Friday, 31 August 2018

31 August, 1594 - Belin Dun

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

Henslowe writes: ye 29 of aguste 1594 ... R at belendon ...  xxs vjd


In modern English: [31st] August, 1594 ... Received at Belin Dun ... 20 shillings and sixpence

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

Belin Dun continues to be performed weekly, but its box office continues to slide downward as well. This former stalwart of the Rose is now struggling.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 30 August 2018

30 August, 1594 - Tamburlaine

Here's what the Admiral's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: ye 28 of aguste 1594 ... j ... R at tamberlen ... iijll xis 

In modern English: [30th] August, 1594 ... 1 ... Received at Tamburlaine ... £3 and 11 shillings

What a surprise! Today, the Admiral's Men have revived Tamburlaine, an old play that possessed an almost legendary status among the theatregoers of the day.

Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and its sequel had been mega-hits of the late 1580s. Loosely based on the life of the fourteenth century warlord Timur the Lame, it tells the story of a shepherd who becomes an all-conquering emperor. With its grand speeches, its exotic imagery, and its amoral but awe-inspiring protagonist, the plays dazzled their original audiences, who would still have remembered them in the mid-1590s. You can get some sense of what the Tamburlaine plays are like from this trailer for a recent production in Brooklyn by Theatre for a New Audience:





Why Tamburlaine now?


Illustration of the historical Tamburlaine
from Richard Knolles' General History

of the Turks (1603).
In a way, this diary entry represents Tamburlaine coming home. The play had been first performed in 1587 by an earlier version of the Admiral's Men, here at the Rose playhouse. Then as now, Edward Alleyn was the leading actor of that earlier company, and the role of Tamburlaine had helped to make him a star.

But around 1590-91, Alleyn had left the Admiral's Men to join Lord Strange's Men (whose fortunes we were following at the beginning of this blog). The remnants of the Admiral's Men were did not perform in London but rather toured the country. And they seem to have retained ownership of the Tamburlaine plays, because Alleyn did not perform them when he was acting with Strange's Men. Indeed, Strange's Men created instead Tamar Cam, a pair of plays about a different conqueror of Asia, but one with a suspiciously similar name.

Now, in 1594, Alleyn is back at the Rose with a reconstituted version of Admiral's Men, and he has clearly regained possession of Tamburlaine. He is therefore roaring back onto the stage in the role that had made him a legend, finally able to perform it again after many years away from it. This must have been an exciting day at the Rose!

So, what is Tamburlaine, and what is all the excitement about?



 The play


At the beginning of the play, Tamburlaine is a mere shepherd from Scythia (the steppes of Central Asia), who has taken up banditry. He leads a gang of highwaymen who rob travellers on the outskirts of Persia. But prophecies have told him in dreams that one day he will be the "monarch of the East"...

Timur holding court; from the Zafarnamah
of Sharaf al-Din Yazdi
Tamburlaine's unlikely rise to power begins when he captures Zenocrate, daughter of the Sultan of Egypt, who is at first his captive but comes to love him. The ineffectual King Mycetes of Persia sends the warrior Theridamas with troops to kill Tamburlaine, but Theridamas is so impressed by his ambitious enemy that he joins him.

Tamburlaine commands admiration in all who meet him, and is presented as a remarkable, almost superhuman figure. He is "so large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit," that he has "such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear / Old Atlas's burden". His eyes are "piercing instruments of sight / Whose fiery circles bear encompassèd / A heaven of heavenly bodies in their spheres", and "his lofty brows in folds do figure Death" (II.i).

Tamburlaine joins with the fratricidal Cosroe to help him overthrow his brother, King Mycetes. But Tamburlaine becomes enthralled with the idea of winning a crown for himself.  His lieutenants agree: "To be a king is half to be a god", but Tamburlaine scoffs: "A god is not so glorious as a king. / I think the pleasure they enjoy in heaven / Cannot compare with kingly joys on earth" (II.v). He turns his armies against Cosroe and takes his crown, becoming King of Persia.

