the King James Bible.
If any object stands for what was best about James's legacy, this is it.
The Puritans had asked for a new translation of the Bible and James had obliged, overseeing the process that led to what is certainly one of the greatest achievements of this age or of any age.
To create it, the King assembled six collaborative teams of the best scholars and theologians in the land.
Taking as their base text the 40-year-old Bishops' Bible, their task was to create a new English scripture of unparalleled beauty and theological rigour.
Here's one example of the magic they were working.
When they came to the 23rd Psalm in the Bishops' Bible, they found, "God is my shepherd, therefore I can lack nothing.
" By the time the various committees had hammered out and reforged this line, we come with the King James Bible to "The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.
" It's perfect.
Language that rivals Shakespeare and would leave a lasting impression on the English language.
King James's dynastic ambitions too were taking shape.
He still hoped to find a high-born European Catholic bride for Henry.
In 1612, he secured for Elizabeth an excellent match to the great Protestant prince, Frederick of Bohemia.
He arrived in London that October to meet his bride and be part of the arrangements for their wedding.
This really was life imitating art, a key moment in James's regime echoing both The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, where the marriages of young royals ensured peace, prosperity and a satisfying comic resolution.
But in the real world, it was tragedy, not comedy, that lay in wait.
In late October, the 18-year-old Prince Henry went swimming in the Thames.
By November 5th, when England celebrated the seventh anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, the Prince had become gravely ill, perhaps with typhoid contracted from the filthy river.
Doctors were called in to save him but to no avail.
The next day he was dead.
For four weeks, his body lay in state at St James's, the same palace that 400 years later would be the focus of another untimely royal death, Princess Diana's.
The musical and literary response testified to the scale of national grief for the Prince.
John Taylor's Great Britaine, All In Blacke with its black printed pages.
The great poet John Donne's Elegy on the Death of Prince Henry.
A funeral poem, Epicede, on an event for which only one word would do "disastrous.
" What do you think the impact was on King James and the rest of the royal family? The Italian ambassador reported that James, in the middle of doing official business, would break off and cry out, "Henry is dead, Henry is dead!" when it just overwhelmed him.
Anne was devastated, shut herself in her room.
There's a real sense of there being a close family there, in spite of the fact that they lived in their separate palaces and they had their own households and so on.
There was absolute devastation at Henry's death.
Also on the part of all the ordinary people.
There was just extraordinary mourning.
He had an enormous funeral with 2,000 official mourners and people lining the streets.
In effect, it was the kind of funeral that would have been given to a monarch, not to a prince.
There were parallel funerals, without the body, of course, in Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the main actual funeral in London.
There are stories of people weeping as the coffin passed.
It was a terrible moment in which everyone's hopes and expectations were gone.
With the royal family and nation still in deep grief, Elizabeth's wedding to her Protestant prince went ahead on Valentine's Day, 1613.
It was a bittersweet moment for the regime, captured movingly in Elizabeth's wedding portrait.
She's still wearing a mourning armband for her dead brother and the black brooch carries an image of him too.
Shakespeare and the King's Men were in attendance to provide the entertainment at what must have been muted wedding celebrations at the Banqueting House.
One of the plays performed was The Winter's Tale.
The bucolic image of the play's happy couple represented all that was hopeful in this real-life dynastic wedding.
Everyone watching, though, must also surely have been thinking about the death of the young prince Mamillius, hope of the kingdom at the start of the play, just as the death of Henry could not but cast its shadow over the whole affair.
Fate had delivered a tragic blow with the death of Henry, softened by the political success of Elizabeth's wedding.
But just months later, a humiliating divorce trial triggered a series of events that would do lasting damage to the King.
His daughter's wedding was not the first time James had played matchmaker.
Seven years earlier, the joining of two teenagers, Frances Howard and Robert, Earl of Essex, had been designed to heal a rift between two rival noble families.
It had been an unhappy match and they had spent much time apart.
In the spring of 1613, Frances filed for divorce claiming that the marriage had never been consummated.
The 21-year-old Essex hotly denied a slur on his manhood what young man wouldn't? And so was summoned here, to Lambeth Palace, to answer the questions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his fellow commissioners.
And what questions! Was he capable of having an erection? Had he had sex with his young wife? If he couldn't with her, did he think he could with another woman? The whole thing must have been mortifying to everyone concerned.
Frances, too, was examined to determine whether or not she was still a virgin.
It was concluded that she was though she was veiled at the time, leading some to speculate she had pulled the old substitute trick.
Virgin or not, wedding bells rang out again for her just six months later.
Who did she marry? None other than Robert Carr, the King's favourite, and probably lover for the last few years.
They married with the King's blessing, though.
James even visited them in bed the morning after, presenting them with a jewel worth £3,000, a small fortune.
Just like the wedding seven years earlier, this was James's realpolitik at work.
The Howard faction still needed to be held in check.
Who better to plant at the heart of their family than his own loyal favourite? But unlike The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, this story did not have a happy ending.
Rather, a scandalous one.
The denouement of this sordid tale would have delighted even the most jaded tabloid editor.
