Friday, 29 June 2018

29 June, 1594 - Cutlack

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

Henslowe writes: ye 27 of June 1594 ... R at cvttlacke ... xxxvjs

In modern English: 29th June, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 36 shillings.

Illustration of Belinus (or Brennius, it's not clear)
from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Cutlack, their play about the eponymous Danish king and his intervention in the civil war between the British kings Brennius and Belinus. You can read more about this play in the entry for 16 May, 1594.

The company last performed Cutlack only three days ago, when it had attracted a fairly small  audience. Today's performance produced a bigger audience, of an average size for the Rose. Although Cutlack is not breaking any records, it is doing well for a such a frequently-staged play.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 30 June was a Sunday in 1594. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 1 July for a week that will see the Admiral's Men start to settle into a groove.


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Thursday, 28 June 2018

28 June, 1594 - Galiaso

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

Henslowe writes: ye 26 of June 1594 ... ne ... R at galiaso ... iijll iiijs

In modern English: 28th June, 1594 ... New ... Received at Galiaso ... £3 and 4 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play: Galiaso. Unfortunately, this play is lost, and we have no clue what it was about - or rather, we have too many clues! Galeazzo is a name shared by many historical and fictional figures from Italy, while a galleass is a kind of Spanish warship. Which of these things was the subject of the play at the Rose? I don't know, but let us survey the possibilities and see if any of them spark our imaginations!


An Italian tale?


Galeazzo II Visconti, Duke of
Milan ; not a nice man, but he
does look rather fabulous.
Of the many Italians named Galeazzo, scholars have suggested several whose lives could have made for a good play. In her article on Galiaso for the Lost Plays Database, Roslyn L. Knutson notes that several members of the Visconti dynasty of fourteenth-century Milan were named Galeazzo and some were interestingly nasty rulers, fond of torture and unpleasant executions.

There are also three Galleazi in the tales of Matteo Bandello, an Italian writer whose stories were a common source for English dramatists hunting for plots. Perhaps the play was based on one of these tales, although they all seem to be lacking a certain something (links are provided to a facsimile of John Payne's 1890 translation): 

Story 1.18, “Galeazzo carries off a damsel from Padua, and then through jealousy kills both her and himself. Young Galeazzo's mum is angry that he has a secret girlfriend, so she has the girl kidnapped and sent to a nunnery; then mum feels bad and reunites the lovers, but Galeazzo is paranoid that his girlfriend might have been admired by other men while she was gone (even though she was in a nunnery...) and so he kills her and himself. 

Galleazzo Maria Sforza, Duke
of Milan and subject of
tales by Bandello
Story 3.35, “Duke Galeazzo Sforza maketh Cagnuola his privy councilor, finding him just and firm in his judgments.” Galeazzo sentences Cagnuola to death when he refuses to make a corrupt judgement in favour of one of the Duke's mistresses; Cagnuola would rather die than give an unlawful judgement and goes to the block, but just before the axe falls, the Duke reveals that it was all a test of his honesty, and promotes him. 

Story 4.14, “A shrewd device of Duke Galeazzo Sforza to hoodwink one of his councilors, whose wife he enjoyed amorous-wise.” Galeazzo is having an affair with the wife of one of his councilors, but as he is leaving her bedroom he bumps into the husband, who has unexpectedly come home. Galeazzo gets away with it by pretending he was visiting to ask the husband about an important case. (A deeply underwhelming ending, in my opinion!)

Here's another possibility. In his Catalogue of British Drama, Martin Wiggins points to a passing reference in story 2.33 of William Painter's anthology The Palace of Pleasure (1566), in which one Galleazze Fogase is propelled into a city to bribe the enemy army: they thrust him "into the mouth of a cannon, tying his head unto his knees and causing him to be carried by the violent force of gunpowder into the city"; Wiggins notes that this is similar to a scene in The Jew of Malta in which Barabas is thrown over the city walls; it seems a bit harder to stage, though... 

Wiggins also mentions the Italian poet Torquato Tasso's unfinished Galealto, King of Norway, later revised into King Torrismondo. This might seem a stretch, but, as we'll see, the Admiral's Men's repertory contains a number of Tasso connections; stay tuned.

The defeat of a galleass?


A Spanish galleass, from Ships Through the Ages
by Frederick Leonard King (1934)
But maybe the title does not refer to a person at all. A galleass was a kind of heavy warship powered by sails and oars. Several of them fought among the Spanish Armada, and shortly after its defeat, Thomas Deloney published "A joyful new ballad declaring the happy obtaining of the great Galleazzo wherein Pedro de Valdez was the chief".  The ballad in fact celebrates the taking of two of the Armada's ships: Pedro de Valdez's Nuestra SeƱora del Rosario, which it calls "the great Galleazzo", and Hugo de Moncada's galleass San Lorenzo, captured by the English after it ran aground off Calais.