The Ottoman Sultan Bajazath I
(anonymous Italian portrait)
All Asia is now concerned about the rise of Tamburlaine, who acquires the nickname of "the scourge and wrath of God" (III.iii). The next ruler to take arms against him is Bajazeth, Emperor of the Turks. Like many monarcxhs before and afterward, Bajazeth is contempuous of the upstart Scythian, but lives to regret his But Bajazeth too is defeated by Tamburlaine's army, and subjected to utter humiliation: he and his wife are kept in a cage, and fed scraps from Tamburlaine's sword; Tamburlaine even uses him as a footstool. Eventually Bajazeth and his queen commit suicide by knocking their own brains out against the bars of the cage.

It is now the turn of Zenocrate's father, the Sultan of Egypt, to join the war against Tamburlaine. But Tamburlaine besieges the city of Damascus, using a colour scheme as a countdown. On the first day, he wears white to show that if the city surrenders, he will not kill anyone. On the second day, he wears red to show that he will kill only the soldiers. The Damascans hold off until the third day, hoping that the Sultan will arrive to rescue them.

Timur beseiging a city, from the
Zafarnamah of Sharaf al-Din Yazdi
But the Sultan does not appear, and on the third day Tamburlaine wears black to signify that he will destroy the city and kill everyone. The Governor of Damascus sends four innocent virgins to Tamburlaine to plead for mercy. But Tamburlaine shows them his sword, telling them "there sits Death, imperious Death, / Keeping his circuit by the slicing edge" (V.i.). He has them killed and massacres everyone else in the city.

Tamburlaine then fights and the Sultan's forces. Zenocrate is in torment, as her lover and her father are at war. But although Tamburlaine wins, he lets the Sultan live. And in the play's final moments, glorying in his domination "from the bounds of Afric to the banks / Of Ganges" Tamburlaine tells his subject kings that he will turn to peace: "Tamburlaine takes truce with all the world." Turning to Zenocrate, he ends the play by telling her,

Then, after all these solemn exequies,
We will our rites of marriage solemnize.

The legacy



It is easy to see why Tamburlaine made such an impression on theatregoers in the late 1580s. In the prologue, Marlowe announces that he is doing something new: he dismisses the silly rhyming verse and clowning of the older drama and tells the audience that they will instead "hear the Scythian Tamburlaine / Threat'ning the world with high astounding terms / And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword".

Persepolis. It would be passing brave to ride in
triumph through it, do admit.
Those "high astounding terms" refer to the play's soaring poetry, especially Tamburlaine's magnificent speeches that build and build. Some of its lines became legendary, in particular, Tamburlaine's dream of power: "Is it not passing brave to be a king, / And ride in triumph through Persepolis?" (II.v). One of the most interesting descriptions of Tamburlaine in performance is by the clergyman Joseph Hall in his Virgidemiarum (1597), who seems to have been disgusted by the experience, but even his sneery description of "big-sounding sentences" and "terms Italianate" being used to "patch me up his pure iambic verse" also admits that the poetry "ravishes" the gazing spectators.

And the speeches must have sounded incredible when declaimed in the mighty voice of Edward Alleyn, who seems to have brought all of his outsized physical presence to the part: in 1597, a book called The Discovery of the Knights of the Post described a character who "bent his brows" and walked "up and down the room with such a furious gesture as if he had been playing Tamburlaine on a stage". Similarly, Hall refers to "the stalking steps of his great personage".

Map of Asia, from Ortelius's atlas of the world (1570)
The poetry transported the audience to exotic places around the world, and opened the eyes of ordinary Londoners to the vast world that was in the process of being explored by Europeans during the so-called Age of Discovery. Tamburlaine's vision is impressively global: he imagines the pirates of the Mediterranean hiding in fear,
Until the Persian fleet and men-of-war,
Sailing along the oriental sea,
Have fetched about the Indian continent,
Even from Persepolis to Mexico,
And thence unto the Straits of Gibraltar,
Where they shall meet and join their force in one,
Keeping in awe the Bay of Portugal,
And all the ocean of the British shore. (III.iii)
He even plans "to travel to th'Antarctic pole, / Conquering the people under our feet!" (IV.iv). (He'd be disappointed when he got there and found it inhabited only by penguins, but neither Marlowe nor his audience knew that...)

