Galley-foists, Lord Mayors' Shows, and Early Modern English Drama

Galley-foists, Lord Mayors’ Shows, and Early Modern English Drama

Carnegie, David (Victoria University of Wellington)

Early Theatre: A Journal Associated with the Records of Early English Drama,Volume 7, Issue 2, Article 3, (2004)


In this passage from Jonson’s Epicoene, Morose, ‘A Gent. that loues no noise’, berates Daw, La Foole, and Captain Otter for introducing trumpets and drums to his house, and in his desperate desire for silence drives them off ‘with a long sword’.1 The general sense of the passage is clear, with the noisily popular celebrations at May Day and at the lord mayor’s show (‘when the Gally-foist is a-floate to Westminster!’) regarded, with justification, as begetters of noise (and, indeed, trumpeting and drumming). The reference to the ‘Gally-foist’, however, will not only be obscure to most modern readers, but has been consistently misunderstood by editors of Jonson as well as by the Oxford English Dictionary and the standard book on English civic pageantry in the early modern period. Furthermore, the problem is self-perpetuating, as editors of other plays copy the mistake. The misconception has some significant impli- cations for our understanding of both lord mayor’s show and many passages in early modern English drama. My purpose in this paper is to identify the problem, to explain and provide evidence for the true nature of the galley-foist in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and to gloss passages from the plays of the period that use the term so that we may better understand the full resonance of its use.

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