Wednesday, 20 June 2018

20 June, 1594 - The Ranger's Comedy

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 18 of June 1594 ... R at the Rangers comodey ... xxijs

In modern English: 20th June, 1594 ... Received at The Ranger's Comedy ... 22 shillings.

An Elizabethan hunting scene; one
of the possible subjects of The
Ranger's Comedy
Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost play The Ranger's Comedy. We do not know what this play was about, as the word could refer to a gamekeeper, a rake, a wanderer, or an organizer of troops. You can read more about it in the entry for 2 April.

The Ranger's Comedy had last been performed at the Rose back in May. It had produced only average box office then, and today it was well below that, showing a clear decline in popularity.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

19 June, 1594 - Cutlack

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 17 of June 1594 ... R at cutlacke ... xxxvs

In modern English: 19th June, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 35 shillings.

Illustration of Belinus (or Brennius, it's not clear)
from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)
Today, as the the Admiral's Men settled back into the Rose playhouse, they revived Cutlack, a play about a bombastic Danish king and his intervention in the civil war between Brennius and Belinus in ancient Britain. You can read more about this play in the entry for 16 May, 1594.

Yesterday, the company had attracted a packed theatre for their first play at the Rose. But today's performance produced only an average-sized crowd with a half-full theatre. The public's appetite for theatre at the Rose appears to have returned to normal very rapidly.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 17 June 2018

17 June, 1594 - Belin Dun

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 15 of June 1594 ... R at bellendon ... iijll and iiijs

In modern English: 17th June, 1594 ... Received at Belin Dun ... £3 and 4 shillings.

A highwayman portrayed in Richard
Head's The English Rogue (1666)
Today, a new era has begun for Henslowe! The Admiral's Men have returned to the Rose playhouse on the south bank of the Thames, following their brief and mysterious stint at the theatre in Newington. And they're about to begin a lengthy period of stability, with few of the hiatuses and disruptions that we've seen over the previous years.

The Admiral's Men celebrated their return today with a performance of Belin Dun, a lost play about the notorious robber who terrorized the Dunstable area during the reign of King Henry I; you can read more about this play in the entry for 10 June.

The Admiral's Men had premiered Belin Dun at Newington last week. It did not appear to have special interest there, but its performance today at the Rose was a great success, drawing a huge audience. Presumably Belin Dun was a new play to most of the spectators at the Rose, who would not have trekked out to Newington to see it last week. But whether they were excited to see Belin Dun, or just to see any theatre at the Rose at all after its lengthy closures, we do not know.

What's next?


Henslowe's dates are confusing for this period. I am going to assume that tomorrow's entry is either missing or the players did not perform for some reason. So, Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on 19 June. See you then!

Henslowe links



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Friday, 15 June 2018

15 June, 1594 - The Jew of Malta

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 13 of June 1594 ... R at the Jewe ... iiijs

In modern English: 15th June, 1594 ... Received at The Jew ... 4 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, for their final performance at Newington Butts, the players performed once again The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe's satirical comic tragedy; you can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February 1592.

The Jew of Malta has been one of the most reliably popular plays at the Rose, but today it received only 4 shillings, by far the lowest of Henslowe's receipts at Newington Butts. As always, we cannot be sure what the box office figures at this theatre mean, but it looks as though they left Newington with a whimper rather than a bang


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 16 June was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. But that does not mean the players were idle, for a huge change was underway.

For the past week, two playing companies have been sharing a theatre at Newington for reasons unknown. But in the next entry, all will be different. The companies will have separated, with the Chamberlain's Men heading off to the Theatre in north London, while the Admiral's Men return to the Rose. For Henslowe, this will be a return to normality and stability again.

Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 17th June for a week that will see some familiar plays back in heart of London. See you then!

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 14 June 2018

14 June, 1594 - Titus Andronicus

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 12 of June 1594 ... R at andronicous ... vijs

In modern English: 14th June, 1594 ... Received at Andronicus ... 7 shillings.


Titus and Lavinia kill Tamora's sons: illustration
from the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad
of Titus Andronicus (1680s)
Today, the players at Newington Butts revived again Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's violent tragedy about a cycle of vengeance in ancient Rome. You can read more about this play in the entry for 24 January.

The companies have waited only a week before reviving Titus, suggesting that they see it as a good bet. But the box office is lower than last time, and indeed among the lower of the receipts at this season at Newington. Titus may not be the crowd-puller that they had hoped.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

13 June, 1594 - The Taming of the Shrew

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 11 of June 1594 ... R at the tamynge of A shrowe ... ixs

In modern English: 13th June, 1594 ... Received at The Taming of a Shrew ... 9 shillings

Whoah! You wait ages for a Shakespeare play and then two come along (almost) at once! Following on from their staging of the ur-Hamlet a couple of days ago, the players at Newington Butts today performed The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's famous comedy about a headstrong wife. Of course there is a complication, as always, but this time only a small one.