But the play is not simply an exercise in glamorous exoticism. It is genuinely radical in what it is saying. Nature, says Tamburlaine,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world
And measure every wand'ring planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Wills to wear ourselves and never rest
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all:
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown. (II.vii)
Title page of a 1592 printing
of Tamburlaine
Placed in the mouth of a mere shepherd, this speech is antithetical to the entire principle of Elizabethan hierarchy, in which power is restricted only to those of noble blood. Tamburlaine upends the social hierachy, showing a man at the bottom rising to the top with only his raw talent and aspiring mind to help him, while the ruling classes are represented as inept or decadent.  Even more astonishingly, at the end of this play, Tamburlaine is the winner. One might expect him to suffer hubris and be punished for his ambition. But no: he rules a vast empire and is very happy to be doing so. (Admittedly, Marlowe did write a tragic sequel shortly afterward, but it's not clear that he always intended to).

What are we to make of this triumphant anti-hero? Tamburlaine is terrifyingly cruel, heartless and uncompromising, yet he is also fascinating and charismatic, drawing followers from every nation that he visits. The effect of the play is complex: as David Fuller puts it, the audience is "simultaneously drawn in by the poetry and repelled by the action". Marlowe offers no help in this matter: his Prologue simply advises the audience "View but his picture in this tragic glass / And then applaud his fortunes as you please".

Although its enormous cast requirements make it a challenge for all but the largest theatre companies, Tamburlaine can still be seen on stage today in the 21st century. Indeed, at the time of writing, Michael Boyd's production, starring Jude Owusu as the Scythian shepherd, can be seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

 

What we learn from this


We learn from today's performance that the Admiral's Men were willing to turn back to older plays rather than constantly chase novelty. Tamburlaine may have been a blast from the past, but it drew a huge audience today, and had clearly been greatly missed by the Rose audience. It's a reminder that although theatre in 1594 is flourishing across London, and Shakespeare is about to write his most famous plays, the older pioneers of Elizabethan drama continue to have a hold on the public.



FURTHER READING


Tamburlaine information

  • J.S. Cunningham, ed., Tamburlaine the Great. Manchester University Press, 1981. 
  • G.K. Hunter, English Drama, 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare. Clarendon Press, 1997.
  • David Fuller, ed., "Introduction", in The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, Volume V (Clarendon Press, 1998), xvii-liii
  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 14-17, 33, 207-8.
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 784.


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 29 August 2018

29 August, 1594 - Mahamet

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

Henslowe writes: ye 27 of aguste 1594 ... R at mahemet ... xxxxs

In modern English: [29th] August, 1594 ... Received at Mahamet ... 40 shillings
1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Today, the company returned to Mahamet, which may survive today as The Battle of Alcazar. If so, it was a popular old play that told the story of Abd el-Malik's struggle for the throne of Morocco against the vicious usurper Muly Mahamet; you can read more about it in the entry for 21st February, 1592.

Mahamet may not have been literally new when it was staged a week and a half ago, but, having been revived after perhaps more than a year off the stage, it is behaving like a new play in terms of box office, with a larger-than-average crowd filling the Rose.


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

28 August, 1594 - Godfrey of Bouillon

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

Henslowe writes: ye 26 of aguste 1594 ... R at godfrey ... xxvijs vjd

In modern English: [28]th August, 1594 ... Received at Godfrey ... 27 shillings and sixpence

The death of Godfrey of Bouillon.
From a thirteenth century
manuscript of William of 
Tyre's Histoire d'Outremer
Today, the company revived a play that Henslowe calls Godfrey. This was probably The Second Part of Godfrey of Bouillon, a lost sequel premiered about a month ago; you can read more about it in the entry for 19th July. Alternatively, it might have been the equally lost original play, sometimes identified by scholars with the mysterious Jerusalem, which you can read about in the entry for 22 March, 1592. Either way, today's play would have dramatized some aspect of the eponymous medieval warrior's capture of the city of Jerusalem from the Turks.

Like most of the plays recently introduced into the repertory, the Godfrey play(s) are now gradually shrinking in popularity.


