Tuesday, 16 January 2018

16 January, 1593 - Richard the Confessor

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

Henslowe writes: R at Richard the confeser the 16 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xjs 

In modern English: Received at Richard the Confessor, 16th January, 1594 ... 11 shillings


Wall painting of Richard of
Chichester (in St Mary the
Virgin Church, Black
Bourton, Oxfordshire)
Today, Sussex's Men brought Richard the Confessor back onto the Rose stage. This lost play probably told the story of Saint Richard of Chichester's generosity toward the poor and needy; you can read more about it in the entry for 31 December, 1593.

The company had last performed Richard the Confessor two weeks ago, when it received average box office taking; today, it did considerably less than that. The play does not seem to have been one of the big successes of the season.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 15 January 2018

15 January, 1594 - George a Greene

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

Henslowe writes: R at gorge a grene the 15 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxs 

In modern English: Received at George a Greene, 15th January ... 20 shillings


Fighting with staves, from a German fighting
manual published by Christian Egenolff
Today, Sussex's Men revived George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield. This is a festive comedy in which the eponymous northern folk hero helps the king, wins the hand of a fair maiden, and beats several opponents at stave-fighting. You can read more about this play in the entry for 28 December.

The company seems to be settling into a rhythm of performing George a Greene once a week. However, today's performance was just as unimpressive as last week's in terms of box office.


Henslowe links



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Henslowe links



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Sunday, 14 January 2018

14 January, 1594 - Friar Francis

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

Henslowe writes: R at frier frances the 14 of Jenewary 1593 ... xxxvjs 

In modern English: Received at Friar Francis, 14th January, 1594 ... 36 shillings

Image from Hans Holbein's
Dance of Death (1538)
Today, Sussex's Men revived their lost play Friar Francis, which had become legendary for having provoked a real-life murderess in Norfolk to confess her crime. The play was about a woman haunted by the ghost of the husband that she had murdered, and it may have included another plotline about two friars fighting over a pretty nun. You can read more about this play in the entry for 7 January.

Friar Francis played to a packed house when it was staged last week. Today's house was merely average for the Rose, but it was a huge step up from the catastrophic box office that had befallen the two plays staged previously.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 12 January 2018

12 January, 1594 - The Fair Maid of Italy

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

Henslowe writes: R at the fayer mayd of ytale the 12 of Jenewary 1593 ... ixs 

In modern English: Received at The Fair Maid of Italy, 12th January, 1594 ... 9 shillings

Portrait, supposedly of Simonetta
Vespucci, by Sandro Botticelli
(late 15th century)
Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience: The Fair Maid of Italy. Unfortunately, this is a lost play about which we know almost nothing, except, of course, that it was about a beautiful Italian maiden.

In her article for the Lost Plays Database, Roslyn L. Knutson speculates that "the fair maid of Sussex's play was a commoner, doubtless pursued by various unsuitable suitors but perhaps one desirable one"; she also wonders whether the Italian maiden's foreignness gave her "an exotic sexuality". These are good guesses based on the typical tropes of Elizabethan comedy, but unless a manuscript of the play happens to turn up in a garage sale, we'll probably never know.

Whatever its plot, today's performance received dire box office, almost as bad as yesterday's. Not even the novelty of a play so far unseen at the Rose could draw London's theatregoers this week.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow, because 13th January was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 14th January for a week that will include one new play along with the usual suspects.


Further reading



Fair Maid of Italy information


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 11 January 2018

11 January, 1594 - Huon of Bordeaux

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


18th century French Huon text
Today, Sussex's Men revived their chivalric adventure, Huon of Bordeaux, which they had last performed just over a week ago. This play was based on the epic French tale about a knight who travels to Babylon to steal the Admiral's teeth with the help of Oberon, Kng of the Fairies. You can read more about Huon of Bordeaux in the entry for 27th December.


