Thursday, 31 March 2016

31 March, 1592 - Hieronimo

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

Henslowe writes: R at Jeronymo the 31 marche 1591 ... iijll

In modern English: Received at Hieronimo, 31st March, 1592 ... £3

Woodcut from the 1615 edition of The Spanish Tragedy.
Today, Lord Strange's Men gave another performance of Hieronimo, which is almost certainly an alternate title for Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, a play that they had previously performed a week and a half ago. You can read more about this play in the entry for the 14th of March. They performed it as part two of a diptych, following their staging of the preceding play, The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, yesterday.

The Spanish Tragedy was a well-established and popular play and had produced spectacular box office back on the 14th. It had disappointed on the 20th, but now it seemed to be back to normal, in tune with the general tenor of this week's performances; Easter Week still seems to be a great week for Henslowe's Rose.

14th March - 71 shillings
20th March - 38 shillings
31st March - 60 shillings

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

30 March, 1592 - The Comedy of Don Horatio

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

Henslowe writes: R at doneoracio the 30 marche 1591 ... xxxixs 

In modern English: Received at Don Horatio, 30th March, 1592 ... 39 shillings

Today, Lord Strange's Men gave another performance of The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, which they had previously performed just over two weeks ago. This lost play was most likely about the events leading up to those in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy; you can read more about it in the entry for 23rd February.

On this outing, Don Horatio received a healthy box office, and ten shillings more than it did on its previous performance, thus continuing an upturn in the company's profits. As before, the returns may have been aided by the fact that Lord Strange's Men will perform The Spanish Tragedy itself tomorrow; it appears that the two plays were being staged on consecutive days to emphasize the links between their narratives.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

29 March, 1592 - Muly Molocco

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

Henslowe writes: R at mvlomvlucko the 29 of marche 1591 ... iijll ijs

In modern English: Received at Muly Molocco, 29th March, 1592 ... £3 and 2 shillings

1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Today, Lord Strange's Men returned to Muly Molocco again, a play that they often performed, and had last staged just under two weeks ago. The play was about Abd el-Malik's struggle for the throne of Morocco; you can read more about it in the blog entry for 21st February.

This entry in Henslowe's Diary is a great surprise, because the takings for Muly Molocco are unexpectedly high. The play had previously always hovered in the mid-range of the box office; its takings so far have been 29, 34, and 28 shillings. Now, it has suddenly made double that, with 62 shillings.

What caused this sudden enthusiasm for a tale of Moroccan wars?  And in general, why has Henslowe's box office skyrocketed in the last few days, after two weeks of sluggishness? My guess is that it may be a result of this being Easter Week - a time of festivity and, for some, days off work. Indeed, I wonder whether the previous week's poor box office might be related to it having been Holy Week, when many Londoners might have felt guilty about going to the theatre?


Henslowe links




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Monday, 28 March 2016

28 March, 1592 - Harry VI

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

Henslowe writes: R at harey the vj the 28 of marche 1591 ... iijll viijs

In modern English: Received at Harry VI, 28th March 1592 ... £3 and 8 shillings


1540s portrait of King
Henry VI
Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Harry VI again. This play was almost certainly Shakespeare's First Part of Henry VIyou can read more about it in the blog entry for 3rd March.

After performing this play every few days for a while, the company had left it to rest for nearly two weeks. This seems to have been a good decision, because today's performance produced spectacular box office, almost as high as that of the premiere performance. Another factor may be that England was now in Easter Week, and the festive atmosphere may have encouraged more theatregoing.  Either way, Harry VI was clearly still capable of being a blockbuster, despite its slump a fortnight ago.

  • Friday, 3rd March - 75 shillings
  • Tuesday, 7th March - 60 shillings
  • Saturday, 11th March - 47 shillings
  • Thursday, 16th March - 31 shillings
  • Tuesday, 28th March - 68 shillings

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 27 March 2016

27 March, 1592 - A Looking-Glass for London and England

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

Henslowe writes: Ester R at the lockinglass the 27 marche 1591 ... lvs

In modern English: Easter. Received at The Looking-Glass, 27th March, 1592 ... 55 shillings

Henslowe writes 'Easter' in the margin between this entry and the last. He means that Easter Sunday was yesterday (March 26th), and today was Easter Monday. 

Jonah and the Whale by Pieter Lastman (1621)
So, today Lord Strange's Men returned to A Looking-Glass for London and England, which they had last performed three weeks ago. A moralistic dramatization of the Book of Jonah, this play features a vivid evocation of the sinful city of Nineveh and draws overt parallels with contemporary London; you can read more about it in the entry for 8th March.

Astonishingly, today's performance was a huge success. On its previous outing, Looking-Glass had produced the most dismal box office of the season, receiving only 7 shillings. Now, it drew crowds on the scale of The Jew of Malta, with 55 shillings. What caused this turnaround? Was this Biblical play, with its finger-wagging condemnations of Londoners, felt to be an appropriate choice for Easter Monday? Or was there some more practical reason - for example, had the first performance simply been performed in torrential rain? There are so many things we don't know about the realities and motivations behind this simple list of plays. Either way, I imagine Henslowe was breathing a sigh of relief, as the two-week run of disappointing box office was now broken.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 25 March 2016

25 March, 1592 - Friar Bacon

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

Henslowe writes: R at fryer bacon the 25 of marche 1591 ... xvs vjd

In modern English: Received at Friar Bacon, 25th March, 1592 ... 15 shillings and sixpence.