FURTHER READING


Henslowe links



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Monday, 27 August 2018

27 August, 1594 - The Venetian Comedy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 25 of aguste 1594 ... ne ... R at the venesyon comodey ... ls vjd

In modern English: [27th] August, 1594 ... New ... Received at The Venetian Comedy ... 50 shillings and sixpence

Today, the company performed a new play! Unfortunately, it is now lost, and it possessed a title so utterly generic that it's impossible to piece together anything about it.

The Quack Doctor by Pietro Longhi (late
18th century)
Comedies set in Venice are plentiful in English Renaissance drama, and indeed the city, with its labyrinthine geography and the tendency of its citizens to wear masks at any opportunity, is almost designed to produce farcical comedy.

But the Venetian setting doesn't help us to pin down the plot of this play. Back in 1592, you might recall, we saw a Venetian comedy entitled Bindo and Ricciardo which had a plot so bizarre that even the wildest scholar could never have imagined it. We will just have to shrug and accept that some things can never be known.

Whatever its plot, The Venetian Comedy has begun its career poorly. 50 shillings is a very disappointing result for a brand new play. Perhaps the generic title failed to drum up sufficient excitement?

FURTHER READING


Venetian Comedy information

  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 964.


Henslowe links


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Sunday, 26 August 2018

26 August, 1594 - Philippo and Hippolito

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

Henslowe writes: ye 24 of aguste 1594 ... R at phillipo & hewpolyto ... xxviijs

In modern English: [26th] August, 1594 ... Received at Philippo and Hippolito ... 28 shillings

Two Young Men by Crispin van den Broeck, c.1590
Today, the company returned to Philippo and Hippolito, their enigmatic lost play about two men of that name. You can read more about this play in the entry for 9 July.

As with the previous performance, the company have waited a week and a half before reviving Philippo and Hippolito. Unlike some of its fellows in the repertory, the play has rebounded slightly since last time, to a rather more tolerable level of box office receipts.

Henslowe links



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Friday, 24 August 2018

24 August, 1594 - Cutlack

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

Henslowe writes: ye 22 of aguste 1594 ... R at cvttlacke ... xxiijvjd

In modern English: [24th] August, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 23 shillings and sixpence

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

Like the rest of the company's older repertory, Cutlack is not doing well at the box office. However, it has rebounded considerably since its dismal 13 shillings a week and a half ago, which suggests that it may have been suffering then from a patch of bad weather rather than a catastrophic decline in interest.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 25th August was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 26th August for a week that will contain two surprises!

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 23 August 2018

23 August, 1594 - Galiaso

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

Henslowe writes: ye 21 of aguste 1594 ... R at galiaso ... xxjs vjd 

In modern English: [23rd] August, 1594 ... Received at Galiaso ... 21 shillings and sixpence


A Spanish galleass, one possible subject of this
play. From Ships Through the Ages by Frederick
Leonard King (1934)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost play Galiaso. We do not know what this play was about, as its title could refer to many historical and fictional figures, or even to a kind of ship. You can read more about it in the entry for 28 June.

The players are continuing with their pattern of performing Galiaso once every week and a half. But it continues to struggle at the box office. The players have had some recent successes with new plays, refreshing their repertory with Tasso's Melancholy and Mahamet,  but the older repertory seems to have lost its drawing power.


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

22 August, 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 20 of aguste 1594 ... R at the Rangers comodey ... xiiijvjd
In modern English: [22nd] August, 1594 ... Received at The Ranger's Comedy ... 14 shillings and sixpence

An Elizabethan hunting scene; one
of the possible subjects of this play
Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost 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 continues to receive terrible box office. The company has been leaving it unperformed for longer and longer intervals, this time avoiding it for over three weeks, but absence most definitely does not make Londoners' hearts grow any fonder toward this play.


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 21 August 2018

21 August, 1594 - Belin Dun

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

Henslowe writes: ye 19 of aguste 1594 ... R at bellendon ...  xxj

In modern English: [21st] August, 1594 ... Received at Belin Dun ... 21 shillings

A highwayman portrayed in Richard
Head's The English Rogue (1666)

Today, the Admiral's Men once again performed Belin Dun, their lost play about the notorious robber who terrorized the highways around Dunstable during the reign of King Henry I; you can read more about this play in the entry for 10 June.

