Monday, 31 December 2018

31 December, 1594 - Tamburlaine

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

Henslowe writes: ye 30 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at tamberlen ... xxijs 

In modern English: [31st] December, 1594 ... Received at Tamburlaine ... 22 shillings.


Illustration of the historical Tamburlaine
from Richard Knolles' General History

of the Turks (1603).
Today, on the last day of the year, the players performed Tamburlaine, Christopher Marlowe's spectacular epic about the bloodthirsty conqueror of Asia. You can read more about this play in the entry for 30th August.

Tamburlaine received a very disappointing box office today when compared with the big audiences that have been showing up for other plays of this Christmas season. The return of the conqueror has not been as big a success as the players might have predicted.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 30 December 2018

30 December, 1594 - The Wise Man of West Chester

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

Henslowe writes: ye 29 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at the wissman of weschester ... iijll ijs 

In modern English: [30th] December, 1594 ... Received at The Wise Man of West Chester ... £3 and 2 shillings.


A man, who might possibly be
wise, carved on the choir
stalls of Chester Cathedral
Today, the Admiral's Men returned The Wise Man of West Chester to the stage. This lost play appears to have been about a wizard in the English city of Chester; you can read more about it in the entry for 3 December.

This is an exciting day for the players! The Wise Man of West Chester, which had premiered on 3 December to a rather lacklustre box office, is today an enormous hit, with a large audience flooding to the Rose. The Christmas season has given this play a much-needed boost.



Henslowe links



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Friday, 28 December 2018

28 December, 1594 - Doctor Faustus and Greenwich Palace

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

Henslowe writes: ye 27 of desembȝ  1594 ... R at docter fostes ... lijs 

In modern English: [28th] December, 1594 ... Received at Dr Faustus ... 52 shillings

Faustus summoning Mephistopheles: from the
1616 text of the play 
Today was the Feast of Holy Innocents, a holiday honouring the infants murdered by King Herod. The Admiral's Men have opted to stage Christopher Marlowe's famous tragedy Dr Faustus, in which a scholar summons a demon and sells his soul to the devil. You can read more about this play in the entry for 2 October.

After a series of extremely disappointing performances, Dr Faustus and his demonic entourage have roared back onto the stage to an almost full Rose. The reason for this success is of course the Christmas season, as Londoners flock to the theatre for some festive necromantic tragedy. 

According to court records, the players also performed to Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich today. They'll do this two more times this Christmas, so I'll write more about these visits later.


What's next? 


There will be no blog entry tomorrow, because 29th December was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 30th and we'll see the rest of the Christmas season!


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 27 December 2018

27 December, 1594 - The Siege of London

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

Henslowe writes: ye 26 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at the sege of london ... iijll iijs 

In modern English: [27th] December, 1594 ... Received at The Siege of London ... £3 and 3 shillings.


Today, the Admiral's Men performed a play that we have not yet seen at the Rose. Sadly, The Siege of London is lost, and, although its title clearly indicates its subject matter, we do not know who was depicted besieging the city.

In the 1590s, London was still surrounded by impressive defensive walls, built to keep out invading armies. History records few actual sieges of the city, but there were at least two that could have made for good theatre, and do indeed appear in surviving plays from the same period.

The battle between Edmund Ironside and Canute, from the Chronica
Majora  of Matthew Paris (14th century)
In 1016, Canute, the Danish prince aspiring to be king of England, besieged London. This siege is dramatized in a scene of the anonymous play Edmund Ironside, in which Canute tells his soldiers, "Assault the city, batter down the walls, / Scale all the turrets, rush the gates asunder!" (III.ii). However, Edmund Ironside, leader of the English resistance, charges out with his own soldiers to repulse the Danes. It is possible that this scene may have been performed at the Rose a couple of years ago: Edmund Ironside may be the same play as the enigmatic Tanner of Denmark. The siege takes up only one scene, but perhaps today's play expanded on it - it's easy to imagine a patriotic audience enjoying such a story.