From the title page of a prose tale of Friar Bacon, 1629,
which was re-used for the 1630 edition of the play.
Today, Lord Strange's Men returned to the play with which Henslowe's records began, back on 19th February. The exact identity of this play is uncertain: it may have been Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, or it may have been the anonymous John of Bordeaux; you can read more about it in the entry for 19th February.

Friar Bacon had returned unimpressive box office a month ago, and it made 2 shillings less this time. This was one more in a string of poorly-attended performances over the last fortnight. It seems as though neither old or new plays could break this run of bad luck. Henslowe must have been frustrated.


What's next?

 

There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 26th March was a Sunday in 1592. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 27th March and we'll see if the company's luck changes...

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

23 March 1592 - Harry of Cornwall

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

Henslowe writes: R at harey of cornwell the 23 of marche 1591 ... xiijs vjd
  

In modern English: Received at Harry of Cornwall, 23rd March, 1592 ... 13 shillings and sixpence

Gustav Doré's 1875 illustration
of the murder of Henry
Today, Lord Strange's Men returned to a play that they had not performed for nearly a month, Harry of Cornwall. This lost play was about the revenge of the De Montfort brothers upon the eponymous Henry; you can read more about it in the entry for 25th February.

The performance was not impressive at the box office, receiving less than half what it did on its previous outing. This was only the latest of several disappointing returns in the past couple of weeks from plays that might have seemed reliable stalwarts of the repertory. I wonder if Henslowe was getting nervous? And I wonder what caused this slump in audiences? Was the fact that this was Holy Week causing a decline in audiences? Were audiences growing bored with the plays on offer? Or was a period of bad weather making the open-air Rose unappealing?


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because Henslowe records no performance on the 24th March, which was Good Friday. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 25th March with a performance of an old favourite!


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

22 March, 1592 - Jerusalem

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

Henslowe writes: R at Q Jerusallem the 22 of marche 1591 ... xviijs 

In modern English: Received at Jerusalem, 22nd March, 1592 ... 18 shillings

In case you're wondering, I don't know what the "Q" means; it's probably just a false start that Henslowe didn't cross out. Anyway, today Lord Strange's Men performed a lost play that had something to do with the city of Jerusalem. Of course, that city has a long and complex history, so this vague title may not be very informative. However, in his catalogue of British drama, Martin Wiggins presents evidence that it may have been about the capture of Jerusalem from the Turks by Godfrey of Bouillon during the eleventh century.

The argument goes as follows: in 1594, a stationer registered his intention to publish a playtext entitled Godfrey of Bouillon, with the Conquest of Jerusalem. The play was never published in the end, but the title hints at a connection with Henslowe's Jerusalem. Then, later in 1594, Henslowe recorded performances of a play (also lost) entitled The Second Part of Godfrey of Bouillon. He makes no reference to a first part, and of all the titles in Henslowe's Diary, Jerusalem is the only one that could plausibly be identified as such. It is therefore possible that Jerusalem was a play about Godfrey's capture of the city, and was later followed by a sequel. The evidence is not conclusive, but does make sense of these fragments of information.

Statue of Godfrey of Bouillon
in Innsbruck Cathedral
Godfrey of Bouillon was a commander in the First Crusade whose mission was to take Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers. After successfully  capturing of the city, he achieved a legendary status in the centuries after his death. The playwright may have read his story in William Caxton's 1481 translation of William of Tyre's Godfrey of Bouillon. An alternative source might have been the 1575 Italian poem by Torquato Tasso entitled Gerusalemme Liberata, although the first English translation didn't appear until 1594.

If the play was based on William of Tyre, it would have been a relatively straightforward account of the crusaders' journey across Europe and the Middle East, followed by the campaign for Jerusalem. William relates how Godfrey's forces besiege the city. The Turks persecute its Christian minority in response, but the crusaders eventually capture the city and massacre the Turks. No doubt the playwright gave Edward Alleyn a central role as the warlike Christian Godfrey, or perhaps as a villainous Turkish leader. The play might thus have had a similar tone and content to Muly Molocco, which Lord Strange's Men had already performed several times in the preceding weeks. If you are interested, you can read William of Tyre here, in a rather handsome edition created by William Morris's Kelmscott Press.

Rinaldo and the Wizard of Ascalona by Tiepolo,
illustrating a fantastical incident in Tasso's poem
If the play was based on Tasso, however, it might have been more fantastical. Tasso's poem is only loosely based on history; instead, it tells various romantic and magical stories relating to the exploits of Godfrey's knights. As such, it is similar to Ludovico Ariosto's tales about Orlando and his knights in Orlando Furioso, and the play would have been reminiscent of Robert Greene's stage adaptation of that poem, which Lord Strange's Men performed back in February.



FURTHER READING


Jerusalem information

  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 892.

Henslowe links



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Monday, 21 March 2016

21 March, 1592 - Constantine

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

Henslowe writes: R at constantine the 21 marche 1591 ... xijs

In modern English: Received at Constantine, 21st March, 1592 ... 12 shillings

Today, Lord Strange's Men staged a lost play called Constantine. This was the first time they had performed it since Henslowe's records began in mid-February. It did very poorly at the box office and this is the only record of its performance. It was thus probably an old play that was at the end of its stage life.

