A Satire of the Three Estates  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A Satire of the Three Estates (Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis) is a satirical morality play in Middle Scots, written by makar Sir David Lyndsay. The play was first performed outside in the playing field in June 1552 during the Midsummer holiday in Cupar, Fifeshire where the action took place under Castle Hill. It was subsequently performed in Edinburgh, also outdoors, in 1554. The full text was first printed in 1602 although it also exists in a different manuscript version. Confusion about its date has existed since the Hamer edition first hypothesized different forms of the play. One of those forms only exists as an entry in the royal account book and an ambassador's report to Henry VIII. Apparently, Lyndsay had written a short play for the court of James V in 1540 which used a few characters who later appeared in the Satyre. (1. Joanne Spencer Kantrowitz, Dramatic Allegory:Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, University of Nebraska Press, 1975. Greg Walker,"Sir David Lindsay's Ane Satire of the Thrie Estaitis, Scottish Literary Journal 16.2 (Nov. 1989); Roderick Lyall, Ane Satyre of The Thrie Estaitis, Edited with an introduction and commentary, Canongate Classics 18, 1989.)

The Satire is an attack on the Three Estates represented in the Parliament of Scotland – the clergy, lords and burgh representatives, symbolised by the characters Spiritualitie, Temporalitie and Merchant. The clergy come in for the strongest criticism.

Written not long after the Reformation reached Scotland, the work portrays the social tensions present at this pivotal moment in Scottish history. In the 20th century, John McGrath adapted the play as a contemporary morality A Satire of the Four Estaites, which was presented by Wildcat Theatre Company at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1996. This production opened on 16 August 1996 and starred Sylvester McCoy. The play's first modern production occurred on August 24, 1948 at the Edinburgh Festival with a modernized text by Robert Kemp and directed by Tyrone Guthrie. The play was also quoted at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament, a mark that illustrates its importance to modern Scots.



In the first part there are 27 different characters. In the second part seven more are added.

The key characters are; King Humanity, Divine Correction, Sensuality, Spirituality, Temporality, Gude Counsel and Chastity.


Set in Scotland in the 16th century, Diligence delivers a sermon on good kingship. The main character, young King Humanity, then appears and is at first led astray by Sensuality and the Vices. His false counsellors introduce him to a mistress, Sensuality, which is the starting point of his disconnection from the moral way of life. He is then fooled by three disguised liars. Gude Counsel is sent to prison by the liars who already have taken control of King Humanitie's mind. With the beginning of his lecherous new life the king forgets about the moral virtues and can no longer judge properly. He consigns Charity and Verity to the stocks. In the course of the following scenes the audience sees how the three so called Vices (Discretion, Devotion and Sapience) try to get rid of everything and everyone who could be dangerous to them. For instance Lady Chastitie, who is homeless since the church in Scotland is not as it was meant to be, begs for shelter from Spiritualitie, Temporalitie and finally the People but is rejected in each case. In the end when Lady Chastitie is sent to prison by the Vices, Divine Correction enters the stage. This is the moment when the vices know that their time has come to an end and they flee and take away the king’s treasure box. Correction frees Gude Counsel, Chastitie and Vertie. He advises the young king to call a parliament and gives him advice regarding a successful reign.

The second part starts with an interruption. A member of the King's realm, known only as The Poor Man, emerges from the audience, establishes an alliance with John Commonweal to demand reform, and Diligence reappears to announce that the King will seek to improve his realm. Afterwards the Pardoner enters the scene and tries to sell pardoners. Poor Man hears that and buys pardoners worth ‘ane groat’. But Poor Man is not satisfied and gets angry and so they start to argue. In the following scene Diligence opens parliament and King Humanitie, Correction, the king’s courtiers and the virtues enter. The three estates greet the king and parliament is opened. John Commonweal stands up and talks to the King and Correction. He reveals all the failures of the estates. In the course of the following hearing Temporalitie gets punished but as this estate wants to cooperate this is just a short episode. Spiritualitie does not agree on what is said about their estate and fights back. But there are too many accusations against this estate and therefore they also have to give in. The three Vices are imprisoned and sentenced to be hanged. Flatterie tried to get away by betraying his fellows Falsehood and Deceit but this did not work. In the end of the second part the three vices Deceit, Falsehood and Flatterie are allowed to say something before they are hanged. After the execution of the vices and a rousing speech by Folie, Diligence closes the play and advises the audience to go their ways and enjoy their time.