One fact adds to this possibility. The ballad praises Charles Howard, the "Lord High Admiral" of the English. By 1594, Howard was the patron of the Admiral's Men. So, if the great galleass was indeed the subject of the play, the actors would have been glorifying their own patron's heroic defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Summary


We have learned many random interesting things today, but we still don't have a firm idea of what Galiaso was about. Nonetheless, the play had a very successful premiere, attracting a large audience to the Rose.


FURTHER READING

Galiaso information

  • Matteo Bandello, The Novels of Matteo Bandello, 6 vols., trans. Thomas Payne (Villion Society, 1890)
  • William Painter, "The Thirty-Third Novel", in The Palace of Pleasure, vol. 3, ed. Joseph Jacobs (David Nutt, 1890)
  • Thomas Deloney, The Works of Thomas Deloney, ed. Francis Oscar Mann (Clarendon Press, 1912), 469-73, 596-7
  • Garrett Mattingly, The Armada (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959), 293-6, 327-29
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Galiaso", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 958.

 

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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

27 June, 1594 - The Massacre at Paris

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

Henslowe writes: ye 25 of June 1594 ... R at the masacer ... xxxvjs

In modern English: 27th June, 1594 ... Received at The Massacre ... 36 shillings.

Henri, Duke of Guise, the villain of the play. 
Today, the Admiral's Men revived again Christopher Marlowe's play about the the evil Duke of Guise and his orchestration of the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 16th century Paris; you can read more about this play in the entry for 26 January, 1593.

Curiously, Henslowe has stopped calling it The Guise, which he had done as recently as last week, and is now calling it The Massacre, which is closer to the name by which it is known today, The Massacre at Paris. I wonder if the massacre scene had proven the most memorable thing about the play, causing Henslowe's mental image of it to change?

Marlowe's play had received very fine box office when the players restored it to the Rose stage last week, but today its receipts shrank to a merely average amount.


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

26 June, 1594 - Cutlack

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

Henslowe writes: ye 24 of June 1594 ... R at cvtlacke ... xxvs

In modern English: 26th June, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 25 shillings.

Illustration of Belinus (or Brennius, it's not clear)
from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Cutlack, their play about a bombastic Danish king and his intervention in the civil war between Brennius and Belinus in ancient Britain. You can read more about this play in the entry for 16 May, 1594.

The company had last peformed Cutlack only a week ago to a half-full theatre. Today's crowd was smaller still, suggesting that the play's appeal was already dwindling .


Henslowe links



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Monday, 25 June 2018

25 June, 1594 - The Jew of Malta

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

Henslowe writes: ye 23 of June 1594 ... R at the Jewe ... xxiijs

In modern English: 25th June, 1594 ... Received at The Jew ... 23 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, the players performed once again The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe's satirical comic tragedy; you can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February 1592.

This was the first outing for the ever-popular Jew of Malta following the Admiral's Men's return to the Rose. However, the company may have been disappointed that it drew a fairly small crowd today. Clearly the actors would not be able to rest on their laurels if they wanted success


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Sunday, 24 June 2018

24 June, 1594 - The Ranger's Comedy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 22 of June 1594 ... R at the Rangers comodey ... lviiijs

In modern English: 24th June, 1594 ... Received at The Ranger's Comedy ... 59 shillings.

An Elizabethan hunting scene, perhaps
illustrating the subject of this play
Today was Midsummer Day, a holiday to celebrate the solstice. For this festive day, the Admiral's Men revived their lost play The Ranger's Comedy. We do not know its subject, as the word "ranger" could refer to a gamekeeper, a rake, a wanderer, or an organizer of troops. You can read more about it in the entry for 2 April.

The Ranger's Comedy was last performed at the Rose only four days ago, and it had then produced only average box office. But today, it was twice as successful, producing an almost full theatre. This change in fortune probably has nothing to do with the play itself, though, and more to do with a greater number of people having time off to go to the theatre.

Henslowe links



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Friday, 22 June 2018

22 June, 1594 - Belin Dun

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

Henslowe writes: ye 20 of June 1594 ... R at bellendon ... xxxs

In modern English: 22nd June, 1594 ... Received at Belin Dun ... 30 shillings.

A highwayman portrayed in Richard
Head's The English Rogue (1666)
Today, the Admiral's Men performed Belin Dun, their lost play about the notorious robber who terrorized the Dunstable area during the reign of King Henry I; you can read more about this play in the entry for 10 June.

Belin Dun was still a relatively new play, and the previous performance had drawn a huge crowd to the Rose just four days ago. The company was clearly hoping they had a new blockbuster on their hands, but today's receipts were merely average for the Rose, showing a swift decline in interest.

What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 23 June was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 24 June for a week that will include one new play among the familiar ones.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 21 June 2018

21 June, 1594 - The Massacre at Paris

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

Henslowe writes: ye 19 of June 1594 ... R at the Gwies ... liiijs

In modern English: 21st June, 1594 ... Received at The Guise ... 54 shillings.

Henri, Duke of Guise, the villain of the play. 
Well, here's a blast from the past! Today, the Admiral's Men performed The Guise, which was presumably the same Tragedy of the Guise that Lord Strange's Men had performed at the Rose back in January of last year.

This play was written by Christopher Marlowe and survives today under the title The Massacre at Paris. It tells the story of the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 16th century Paris, and focuses on the plotting of the evil Duke of Guise, hence its alternative name. You can read more about it in the entry for 26 January, 1593.

Lord Strange's Men had been able to perform this play only once in London before the theatres were closed due to plague.  Since then, that company had disbanded and its star, Edward Alleyn, had joined the Admiral's Men. Presumably it was Alleyn who took the text of the play with him to his new company. He must have recognized its potential from its solitary performance.

The Guise received very good box office, representing an almost full theatre. The company may have been hoping that it would prove as big a hit as their other Marlowe play, The Jew of Malta.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

20 June, 1594 - The Ranger's Comedy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 18 of June 1594 ... R at the Rangers comodey ... xxijs

In modern English: 20th June, 1594 ... Received at The Ranger's Comedy ... 22 shillings.

An Elizabethan hunting scene; one
of the possible subjects of The
Ranger's Comedy
Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost play The Ranger's Comedy. We do not know what this play was about, as the word could refer to a gamekeeper, a rake, a wanderer, or an organizer of troops. You can read more about it in the entry for 2 April.

The Ranger's Comedy had last been performed at the Rose back in May. It had produced only average box office then, and today it was well below that, showing a clear decline in popularity.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

19 June, 1594 - Cutlack

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

Henslowe writes: ye 17 of June 1594 ... R at cutlacke ... xxxvs

In modern English: 19th June, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 35 shillings.

Illustration of Belinus (or Brennius, it's not clear)
from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)
Today, as the the Admiral's Men settled back into the Rose playhouse, they revived Cutlack, a play about a bombastic Danish king and his intervention in the civil war between Brennius and Belinus in ancient Britain. You can read more about this play in the entry for 16 May, 1594.

Yesterday, the company had attracted a packed theatre for their first play at the Rose. But today's performance produced only an average-sized crowd with a half-full theatre. The public's appetite for theatre at the Rose appears to have returned to normal very rapidly.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 17 June 2018

17 June, 1594 - Belin Dun

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

Henslowe writes: ye 15 of June 1594 ... R at bellendon ... iijll and iiijs

In modern English: 17th June, 1594 ... Received at Belin Dun ... £3 and 4 shillings.

A highwayman portrayed in Richard
Head's The English Rogue (1666)
Today, a new era has begun for Henslowe! The Admiral's Men have returned to the Rose playhouse on the south bank of the Thames, following their brief and mysterious stint at the theatre in Newington. And they're about to begin a lengthy period of stability, with few of the hiatuses and disruptions that we've seen over the previous years.

The Admiral's Men celebrated their return today with a performance of Belin Dun, a lost play about the notorious robber who terrorized the Dunstable area during the reign of King Henry I; you can read more about this play in the entry for 10 June.

The Admiral's Men had premiered Belin Dun at Newington last week. It did not appear to have special interest there, but its performance today at the Rose was a great success, drawing a huge audience. Presumably Belin Dun was a new play to most of the spectators at the Rose, who would not have trekked out to Newington to see it last week. But whether they were excited to see Belin Dun, or just to see any theatre at the Rose at all after its lengthy closures, we do not know.

What's next?


Henslowe's dates are confusing for this period. I am going to assume that tomorrow's entry is either missing or the players did not perform for some reason. So, Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on 19 June. See you then!

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Friday, 15 June 2018

15 June, 1594 - The Jew of Malta

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 13 of June 1594 ... R at the Jewe ... iiijs

In modern English: 15th June, 1594 ... Received at The Jew ... 4 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, for their final performance at Newington Butts, the players performed once again The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe's satirical comic tragedy; you can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February 1592.

The Jew of Malta has been one of the most reliably popular plays at the Rose, but today it received only 4 shillings, by far the lowest of Henslowe's receipts at Newington Butts. As always, we cannot be sure what the box office figures at this theatre mean, but it looks as though they left Newington with a whimper rather than a bang


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 16 June was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. But that does not mean the players were idle, for a huge change was underway.

For the past week, two playing companies have been sharing a theatre at Newington for reasons unknown. But in the next entry, all will be different. The companies will have separated, with the Chamberlain's Men heading off to the Theatre in north London, while the Admiral's Men return to the Rose. For Henslowe, this will be a return to normality and stability again.

Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 17th June for a week that will see some familiar plays back in heart of London. See you then!

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Thursday, 14 June 2018

14 June, 1594 - Titus Andronicus

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 12 of June 1594 ... R at andronicous ... vijs

In modern English: 14th June, 1594 ... Received at Andronicus ... 7 shillings.

Titus and Lavinia kill Tamora's sons: illustration
from the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad
of Titus Andronicus (1680s)

Today, the players at Newington Butts revived again Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's violent tragedy about a cycle of vengeance in ancient Rome. You can read more about this play in the entry for 24 January.

The companies have waited only a week before reviving Titus, suggesting that they see it as a good bet. But the box office is lower than last time, and indeed among the lower of the receipts at this season at Newington. Titus may not be the crowd-puller that they had hoped.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

13 June, 1594 - The Taming of the Shrew

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 11 of June 1594 ... R at the tamynge of A shrowe ... ixs

In modern English: 13th June, 1594 ... Received at The Taming of a Shrew ... 9 shillings

Whoah! You wait ages for a Shakespeare play and then two come along (almost) at once! Following on from their staging of the ur-Hamlet a couple of days ago, the players at Newington Butts today performed The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's famous comedy about a headstrong wife. Of course there is a complication, as always, but this time only a small one.

Shakespeare's play is entitled The Taming of the Shrew. However, today's play was recorded by Henslowe as The Taming of a Shrew, which is the title of an enigmatic, anonymous play from the same period. That play essentially rewrites Shakespeare's with different words and some different character names, but relatively few plot differences.

So, if taken literally, Henslowe's entry refers to a Shrew, the rewrite. But let's be honest: accurate titling was hardly Henslowe's strong point. And since one of the companies sharing the Newington Butts theatre was the Chamberlain's Men, the company to whom Shakespeare belonged, most scholars assume that Shakespeare's the Shrew was indeed the play staged today.

The story of the shrew


Shakespeare's play begins with a framing device: a drunken tinker named Sly falls deeply asleep and is found by a lord who takes him to his house and tricks him into believing himself to be a lord when he wakes. Sly is then entertained with the play of The Taming of the Shrew.

The play that unfolds is set in Italy. A rich man, Baptista, has two daughters: Bianca, the young and docile one, and Katharina, or 'Kate', who is disobedient (in the parlance of the time, a 'shrew'). All the bachelors in town want to marry Bianca, but her father insists that she may not marry until Kate is wedded first.

To get a sense of the challenge Kate poses to potential husbands, look no further than this fantastic clip from D.W. Griffith's 1908 silent film adaptation, starring the great Florence Lawrence - it's 90 seconds of sheer badassery:



So, the bachelors search for a husband for Kate, and discover that their friend Petruccio is prepared to accept the challenge and win her large dowry. Shenanigans ensue as the young men don disguises and plan stratagems to get close to the two secluded daughters. But the key to everything is whether Petruccio will succeed in wooing Kate. He does so by praising her beauty and by not getting angry at her disobedience. He then cunningly tells her father that she has agreed to marry him but intends to remain contrary until the wedding; when Kate responds that this is a lie, her father thus assumes that she is disagreeing for the sake of it.

The wedding goes ahead, and when it does, Petruccio's personality changes from indulgent to domineering. He wears outrageous clothing at the wedding and when he takes Kate home, he tries to tame her. He is violent and abusive, refusing to let her eat or sleep. When the couple prepare to attend the weddings of the other two bachelors - to Bianca and a rich widow - Petruccio refuses to leave until Kate declares that the sun is the moon, entirely submitting herself to him against the evidence of her own eyes.

At the double wedding, the men get into an argument over which of their wives is the most obedient, each insisting that their spouses will come when they are called. But when they test their beliefs, only Kate responds to her husband's call, and she delivers a speech about the obedience a wife owes to her husband.