Unfortunately, the play's title is not very illuminating as to its subject, because there have been numerous Constantines in history and literature. In his catalogue of British drama, Martin Wiggins proposes that in the English Renaissance, the two most famous Constantines would have been the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and the mythical King Constantine of Britain. Let's briefly and cautiously imagine those possibilities.


Detail from The Baptism of
Constantineworkshop of
Raphael, c.1520
Constantine the Great was a 4th century Roman Emperor. He is most famous for being the first Christian Emperor of Rome, having converted after experiencing a dream or vision on the eve of a battle. The dramatist might have been able to turn this event into a pious play, and might also have been able to work in some patriotism, given the fact that Constantine visited Britain on more than one occasion.








Stonehenge, from Joan Blaeu's
Atlas Maior (1660s)
King Constantine is a figure largely invented by the medieval pseudo-historian Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey writes that Constantine was the successor to King Arthur but his reign did not match that of his illustrious predecessor. He successfully suppressed a revolt by the two sons of Mordred, but when they both took refuge in different churches, Constantine broke the law of sanctuary and killed them in front of the altars. Four years later, he was "struck down by the vengeance of God" but was still honoured with a burial alongside Uther Pendragon within Stonehenge. This story reminds me of another lost play, Harry of Cornwall, which Strange's Men performed back in February; it too featured an impious murder in a church, against a backdrop of rebellion.

This is all guesswork, and the myriad other Constantines in history mean that it's futile to ponder further. It's a reminder to all playwrights to use specific titles; come on, how hard can it be?


FURTHER READING



Constantine information

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe (Penguin, 1966), 262.
  • P.J. Casey, 'Constantine I', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009).
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 890.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 20 March 2016

20 March, 1592 - Hieronimo

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

Henslowe writes: R at Joronymo the 20 marche 1591 ... xxxviijs 

In modern English: Received at Hieronimo, 20th March, 1592 ... 38 shillings

Woodcut from the 1615 edition of The Spanish Tragedy.
Today, Lord Strange's Men gave another performance of Hieronimo, which is almost certainly an alternate title for Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, a play that they had previously performed just under a week ago. You can read more about this play in the entry for the 14th of March.

The Spanish Tragedy made spectacular box office back on the 14th, but it made only half that amount this time. As with the performances on the 16th and 18th, we appear to be seeing audiences losing interest when a very popular play is revived too soon after a blockbuster performance.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 18 March 2016

18 March, 1592 - The Jew of Malta

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

Henslowe writes: R at the Jewe of malta the 18 of marche 1591 ... xxxixs 

In modern English: Received at The Jew of Malta, 18th March, 1592 ... 39 shillings


Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, Lord Strange's Men performed their satirical comic tragedy The Jew of Malta again. You can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February.

The company had last performed this play just over a week ago, receiving very strong box office returns. On this outing, the play was much less successful, making a full 17 shillings less this time. As with yesterday's production, it's hard not to suspect that the company had returned to this play too soon.

  • Saturday, 26th February - 50 shillings
  • Friday, 10th March - 56 shillings
  • Saturday, 18th March - 39 shillings



What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 19th March was a Sunday in 1592. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 20th March for a week that will include two new plays alongside some familiar faces.


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 17 March 2016

17 March, 1592 - Muly Molocco

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

Henslowe writes: R at mvlo mvllocco the 17 of marche 1591 ... xxviijs vjd 

In modern English: Received at Muly Molocco, 17th March, 1592 ... 28 shillings and sixpence

1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Today, Lord Strange's Men returned to their fairly popular play Muly Molocco again, which they had last performed two and a half weeks ago. The play was about Abd el-Malik's struggle for the throne of Morocco; you can read more about it in the blog entry for 21st February.

The play continues to hover in the mid-range of box office; its takings so far have been 29, 34 and now 28 shillings.



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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

16 March, 1592 - Harry VI

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

Henslowe writes: R at harey the 16 of marche 1591 ... xxxjs vjd 

In modern English: Received at Harry, 16th March 1592 ... 31 shillings


1540s portrait of King
Henry VI
Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Harry VI again. At least, I assume they did; Henslowe writes merely "Harry" which I suppose could refer to another play, Harry of Cornwall. But I doubt it. For Henslowe right now, there was only one Harry that mattered, and that was the instant blockbuster Harry VI. This play was almost certainly an alternate title for Shakespeare's First Part of Henry VIyou can read more about it in the blog entry for 3rd March.

This was the company's fourth staging of Harry VI within a fortnight, a very unusual frequency of performance. The players clearly wanted to milk this cash cow while it lasted. But its box office returns were now plummeting into mediocrity:

  • Friday, 3rd March - 75 shillings
  • Tuesday, 7th March - 60 shillings
  • Saturday, 11th March - 47 shillings
  • Thursday, 16th March - 31 shillings

31 shillings was not bad, but far less than the 75 the play had made on its premiere. Perhaps the frequent performances were a bad strategy for sustaining interest among the company's audience?