Thomas Neville's siege of London, from a
1391 French manuscript
The other siege took place during the Wars of the Roses in 1471, when  Lancastrian forces led by Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg, encircled the city and made several attempts to storm it, in the hope of rescuing King Henry VI from imprisonment in the Tower. He failed, though, and ended up with his head on a spike atop the bridge. These events appear at the beginning of Thomas Heywood's hard-to-date play King Edward IV, in which one of Neville's officers tells the men,

Look, lads: for from this hill ye may discern
The lovely town which we are marching to:
That same is London ye look upon ...
Look how the town doth 'tice us to come on
To take out Henry VI there prisoner;
See how St Katherine's smokes: wipe, slaves, your eyes,
And whet your stomachs for some good malt pies.

We can only guess which of these sieges was staged at the Rose today; no further clues are provided by its appearance in Henslowe's 1598 list of props owned by the theatre, which includes an enigmatic "wheel and frame in The Siege of London". But whatever the siege, it drew a huge crowd, almost filling the theatre. This happy success would have been due in part to the holiday period, as Londoners were able to attend the theatre in greater numbers.



FURTHER READING

 

Siege of London information

 

  • Michael Hicks, "Neville [Fauconberg], Thomas [called the Bastard of Fauconberg]", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 213.
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 862.

 

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 26 December 2018

26 December, 1594 - The Grecian Comedy

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

Henslowe writes: ye 25 of desembȝ 1594 S steven ... R at the greasyane comody ... xxxxvjs 

In modern English: [26th] December, 1594, St Stephen's ... Received at The Grecian Comedy ... 46 shillings

The Love of Helen and Paris
by Jacques-Louis David (1789)
Merry Christmas! Today is St Stephen's Day, which in Elizabethan times was regarded as the second day of Christmas (the equivalent of our Boxing Day). And today, the players at Henslowe's Rose returned to work!

The play they chose was The Grecian Comedy. We know nothing about this play beyond its title, although Henslowe sometimes calls it The Grecian Lady, which adds a tiny bit more information; you can read more about it in the entry for 5 October.

After the sparse audiences of the Advent period that we saw in the last few weeks, Christmas was a time of feasting and indulgence, so theatre was more popular at this time of year. You can see this in today's box office: The Grecian Comedy, normally a play that could barely attract a crowd has instead drawn an audience far above the average for the Rose. The actors must be delighted.


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 20 December 2018

20 December, 1594 - Doctor Faustus

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

Henslowe writes: ye 20 of desembȝ  1594 ... R at docter fostes ... xviijs 

In modern English: 20th December, 1594 ... Received at Dr Faustus ... 18 shillings

Faustus summoning Mephistopheles: from the
1616 text of the play 
Today, the Admiral's Men staged Christopher Marlowe's famous tragedy Dr Faustus, in which a scholar summons a demon and sells his soul to the devil. You can read more about this play in the entry for 2 October.

This has been a week of nothing but Marlowe at the Rose, although admittedly, the players have not been performing every day. Dr Faustus continues to disappoint though, lacking the boost that Tamburlaine received from the return of its sequel (a sequel to Faustus is less easy to imagine...)


What's next? 

There will be no blog entries for a few days - Henslowe's Diary suggests that the players took some time off, perhaps to relax before the busy Christmas season. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on Boxing Day for some festive frivolities. See you then!


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 19 December 2018

19 December, 1594 - The Second Part of Tamburlaine

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

Henslowe writes: ye 19 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at the 2 pte of tamberlen ... xxxxvjs

In modern English: 19th December, 1594 ... Received at The Second Part of Tamburlaine ... 46 shillings.

Today, the Admiral's Men have finally completed their project of returning Christopher Marlowe's two Tamburlaine plays to the Rose stage. These plays were iconic fixtures of the theatre of 1580s, and in August the Admiral's Men had revived the first one, giving Edward Alleyn the chance to revist a role that had made him famous. But for whatever reason, the company has taken a long time to restore the sequel to their repertory. Now, at last, they are able to tell the entire tale of Tamburlaine in two instalments. The Second Part of Tamburlaine is just as much an epic spectacle as the first, and must have been thrilling to behold, with its huge cast of characters and memorable setpieces.


The play


At the end of the first play, Tamburlaine had decided to "take truce with all the world". But in part two, he returns to his old mischief. His three commanders return from conquering half the known world in epic adventures that they recount to their ruler: Techelles and Usumcasane have swept North Africa and "unpeopled Barbary", subdued the southern coast of Spain, and marched all the way to Zanzibar, while Theridamas has conquered lands around the Black Sea. Tamburlaine now sets his designs on the rest of the world.

As so often in these plays, the weakness of his enemies aids Tamburlaine. In Hungary, the Turks and Hungarians are at war, and are unable to put aside their religious differences to form a united front against him, petty concerns that do not trouble the atheistical Tamburlaine. Meanwhile, in Turkey, Callapine, son of the Emperor Bajazeth whom Tamburlaine had deposed, escapes from prison and is installed emperor, whereupon he musters forces to attack Tamburlaine.

Timur on the march. From the
Zafarnamah of Sharaf al-Din Yazdi
Despite his triumphs, Tamburlaine is faced with reminders of his own mortality that make him angry. He burns the city of Larissa to the ground when his queen, Zenocrate, dies there. He tells his three sons that the strongest will be his heir, not the eldest, but neither of these boys can ever equal his superhuman prowess, and when the weakest, Calyphas, is found playing cards instead of riding into battle, Tamburlaine kills him.

But Tamburlaine's forces continue their successes. Tamburlaine captures three tributary kings of the Turkish empire and forces them with a whip to pull his chariot, as he utters the famous line "Holla, you pampered jades of Asia!" And he marches upon Babylon to commit fresh atrocities: shooting its governor as he hangs from chains off the city walls, seizing the concubines to give to his men, and drowning the citizens of the city in a lake. He decides,

I'll ride in golden armour like the sun,
And in my helm a triple plume shall spring,
Spangled with diamonds dancing in the air
To note me Emperor of the Threefold World. (IV.iii)
Hubris affects even Tamburlaine, though. He scorns all religions, and, in order to spite his Muslim victims, burns a copy of the Koran, challenging Muhammad to punish him. When nothing happens, Tamburlaine scoffs that the prophet is "not worthy to be worshipped" (V.i).

The mausoleum of Timur in Samarkand
But in a classic moment of Marlovian irony, it is the Muslim god (and not the Christian one), who defeats Tamburlaine. Shortly after the book-burning, the conqueror falls ill: "I feel myself distempered suddenly" he admits. Tamburlaine rapidly declines and dies. On his death bed, he laments the regions of the world that he had failed to conquer:

... from the Antarctic pole, eastward behold
As much more land, which never was descried,
Wherein are rocks of pearl that shine as bright
As all the lamps that beautify the sky;
And shall I die and this unconquered?
Eventually, he acknowledges that "Tamburlaine, the Scourge of God must die." His son Amyras inherits his crown and speaks the final lines:
Let heaven and earth his timeless death deplore,
For both their worths will equal him no more. (V.iii)

What we learn from this

 

Once again, we see an old Marlowe play roar back onto the stage and draw a large crowd, despite the otherwise pitiful box office at the Rose this week. We are thus reminded again of the importance of Marlowe to the Admiral's Men; in his book on the company, Tom Rutter points out that The Second Part of Tamburlaine is appearing amid one of several weeks this year in which the majority of plays performed are by Marlowe.

Still, we shouldn't be misled into thinking that the company relied on Marlowe for their bread and butter. In an important article, Holger Schott Syme has shown that despite the frequency with which Marlowe plays were performed, they did not actually make more money than other plays; indeed, as we've been seeing this year, they performed quite weakly, shrinking to below average audiences very rapidly. Marlowe seems to have been the spiritual and artistic backbone of the company rather than its financial one, and as will become apparent next year, other plays, less famous today, were in fact the most popular at the Rose.


FURTHER READING

 

The Second Part of Tamburlaine information


  • David Fuller, ed., "Introduction", in The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, Volume V (Clarendon Press, 1998), xvii-liii
  • Holger Schott Syme, "The Meaning of Success: Stories of 1594 and its Aftermath", Shakespeare Quarterly 61 (2010), 490-525
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 789.
  • Tom Rutter, Shakespeare and the Admiral's Men (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 21, 33-4.

 

Henslowe links



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Monday, 17 December 2018

17 December, 1594 - Tamburlaine

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

Henslowe writes: ye 17 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at tamberlen ... xxxjs 

In modern English: 17th December, 1594 ... Received at Tamburlaine ... 31 shillings.


Illustration of the historical Tamburlaine
from Richard Knolles' General History

of the Turks (1603).
Today, the players performed Tamburlaine, Christopher Marlowe's spectacular epic about the bloodthirsty conqueror of Asia. You can read more about this play in the entry for 30th August.

Tamburlaine did not receive a large audience when it was last performed, nearly three weeks ago, but today it did considerably better. One reason may be that the audience knew that the sequel would be appearing in this theatre very soon; perhaps they were treating today's performance as the 'previously on'.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because Henslowe records no performance on that date. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 19th with  whole lot more Tamburlaine. See you then!

Henslowe links



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Friday, 14 December 2018

14 December, 1594 - The Set at Maw

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

Henslowe writes: ye 14 of desembȝ 1594 ... ne ... R at the mawe ... xxxxiiijs 

In modern English:14th December, 1594 ... New ... Received at The Maw ... 44 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men performed a new play! Henslowe calls it The Maw, but in later entries he will refer to it as The Set at Maw. This is a clue to the play's subject matter, for Maw is a card game.

The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs by Georges de la Tour (1620s)
The game of Maw is an older version of a  game known today as Twenty-Five. But why would anyone write a play about a card game? Could the title refer only to the most memorable scene of a play about cardsharps and gamblers in general?

Or could it be that the play instead used the rules of Maw as the basis for a tale in which the characters are based on playing cards? In his catalogue of British drama, Martin Wiggins highlights some characteristics of Maw that could make for an entertaining plot. For example, in Maw, the knave can trump the king and queen. The Five of Trumps, meanwhile, is known as the 'Five Finger', and is the strongest card in the pack, defeating the knave. It is thus possible to imagine a play in which characters murdered and cheated one another in ways that were amusingly referential to Maw.

Whatever its nature, The Set at Maw received a very promising box office -  though small for a premiere, it is excellent for this particular time of year, when Londoners appear to be staying away from the theatre for religious reasons.


What's next?


There will be no blog entries for the next two days, as Henslowe records no performances on those dates. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 17 December for a week that will include the return of another Christopher Marlowe classic. See you then!


FURTHER READING


The Set at Maw information

 

  • David Parlett, "Maw: The Five-Fingered Gaelic Game", Historic Card Games (2018)
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 976.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 13 December 2018

13 December, 1594 - A Knack to Know an Honest Man

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

Henslowe writes: ye 13 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at the Knacke ... xijs

In modern English: 13th December, 1594 ... Received at The Knack ... 12 shillings

Two  Young Venetian Men (anon., 1515)
Today, the Admiral's Men revived A Knack to Know an Honest Man, their comical moral romance set in Venice. You can read more about this play in the entry for 23rd October.

The company last performed this play over two weeks ago. Its box office is not impressive today; as with all of the performances this week, the poor attendance is likely caused by the season of Advent discouraging Londoners from frivolities like theatre. Attending a moralistic play like A Knack to Know an Honest Man might serve only to make them feel more guilty...

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

12 December, 1594 - Warlamchester

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

Henslowe writes: ye 12 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at warlamchester ... xvs 

In modern English: 12th December, 1594 ... Received at Warlamchester ... 15 shillings

The martyrdom of St Alban, from a 13th century
manuscript by Matthew Paris
Today, the Admiral's Men performed again their lost play Warlamchester, which was probably about the martyrdom of St Alban during the Roman persecutions of Christians.You can read more about this play in the entry for 28 November.