It turns out that two years after the wedding, Frances Howard was implicated in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, an adviser to her husband who had opposed the marriage.
Her husband, too, was soon implicated in the plot.
The two would have faced execution if King James had not intervened but they would spend the next five and a half years there in the Tower of London.
Given James's intimate connection with the young couple, his involvement in the scandal would do little to enhance his standing in the nation.
In this sharp political world that seemed tainted with scandal and chicanery, Shakespeare turned to a younger writer, John Fletcher, to collaborate on a play with its own share of sex, scandal and divorce - King Henry VIII.
In revisiting the life and times of Henry VIII, a ruler who had redrawn England's religious and political map, Shakespeare had a chance to reflect one last time on the nature of transformational leadership.
The play is anything but a celebration.
The King veers from slippery and high-handed to disloyal and brutal.
Early on, the Duke of Buckingham is tried and executed, protesting his innocence to the end.
Cardinal Wolsey, the King's enforcer, is revealed to be a manipulator and a liar.
At the heart of the play, Catherine of Aragon, the King's loyal wife of 20 years, is dragged through a divorce trial railing against the lies told against her.
Henry VIII, although it sounds when we call it Henry VIII like a history play, was in fact, it seems, called All Is True when it was first performed, which is a wonderfully playful title, because not all that's in it is true, and since what the play offers is a set of conflicting truths, they cannot all be true because they don't actually match each other.
We hear information from one character which contradicts information from another character.
In a sense, what you see when faced with political engagements that are a bit awkward to dramatise, is the dramatist really relishing the dramatic moment and making good theatre out of it.
The play culminates in a great moment of theatre.
The birth of Henry's daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I.
A symbol of hope in this troubled regime.
The scene also looks further forward to the reign of Elizabeth's successor, King James himself.
"He shall flourish," says Archbishop Cranmer, "and like a mountain cedar "reach his branches to all the plains about him.
"Our children's children shall see this and bless heaven.
" It sounds like a eulogy but given the scandals and problems of the reign, Shakespeare's audience must surely have felt a hint of irony, too.
The play is characterised by a certain political, social and cultural unease.
What was remarkable about Shakespeare's ability in that play as in so many, is he was able to produce something that couldn't be objected to politically and yet which engaged with all sorts of complicated issues that would have encouraged the audience to think and reflect on what they were seeing, what they were hearing.
It is at least as much a critical play as it is in any way propagandistic.
It's a very complicated play which doesn't seem complicated when you watch it.
It seems to be about ceremony, about processions, about royal grandeur, but all the time it is thinking about the lies that are being told.
It is thinking about the ways in which Henry tries to cover up for his own crassness, his own violence, his own unpleasantness and his own weakness.
The image of the monarch that is represented in that play is a very ambivalent one.
It's extraordinary that ten years in to James's reign, Shakespeare's view of monarchy remained so ambivalent.
It's as if the uncertainties and anxieties that had clouded the early Jacobean years had never really diminished.
By 1614, James's reign was not over but his greatest political ambitions were.
After years of wrangling, Parliament refused to grant a massive loan to deal with royal debt.
His most cherished dream, the Union of England and Scotland, was now dead in the water.
Even the triumph of his daughter Elizabeth's dynastic marriage turned to disaster.
Her husband was ousted from his Bohemian kingdom and the couple spent the rest of their lives in exile.
Elizabeth became known ever after as the Winter Queen.
Shakespeare too suffered disaster.
During a performance of Henry VIII at the Globe in 1613, a theatrical cannon misfired.
The thatched roof caught fire and the theatre burned to the ground.
Shakespeare, King's Man for a decade, professional playwright for nearly 25 years, would write no more for the stage.
He would turn to his rural Stratford estate, dying in April 1616 at the age of 52.
He had been the most successful dramatist of an extraordinary Jacobean moment.
His legacy, though, was far from assured.
But some of the players of the King's Men spent several years on a labour of love, saving for all time the Shakespeare we know and revere today.
Here it is, the First Folio of Shakespeare's Complete Works.
36 plays published in 1623.
No matter how many times I examine it, it's always a huge thrill to turn the pages of Shakespeare's First Folio.
It's one of the greatest treasures of this Jacobean moment and of all literary history.
To understand what's truly miraculous about this volume, you need to remember that only half of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime.
If his fellow players had not gathered together his collected works, many of his greatest plays Macbeth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, The Tempest would have been lost forever.
King James died two years after the publication of the First Folio.
He never rectified his damaged relationship with Parliament nor, fatally, did his son Charles, whose struggles with England's MPs led to civil war and his own execution.
The fate of his regime has largely consigned King James to the dustbin of history.
Yet the legacy of this brilliant but flawed monarch lives on.
The King James Bible, the fifth of November, the vision of a united Britain under the Union Jack that finally came to pass a century later.
He presided over a decade of unsurpassed creativity when the work of a dazzling array of writers, artists and composers lit up the stages and pages of this remarkable Jacobean moment.
Above all, a king and a reign that fired the imagination of its brightest star, William Shakespeare, the King's Man.
And that star still burns bright.