Henslowe links



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Monday, 14 March 2016

14 March, 1592 - Hieronimo

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

Henslowe writes: R at Jeronymo the 14 marche 1591 ... iij11 xjs

In modern English: Received at Hieronimo, 14th March, 1592 ... £3 and 11 shillings

Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Hieronimo, which is almost certainly an alternate title for The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd. Yesterday, and also a couple of weeks ago, we saw Strange's Men perform a lost play entitled The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, which apparently portrayed the events leading up to The Spanish Tragedy. Now, we see the famous tragedy itself.

The Spanish Tragedy was one of the most popular plays of the English Renaissance theatre, and it is still occasionally revived today. By 1592, it may already have been several years old. It was often referred to simply as Hieronimo, after its central character of a grieving father who seeks revenge for the murder of his son. But even though it was an old play, Hieronimo was still incredibly successful at the box office: Henslowe's takings, which work out to 71 shillings, are almost as high as the receipts for the brand new First Part of Henry VI. No doubt Edward Alleyn's performance as Hieronimo contributed to its ongoing popularity.

Indeed, The Spanish Tragedy seems to have captured the imagination of Elizabethan playgoers like no other, and it became a byword for crowd-pleasing. Later playwrights sneered at the affection some audience members held for it; in the induction to Bartholomew Fair (1614), a jealous Ben Jonson mocked "He that will swear Hieronimo or Andronicus are the best plays". In my description of The Spanish Tragedy, I'll quote a number of its most famous lines, because Kyd's rhythmic and memorable speeches became icons of Renaissance popular culture.


The play


The Spanish Tragedy begins with a ghost, Don Andrea, recalling his past:

When this eternal substance of my soul
Did live imprisoned in my wanton flesh
Each in their function serving other's need
I was a courtier in the Spanish court...

Andrea relates how he loved the Spanish King's niece, Bel-Imperia, and hoped to marry her, but was killed in battle by Balthazar, heir to the Portuguese throne. The figure of Revenge then appears, and assures Andrea that his desire for vengeance on Balthazar will be fulfilled. Andrea and Revenge sit down to watch the events unfold, and throughout the play they comment on what they see.

Balthazar has been captured in battle, and is taken to the Spanish court. To forge peace, the Spanish King decides to marry Balthazar to Bel-Imperia. But Bel-Imperia has other ideas, as she has fallen in love with Andrea's friend Horatio. Her Machiavellian brother Lorenzo is furious when he finds out, and hires murderers to kill Horatio.

Horatio is ambushed by Lorenzo's henchmen, who stab him and hang him from an arbour. His cries wake his father, Hieronimo, who enters with the lines
What outcries pluck me from my naked bed
And chill my throbbing heart with trembling fear?
Woodcut from the 1615 edition of The Spanish Tragedy. Hieronimo is discovering Horatio's body hanging in an arbour. A masked murderer is dragging Bel-Imperia away.
Hieronimo and his wife Isabella find the body of Horatio and they lament his death at length. One of Hieronimo's laments became exceptionally famous:
Oh eyes, no eyes, but fountains fraught with tears!
Oh life, no life, but lively form of death!
O world, no world, but mass of public wrongs...
As he watches all of this, Andrea becomes exasperated; instead of gloating over his revenge upon Balthazar, he has instead found himself watching the suffering of people he loves. But Revenge counsels patience; he doesn't quite say "Revenge is a dish best served cold", but he comes pretty close.

Hieronimo and Isabella, meanwhile, are going mad with grief, so that when Hieronimo interrupts the Spanish King, wildly demanding "Justice, oh justice to Hieronimo!" it is easy for the courtiers to dismiss him, and Hieronimo slinks away, saying to himself "Hieronimo beware, go by, go by!"

Isabella commits suicide, but Hieronimo instead plots a crazy but effective revenge. Working in league with the despairing Bel-Imperia, Hieronimo convinces Lorenzo and Balthazar that they should entertain the kings of Spain and Portugal with a play. And so the four of them perform a tragedy, Soliman and Perseda, to the assembled court. During their performance, the levels of meta-theatricality become extraordinary: the real-life audience in the Rose playhouse watches Andrea and Revenge watch the Spanish court watch the play-within-the-play.

Hieronimo's cunning plan is that the prop knives in the play are in fact real knives. So, in front of the two kings, Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia kill Lorenzo and Balthazar, and then Bel-Imperia kills herself. Only when the courtiers' applause dies down and the bodies fail to rise for their bows do the two kings realize what has happened. Hieronimo then reveals the corpse of Horatio and explains his actions, beginning with a lament:

Here lay my hope, and here my hope hath end;
Here lay my heart, and here my heart was slain;
Here lay my treasure, here my treasure lost;
Here lay my bliss, and here my bliss bereft.
But hope, heart, treasure, joy and bliss,
All fled, failed, died, yea, all decayed with this.

Image from a 17th century Dutch adaptation of The Spanish Tragedy entitled Don Jeronimo, Marschalk van Spanjen. Lorenzo, Balthazar and Bel-Imperia are dead, and Hieronimo is revealing the body of his son. The two kings are just realizing that the stage deaths were for real...
In a final burst of violence, Hieronimo bites out his own tongue in a refusal to speak more and kills himself.

