Thursday, 21 February 2019

21 February, 1595 - The Mack

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

Henslowe writes: ye 21 of febreary 1594 ... ne ... R at the macke ... iijll 

In modern English: 21st February, 1595 ... New ... Received at The Mack ... £3

Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play, The Mack! Unfortunately, this lost play is very mysterious. It also probably wasn't very good, since the company will never perform it again.

Detail from The Triumph of Deathby
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)
Mack was a card game of the period, and the Oxford English Dictionary notes that it was often linked to the game of Maw; for example, the dictionary quotes George Tuberville's Book of Falconry (1575) which describes some common pastimes: "To check at chess, to heave at Maw, at Mack to pass the time." In his catalogue of British drama, Martin Wiggins proposes that The Mack was thus connected with The Set at Maw, another card-related play in the repertory of the Admiral's Men.

Sadly, the rules of the game of Mack are lost in the mists of time, so we cannot speculate on what the play might have been like. And even more sadly, the players will never again perform The Mack, despite the large crowd that attended its premiere. Something about it must not have worked.


FURTHER READING


The Mack information

  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 990.


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 20 February 2019

20 February, 1595 - Long Meg of Westminster

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

Henslowe writes: ye 20 of febreary 1594 ... R at longe mege ... xxxxviijs

In modern English: 20th February, 1595 ... Received at Long Meg ... 48 shillings

Long Meg, from
a 1750 edition
of the jest-book
Today, the Admiral's Men returned to Long Meg of Westminster, their play about the Amazonian warrior woman of London legend. You can read more about this play in the entry for 14 February.

Long Meg premiered a week ago, and today's follow-up performance has attracted a goodly crowd size. Meg is clearly a hit, although not on the scale of the season's greatest success, The Wise Man of West Chester.


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

19 February, 1595 - The Wise Man of West Chester

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

Henslowe writes: ye 19 of febrey 1594 ... R at the wisman of weschester ... xxxxvjs 
In modern English: 19th February, 1595 ... Received at The Wise Man of West Chester ... 46 shillings

A man, who might possibly be
wise, carved on the choir
stalls of Chester Cathedral
Today, the Admiral's Men returned The Wise Man of West Chester to the stage. This lost play appears to have been about a wizard in the English city of Chester; you can read more about it in the entry for 3 December.

The Wise Man of West Chester continues to be the smash hit of this season, and the players must be restraining themselves from performing it every day.  They have brought it back after only a week, and it is still receiving exceptional box office.



Henslowe links



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Monday, 18 February 2019

18 February, 1595 - The Second Part of Tamburlaine

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

Henslowe writes: ye 18 of febreay 1594 ... R at the 2 pt of tamberlen ... xxxvjs

In modern English: 18th February, 1595 ... Received at The Second Part of Tamburlaine ... 36 shillings

The mausoleum of Timur (or Tamburlaine)
in Samarkand
Today, the Admiral's Men performed the sequel to Tamburlaine, in which the conqueror of Asia meets his inevitable doom; you can read more about this play in the entry for 19th December.

The company containues to perform the two Tamburlaine plays as a pair on subsequent days. The box office takings for The Second Part are beginning to ebb, becoming closer to those for the original play after outclassing it for some time.

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 17 February 2019

17 February, 1595 - Tamburlaine

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

Henslowe writes: ye 17 of febreye 1594 ... R at tamberlen ... xxxs 

In modern English: 17th February, 1595 ... Received at Tamburlaine ... 30 shillings.


Illustration of the historical Tamburlaine
from Richard Knolles' General History

of the Turks (1603).
Today, the players performed Tamburlaine, Christopher Marlowe's spectacular epic about the bloodthirsty conqueror of Asia. You can read more about this play in the entry for 30th August.

The players have waited two and a half weeks before returning Tamburlaine to the Rose, and it has received exactly the same - very average - box office. I am sure the historical Tamburlaine is rolling in his grave about that last point.

Incidentally, over the next few days, you can watch Henslowe experimenting with new ways to spell 'February'.

Henslowe links



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Friday, 15 February 2019

15 February, 1595 - Tasso's Melancholy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 15 of febreary 1594 ... R at tasso ... xixs 

In modern English: 15th February, 1595 ... Received at Tasso ... 19 shillings

Tasso in the Madhouse
by Eugene Delacroix (1839)
Today, the Admiral's Men returned to Tasso's Melancholy, a lost play that dramatized the lovesick insanity of the Italian poet Torquato Tasso; you can read more about it in the entry for 13th August.

It has been three and a half weeks since the players last revived Tasso's Melancholy, and it has not drawn much of a crowd. Could this play be for the chop soon?


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 16th February was a Sunday in 1595 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 17th, for a week that will include a new play. See you then!

