Sunday, September 16, 2007

A challenge at Long Picke and Half Picke

The Guardian ran a piece about the exhibition being put on by the Society of Antiquaries for the 330th birthday of the institution. Here’s the link, and another link to the accompanying slide show of some of the treasures that will be on display.,,2167486,00.html

This reminded me faintly of how printed materials owned by the Society crop up on EEBO, and here’s one of them, A Challenge, From Richard Grauener, Gentleman and Souldier, Scholler to Thomas Musgrove, & Seruant to Robert Battell, Prouis Masters of the Noble Sience of defence, against Thomas Blunne, Shoo-maker, and Scholler to Thomas Turpin, Master of the Noble Science of Defence this to be performed at the Red Bull in St. Iohns street, on Tuesday next, being the 20. of October, 1629. If God permit.

The black letter text says:

“Judicious Gentlemen and others, I being a Souldier, from me expect no complementall phrases, for in my opinion that more stuffes the eare, then please the eye; then to leave off this empty outside of verball threatenings, I in plaine termes challenge the said Thomas Blunne at these eight severall weapons hereunder named, wishing him to bring his best skill and resolution with him. This to be performed at the time and place above named, desiring from the spectators stage-room, and from him his uttermost of his malice, while then I rest.

The names of the Weapons.

Long Picke, Half Picke, Backe Sword, Sword and Buckler, Single Rapier, Rapier and Dagger, Sword and Dagger, Holberd.

And I the said Thomas Blunne will be ready at the time and place appointed, to answer this Challenge, If God permit. Vivat Rex.”

In this promotional handbill, we see the kind of thing that might have been distributed to advertise new plays by Shakespeare, and stuck up on posts in the city. A humble black letter sheet (it is about six inches high) - something very like this might have announced King Lear. Here, the amphitheatre (the Red Bull) will be showing a display of martial prowess rather than a play, with the bill assuring those who read it that both men are going to appear, and hack away at each other in some controlled and semi-safe manner through a full repertoire of weapons. I suppose that, with breaks for a breather and a small beer, it might have gone on for a couple of hours if all digits and eyes survived the early rounds. There would have been side-betting, I imagine. In Davenant's play, The Unfortunate Lovers, there's an allusion to the customary costumes worn when two men 'played a prize', which lets us see how Gravener and Blunne might wel have turned out:

"Why, dost thou thinke they goe to play a Prize?
Is't of necessity they must appeare
In scarlet Breeches, and cleane lac'd shirts?"

The two participants represent two different schools in the ‘Science of Defence’. Interesting that the gentleman and soldier Gravener will be fighting a shoemaker. Perhaps Blunne was doing the whole socially mobile ‘a shoemaker a gentleman’ thing by means of mastering methods of fighting. Maybe this is part of the commercial appeal of the bout – to get the journeyman shoemakers along to cheer on their man.

Ephemera at its most priceless.

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