Andrea and Revenge enjoy watching these events. And at the end of the play, Revenge, satisfied with his work, tells Andrea that it is time to return to the land of the dead:
Then haste we down to meet thy friends and foes,
To place thy friends in ease, the rest in woes.
For here, though Death doth end their misery,
I'll there begin their endless tragedy.
If you would like to read The Spanish Tragedy, there are numerous modern-spelling editions available.

What we learn from this


Decades after its first performances in the 1580s and 90s, English writers were still quoting the play's most popular lines. In her edition of The Spanish Tragedy, Emma Smith collects together an amazing array of allusions, parodies, pastiches and homages to lines from the play. The most popular lines and speeches include some of those quoted above: "Hieronimo beware; go by, go by!", "What outcries pluck me from my naked bed?", "When this eternal substance of my soul..." and, of course, "Oh eyes, no eyes, but fountains fraught with tears!"

I can't help wondering whether the audience in the Rose might have been able to recite along with some of these speeches. Is it possible that performances of The Spanish Tragedy might have eventually ended up something like screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show?




What's next?


There will be no post tomorrow because Henslowe records no performance on 15th March. We don't know why - perhaps the company were performing at the court instead, or perhaps Edward Alleyn had laryngitis after ranting too much as Hieronimo. Whatever the reason, Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on 16th March.


FURTHER READING


The Spanish Tragedy information


  • Emma Smith, ed. Thomas Kyd: The Spanish Tragedie, wih Anonymous: The First Part of Jeronimo (Penguin, 1998)
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 783.
  • Clara Calvo and Jesús Tronch, eds. The Spanish Tragedy (Bloomsbury, 2013).
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 78-81.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 13 March 2016

13 March, 1592 - The Comedy of Don Horatio

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

Henslowe writes: R at the comodey of doneoracio the 13 marche 1591 ... xxviiijs 

In modern English: Received at The Comedy of Don Horatio, 13th March, 1592 ... 29 shillings

Today, Lord Strange's Men gave another performance of The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, which they had previously performed just over two weeks ago. This lost play was most likely about the events leading up to those in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy; you can read more about it in the entry for 23rd February.

On this outing, Don Horatio made twice as much money as it did on its previous performance. One reason may be that tomorrow, Lord Strange's Men will perform The Spanish Tragedy itself; it appears that the two plays were being staged on consecutive days to emphasize their linked narratives. Perhaps this increased the audience's interest in the comic precursor to the much-loved tragedy.

Henslowe links



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Friday, 11 March 2016

11 March 1592 - Harry VI

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

Henslowe writes: R at harey the vj the 11 of marche 1591 ... xxxxvijs 

In modern English: Received at Harry VI, 11th March 1592 ... 47 shillings


1540s portrait of King
Henry VI
Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Harry VI again. This play was almost certainly Shakespeare's First Part of Henry VI; you can read more about it in the blog entry for 3rd March.

This is the company's third performance of their popular new play Harry VI in just over a week, a very unusual frequency of performance. Clearly, the players were keen to keep on performing this instant hit. However, the play made considerably less money this time. 47 shillings would be regarded as very good  box office for most of their plays, but it is just over half what the company had made with the previous performances of Harry VI.

What's next?


There will be no post tomorrow, because 12th March was a Sunday in 1592 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 13th March for a week that will feature a mixture of familiar titles with still more new plays.



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Thursday, 10 March 2016

10 March, 1592 - The Jew of Malta

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

Henslowe writes: R at the Jewe of malta the 10 of marche 1591 ... lvjs 

In modern English: Received at The Jew of Malta, 10th March 1592 ... 56 shillings


Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, Lord Strange's Men performed their satirical comic tragedy The Jew of Malta again. They had last performed this play just under a fortnight ago, receiving very strong box office returns. On this outing, the play was even more successful, making 6 shillings more. You can read more about The Jew of Malta in the blog entry for 26th February.

While we're here, this is a good moment to pause and reflect on the amazing lifestyle of these actors. Since February 19th, they have performed fifteen different plays over eighteen days. Their memory skills, their focus onstage, and their work ethic must have been phenomenal.

This blog has just crossed a line: from now on, the majority of posts will be short entries like this one about plays already described. However, you can still expect at least one or two lengthy descriptions of new plays every week, so do stay tuned!


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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

9 March, 1592 - Zenobia

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

Henslowe writes: R at senobia the 9 of marche 1591 ... xxijs vjd

In modern English: Received at Zenobia, 9th March, 1592 ... 22 shillings and sixpence.

Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Zenobia. This play has not survived, but it is based on a well-known story, so we can guess at its content. It would have been a spectacular tale about the exploits of the warrior queen Zenobia, who became Empress of the Orient and challenged the Roman Empire. This is the play's only appearance in Henslowe's Diary, so it may have been an old play that was being phased out.

Zenobia, from a c.1440 manuscript
of Boccaccio's On Famous Women 
Zenobia was a well-known and much-admired figure in the Renaissance; her story can be found, for example, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (within the Monk's Tale), and in Boccaccio's On Famous Women. She was praised by writers of the period for her military successes, her chastity, and her wisdom and learning.

I'm going to follow other scholars in assuming that the play of Zenobia was based on William Painter's retelling in his The Palace of Pleasure (1566), an anthology that was frequently used by Renaissance dramatists in search of a good story (it had already supplied the plot of Bindo and Ricciardo, performed last week).

