“The world’s a stage on which all parts are played.”
A Game at Chess is a Renaissance drama by a guy named Thomas Middleton, a satire on the relations between the English and Spanish governments in the early 1600s. Though it’s not a Shakespeare play, I think I might use my A-Z review format for this one, just to see what turns up, and also because I find reviewing plays a little tricky. So here goes.
Because…though Middleton’s blank verse is not what you might call fluent, and the satire is very topical and thus rather opaque, the play is written as a literal game of chess, with living pieces, which is just such a cool idea.
Colour: Black and white
Events: *takes deep breath* The game opens when the Black Queen’s Pawn meets the White Queen’s Pawn. The Black Bishop’s Pawn joins them, and tries to seduce the White Queen’s Pawn. He gives her a book, pretending that it will teach her about obedience. She reads it, and returns to him to discuss it, thinking him a noble priest; but he tries to seduce her, and she runs off, telling the White Queen and King about his duplicity. The Black Bishop’s Pawn has the Black Knight claim by means of forged letters that he was away at the time, but the forgery is discovered. The Black Queen’s Pawn then tricks the White Queen’s Pawn into sleeping with the Black Bishop’s Pawn, pretending that a magic mirror has revealed that he is her True Love, but at the last minute she substitutes herself for the White Queen’s Pawn. Meanwhile, a lot of very confusing political stuff is happening at court, involving a Fat Bishop who switches sides at a moment’s notice, a Black Knight’s Pawn unable to assuage his guilt at castrating someone (yes, really), and a treacherous White King’s Pawn. The upshot of all of this is that by Act Five the White side achieves a checkmate by discovery – the White Knight encourages the Black King to confess his crimes while the White Duke listens behind a curtain – and the Black side is captured and thrown into hell. The End. Finally.
First line: “What of the game called chess-play can be made”
Genre: Satire. Or fantasy. Or who the hell knows.
High point: The checkmate at the end. DRAMA.
Interesting fact: This may have been the play that ended Middleton’s writing career, sparking off a political crisis that saw him arrested.
Joke: Um. The whole thing is basically one long joke. So, that.
Killed: No-one really. Unless you count taking a chesspiece killing, in which case EVERY BLACK PIECE.
Laughed at: The Fat Bishop, I feel, is the candidate here.
Musical: Nope. Oh, there might be a song at the feast towards the end, actually.
Number of scenes: 15 spread over 5 acts.
Place: A chessboard.
Quote: “See ’em anon, and mark ’em in their play,/Observe, as in a dance, they glide away.”
Role I’d play: The Black Queen’s Pawn has an excellent sense of revenge. She’d be really fun to play, I think.
Stolen from a whole load of anti-Catholic pamphlets. Tactful, Middleton. Tactful.
Time: I don’t think there really is one. It’s a chessboard. It is detached from everything else ever.
Voiced in my head by: Stephen Fry would make a great Fat Bishop.
Would I see it in a theatre? Definitely. Unfortunately, it’s never played.
X: The Tenth Line: “Is so to play our game to avoid your check.”
“Yes? Hello? What?” (The Snappy Quip): “I would rule myself, not observe rule.”
Z: The Last Line: “Her White friends’ loves will build up fair again.”