The Satire is notable for being one of the earliest recorded instances of fuck, predating any English language forms but preceded in Scots by Dunbar (Oxford English Dictionary entry.)

Script excerpt (from 1554)

Heir sall the Carle loup aff the scaffald.


Swyith begger bogill, haist the away,
Thow art over pert to spill our play.


I wil not gif for al ȝour play worth an sowis fart,
For thair is richt lytill play at my hungrie hart.


Quhat Devill ails this cruckit carle?


Marie Meikill sorrow :
I can not get, thocht I gasp, to beg, nor to borrow


Quhair deuill is this thou dwels or quhats thy intent?


I dwell into Lawthiane ane myle fra Tranent.


Quhair wald thou be, carle, the suth to me shaw?


Sir, evin to Sanct-Androes for to seik law.


For to seik law in Edinburgh was the neirest way.


Sir I socht law thair this monie deir day;
Bot I culd get nane at sessioun nor Seinȝe :
Thairfoir the mekill dum Deuill droun all the meinȝe.


Shaw me thy mater, man, with al the circumstances,
How that thou hes happinit on thir vnhappie chances.


Gude-man will ȝe gif me ȝour Charitie,
And I sall declair how the black veritie.
My father was ane auld man and ane hoir,
And was of age fourscoir of ȝeirs and moir;
And Mald, my mother was fourscoir and fyfteine :
And with my labour I did thame baith sustein.
Wee had ane Meir, that caryit salt and coill,
And everie ilk ȝeir scho brocht vs hame ane foill.
Wee had thrie ky that was baith fat and fair,
Nane tydier into the toun of Air.
My father was sa waik of blude and bane,
That he deit, quhairfoir my mother maid great maine.
Then scho deit within ane day or two ;
And thair began my povertie and wo.
Our gude gray Meir was baittand on the feild,
And our Lands Laird tuike hir for his hyreild.
The Vickar tuik the best Cow be the head,
Incontinent, quhen my father was deid.
And quhen the Vickar hard tel how that my mother
Was dead, fra-hand he tuke to him ane vther.
Then meg my wife did murne both evin & morrow
Till at the last scho deit for verrie sorow :
And quhen the Vickar hard tell my wyfe was dead,
The third cow he cleikit be the head.
Thair vmest clayis, that was of rapploch gray,
The Vickar gart his Clark bear them away.
Quhen all was gaine, I micht mak na debeat,
Bot with my bairns past for till beg my meat.
Now haue I tald ȝow the black veritie,
How I am brocht into this miserie.


How did the person, was he not thy gude friend?


The devil stick him, he curst me for my teind,
And halds me ȝit vnder that same proces,
That gart me want the Sacrament at Pasche.
In gude faith, sir, Thocht he wald cut my throt,
I haue na geir except ane Inglis grot,
Quhilk I purpois to gif ane man of law.


Thou art the daftest fuill that ever I saw.
Trows thou, man, be the law to get remeid
Of men of kirk? Na, nocht till thou be deid.


Sir, be quhat law tell me, quhairfoir, or quhy
That ane Vickar sould tak fra me thrie ky?


Thay haue na law, exceptand consuetude,
Quhilk law to them is sufficient and gude.


Ane consuetude against the common weill
Sould be na law I think be sweit Sanct Geill.
Quhair will ȝe find that law tell gif ȝe can
To tak thrie ky fra ane pure husband man?
Ane for my father, and for my wyfe ane vther,
And the third Cow he tuke for Mald my mother.


It is thair law all that thay haue in vse,
Thocht it be Cow, Sow, Ganar, Gryce, or Guse.


Sir, I wald speir at ȝow ane questioun.
Behauld sum Prelats of this Regioun:
Manifestlie during thair lustie lyvfis,
Thay swyfe Ladies, Madinis and vther mens wyfis.
And sa thair cunts thay haue in consuetude.
Quhidder say ȝe that law is evill or gude?

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "A Satire of the Three Estates" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools