Tuesday, 26 December 2017

26 December, 1593 - God Speed the Plough

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

Henslowe writes: In the name of god Amen begninge the 27 of Decembȝ 1593 the earle of susex his men 
R at good spede the plowghe ... iijll js

In modern English: In the name of God, Amen, beginning 26th December, 1593, the Earl of Sussex's Men
Received at God Speed the Plough ... £3 and 1 shilling

On this day, 424 years ago, it was an exciting time for the theatregoers of London! Finally, after nearly a year, the playhouses were re-opening. They had been closed to prevent the spread of plague during a terrible outbreak that lasted throughout most of 1593. Now, with the plague apparently overcome, theatre could return to the city again, and so the people of London flocked to the Rose and we can turn back to Henslowe's Diary to learn what they saw. (Incidentally, Henslowe begins this new set of accounts by getting the date wrong, which is one of his habits, but he'll get back on track a few days from now.)

As I explained yesterday, there have been some changes at the Rose, for it is now inhabited by a new company of players, the Earl of Sussex's Men, who will be performing their own distinctive repertory. We can therefore expect to encounter some unfamiliar plays as the Diary proceeds.

Today's play

Sussex's Men chose to begin their new enterprise with a play previously unknown to the Rose: God Speed the Plough. This play is unfortunately lost, so we know nothing about its content or why the company decided to begin their new season with it. The title is a proverbial phrase that essentially means "good luck with what you're doing", and so the play could be about almost anything.

However, if God Speed the Plough was literally about ploughing, it might have been some kind of pastoral comedy. In her entry on the play for the Lost Plays Database, Roslyn L. Knutson points out that there is a contemporary ballad of that title (called in full, "God Speed the Plough, and Bless the Corn-Mow: A Dialogue between the Husbandman and Serving-man"). This song is about a city servant and a husbandman (that is, a farmer) comparing their lifestyles; the husbandman insists that the life of the country is better. For example,

'Tis pleasure you know to see the corn to grow,
      And to grow so well on the land,
The ploughing and the sowing, the reaping and the mowing,
     Yields pleasure to the husbandman.

Perhaps, then, this play was a celebration of rural life. But that's only a guess. What we do know from the box office record is that God Speed the Plough filled the Rose playhouse, which was presumably packed with excited Londoners, grateful to see anything at all after nearly a year without any plays. The fact that the Rose re-opened during the Christmas holidays no doubt added to that effect.

Further reading

God Speed the Plough information

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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