In the play's final lines, the other two husbands comment on Petruccio's success:
Hortensio. Now, go thy ways. Thou hast tamed a cursed shrew.
Lucentio. 'Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so.
What are we to make of this today? The play's gender politics are antiquated, to put it mildly. But whatever the original intentions, it's possible for modern performers to extricate a less oppressive tone out of the ending. For example, here's Mary Pickford in 1929, delivering Kate's speech of obedience in a tone of extreme sarcasm to a disorientated Petruccio suffering from concussion; keep watching for one of the most famous winks in film history:



What we learn from this


On the face of it,  The Taming of the Shrew, being a comic farce, doesn't have a lot in common with the plays we've been seeing in the Diary of late, which have been largely about war, revenge and bloodshed. But I do wonder how much it had in common with the lost Fair Maid of Italy, which received a few performances a while back.

More intriguingly, it's hard not to notice parallels with Esther and Ahasuerus, the lost Biblical play performed yesterday. Both highlight the theme of wifely subordination, featuring contrasts between disobedient and obedient wives. Could they have been performed one after another as kind of themed pair?


FURTHER READING


Taming of the Shrew information


  • Barbara Hodgdon, ed., The Taming of the Shrew, Arden Shakespeare (Methuen, 2010), 7-15
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 916.


Henslowe links


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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

12 June, 1594 - Esther and Ahasuerus

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 10 of June 1594 ... R at heaster ... vs

In modern English: 12th June, 1594 ... Received at Esther ... 5 shillings

Esther accusing Haman: Jan Lievens' The Feast
of Esther
(c. 1625)
Today, the players at Newington Butts revived Esther and Ahasuerus. This lost play retold the biblical legend of Queen Esther, who saves the Jewish people from the devious Persian vizier Haman. You can read more about it in the entry for 5th June.

Even by the standards of the Newington Butts playhouse, whose box office always seems lower than the Rose's, the takings for Esther and Ahasuerus are particularly low. This does not appear to be a popular play.

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Monday, 11 June 2018

11 June, 1594 - Hamlet

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: ye 9 of June 1594 ... R at hamlet ... viijs

In modern English: 11th June, 1594 ... Received at Hamlet ... 8 shillings.

Well, here's a surprise! Today, Hamlet, one of the most famous plays of the English Renaissance, was performed at Newington Butts. But as always with Henslowe's Diary, things are more complicated than they seem. Shakespeare's Hamlet is normally dated to circa 1600, so what is it doing here 6 years previously?

The answer is that today's play was probably not the Hamlet that we know today. Shakespeare did not invent the story of Prince Hamlet: it is based on a Scandinavian legend, retold in many forms over the centuries, in which a young man fakes madness in order to exact revenge upon the murderer of his father. So, this play may be an older, lost dramatization of the story (rather like the early King Leir play that we saw in April).

Scholars call this hypothetical lost play "the ur-Hamlet"Let's go through exactly what we know about this early Hamlet and the intriguing question of who wrote it.

1. Thomas Nashe and the English Senecas


In 1589, the satirist Thomas Nashe wrote the preface to a prose tale called Menaphon by his friend, the playwright Robert Greene. In it, Nashe writes facetiously about English writers who attempt to imitate ancient Roman authors. In particular, he refers to a fashion for emulating Seneca, a Roman dramatist whose tragedies are known for their long, rhetorical speeches and gruesome horrors.

Seneca's Ten Tragedies Translated
into English
(1581), an example
of the vogue for Senecan drama
Despite his mocking tone, Nashe does admit that "English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as 'Blood is a beggar!' and so forth". And then he adds that these plays "will afford you whole Hamlets - I should say handfuls - of tragical speeches".

This is not a very funny joke. But what's important is that Nashe gratuitously brings the word 'Hamlet' into a discussion of English Senecan tragedies. This implies that a play about Hamlet already existed, and that it was in the Senecan mode.

Was this early Hamlet written by the young William Shakespeare? We simply don't know, because the historical record tells us nothing about what Shakespeare was doing in the late 1580s.

Nashe hints at an alternative author. Continuing to scoff at Seneca's English followers, he says they "imitate the Kid in Aesop, who, enamoured with the Fox's newfangles, forsook all hopes of life to leap into a new occupation". This refers to Aesop's fable of the Fox and the Goat, but Nashe's use of the word "Kid" to refer to the foolish animal could be a pun on the playwright Thomas Kyd. After all, Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, one of the most popular plays at the Rose, is a perfect example of a Senecan tragedy, and shares several plot elements with Hamlet. So could Nashe be jokingly referring to Kyd as the author of the Hamlet play too? We don't know.

2. Henslowe's diary


Five years later, we find today's entry in Henslowe's Diary: a performance of Hamlet at Newington Butts. Is this the same play that Nashe was referring to? Probably, since Henslowe does not label it as new.

Henslowe's entry answers some questions but raises more. If you recall, two playing companies are currently sharing the Newington Butts playhouse: the Admiral's Men and the Chamberlain's Men. Hamlet probably belonged to the Chamberlain's, because it never appears in the repertory of the Admiral's when they are working separately. This is significant because Shakespeare is believed to have been acting with the Chamberlain's Men at this time.

In other words, in 1594, Shakespeare was probably acting in an old play called Hamlet. Was he its author? Or was he inspired by it to write his own version of the story? We don't know.

3. Thomas Lodge and the miserable ghost


Two years later, in 1596, Thomas Lodge wrote a satirical piece entitled Wit's Misery in which he categorized the devils who lurk around London. One devil is called 'Hate-Virtue' and Lodge describes him thus: he "looks as pale as the vizard of the ghost which cried so miserably at the Theatre, like an oyster-wife, 'Hamlet, revenge!'".

Henry Fuseli's illustration of the ghost calling
Hamlet to revenge (1796)
A vizard is a mask. The Theatre was the playhouse in London where the Chamberlain's Men were performing in 1596. An oyster-wife is a woman who sells oysters at the market, calling out loudly to potential customers. Lodge is therefore recalling a play in which a ghost in a white mask called on Hamlet for revenge in a voice like an oyster-wife's - clearly, he was not impressed by the actor playing the ghost.

The line "Hamlet, revenge!" does not appear in this exact form in any surviving version Shakespeare's play, and may thus hint at the existence of an earlier version. Overall, Lodge's comments could suggest that Shakespeare's company was still performing an old Hamlet play in 1596.



4.  Hamlet by Shakespeare


An unfamiliar version of the "To be or not to be"
speech from the Q1 version of Hamlet
Finally, in 1603, evidence appears for a Hamlet by Shakespeare: a play was published entitled The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and clearly attributed to William Shakespeare. But this text, known as "Q1", is not quite the Hamlet we know. It's shorter, some of the characters have different names, and the writing is often different (one speech begins "To be or not to be, aye, there's the point!").

Then, in 1604 and in 1623, two more texts were published; despite some differences between them, they together represent the play that we think of as Hamlet.

None of these texts read as though they were written in the 1580s, and a lot of internal and external evidence suggests that they were written around 1599-1601 (for a recent summary, see the introduction to the 2006 Arden edition). That is why scholars assume that the Hamlet play mentioned by Nashe, Henslowe and Lodge was probably a different one. But Q1 is a puzzle of its own. Is it a bowdlerized version of Shakespeare's play? Or some kind of halfway point in the transformation of the ur-Hamlet into Hamlet? We don't know.


So, what was the ur-Hamlet?


The short answer is, we don't know. Perhaps Thomas Kyd wrote an early Hamlet play and Shakespeare, acting in it, was inspired to create his own version a few years later. Or perhaps the young Shakespeare first wrote Hamlet back in the 1580s and gradually rewrote it into the version we know today. There is a vast amount of scholarly debate on these questions, but I'm not convinced that we'll ever know the truth.

And since Henslowe will never mention Hamlet again, I think we have the right to shrug and move on!


FURTHER READING



ur-Hamlet information


  • G.R. Hibbard, ed., Hamlet, The Oxford Shakespeare (Clarendon Press, 1987), 12-14
  • Emma Smith, "Ghost Writing: Hamlet and the Ur-Hamlet", in The Renaissance Text: Theory, Editing, Textuality, ed. Andrew Murphy (Manchester University Press, 2000), 177-90
  • Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, eds., Hamlet, The Arden Shakespeare (Methuen, 2006), 44-7.
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Hamlet", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 814.

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 10 June 2018

10 June, 1594 - Belin Dun

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 8 of June, 1594 ... ne ... R at bellendon ... xvijs

In modern English: 10th June, 1594 ... New .... Received at Belin Dun ... 12 shillings

Today, the players at Newington Butts premiered a new play! Belin Dun is unfortunately lost, but its title tells us that it was about a legendary highwayman of medieval England, the robber Dun (or Dunne), who is most often referred to as Thomas Dun, but is called Belin Dun in some versions of his story. Dun supposedly gave his name to the town of Dunstable where he made his base.

A highwayman portrayed in Richard
Head's The English Rogue (1666)
In most of the legends about him, Dun lurks near the intersection of two ancient English roads, Watling Street and the Icknield Way, to rob travellers. He seems unstoppable, but his reign of terror is ended by King Henry I during a crackdown on banditry. Dun is captured and executed (in some versions of the story by having all his limbs cut off).

The legend of Dun is about lawlessness defeated by royal power. It thus makes for an interesting contrast with plays about heroic, charitable outlaws: in his study of Belin Dun, Matthew Steggle suggests that Dun is an evil counterpoint to Robin Hood.