Today, Huon did something remarkable: it achieved the lowest box office recorded so far in Henslowe's Diary! Its measly five shillings is even lower than the 7 recorded for a performance of A Looking-Glass for London and England back in 1592. We don't know what caused this catastrophe - awful weather or a sudden attack of apathy for all things chivalric? - but this must have been an embarrassing day for Sussex's Men as the voices of Huon and Oberon echoed around a near-empty theatre.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

10 January, 1594 - Buckingham

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

Henslowe writes: R at buckingam the 10 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxijs 

In modern English: Received at Buckingham, 10th January, 1594 ... 22 shillings


Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham,
one possible subject of this lost play
Today, Sussex's Men revived again their lost play Buckingham, which was probably a tragedy about one of the Dukes of Buckingham from English history; you can read more about it in the entry for 29 December, 1593.

After performing the play twice in three days to large crowds, Sussex's Men have now let Buckingham rest for a week and half before staging it again. It seems, however, that the Rose audience is no longer as excited about the play, as Buckingham received half what it did in the earlier shows.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

9 January, 1594 - Abraham and Lot

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

Henslowe writes: R at abrame & lotte the 9 of Jenewarye 1593 ... lijs 

In modern English: Received at Abraham and Lot, 9th January, 1594 ... 52 shillings

Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience. Abraham and Lot is now lost, but it was clearly a Biblical drama about the characters from the Book of Genesis.

Abraham is of course a major figure in the Old Testament, and his life contained many incidents worthy of dramatic re-enactment. But if we assume that the play focused on his relationship with Lot, we can speculate on the play's likely plot. The following expands on Martin Wiggins' hypothetical reconstruction in his Catalogue of British Drama. 

Abraham and Lot going their separate ways,
from Wenceslas Hollar's Illustrations of Genesis
The play may have begun with Abraham and his nephew Lot pasturing their cattle together. The two are forced to separate because the land cannot hold their large herds, so Lot parts with Abraham and settles in a fertile place near the city of Sodom. But the Sodomites turn out to be an evil people (Genesis 13.5-13).

Abraham rescuing Lot from the Elamites,
etching by Antonio Tempesta (1613)
War then breaks out between the kingdom of Elam and various cities, including Sodom. During the war, Lot is taken captive. When he hears of this, Abraham raises an army and attacks the Elamites, rescuing Lot and his household (14.12-16). The Sodomites offer him a reward for his service, but Abraham virtuously refuses: "I will not take of all that is thine so much as a thread for shoe-latchet, lest thou shouldest say, 'I have made Abram rich'" (14.32).

Lot returns home to Sodom. But later, Abraham learns that God intends to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because they are full of sinners (ch.18). Two angels visit Lot's house to warm him. Not knowing who they are, he hospitably invites them in for bread. But the men of Sodom gather outside Lot's house demanding that he send the visitors out so that they can "know" them. Lot refuses, and offers them his virgin daughters instead (yes, this is getting kinda disturbing, but don't blame me, I didn't write it). That's not good enough for the Sodomites who advance on the door. The angels therefore blind the men, preventing them from finding the door (19.2-11).

Lot's wife looks back at the destruction\
of Sodom and Gomorrah; from a
mosaic in Monreale Catheral, Italy
The angels tell Lot that Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed, and they lead him and his family to safety. They warn them not to look back as they do so, but Lot's wife does, and is turned into a pillar of salt (19.15-26).

Perhaps the play also included the eyebrow-raising sequence in which Lot and his family end up living in a cave in the mountains. The daughters want children, and since there aren't any men around, they get Lot drunk and have sex with him, and end up giving birth to sons who found great dynasties (19:30-36). Again, don't blame me.

As you can see, there is a lot of dramatic potential in the story of Abraham and Lot, and it makes one wonder how such things as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or the pillar of salt might have been staged. Some of the material about Lot's daughters raises questions though, to put it mildly, and I suspect that the players might have skipped over it.

Whatever the players did with this story, it was much more successful at the Rose than some of the other performances of late, receiving 52 shillings, which represents a very large crowd.


Further reading



Abraham and Lot information

  • Genesis 13-24. (Quotations are from the 1587 'Bishop's Bible' translation.)
  • Rosyln L. Knutson and June Schlueter, "Abraham and Lot", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 795.


Henslowe links



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