The company last performed Warlamchester nearly two weeks ago. Today's performance is yet another marked drop in box office, in a week that has seen small audiences likely caused by the holy season of Advent. Even a play about a saint does not seem to have persuaded the punters to abandon their morals.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 11 December 2018

11 December, 1594 - Caesar and Pompey


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

Henslowe writes: ye 10 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at seser ... xijs 

In modern English: [11th] December, 1594 ... Received at Caesar ... 12 shillings


Detail from Caesar Contemplating
the Head of Pompey
by Tiepolo (1746)
Today, the Admiral's Men returned to Caesar and Pompey, their retelling of the civil war that erupted in Ancient Rome between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. You can read more about this play in the entry for 8th November.

The company has waited a week and a half to revive the still relatively new Caesar and Pompey. Like all other plays at the mment, it is being hit hard by the Advent downturn, and has not drawn much of a crowd.



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Monday, 10 December 2018

10 December, 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 9 of desembȝ  1594 ... R at the Jew ... iij 

In modern English: [10th] December, 1594 ... Received at The Jew ... 3 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.

It has been six weeks since the players last dragged out the sad and unloved Jew of Malta, which had once been the most popular play at the Rose but is now barely able to attract anyone at all to the playhouse. Today's box office is the lowest recorded for any play thus far in Henslowe's Diary, even worse than the previous record-holder, The Grecian Comedy, a few days ago.

It must have been embarrassing for the players to perform this former blockbuster to a few dozen people. It is no surprise then to learn that the company will cease performing it for a year following this outing. But The Jew of Malta cannot be kept down, and you can expect to see it return before the Diary is ended.


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Sunday, 9 December 2018

9 December, 1594 - Doctor Faustus

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

Henslowe writes: ye 8 of desembȝ  1594 ... R at docter fostus ... xvs 

In modern English: [9th] December, 1594 ... Received at Dr Faustus ... 15 shillings

Faustus summoning Mephistopheles: from the
1616 text of the play 
Today, the Admiral's Men staged Christopher Marlowe's famous tragedy Dr Faustus, in which a scholar summons a demon and sells his soul to the devil. You can read more about this play in the entry for 2 October.

The company has waited 3 weeks before performing Dr Faustus, in what is proving a rather disappointing return for the old warhorse. The small audiences of Advent are not helping matters either.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 7 December 2018

7 December, 1594 - The Wise Man of West Chester

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

Henslowe writes: ye 6 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at the wiseman of weschester ... xxxiiijs 

In modern English: [7th] December, 1594 ... Received at The Wise Man of West Chester ... 34 shillings.


A man, who might possibly be
wise, carved on the choir
stalls of Chester Cathedral
Today, the Admiral's Men returned The Wise Man of West Chester to the stage. This lost play appears to have been about a wizard in the English city of Chester; you can read more about it in the entry for 3 December.

The company premièred The Wise Man of West Chester only four days ago, and have swiftly brought it back for its second outing. It received one shilling more this time. The box office indicates a half-full theatre, but that's actually quite impressive during the current Advent season, in which Londoners seem to be staying away from the theatre.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 8 December was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 9 December for a week that will include a new play. See you then!

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 5 December 2018

5 December, 1594 - Mahamet

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

Henslowe writes: ye 4 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at mahemet ... xjs

In modern English: [5th] December, 1594 ... Received at Mahamet ... 11 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.

This is the first time in a month that the company has performed Mahamet. Box office takings during Advent continue to be lean, although this play is doing a little better than some others we've seen of late.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow; Henslowe's dates for this week are muddled, but the simplest explanation is that there was no performance on 6 December.  Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 7 December - see you then!