The company last performed Belin Dun a week ago. Until today, Belin Dun had seemed to be a reliable workhorse of the company's repertory, but it has now achieved a disappointing box office that may be a worrying sign that it is beginning to lose its shine.

Henslowe links



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Monday, 20 August 2018

20 August, 1594 - Tasso's Melancholy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 18 of aguste 1594 ... R at tassoes mallencoley ... xxxxvijs 

In modern English: 18th August, 1594 ... Received at Tasso's Melancholy ... 47 shillings

Tasso in the Madhouse
by Eugene Delacroix (1839)
Today, the Admiral's Men returned to Tasso's Melancholy, the play that they had premiered last week. This lost play dramatized the lovesick insanity of the Italian poet Torquato Tasso; you can read more about it in the entry for 13th August.

Tasso's Melancholy is following the standard pattern of a successful new play: its second performance has received a handsome box office, presumably as a result of positive word of mouth. Edward Alleyn must have been pleased as he raved across the stage in the role of the mad poet.

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 19 August 2018

19 August, 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 17 of auguste 1594 ... R at the masacer... xxs 

In modern English: [19th] August, 1594 ... Received at The Massacre ... 20 shillings 

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

As with Philippo and Hippolito on Saturday, The Massacre at Paris is a once strong play that has been gradually slipping over the weeks. The players are now in a groove of reviving it once every week and a half,  but interest continues to slide. Christopher Marlowe's magic touch is not holding.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 17 August 2018

17 August, 1594 - Philippo and Hippolito

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

Henslowe writes: ye 15 of aguste 1594 ... R at phillipo & hewpolyto ... xxjs

In modern English: [17th] August, 1594 ... Received at Philippo and Hippolito ... 21 shillings

wo Young Men by Crispin van den Broeck, c.1590
Today, the company returned to Philippo and Hippolito, their enigmatic lost play about two men of that name. You can read more about this play in the entry for 9 July.

Philippo and Hippolito is one of the few plays that the Admiral's Men have been performing with unusual frequency, but this time they have waited a week and a half since its last performance. After an excellent start, the play has been gradually sliding in popularity, and is now very clearly on its way out.

What's next?


There will be no performance tomorrow because 18th August was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 19th, for a week of the old favourites.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 16 August 2018

16 August, 1594 - Mahamet

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

Henslowe writes: ye 14 of aguste 1594 ... R at mahomett ... iijll vs

In modern English: [16th] August, 1594 ... Received at Mahamet ... £3 and 5 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men performed a play that Henslowe called Mahamet (an Elizabethan variant on the name Muhammad). This is its first appearance in the Diary, and Henslowe records a very high box office, the kind normally seen only at premieres. And yet he does not mark the play as "ne" (new), which indicates that the players were instead bringing back a old play that was received very well by the audience.

No play called Mahamet survives today, but most scholars suspect it was connected to a surviving play called The Battle of Alcazar by George Peele. This features an enjoyably evil villain named Muly Mahamet, who was one of the most famous roles of Edward Alleyn, star of the Admiral's Men.

If all this sounds familiar, it's because two years ago, one of the most popular plays at the Rose was Muly Molocco, a play about which one could say exactly the same thing: it too might have been The Battle of Alcazar, or else a prequel or an imitation of it. For the sake of convenience, then, here is the description of The Battle of Alcazar that I originally posted for Muly Molocco; apologies for the repetition.

If the play was The Battle of Alcazar...