Aside from its appearances in the box office records, we can glimpse Belin Dun in another of Henslowe's documents: a list of props owned by the players at the Rose. This is a fun read, containing such enigmatic items as "one black dog", "Tantalus's tree", a "set of steps for Phaeton", and "Kent's wooden leg" (if you'd like to read the whole thing, here's a transcription from Richard Dutton's Shakespeare: A Literary Life). One of the props is "Belendon stable". This puzzling entry is explained by Steggle's researches into the legend of Dun, which reveal that the robber supposedly hid his horses in a giant underground cave; here's a description in the 1717 poem "Dunstable Down":
There dwelt (to make the story brief)
Old Dun, that memorable thief:
Within a hollow underground,
Apartments yet are to be found
Where both himself and horse retreated,
And still the hues and cries defeated.
We can therefore speculate that in today's performance, the stage contained a representation of Dun's subterranean hideout.

Henslowe typically records very high box office for premieres, but the takings for Belin Dun are not remarkably different to others at Newington Butts this week. It is hard to judge the popularity of plays at this theatre, but on the face of it, Belin Dun does not seem to have aroused exceptional excitement.


FURTHER READING

 

Belin Dun information

  • Roslyn L. Knutson and Matthew Steggle, "Bellendon", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 956.
  • Matthew Steggle, Digital Humanities and the Lost Plays of Shakespeare's England (Ashgate, 2015), 77-88.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 8 June 2018

8 June, 1594 - Cutlack

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 6 of June 1594 ... R at cvtlacke ... xjs

In modern English: 8th June, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 11 shillings

Illustration of Belinus (or Brennius, it's not clear)
from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)
Today, the players revived Cutlack, their play about a bombastic Danish king and his clashes with the warring brothers Bellinus and Brennius in ancient Britain. You can read more about this play in the entry for 16 May, 1594.

The Admiral's Men had last performed Cutlack during their brief three-day stint at the Rose in May, when it had at attracted a larger-than-average crowd. We cannot know, however, how many people journeyed to the playhouse at Newington to see Edward Alleyn play the arrogant Dane.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 9 June was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog will thus return on the 10th for a week that will include two very famous plays...


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 7 June 2018

7 June, 1594 - Titus Andronicus

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 5 of June, 1594 ... R at andronicous ... xijs

In modern English: 7th June, 1594 ... Received at Andronicus ... 12 shillings.


Titus and Lavinia kill Tamora's sons: illustration
from the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad
of Titus Andronicus (1680s)
For their third day at the Newington Butts playhouse, the players revived William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, a violent tragedy about a cycle of vengeance in ancient Rome. You can read more about this play in the entry for 24 January.

Following on from yesterday's performance of The Jew of Malta, the companies appear to be cracking out the popular hits from Rose last year. But as in the previous days, we cannot be sure how many, or how few, audience members showed up to see Shakespeare's cavalcade of gore.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

6 June, 1594 - The Jew of Malta

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: ye 4 of June, 1594 ... R at the Jewe of malta ... xs

In modern English: 6th June, 1594 ... Received at The Jew of Malta ... 10 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, the actors at Newington Butts performed a very familiar play: The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe's satirical comic tragedy; you can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February 1592.

Ever since Henslowe's Diary began, The Jew of Malta has been a constant presence, regardless of which company was performing. Today, Edward Alleyn was undoubtedly returning to the the role of Barabas for which he was famed. 

As always with performances at Newington Butts, the box office looks unimpressive, and it is possible that Alleyn was barnstorming to an almost empty theatre, but we cannot be sure.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

5 June, 1594 - Esther and Ahasuerus

Here's what the Admiral's Men and/or the Chamberlain's Men performed at the Newington Butts playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: ye 3 of June 1594 ... R at heaster and asheweros ... viijs

In modern English: 5th of June, 1594 ... Received at Esther and Ahasuerus ... 8 shillings

Welcome back to a new sequence of entries from Philip Henslowe's diary! For the next week or so, Henslowe is recording performances by the Admiral's Men and the Chamberlain's Men, who are sharing the Newington Butts playhouse in the countryside south of London. As is so often the case, Henslowe's dates are muddled, so he will be two days out of sync for the next few weeks; in correcting them, I am indebted to the work of earlier scholars (especially Martin Wiggins in his Catalogue of British Drama).

The players have chosen to open their stint at Newington Butts with Esther and Ahasuerus, a play that we have not yet encountered in the diary. It probably belonged to the Chamberlain's Men - that is, the company to which William Shakespeare belonged - because there are no records of the Admiral's Men performing it by themselves. The title tells us that the play was based on the biblical Book of Esther, in which the eponymous heroine saves the Jewish people from the devious Persian vizier Haman.

