‘Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off ‘ Act 2

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Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off ‘ Act 2

Act 2 Scene 1 ‘ Seigneur Riccio, A Fortune, A Baby, And A Big Baby’
In this scene the Dancer becomes Riccio, with a typewriter (poetic licence) and we see Mary working with him secretly, fast and in a mood of intimacy. La Corbie offers comment on what is happening throughout the scene.

  • To whom is Mary writing, and what is the content of her correspondence?

  • Why is she so concerned about the progress of her pregnancy?

  • What are the tensions between Mary and Darnley and what is the cause of these?

  • Comment on the language of fortune telling and the supernatural in this scene.

  • How is the intimacy between Riccio and Mary suggested?

  • How is the weakness of Darnley hinted at in this scene?

  • How is Bothwell using Darnley?

  • Is this the traditional view we have of Mary Queen of Scots? What differences can we detect in how Lochhead is telling the story?

Act 2 Sc. 2 ‘Rumplefyke’
La Corbie looks on as Elizabeth turns into Bessie and gets intimate with the Earl of Bothwell. They are discussing the state of the relationship between Mary and Darnley.

  • What is the tone of the dialogue here?

  • Why is so much attention paid to carnal pleasure in this scene?

Act 2 Sc.3 ‘Whispers, Rumours, Souchs and Chatters’
This short scene is played as a company ensemble scene, with the emphasis on chorale sound and dance movement. It conveys a mood of political intrigue, and speclation before the short dialogue between Riccio and Mary.

  • Why is Riccio getting poison pen letters?

Act 2 Sc. 4 Knox and Bothwell’
The start of the scene involves the whole company in the choral singing of the ‘Good and Godly Ballad’, in an imitation of an Orange march which leads into the confrontation of Bothwell and Knox. At the start both of them have been among the marchers. Meanwhile La Corbie is setting up a line of dominoes which she topples at the end of the scene.

  • What is the attitude of Knox to:

  • woman

  • Catholicism

  • Mary Queen of Scots

  • Bothwell

  • How does Bothwell try to defend Mary?

  • What is in it for him?

  • What do the dominoes signify?

Act 2 Sc.5 ‘ Mummers and Murderers’
The opening of this scene shows a very pregnant Mary playing dominoes with Bessie the maid and Riccio. La Corbie is at the side, offering her observations of the domestic scene.

  • How does the entrance of Darnley change the mood of the gathering?

  • Why does Lochhead choose to introduce Riccio’s killers as Mummers or actors?

  • Comment on the satire of their presentation. How do they include Darnley in their ‘show’?

  • What do you gather from Mary’s reaction to the murder about her feelings?

  • Who does she turn to for help now? How can we deduce there is danger ahead for both of them?

Act 2 Sc.6 ‘Sweet Baby James, His Auntie Elizabeth and a Sorer Sickbed for Darnley This Time’
This scene begins with La Corbie wheeling in the baby in a pram. Darnley is in bed

sick with smallpox (the second stage of syphilis) and Mary appears to be attentive to him. In a soliloquy, Elizabeth reflects on the significance of this child.

  • What is Darnley worried about?

  • Why does he dislike reference to ‘weakness’?

  • Why is Mary apparently so indifferent to Riccio’s fate? ‘we hae ither secretaries.’

  • Contrast this scene with Elizabeth’s catty comments.

  • How does Lochhead convey the :

  1. Horror of the murder?

  2. Intensity of the relationship between Mary and Bothwell?

  3. Contrast between Mary and Elizabeth?

  • Comment on the stage directions during the murder of Darnley.

  • Show how La Corbie’s lament song is a parody of ‘The Twa Corbies’.

  • Why is Knox pictured scrubbing at a stain? What is the significance?

  • How does Lochhead convey Elizabeth’s moral dilemma?

Act 2 Sc.7 ‘Jock Thamson’s Bairns’
At this point the writer returns us to our own age- the characters all becoming children playing a children’s game.

  • How are the following themes developed in this scene?

  • Religion

  • Poverty

  • Isolation

  • Sex

  • How is the idea of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots explored in the closing part of the play?

  • Comment on the stage directions on page 67.

Questions on Act 2

To what extent would you describe Mary as being a victim?
Is Lochhead portraying Elizabeth as entirely ruthless?
How does having the female lead characters double up affect your sympathy for each of them?
How are each of the following portrayed:




How does the closing scene expose each of the characters’ innermost weaknesses e.g. Marie Stewart meets dislike because she is a Catholic, and dressed in finer clothes; bible thumping Knoxxy is scared of sex, and girls. What is the point of this?
What point is Lochhead making about:



Religious bigotry in Scotland


Sexual Chemistry

To what extent is she dealing with 20thC issues as well as the story of Mary Queen of Scots?

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