Tuesday, 26 May 2020

26 May, 1596 - Fortunatus

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

Henslowe writes: ye 24 of maye 15956 ... R at ffortunatus ... xiiijs 

In modern English: [26th] May, 1596 ... Received at Fortunatus ... 14 shillings

Fortunatus receives the magic purse from
Lady Fortune (from the 1509 novel)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Fortunatus, which was probably the first of a two-part play, and was the precursor of Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus; it told the story of a man who miraculously acquires infinite wealth. You can read more about it in the entry for 3rd February.

The players have waited two weeks to revive Fortunatus, and the box office continues to decline gradually.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 25 May 2020

25 May, 1596 - Phocas

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

Henslowe writes: ye 23 of maye 1596 ... R at tragedie of ffocasse ... xxxixs

In modern English: [25th] May, 1596 ... Received at Tragedy of Phocas ... 39 shillings

Phocas depicted in Richard
Rainoldes' Chronicle of all the
Noble Emperors of the Romans (1571)
Today, the Admiral's Men returned to Phocas, their tragedy about an army officer who became Byzantine emperor and ruled as a tyrant. You can read more about this play in the entry for 20 May.

This is the second performance of Phocas, and the company will be cautiously pleased with its box office, which is above the average for the Rose.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 24 May 2020

24 May, 1596 - Pythagoras

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

Henslowe writes: ye 22 of maye 1596 ... mr pd ... R at pethageros ... xxvijs 

In modern English: [24th] May, 1596 ... Master paid ... Received at Pythagoras ... 27 shillings

Pythagoras as portrayed in Raphael's
The School of Athens (1509-11)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Pythagoras, their lost play about the Greek philosopher. You can read more about this play in the entry for 16 January

The players have waited three weeks to revive Pythagoras. Interestingly, over the last few performances the box office for this play has been rising slightly, rather than falling, an unusual thing to see in the Diary.

Today's entry also includes a note that Henslowe paid the license for the Rose to the Master of the Revels; you can read more about this in the entry for 8 November, 1595.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 21 May 2020

21 May, 1596 - Julian the Apostate

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

Henslowe writes: ye 20 of maye 1596 ... R at Julyan apostata ... xiiijs 

In modern English: [21st] May, 1596 ... Received at Julian Apostate ... 14 shillings

Julian depicted in Giovanni
Battista Cavalieri's Romanum
Imperatorum
(1583)
Today, for the last time, the Admiral's Men returned to Julian the Apostate, a lost play about the Roman emperor who tried to reverse the empire's adoption of Christianity.

This is only the third performance of Julian the Apostate, but it's also the last. The play's box office has sunk to a dismal level already, and after today's performance the company will call it quits.You win some, you lose some; perhaps The Tragedy of Phocas, another play about the later Roman Empire that premiered yesterday, will do better.


What's next?


There will be no entries for the next two days; for some reason, Henslowe records no performance tomorrow and 23rd May was a Sunday. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 24th - see you then!


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 20 May 2020

20 May, 1596 - Phocas

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

Henslowe writes: ye 19 of maye 1596 ... ne ... R at tragedie of ffocasse ... xxxxvs

In modern English: [20th] May, 1596 ... New ... Received at Tragedy of Phocas ... 45 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play! Sadly, The Tragedy of Phocas is yet another lost play, but the title informs us that it was a tale from 7th century Byzantine history. Phocas was a lowly army officer who led a revolution, became emperor, turned tyrannical, and was ultimately overthrown himself.

As David McInnis shows in his article for the Lost Plays Database, we can speculate on how Phocas's story may have been dramatized by looking at other retellings of his story by Elizabethan writers. Overall, summaries of Phocas's life makes him sound like a rather generic exemplar of the wheel of fortune (the usurper usurped), but perhaps the playwright was able to make the play more distinctive by focusing (ha!) on Phocas's strengthening of the power of the Pope, which was his one significant act as emperor.

