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 proposes that it was 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 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 is the 1575 Italian poem by Torquato Tasso entitled Gerusalemme Liberata, although the first English translation didn't appear until 1594. It is a shame that we don't know which of these texts was the inspiration, because the two would have produced quite different plays. Let's look at the two possibilities.

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 would have given 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.


Jerusalem information

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

Henslowe links


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

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