The legend of Zenobia


In Novel 14 of Volume 2 of The Palace of Pleasure, William Painter describes the Roman forces in the East falling into disarray under the poor leadership of Emperor Galienus. But a brilliant Roman captain-general called Odenatus, King of the Palmerines (from the city of Palmyra in modern day Syria), restores order. The Roman army in the East is so impressed that they make Odenatus 'Emperor and Lord of All the Orient', in effect creating a separate empire from that of Galienus in the West. But then Odenatus is assassinated. The army chooses one of his sons as the new Emperor of the Orient, but since the boy is only a child, Odenatus's wife, Queen Zenobia, is chosen to be Protector.

Tiepolo, Queen Zenobia Addressing her Troops (c.1725)
Zenobia is a noblewoman descended from the Ptolemies of Egypt. She is both wise and beautiful, and finds herself, as Painter puts it, "regent of an empire, and captain-general of the army". Painter praises Zenobia at length for her hands-on approach in military adventures: she wears armour, is present during battles, and is tougher and braver than many men. Her only flaw is ambition; for example, she styles herself Empress rather than mere "governess or regent".

Back in Rome, Galienus dies and the more competent Aurelianus becomes Emperor. Aurelianus declares war on Zenobia in order to retake the Orient for Rome. But Zenobia's troops know the country well and repeatedly defeat the Roman army. Eventually, Aurelianus writes to Zenobia, offering gold and permitting her to remain Queen of Palmyra if she will give up her claim to be Empress of the Orient. But Zenobia writes a defiant reply, insisting that the gods have made her Empress, and challenging Aurelianus to defeat her in battle if he wants her land.

Aurelianus is so outraged by this letter that, despite the weariness of his troops, he is fired up and successfully defeats Zenobia's army. She is captured and humiliated by being led in triumph through Rome. But the women of Rome are impressed by her, and she lives the rest of her days "in the company of these noble matrons".

Zenobia Before Emperor Aurelianus by Tiepolo (1717)
If you would like to read William Painter's tale of Zenobia, you may do so here. Alternatively, if you prefer something more trashy, you could hunt down the obscure 1959 Italian film The Sign of Rome, which stars Anita Ekberg as Zenobia (incidentally, the English dubbed version is retitled Sheba and the Gladiator, even though it's not about the Queen of Sheba and there are no gladiators in it...).

Anita Ekberg as Queen Zenobia in Sheba and the Gladiator (1959)

What we learn from this


This is the first play in Henslowe's list to feature a female protagonist who was represented in a positive light. In their book on Lord Strange's Men, Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth Maclean suggest that Zenobia may have been envisaged as a direct contrast to their play about the scandalous Pope Joan (indeed, the two women appear next to one another as contrasting opposites in Boccaccio's On Famous Women).

The 'Armada Portrait' of Queen Elizabeth I (1588)
Furthermore, Martin Wiggins observes that a tale about a warrior queen taking on an empire would have made for a very obvious parallel with Queen Elizabeth I's contest with Spain, and might conjure patriotic memories of the recent defeat of the Spanish Armada. However, Wiggins notes that if the company did emphasize this parallel, they would have needed to rewrite the ending...

FURTHER READING



Zenobia information

  • Christopher Matusiak, "Zenobia", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 889.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 147-9.


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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

8 March, 1592 - A Looking-Glass for London and England

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

Henslowe writes: R at the lookinglasse the 8 of marche 1591 ... vijs 

In modern English: Received at The Looking-Glass, 8th March 1592 ... 7 shillings

Today Lord Strange's Men performed A Looking-Glass for London and England by Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge (we've already met Greene as the author of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and Orlando Furioso). The play is a Biblical tale about the sins of the city of Nineveh; its title means 'this play is a mirror in which London and England may see themselves'.

 Michelangelo's Jonah, from
the Sistine Chapel
A Looking-Glass for London and England is an adaptation of the Book of Jonah from the Old Testament. The Bible relates that Jonah was summoned by God to go to the debauched city of Nineveh to preach against its sins. Jonah refused and sailed for Tharsus instead, but was thrown overboard in a storm and swallowed by a whale. Belched out after three days, Jonah accedes to the will of God and goes to Nineveh, where he warns the people that God will destroy their city if they do not reform. He successfully persuades them to be penitent for their sins. Jonah then climbs a mountain to watch the city from afar and see whether or not God will destroy it; as he waits, he becomes angry when a vine sheltering him from the sun is killed by a worm; God then teaches him a moral about mercy, noting that Jonah is more upset about the destruction of a vine than he is about the destruction of Nineveh.

In adapting this story, Greene and Lodge broaden the scope of the Biblical text (which is short and focused almost entirely on Jonah's experience) to create a spectacular depiction of the inhabitants of this city of sin, repeatedly drawing attention to its parallels with London. The play features a range of impressive special effects, and I've quoted a number of its wonderful stage directions in the summary below.

The story and the spectacle


A Looking-Glass for London and England is set in the city of Nineveh, a disgusting sink of vice and sin. To it, an angel brings the prophet Hosea who is "set down over the stage in a throne", from which he watches and comments on the entire action of the play, occasionally pointing out to the audience its relevance to modern England ("London, take heed, these sins abound in thee!").