1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
The title page of George Peele's play advertises it as The Battle of Alcazar, fought in Barbary between Sebastian King of Portugal and Abdelmelec King of Morocco; with the death of Captain Stukeley. It begins with Abd el-Malik (called Abdelmelec or Muly Molocco in the play) reclaiming his rightful throne by deposing the vicious usurper Muly Mahamet. Muly Mahamet escapes into the wilderness but survives to raise an army with the aid of King Sebastian of Portugal and the English Catholic adventurer Captain Thomas Stukeley. A great battle takes place at Alcazar (modern El-Ksar el-Kebir) in 1578. During the battle, Abdelmelec dies but his younger brother Seth props up his dead body as if alive, and this encourages the troops; the fleeing Muly Mahamet is then killed when his horse throws him in a river. The play ends with Muly Mahamet, King Sebastian and Stukeley all dead, Seth as King of Barbary, and Muly Mahamet's body stuffed as a warning to future usurpers.

In the play's final lines, Seth honours the dead King Sebastian:
And now my lords for this Christian king:
My lord Zareo, let it be your charge
To see the soldiers tread a solemn march,
Trailing their pikes and ensigns on the ground,
So to perform the princes' funerals.
Just for curiosity value, here's a clip from Battle of the Three Kings, a very obscure 1990 film about the Battle of Alcazar. It's apparently an Italian-Moroccan-Soviet-Spanish co-production. The clip is worth watching for a glimpse of F. Murray Abraham and Harvey Keitel looking rather surprised to be there.


 

If you would like to read The Battle of Alcazar, the most readable text is Charles Edelman's modern-spelling edition, which can be found in his anthology The Stukeley Plays (2005).

 

If the play was a lost one named Mahamet...


If Mahamet was not The Battle of Alcazar itself, it might have been a different play about the same characters - perhaps a prequel or imitation focused more closely on the character of Muly Mahamet.

Alternatively, the play might have had nothing to do with any of this, and could have been about some other Mahamet.  Intriguingly enough, Henslowe's inventory of props includes an enigmatic reference to "old Mahamet's head", which implies the existence of an entirely unknown play in which an aged Mahamet comes to a sticky end.



FURTHER READING

 

Mahamet information

  • Roslyn L. Knutson and David McInnis, "Mahomet", Lost Plays Database (2014). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 812.


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

15 August, 1594 - Godfrey of Bouillon

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

Henslowe writes: ye 13 of aguste 1594 ... R at godfrey of bullen ... xxixs

In modern English: [15]th August, 1594 ... Received at Godfrey of Bouillon ... 29 shillings

The death of Godfrey of Bouillon.
From a thirteenth century
manuscript of William of 
Tyre's Histoire d'Outremer
Today, the company revived a play that Henslowe calls Godfrey of Bouillon. This was probably The Second Part of Godfrey of Bouillon, a lost sequel premiered about a month ago; you can read more about it in the entry for 19th July. Alternatively, it might have been the equally lost original play, sometimes identified by scholars with the mysterious Jerusalem, which you can read about in the entry for 22 March, 1592.

Either way, today's play would have dramatized some aspect of the eponymous medieval warrior's capture of the city of Jerusalem from the Turks. The Godfrey play(s) have been doing solid box office of late, and this is the first performance to be slightly below average.


FURTHER READING


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 14 August 2018

14 August, 1594 - Galiaso

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

Henslowe writes: ye 12 of aguste 1594 ... R at galliaso ... xviijs 

In modern English: [14th] August, 1594 ... Received at Galiaso ... 18 shillings


A Spanish galleass, one possible subject of this
play. From Ships Through the Ages by Frederick
Leonard King (1934)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived their lost play Galiaso. We do not know what this play was about, as its title could refer to many historical and fictional figures, or even to a kind of ship. You can read more about it in the entry for 28 June.

The players are continuing with their pattern of performing Galiaso once every week and a half. But despite being a fairly new play, its box office has now plummeted into the doldrums. The players must be very disappointed with it.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 13 August 2018

13 August, 1594 - Tasso's Melancholy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 11 of aguste 1594 ... ne ... R at tassoes mellencoley ... iijll iiijs 

In modern English: 13th August, 1594 ... New ... Received at Tasso's Melancholy ... £3 and 4 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a brand new play: Tasso's Melancholy. As is so often the case, this play is lost, but it must have depicted the mental torments of the Italian poet Torquato Tasso. There was quite a fashion in 1590s drama for protagonists who were mad (or at least pretending to be mad), so Tasso's Melancholy may have been an attempt at replicating the success of plays like The Spanish Tragedy, Orlando Furioso, the ur-Hamlet and Titus Andronicus. But what distinctive qualities might it have had?