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 14 February 2019

14 February, 1595 - Long Meg of Westminster

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

Henslowe writes: ye 14 of febreary 1594 ... j ... R at longe mege of westmesster ... iijll ixs

In modern English: 14th February, 1595 ... 1 ... Received at Long Meg of Westminster ... £3 and 9 shillings.

Today, the Admiral's Men staged a play that we have not before seen at the Rose, Long Meg of Westminster. It was probably a new play: for some reason, Henslowe marks this performance with a "1" instead of his usual "Ne", but the large audience is typical of the premiere of a new play.

Long Meg of Westminster is lost, like so much of the company's repertory. This is a shame, because the play told the story of one of the most fascinating icons of Elizabethan popular culture, a semi-legendary warrior woman who beats up her enemies. The prospect of seeing this topsy-turvy heroine drew a large crowd to the Rose today. So, who was Long Meg of Westminster?


The real Meg


Long Meg, from
a 1750 edition
of the jest-book
In 1998, Bernard Capp discovered that Long Meg was a real person. The evidence exists in the archives of the Bridewell prison, a common destination for arrested prostitutes. A woman named "Margaret Barnes, otherwise called Long Meg", came to Bridewell in 1561 because she had been accused of being a "common bawd" - that is, a brothel-keeper. She stated that she had been falsely accused, but according to the records the accusations against her were "vehemently justified" so that "she could not deny the same and so departed with shame".

Records of the lives of prostitutes in the area suggest that Meg was indeed keeping a brothel disguised as a victualling-house (a tavern selling food). We know nothing more of her life after her visit to Bridewell. Was she very tall? Did she beat up men? We do not know. But somehow she became a familiar name in London, and stories about her circulated long after her death.



The legend of Long Meg


The most important repository of Long Meg tales is a jest-book (a collection of short, funny stories) entitled The Life of Long Meg of Westminster, which was first published in 1590, although the earliest surviving copy dates from 1635; you can read it here in this 19th century edition. The play was probably based on this book.

The tales of Long Meg have very little to do with the woman glimpsed in the Bridewell records. Meg at first works in a tavern in Westminster, but then sets up her own in Islington (these institutions really are taverns, not disguised brothels). She frequently cross-dresses and beats up men who annoy her. Later she goes to the wars in France and performs valiant acts as a soldier.

The jest-book tells many stories about Meg, but here is a one short one that captures its flavour (which you can read it in full here). Meg's mistress in Westminster is a woman with two lovers: a poet called Skelton and a Spanish knight called Sir James of Castile. Sir James suspects he has a rival, so the mistress persuades Meg to dress in man's attire to fight him, promising a new petticoat if she wins. Meg says "the Devil take me if I lose a petticoat", and disguises herself in a man's white satin suit. 

The mistress tells Sir James that a man in a white suit has insulted her. Sir James finds the disguised Meg and challenges her, whereupon she knocks his weapons away and threatens to kill him with a dagger. Meg forces Sir James to agree that he will attend a social gathering, admit in public that 'he' is the better swordsman, and wait on 'him' at table. Sir James agrees, and in front of a gathering of guests including Sir Thomas More (!) he does so, only to be mortified when his vanquisher reveals that "He that hurt you today is none other but Long Meg of Westminster!" Everyone laughs, including Sir James, who continues to serve Meg for the whole evening. "Thus," concludes the jest-book, "was Sir James  disgraced for his love and Long Meg counted a proper woman".
Meg beating the carrier, from a 1750 edition
of the jest-book

Many other such adventures may have appeared in the play. In the jest-book, Meg beats a carrier, a cheating vicar, a bailiff, and a gang of thieves. She travels to France with the English army and at the siege of Boulogne beats French soldiers off the walls. Unfortunately, her girl-power status ebbs when she gets married and obediently allows her husband to beat her.


Performing Meg


The play of Long Meg of Westminster must have made an impression on London's theatregoers, because there are references to it in numerous dramatic works of the period; you can read an impressive array in Roslyn L. Knutson's article on the play for the Lost Plays Database. Among them is Ben Jonson's description of her in a 1624 masque, The Fortunate Isles and their Union:
 
Or Westmister Meg,
With her long leg,
As long as a crane;
And feet like a plane:
With a pair of heels
As broad as two wheels;
To drive down the dew,
As she goes to the stew:
And turns home merry
By Lambeth ferry.
Meg's enormous size makes one wonder who played her onstage. Normally, female roles were played by teenage boys. But one cannot help suspecting that Edward Alleyn, the leading man of the Admiral's Men, who was famed for his tall frame and ear-splitting voice, might have taken the opportunity to have had some fun in a drag role for this play.

It is a great shame that the text of Long Meg of Westminster has not survived; we will just have to imagine that it was as much fun as it sounds.

FURTHER READING


Long Meg of Westminster information


 

Henslowe links



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