Nineveh
The sins of Nineveh, and God's repeated warnings to its people, are depicted at all levels of society. The king, Rasni, is an egomaniac who revels in pomp and luxury and wants to marry his own sister, but when she is blasted by a lightning bolt ("he finds her strucken with thunder, black"), Rasni ignores the warning and takes the lecherous murderess Alvida as his lover instead.

Rasni's flattering adviser, Radagon, is so ambitious that he refuses to help his own family, who are starving because a usurer has cheated them. Radagon's mother curses him, and "a flame of fire appeareth from beneath and Radagon is swallowed". But the court of Nineveh still doesn't take the hint, dismissing it as a natural phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among the underclass, Adam the clown (presumably played by the comic actor Will Kemp) is a smith's man who is found drunk next to a corpse (killed by someone else in a drunken quarrel). Fortunately for him, King Rasni considers crimes committed by drunks to be unworthy of interest and takes no action.

That's the kind of thing that goes on in Nineveh every day, so something needs to be done! In the middle of the play, an angel tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against its sinfulness. Jonah refuses and instead takes ship to Tharsus.

Jonah and the Whale by Pieter Lastman (1621)
At this point, the playwrights are faced with the challenge of dramatizing the 'Jonah and the Whale' story. Here's how they do it. First, we see a group of sailors describing how, when a storm blew up, Jonah recognised God's anger and had himself thrown overboard. Then we see "Jonah the prophet cast out of the whale's belly upon the stage" whereupon he describes his cetacean adventures in a long speech. Presumably the "whale's belly" was represented by the large central opening in the theatre facade (the 'discovery space'). It's possible that the players used the 'hell-mouth' (a hideous mouth-shaped prop used to represent the entrance to Hell in Dr Faustus) to serve as the whale's mouth.

When Jonah arrives in Nineveh and prophesies its destruction, King Rasni orders forty days of penance and the entire city fasts and dons sackcloth.  Adam doesn't obey the order to fast, and is taken away to be hanged.

Maarten van Heemskerck, Jonah
Contemplates Nineveh (1566)
We then get a dramatization of the tale of Jonah and the vine on the mountain-top. Afterward, Jonah returns to the city and tells King Rasni of God's mercy. Rasni reforms, and Nineveh becomes a virtuous and holy city; Radagon's family is saved from poverty when the evil usurer repents.

At the end of the play, Jonah informs the audience that London too must repent. While he's about it, he manages to praise Queen Elizabeth and bash Catholicism too:

Oh turn, oh turn, with weeping to the Lord,
And think the prayers and virtues of thy Queen
Defers the plague which otherwise would fall.
Repent, oh London, lest for thine offence
Thy shepherd fail (whom mighty god preserve
That she may bide the pillar of His church
Against the storms of Romish Antichrist!).
The hand of mercy overshade her head
And let all faithful subjects say 'Amen'.

If you would like to read A Looking-Glass for London and England, there are old-spelling editions with useful introductions by J. Churton Collins' (in The Plays and Poems of Robert Greene, 1905)  or by George Allan Clugston (published by Garland in 1980).

What we learn from this


A Looking-Glass for London and England is more overtly moralistic than the other plays that we've seen so far. Looked at it in the context of the other plays we've seen, it feels rather hypocritical of the players to perform such a finger-wagging play so soon after the amoral bawdy fun of Bindo and Ricciardo and the complex religious satire of The Jew of Malta. And its dismal financial returns (a paltry 7 shillings, by far the worst box office of any play so far) implies that London did not want to be lectured about its sins.

When you think of this play being performed to a mostly empty theatre, its spectacular stage directions read rather sadly; populist effects such as lightning blasts, firey deaths and whale's mouths may have felt rather hollow when deployed to entertain only a small huddle of spectators. When one adds the constant berating of the immorality of Londoners, one cannot help but feel that the atmosphere in the Rose this day may have been rather awkward and embarrassing.


FURTHER READING


A Looking-Glass for London and England information

  • The Plays and Poems of Robert Greene, ed. J. Churton Collins (Clarendon Press, 1905), 1:137-42.
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 829.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 101-3.


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Monday, 7 March 2016

7 March, 1592 - Harry VI

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

Henslowe writes: R at hary vj the 7 of marche 1591 ... iijll

In modern English: Received at Harry VI, 7th March, 1592 ... £3


Today, Lord Strange's Men offered a repeat performance of their play called Harry VI, which  was almost certainly Shakespeare's First Part of Henry VI; to learn more, visit the blog entry for 3rd March.

1540s portrait of King
Henry VI
This revival of Harry VI is quite a surprise, as the play's first performance was only three days ago. Clearly, the company saw they had a hit on their hands and wanted to capitalize on it. Presumably they also wanted to get in some practice at performing the play, which was still new to the actors. The tactic seems to have been a successful one, as this performance made almost as much money as its premiere.

That's all I have to say today. Short posts like this one are about to become more frequent, as Lord Strange's Men begin to cycle through the plays in their repertory. But not yet! There are still new plays to learn about this week, so stay tuned!