Portrait of Tasso
by Jacopo Bassano (1566)
Tasso was still alive at this time; he would die in 1595. He was one of the most famous poets of his age, best known for his epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, about Godfrey of Bouillon's activities during the Crusades (this poem may have inspired elements of two Rose plays that we have already encountered, Jerusalem and Godfrey of Bouillon). The first English translation of Jerusalem Delivered appeared in this very year, so Tasso may have been of especial interest to playgoers in 1594.

And Tasso was indeed melancholic. The stories about him are a tangle of fact and fiction, but according to legend, he was driven mad for love of a noblewoman named Leonora, and his need to conceal his passions drove him to paranoia and violence. After attacking with a knife a servant he believed to have been spying on him, Tasso was kept in confinement by the Duke of Ferrara, but he escaped to his home town of Sorrento. Later, he returned to Ferrara, but his wild behaviour continued and he was locked in a cell in the Hospital of Santa Anna for years, where he continued to write poetry.

Tasso in the Madhouse by Eugene Delacroix (1839) 
In the succeeding centuries, Tasso's torments would be seen as a Romantic embodiment of the poetic spirit raging against restriction, and writers such as Lord Byron would make pilgrimages to his purported cell at Santa Anna. But back in 1594, many of the legends about Tasso's madness had not yet made it into print, so it's not clear what kind of story an English dramatist might have told about him.

The only clues are a couple of passages from contemporary poems. In an epigram that may date approximately to this period, the poet Sir John Harington describes Tasso making "one little fault" and being punished for it by a "most ungrateful Duke". Tasso is "shut up close prisoner in a loathsome vault" and the Duke orders his pen and ink taken away, but Tasso continues to write "excellent verse" using his own "piss and ordure".

In his catalogue of British Drama, Martin Wiggins draws attention to a passage in Daiphantus (1604), a poem by Anthony Scoloker, in which the love-crazed protagonist is compared with both Tasso and Hamlet; Wiggins wonders whether the passage might thus incorporate memories of seeing Tasso's Melancholy in performance. The madman is very wild indeed:
Now with his fingers, like a barber, snaps;
Plays with the fire-pan, as it were a lute;
Unties his shoe-strings, then his lips he laps;
Whistles awhile and thinks it is a flute;
At length, a glass presents it to his sight,
Where well he acts fond love in passions right.
A true mad poet, he even drinks his own ink:
Runs to his inkpot, drinks, then stops the hole,
And thus grows madder than he was at first.
Tasso, he finds, by that of Hamlet thinks:
Terms him a madman, then of his inkhorn drinks.
And he runs around in only his shirt:
Puts off his clothes, his shirt he only wears;
Much like mad Hamlet, thus a passion tears.
Perhaps in these fragments we can glimpse Edward Alleyn's performance as Tasso (along with Richard Burbage's as Hamlet).

Whatever the exact content of Tasso's Melancholy, we do know that today's premiere was a great success, performed to an almost full theatre.  

FURTHER READING


Tasso's Melancholy information

  • Sir John Harington, The Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington, ed. Norman Egbert McClure (University of Philadelphia Press, 1930), 201-2.
  • C.P. Brand, Torquato Tasso: A Study of the Poet and of his Contribution to English Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1965).
  • Kathleen M. Lea and T.M. Gang, eds., Godfrey of Bulloigne: A Critical Edition of Edward Fairfax's Translation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata Together with Fairfax's Original Poems (Clarendon Press, 1981).
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 963.
  • David Nicol, "Tasso's Melancholy", Lost Plays Database (2018). 


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 12 August 2018

12 August, 1594 - Belin Dun

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

Henslowe writes: ye 10 of aguste 1594 ... R at bellendon ...  xxxiij

In modern English: 12th August, 1594 ... Received at Belin Dun ... 33 shillings

A highwayman portrayed in Richard
Head's The English Rogue (1666)

Today, the Admiral's Men once again performed Belin Dun, their lost play about the notorious robber who terrorized the highways around Dunstable during the reign of King Henry I; you can read more about this play in the entry for 10 June.

