Who is Guy Fawkes?

Chloe Gordon explores this life of Guy Fawkes, and his characterisation on stage and screen.

Although you’ll see just three actors’ names on the billing for “The Seed”:, there is a non-speaking fourth character whose presence looms large over the show. Set chiefly in Nottingham, England, the play begins on the shared birthday of the Maloneys: daughter Rose, father Danny and ‘Grandda’ Brian – which also happens to be Guy Fawkes Day. This date, which commemorates the downfall of the anarchist plotter, is an auspicious day for Rose to be meeting her grandfather for the first time. Guy Fawkes, both as an historic figure and in more modern representations, is an interesting mascot for a family with its roots in the IRA.

Guy, or Guido, Fawkes was one of the Catholic conspirators hoping to kill England’s Protestant King James and replace him with a Catholic monarch. It was the 5th of November, 1605, when the authorities discovered Guy in an undercroft beneath the British House of Lords, guarding the gunpowder the group had been stockpiling there. The day the gunpowder plotters were foiled has been celebrated ever since with none other than their original weapon of choice, in the form of spectacular fireworks. Traditionally the celebrations have also included the burning of an effigy of Guy himself.

Nowadays, the image of Guy Fawkes has become detached from its Catholic origins and more generally represents the overthrow of oppressive forces. Modern incarnations include the protagonist of the comic series and film V for Vendetta. A rebel in a dystopian future intent on killing off members of a fascist British parliament, the character’s version of a superhero disguise is a mask resembling Guy Fawkes. Members of the internet group Anonymous have been seen wearing the Guy Fawkes mask at protests, and it is often just called the ‘Anonymous’ mask in the media.

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Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, and a protester wearing the mask in the US.

In The Seed, Guy Fawkes is a divisive figure. For Grandda Brian, Guy Fawkes is ‘a great Catholic hero,’ comparable with Robin Hood, a great crusader for the people. For young, secular, Australian Rose, the name prompts the question, ‘Who’s Guy Fawkes?’ As the Maloneys’ story unfolds, spanning three generations and four different countries, Guy Fawkes comes to signify both the thing that unites them – their birthday, their heritage – and the rifts created by a troubled past, leaving them with some clashing ideas about the nature of loyalty and honour.

Image sources: 1, 2

The Seed is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio until 4 April. Learn more

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