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Sunday, 6 March 2016

6 March, 1592 - Four Plays in One

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

Henslowe writes: R at iiij playes in one the 6 of marche 1591 ... xxxjs vjd

In modern English: Received at Four Plays in One, 6th March 1592 ... 31 shillings and sixpence.
Four Plays in One is another lost play and we know almost nothing about it, except that it was ... four plays in one. There are quite a few examples of plays like this during the English Renaissance: they are collections of one-act plays, sometimes linked by some kind of narrative device. There were other lost Elizabethan plays called Three Plays in One and Five Plays in One too. Thomas Middleton's one-act Yorkshire Tragedy (1607) was once part of an otherwise lost Four Plays in One. John Fletcher and his team wrote a Four Plays, or Moral Representations, in One around 1614. But these Jacobean examples are not the lost Elizabethan one.

Unfortunately that's all I can tell you. It was four plays in one. Not five plays. Not three plays. But four plays. In one! Bargain!

FURTHER READING



Four Plays in One information


Henslowe links



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Friday, 4 March 2016

4 March, 1592 - Bindo and Ricciardo

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

Henslowe writes: R at bendo & Richardo the 4 of Marche 1591 ... xvjs 

In modern English: Received at Bindo and Ricciardo, 4th March, 1592 ... 16 shillings.

Today, Lord Strange's Men performed Bindo and Ricciardo. The play is lost but we can guess at its content because it was presumably based on the old Italian tale about the architect Bindo and his son Ricciardo. The playwright most likely read it in William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure (1566), an anthology often used by Renaissance dramatists looking for stories. Here follows the story, but I should warn you that it is completely bonkers.

Doge's Palace 3

The tale of Bindo and Ricciardo


In 'Novel 48' of William Painter's Palace of Pleasure, Bindo the architect builds a treasure-house for the Duke of Venice. But he incorporates a secret tunnel into the design, and, after the building is completed, he and his son Ricciardo sneak in at night and steal an expensive cup. The Duke notices the theft and installs a trap. When Bindo and Ricciardo break in a second time, Bindo falls into a boiling cauldron. With his dying breath, he tells Ricciardo to cut off his head and bury it to conceal his body's identity and thus prevent the Duke from knowing that Ricciardo was involved.

The rest of the story is about the Duke's attempts to identify the dead thief and entrap his accomplice. At first, the Duke's methods are fairly sensible; he parades the headless corpse around Venice in the hope that the thief's family will be unable to restrain themselves from lamenting. This almost works, because Bindo's widow is distraught, but by devious stratagems Ricciardo manages to silence her.

Veal: tempting to the lickerous.
Then things get weird. The Duke believes that thieves are unusually 'lickerous' (a new word that I've now learned, which means fond of fine food). So he bans the sale of fresh meat in Venice for twenty days, and then arranges to have an exceptionally good quality piece of veal sold in the markets for an outrageous price. His logic is that since thieves are lickerous, the cup-thief will be the only person in Venice who will pay the ridiculous price for the veal, and his identity will thus be revealed. I am not sure that this logic would stand up in court. But anyway, Ricciardo manages, by another devious stratagem, to obtain some of the veal without paying for it, so the Duke's cunning plan is foiled.

Girulamo Priuli, Doge of Venice in
1566. He was probably not as
silly as the Duke in the story.
The Duke now comes up with a plan so crazy that I can't believe I'm writing it. He believes that lickerous people must be exceptionally lecherous. So he invites 25 of the most notorious lechers in Venice - including  Ricciardo - to sleep over at his palace, each in a room which has access to the bedroom of his beautiful daughter - but he warns them that if they get into bed with her, she will mark them with ink. He's banking on the cup-thief being so naturally lecherous that he won't be able to restrain himself and will thus be marked by the daughter and finally identified. This is a very, very silly plan, if you ask me, and its logical flaws are vast and stupefying.

But it almost works. Ricciardo, presumably driven by his lickerous lecherousness, is indeed unable to restrain himself from sneaking into the daughter's bedroom, and "accomplishe[s] the thing he came for" (the daughter's opinion about this is not mentioned, incidentally...). But back in his room, he realizes that she has marked his face with ink. So Ricciardo devises another plan. He returns, steals the ink, and sneaks into the rooms of the sleeping lechers, marking them all with multiple spots of ink. Next morning, when the Duke sees the many-spotted lechers, he realizes that there is no way of identifying the culprit.

But instead of being angry, the Duke laughs and offers a pardon to the culprit, and when Ricciardo confesses that it was he, the Duke allows him to marry his daughter. And so, "Ricciardo, encouraged, proved a very stout and valiant man in such wise almost as the affairs of the whole state passed through his hands, and lived a long time after with the love and goodwill of the whole commonality of Venice."

Blimey. I'm not making this up, you know. If you'd like to read the whole story, you can do so here.

What we learn from this


I'm not sure what the moral of this tale is, beyond "don't get caught". And it's hard to know exactly how the playwright might have adapted this bawdy tale to to the stage. At this time, anti-theatricalist pamphleteers were railing against the immorality of the stage. It's not hard to see why, if plays like Bindo and Ricciardo were common.


What's next?


There will be no post tomorrow, because 5th March was a Sunday in 1592 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 6th March.



FURTHER READING



Bindo and Ricciardo information

  • Christopher Matusiak, "Bendo (or Byndo) and Richardo", Lost Plays Database (2012).
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 900.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014) 143-4.


Henslowe links



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