Sunday, 1 January 2017

1 January, 1593 - A Knack to Know a Knave and Hampton Court Palace

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

Henslowe writes: R at the cnacke the 31 Decembȝ 1592 ... xxxs

In modern English: Received at The Knack, 1st January, 1593 ... 30 shillings

The knaves from an Italian
pack of cards, c.1490
Henslowe seems to have written the date wrong today. It's unlikely that the company performed in public on Sunday, and the dates in the diary make more sense if we assume he got himself a day of out sync for today and tomorrow. (This kind of error is quite common in the diary, as Henslowe seems to have entered his box office data in blocks, a long time after the performances, and easily got muddled).

So, today was New Year's Day, a time of festivity. To celebrate, Lord Strange's Men revived their comical morality play A Knack to Know a Knave, about the unmasking of four wicked brothers. It's a deliberately old-fashioned piece featuring devils, clowns and a randy king which they had premiered it at the end of their last season at the Rose.  You can read more about this play in the entry for 10th June.

The actors may have been disappointed by London's reaction, however. Despite the festive season and its long absence from the stage, A Knack to Know a Knave received only thirty shillings, a merely average result, representing a half-full theatre.

But this was not the company's only performance today. Court records show that they also performed a play at Hampton Court Palace again. It must have been an exhausting day for the players.

Incidentally, I'd just like to say that I really like Henslowe's new spelling of 'knack' as 'cnacke'. It makes you wonder how he pronounced 'a cnack to cnow a cnave'...


  • John Astington, English Court Theatre, 1558-1642 (Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Henslowe links


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