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Tuesday, 4 December 2018

4 December, 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 3 of desembȝ 1594 ... R at tasso ... vjs 

In modern English: [4th] December, 1594 ... Received at Tasso ... 6 shillings

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

The players are now entering a pattern of performing Tasso's Melancholy every three weeks. Today's box office is catastrophic, however; it's almost as bad as the record-breakingly sparse attendance at The Grecian Comedy two days ago. The period of Advent may be continuing to harm business.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

3 December, 1594 - The Wise Man of West Chester

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

Henslowe writes: ye 2 of desembȝ 1594 ... ne ... R at the wise man of chester ... xxxiijs 

In modern English: [3rd] December, 1594 ... New ... Received at The Wise Man of Chester ... 33 shillings.


View of Chester, by William Smith (1585)
Today, the Admiral's Men premièred a new play that is now sadly lost, but will become a major fixture of Henslowe's Diary. He records its title here as The Wise Man of Chester, but in later entries the setting will instead be called 'West Chester' (the two names are synonymous, both referring to the town of Chester in northern England).

Who was this wise man? That depends on whether the play really is lost. Some scholars believe that it survives under a different title, John a Kent and John a Cumber. In this play by Anthony Munday, which exists only in a single manuscript, two magicians (one Welsh, the other Scottish) compete for supremacy in Chester. So it is indeed a play about a wise man (well, actually two wise men) of Chester.

A man, who might possibly be
wise, carved on the choir
stalls of Chester Cathedral
But is it the same play? One piece of evidence, put forward by Andrew Gurr, is that the John a Kent and John a Cumber manuscript is in the handwriting of a professional scribe who worked a lot for the Admiral's Men. However, as Martin Wiggins points out, that scribe worked with other companies too, so it doesn't prove a lot.

The other evidence is that Henslowe's 1598 inventory of props includes "Kent's wooden leg", implying the existence of a character called Kent in one of the Admiral's Men's plays. However, no wooden leg is mentioned in  John a Kent and John a Cumber, so this too is very slender evidence.

This issue is further confused by an enigmatic date on the John a Kent manuscript, which could be read as 1590, 1595 or 1596. And although Munday did work for the Admiral's Men later, it's not known whether he did this early.

Given the almost non-existent evidence, I am not convinced that The Wise Man of West Chester was the same play as John a Kent and John a Cumber. It is quite possible that one was imitating the other by creating a rival Chester-based wizard play, perhaps about the same characters (we have already seen that there were two rivals plays about another wizard, Friar Bacon).

Whatever the play's subject, today's performance was very disappointing for a première. The theatre was only half full, so the promise of a northern sage appears to have been a turn-off. Watch this space though - things may get interesting later on...


FURTHER READING


The Wise Man of West Chester information


  • Roslyn L. Knutson, 'Play Identifications: The Wise Man of West Chester and John a Kent and John a Cumber; Longshanks and Edward I', in Huntington Library Quarterly 47 (1984), 1-11
  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 106, 212.
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Wise Man of West Chester, The", Lost Plays Database (2014). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entries 866 and 976.
  • Douglas H. Arrell, 'John a Kent, the Wise Man of Westchester', Early Theatre 17.1 (2014), 75-92.
  • Tom Rutter, Shakespeare and the Admiral's Men (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 77-9


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 2 December 2018

2 December, 1594 - The Grecian Comedy

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

Henslowe writes: ye j of desembȝ 1594 ... R at the gresyan comody ... iiijs 

In modern English: [2nd] December, 1594 ... Received at The Grecian Comedy ... 4 shillings

The Love of Helen and Paris
by Jacques-Louis David (1789)
Today, the company returned to The Grecian Comedy. We know nothing about this play beyond its title, although Henslowe sometimes calls it The Grecian Lady, which adds a tiny bit more information; you can read more about it in the entry for 5 October.

Wow! The Grecian Comedy just won the record for the lowest box office recorded in Henslowe's Diary so far! To draw an audience this small is almost unheard of.

The small audience may not be entirely due to the play itself, however. Yesterday was the beginning of Advent, a period traditionally associated with fasting before Christmas. Although theatre was obviously still permitted, it's likely that a lot of Londoners would have felt guilty about attending during this time.


Henslowe links



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