Shakespeare's play is entitled The Taming of the Shrew. However, today's play was recorded by Henslowe as The Taming of a Shrew, which is the title of an enigmatic, anonymous play from the same period. That play essentially rewrites Shakespeare's with different words and some different character names, but relatively few plot differences.

So, if taken literally, Henslowe's entry refers to a Shrew, the rewrite. But let's be honest: accurate titling was hardly Henslowe's strong point. And since one of the companies sharing the Newington Butts theatre was the Chamberlain's Men, the company to whom Shakespeare belonged, most scholars assume that Shakespeare's the Shrew was indeed the play staged today.

The story of the shrew


Shakespeare's play begins with a framing device: a drunken tinker named Sly falls deeply asleep and is found by a lord who takes him to his house and tricks him into believing himself to be a lord when he wakes. Sly is then entertained with the play of The Taming of the Shrew.

The play that unfolds is set in Italy. A rich man, Baptista, has two daughters: Bianca, the young and docile one, and Katharina, or 'Kate', who is disobedient (in the parlance of the time, a 'shrew'). All the bachelors in town want to marry Bianca, but her father insists that she may not marry until Kate is wedded first.

To get a sense of the challenge Kate poses to potential husbands, look no further than this fantastic clip from D.W. Griffith's 1908 silent film adaptation, starring the great Florence Lawrence - it's 90 seconds of sheer badassery:



So, the bachelors search for a husband for Kate, and discover that their friend Petruccio is prepared to accept the challenge and win her large dowry. Shenanigans ensue as the young men don disguises and plan stratagems to get close to the two secluded daughters. But the key to everything is whether Petruccio will succeed in wooing Kate. He does so by praising her beauty and by not getting angry at her disobedience. He then cunningly tells her father that she has agreed to marry him but intends to remain contrary until the wedding; when Kate responds that this is a lie, her father thus assumes that she is disagreeing for the sake of it.

The wedding goes ahead, and when it does, Petruccio's personality changes from indulgent to domineering. He wears outrageous clothing at the wedding and when he takes Kate home, he tries to tame her. He is violent and abusive, refusing to let her eat or sleep. When the couple prepare to attend the weddings of the other two bachelors - to Bianca and a rich widow - Petruccio refuses to leave until Kate declares that the sun is the moon, entirely submitting herself to him against the evidence of her own eyes.

At the double wedding, the men get into an argument over which of their wives is the most obedient, each insisting that their spouses will come when they are called. But when they test their beliefs, only Kate responds to her husband's call, and she delivers a speech about the obedience a wife owes to her husband.

In the play's final lines, the other two husbands comment on Petruccio's success:
Hortensio. Now, go thy ways. Thou hast tamed a cursed shrew.
Lucentio. 'Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so.
What are we to make of this today? The play's gender politics are antiquated, to put it mildly. But whatever the original intentions, it's possible for modern performers to extricate a less oppressive tone out of the ending. For example, here's Mary Pickford in 1929, delivering Kate's speech of obedience in a tone of extreme sarcasm to a disorientated Petruccio suffering from concussion; keep watching for one of the most famous winks in film history:



What we learn from this


On the face of it,  The Taming of the Shrew, being a comic farce, doesn't have a lot in common with the plays we've been seeing in the Diary of late, which have been largely about war, revenge and bloodshed. But I do wonder how much it had in common with the lost Fair Maid of Italy, which received a few performances a while back.

More intriguingly, it's hard not to notice parallels with Esther and Ahasuerus, the lost Biblical play performed yesterday. Both highlight the theme of wifely subordination, featuring contrasts between disobedient and obedient wives. Could they have been performed one after another as kind of themed pair?


FURTHER READING


Taming of the Shrew information


  • Barbara Hodgdon, ed., The Taming of the Shrew, Arden Shakespeare (Methuen, 2010), 7-15
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 916.


Henslowe links


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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

12 June, 1594 - Esther and Ahasuerus

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 10 of June 1594 ... R at heaster ... vs

In modern English: 12th June, 1594 ... Received at Esther ... 5 shillings

Esther accusing Haman: Jan Lievens' The Feast
of Esther
(c. 1625)
Today, the players at Newington Butts revived Esther and Ahasuerus. This lost play retold the biblical legend of Queen Esther, who saves the Jewish people from the devious Persian vizier Haman. You can read more about it in the entry for 5th June.

Even by the standards of the Newington Butts playhouse, whose box office always seems lower than the Rose's, the takings for Esther and Ahasuerus are particularly low. This does not appear to be a popular play.

Henslowe links



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