The play itself is probably lost, but it may survive in a German translation. There are records of English companies touring Germany and performing a Comedy of Queen Esther and the Haughty Haman. And a 1620 German text of that name that may preserve, however distantly, the play that was performed at Newington. Either way, let's take a look at the legend of Esther and imagine what a dramatist could have done with it.

The story of Queen Esther


The Book of Esther relates how Ahasuerus, King of Persia, commands his Queen, Vashti, to show off her beauty to visiting guests. When she refuses, the angry Ahasuerus banishes Vashti for disobedience and makes a proclamation that wives should be obedient to their husbands.

A search begins for a better queen, and Ahasuerus eventually chooses Esther. But Esther does not tell the King that she is Jewish; only her kinsman Mordecai knows. Esther and Mordecai then become popular with the King when they help him to avoid an assassination attempt.

Esther accusing Haman: Jan Lievens' The Feast
of Esther
(c. 1625)
But the King's counselor, Haman, forms a grudge against Mordecai so intense that he persuades the King to order the massacre of all Jews in the kingdom.

Fearing for the lives of her family, Esther arranges a feast for herself, Ahasuerus and Haman. There, she reveals to the King that she is Jewish and that Haman has therefore ordered her death and that of her people. Ahasuerus is furious and hangs Haman.

Ahasuerus is not able to reverse his own order for a massacre, but he instead gives the Jews permission to fight back against anyone who assaults them. Battles break out across the land, and the Jews are victorious. In the aftermath, Ahasuerus permits an annual celebration of this event, known to this day as Purim.

The German play that may be based on Esther and Ahasuerus (see above) follows the Biblical narrative fairly closely but adds a comic subplot about the violent quarrels between a clownish carpenter and his insubordinate wife in the aftermath of King Ahasuerus's proclamation against widely disobedience. The couple eventually take their disagreements to the King, who responds by appointing them court jesters to himself and his Queen.


Was it popular?


The box office takings for Esther and Ahasuerus were only 8 shillings. This would have been a disastrous return at the Rose, but, as I explained yesterday, it's not clear what the box office figures for the Newington Butts theatre refer to, so we probably shouldn't take the low figure too seriously.



FURTHER READING


Hester and Ahasuerus information


  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Hester and Ahasuerus", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 801.

Henslowe links



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Monday, 4 June 2018

4 June, 1594 - Henslowe is back - but it's all different

Welcome back, Henslowe fans! This blog is returning to life in a serious way tomorrow, after a number of fits and starts over the past few months. Pretty soon, we'll settle into a lengthy stretch of unbroken records of performances by the Admiral's Men at the Rose playhouse. But before then, we have a rather puzzling section to get through.

Richard Burbage, leading actor of
the Chamberlain's Men
From now until 13th June, Henslowe's records refer not to performances not at the Rose, but to those at a playhouse far to the south, known as Newington Butts. And the performances are not by the Admiral's Men alone - instead, they are sharing the playhouse with the Chamberlain's Men. You can read more about these companies and their shared playhouse by clicking the links above, but, suffice to say, the Admiral's and Chamberlain's Men had recently become the only two companies allowed to perform in London. They will soon part their ways to settle permanently at the Rose and at the Theatre, respectively. Exactly why they will spend next week working together at an obscure playhouse is a mystery.

It's also not clear exactly what it means to be sharing a theatre. Henslowe records a series of performances that seem to alternate between plays associated with the Admiral's Men and plays associated with the Chamberlain's. Does this mean their leading actors were performing together in each other's plays? Or does it simply mean the companies were taking turns to perform? The latter makes more sense, in my opinion.

London and the village of
Newington (bottom left), in
Symonson's map of Kent (1596)
However it worked, and whatever the reasons, this must have been an exciting week in the village of Newington. The greatest artists of the age - including Edward Alleyn, Richard Burbage, William Shakespeare and Will Kemp - were all performing at its local theatre!

Henslowe records extremely low takings for these performances, though. This might simply be because he was renting the playhouse from somebody else, and so his personal rewards were much lower than for the Rose, which he owned. But it's also likely that the audiences were smaller: Newington Butts was half a mile outside London, so only the most dedicated theatregoers of the city would travel there. We may, therefore, need to imagine the great theatre stars of the age performing to tiny audiences in the middle of nowhere; if so, they were probably be glad to get away by the end of the week.

See you tomorrow at Newington Butts, for a week that will include some very famous plays!

FURTHER READING


Information about this week at Newington


  • Roslyn Lander Knutson, Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare's Time (Cambridge University Press, 2001), 39-40
  • Laurie Johnson, Shakespeare's Lost Playhouse: Eleven Days at Newington Butts (Routledge, 2018)


Henslowe links



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