The company has left Belin Dun rest for a week and a half before restaging it, and it is continuing to produce comfortably average box office. The play is becoming one of the reliable workhorses of the company, which must be a relief for the company after the disappointments of the normally reliable Marlowe plays last week.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 10 August 2018

10 August, 1594 - Cutlack

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

Henslowe writes: ye 8 of aguste 1594 ... R at cvttlacke ... xiijvjd

In modern English: 10th August, 1594 ... Received at Cutlack ... 13 shillings and sixpence

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

Interest in Cutlack has been fading for a while. The players last performed it a week and a half ago, but today's box office is truly awful, just like that of The Jew of Malta yesterday. The coincidence of two thinly-attended performances in a row, however, makes me wonder whether the culprit is actually a patch of bad weather rather than the plays being staged.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 11th August was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 12th August for a week that will include two new plays!

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 9 August 2018

9 August, 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 7 of aguste 1594 ... R at the Jewe of malta ... xvijvj

In modern English: 9th August, 1594 ... Received at The Jew of Malta ... 16 shillings and sixpence

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
First, let's note that Henslowe's dates have once again become garbled, and they will be out of sync by a couple of days for a long time.

Anyway, today the players once again performed 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.

How are the mighty fallen! The Jew of Malta has lost its crowd-pleasing reputation of late. The company has rushed it back to the stage only a few days after its last performance, but today's box office, representing a very small audience, is truly embarrassing for the once-mighty blockbuster. 


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

8 August, 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 8 of auguste 1594 ... R at the masacare... xxiijs vjd

In modern English: 8th August, 1594 ... Received at The Massacre ... 23 shillings and sixpence

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

The box office for The Massacre at Paris has been gradually slipping over the weeks. The players have again waited more than a week before reviving it, but interest is not picking up. Clearly, even mass death and evil Machiavels lose their appeal after a while.


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Tuesday, 7 August 2018

7 August, 1594 - Philippo and Hippolito

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

Henslowe writes: ye 7 of aguste 1594 ... R at phillipo & hewpolito ... xxixs

In modern English: 7th August, 1594 ... Received at Philippo and Hippolito ... 29 shillings

wo Young Men by Crispin van den Broeck, c.1590
Today, the company returned to Philippo and Hippolito, their enigmatic lost play about two men of that name. You can read more about this play in the entry for 9 July.

Surprisingly enough, the Admiral's Men have revived Philippo and Hippolito a mere five days after its previous performance. This is one of the few plays that they are performing with exceptional frequency.  As with Belin Dun, the other major play of this kind, it's hard to be sure why they are doing this, as the resulting box office is not notably better than that of other plays.

Henslowe links



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Monday, 6 August 2018

6 August, 1594 - Godfrey of Bouillon

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

Henslowe writes: ye 6 of aguste 1594 ... R at the seconde p of godfrey ... xxxvijs

In modern English: 6th August, 1594 ... Received at The Second Part of Godfrey ... 37 shillings

The death of Godfrey of Bouillon.
From a thirteenth century
manuscript of William of 
Tyre's Histoire d'Outremer
Today, the company revived The Second Part of Godfrey of Bouillon, a lost play that probably told of the aftermath of Godfrey's capture of Jerusalem from the Turks in the eleventh century.

The Admiral's Men premiered this play back on 19th July, and may have performed it again a week and a half ago (although it is possible that that performance was of the first part). Either way, today's show received healthy, if not much more than average, box office. It suggests a play following the normal process of a gradual decline in interest after its debut.


FURTHER READING


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 5 August 2018

5 August, 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 5 of aguste 1594 ... R at the Jewe of malta ... xxvijs

In modern English: 5th July, 1594 ... Received at The Jew of Malta ... 27 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
1607-8.
Today, the players once again performed 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.

As with its previous outing, this is the first performance of The Jew of Malta for a fortnight. And, as before, this decreased frequency of performance is not having the 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' effect on Marlowe's play; rather, there has been a small dip in profits instead. Has this once-infallible show finally started to become passé? 


Henslowe links



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