The stories of Phocas


A coin depicting Emperor Maurice
In 602, the Byzantine Empire was ruled by Emperor Maurice. According to William Covell in his Polimanteia (1595), a prophetic dream warned Maurice that he would be killed by "a servant of his named Phocas", so he

sent for the Captain Philippic to come out of prison, and demanded of him if there were not one named Phocas; the other answered that there was such a one, a centurion, ambitious and fearful. Whereupon the Emperor said, alleging an old proverb to that end, "If he be a coward, he is a murderer." (50)

This Phocas, writes Richard Rainoldes in his Chronicle of All the Noble Emperors of the Romans (1571), was "a base centurion and a Thracian" who was created emperor during a "seditious uproar" (165). Some Elizabethan texts portray Maurice as a holy man in contrast with Phocas. Covell claims that when Phocas slew Maurice's wife and children in front of his eyes before preparing to behead him, the defeated emperor "spake often in this manner: 'O Lord thou art just and so are all thy works'" (51).

Phocas depicted in Rainoldes'
Chronicle (1571)
Phocas's reign was one of tyranny. Rainoldes itemizes his crimes thus: "he took away other men's wives from their husbands, he made much of wicked persons, he wasted the Roman Empire of their riches and treasures, he lived at Rome in all beastly drunkenness, and suffered the Roman Empire to be spoiled [by] the Persians, of the Huns" (165).

Phocas did, however, make one decision with far-reaching historical effects: he decreed that the Roman Pope, at that time Boniface III, was "universal bishop" over all other Christian bishops, quashing a similar claim by the Patriarch of Constantinople. For the rabid anti-Catholics of the 1590s, this was the beginning of Roman Catholic tyranny; for example, Thomas Bell in his Survey of Popery (1596) fulminates, "whosoever either calleth himself 'universal priest', or desireth so to be called, is for his intolerable pride become the precursor of Antichrist, and that because in his proud conceit he prefers himself before all other". Since Boniface obtained his power from "the bloody and cruel tyrant Phocas (who ravished many virtuous matrons and murdered the good Emperor Mauritius with his wife and children)", Bell concludes that this was the moment when "the Beast of the Revelation began to prepare the way for Antichrist" (187-88). It is possible, then, that the playwright may have presented Phocas and the Pope as twins of megalomaniacal evil (it's also possible though, that there was a bit more nuance...).

A coin depicting Heraclius
Perhaps, then, the audience cheered when Heraclius usurped Phocas and brought about his tragic end. Either way, his end would most likely have been gruesome: Rainoldes claims that when Heraclius's men captured Phocas and brought the defeated emperor before him, "immediately the men of war cut of his legs and arms, and cut off his privities, and last of all his head. This was the end of that tyrant" (165).


Box office


The story of Phocas sounds like a crowd-pleaser, but, as so often with this season's premieres, the box office is disappointing. On an ordinary day, it would represent a good-sized audience, but in previous years a debut performance would have filled the theatre. The Admiral's Men are struggling to draw large audiences to their new plays.


FURTHER READING



Tragedy of Phocas information


  • Richard Rainoldes, A Chronicle of all the Noble Emperors of the Romans (1571)
  • Thomas Bell, The Survey of Popery (1595)
  • William Covell, Polimanteia, or, The Means, Lawful and Unlawful, to Judge of the Fall of a Commonwealth Against the Frivolous and Foolish Conjectures of this Age (1595)
  • David McInnis, "Phocasse (Focas)", Lost Plays Database (2011), accessed May 2020. 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1056.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 19 May 2020

19 May, 1596 - The Bind Beggar of Alexandria

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

Henslowe writes: ye 18 of maye 1596 ... R at beger ... xxxxixs

In modern English: [19th] May, 1596 ... Received at Beggar ... 49 shillings

Beggars in Alexandria; an undated photograph
from Brooklyn Museum's Lantern Slide Collection
Today, the Admiral's Men revived The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, a comedy by George Chapman about a master of disguise. You can read more about this play in the entry for 12 February.

The company has waited less than a week to return The Blind Beggar to the stage. Yet the already-impressive audience has actually increased. This play is a genuine crowd-pleaser.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 18 May 2020

18 May, 1596 - The First Part of Tamar Cam

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: ye 17 of maye 1596 ... R at  tambercame ... xxxxvjs

In modern English: [18th] May, 1596 ... Received at Tamar Cam ... 46 shillings
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Tamar Cam, a lost play that told of war and wizardry during the exploits of the Mongol conqueror Hulagu Khan; you can read more about it in the entry for 28th April 1592.

The company has waited only a few days to bring back Tamar Cam and it continues to achieve excellent audiences. The company must be very pleased with the decision to blow the dust off this old play.

Persian illustration of Hulagu Khan (the likely inspiration for Tamar Cam) and his Christian wife


Henslowe links



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