Monday, 29 February 2016

29 February, 1592 - Muly Molocco

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

Henslowe writes: R at mvlamvlluco the 29 of febrearye 1591 ... xxxiiijs 

In modern English: Received at Muly Molocco, 29th February, 1592 ... 34 shillings

Today, for the first time since Henslowe's records began, Lord Strange's Men returned to a play that they had already staged. They chose to stage Muly Molocco again, which they had last performed just over a week ago.

1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Muly Molocco was about Abd el-Malik's struggle for the throne of Morocco; you can read more about it in the blog entry for 21st February. The play had clearly increased in popularity, because Henslowe received 34 shillings this time, compared to 29 last time.

I wonder how many audience members were seeing Muly Molocco for the first time, based on word of mouth, and how many were seeing it again because they loved it? Questions like these are impossible to answer, but, as someone who has seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens four times, I cannot help but wonder whether Elizabethan audiences took similar pleasure in repetition...

That's all I have to say. Short posts like this one will appear with increasing frequency from now on, as Lord Strange's Men begin to cycle through the plays in their repertory. But not yet! There will be plenty more new plays to learn about this week, so stay tuned!

Henslowe links


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

Sunday, 28 February 2016

28 February, 1592 - Cloris and Ergasto

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

Henslowe writes: R at clorys & orgasto the 28 febreary 1591 ... xviijs

In modern English: Received at Cloris and Ergasto, 28th February, 1592 ... 18 shillings.

Cloris and Ergasto is another lost play. And it is the first play in Henslowe's list of performances about which we know almost nothing.

Pastoral Concert by Titian or Giorgione, 1509
In his catalogue of British drama, Martin Wiggins observes that the names Cloris and Ergasto both appear in pastoral literature (a genre set in a utopian vision of the countryside), but never appear together. We can speculate, therefore, that this play was some kind of romantic tale involving shepherds. But beyond that, Cloris and Ergasto is a complete mystery.

The genre of pastoral is quite different from the other plays we've seen Lord Strange's Men perform, which have tended to revolve around violent adventures and tragedy. Perhaps Cloris and Ergasto is a sign that the company had a wider range.

I'm sorry that I can't say any more than this. To make up for it, here is a happy video of a shepherd and his sheep:


Cloris and Ergasto information

  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 878.

Henslowe links


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

Friday, 26 February 2016

26 February, 1592 - The Jew of Malta

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at the Jewe of malltuse the 26 of febrearye 1591 ... ls 

In modern English: Received at The Jew of Malta, 26th February 1592 ... 50 shillings

Finally, we are looking at a play that has stood the rest of time! Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is still occasionally performed today, so it's fun to begin with a trailer for the (now closed) RSC production of 2015, which starred Jasper Britton and was directed by Justin Audibert. It's a useful introduction to the play, although I would disagree with the interviewed audience member who labels it "Wolf Hall with knobs on"; it really isn't.

The Jew of Malta was clearly a crowd-pleaser at the Globe in 1592: it made 50 shillings today, almost twice what Harry of Cornwall made yesterday, and way more than some of those plays earlier in the week which only made 15 or so shillings. No doubt this was due in part to Edward Alleyn's performance as the enjoyably villainous Barabas. But the play isn't just fun - it's a comic tragedy with a sophisticated and subversive attitude toward its subject matter.

The play

Describing the plot of The Jew of Malta does not fully capture what makes the play so remarkable, but here goes. (If you prefer, you could watch the director of the RSC production describe the play).

The play opens with an prologue spoken by the ghost of Niccolò Machiavelli, who boasts that his cunning followers are taking over the world, and sneers, "I count religion but a childish toy, / And hold there is no sin but ignorance".

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
The island of Malta is ruled by the Catholic Knights of Malta, led by Governor Ferneze. They confiscate the money of the island's Jews in order to pay a tribute to the threatening Turks. When one of the Jews, Barabas, objects, they confiscate all of his money and turn his house into a nunnery. Barabas's daughter, Abigail, fakes conversion to become a nun and find a stash of jewels hidden in the house. Meanwhile, Ferneze acquires Spanish military support and thus decides not to pay the Turks their tribute - and yet he also refuses to return the Jews' money. This fires Barabas with the desire for revenge. He buys a slave, Ithamore, who revels in villainy as much as he. And together they devise a series of outrageously cunning plots which result in Ferneze's son Lodowick and his friend duelling and killing one another; the entire nunnery being killed with poisoned porridge; and one monk strangled while another is framed for his murder.

By this point, you may find this plot summary disturbing, as the money-obsessed, sadistic Jewish villain sounds like the most noxious kind of anti-Semitic caricature. And on one level, the play does indeed originate in the stereotypical images that abounded in Elizabethan London. But what makes it more sophisticated than that - and thus still performable today - is that Barabas is no less evil and avaricious than the Christian rulers of Malta or the Muslim Turks, who are equally Machiavellian. As a result, the play instead comes across as a satire on hypocrisy in all religions, and on the human ability to use religion to justify crimes, rather than singling out one religion for special hatred. The 2015 RSC production was amazingly well-judged in the way it deftly navigated the religious, racial and political minefield that the play opens up (take a look at Peter Kirwan's review for a vivid description).

Edmund Kean as Barabas in 1818
The other thing that a plot summary can't capture is the wicked comedy that fills the play, despite its hideous events. The audience loves Barabas, as he repeatedly speaks directly to them in a conspiratorial manner, inviting them to be complicit in his crazy plans. He has deliciously nasty lines, such as "How sweet the bells ring now the nuns are dead!", and performs a gloriously sadistic speech about his violent hobbies:

As for myself, I walk abroad o'nights,
And kill sick people groaning under walls;
Sometimes I go about and poison wells.
[...] Being young, I studied physic, and began
To practice first on the Italian;
There I enriched the priest with burials
And always kept the sexton's arms in ure
With digging graves and ringing dead men's knells...

Having placed the audience on Barabas's side, Marlowe then presents us with his tragic (but still funny) doom. Barabas loses his daughter, who had loved the murdered Lodowick; she rejects her father by joining the nuns for real, only to die by his poisoned porridge. As Barabas progresses with increasingly devious plots, he is ultimately outwitted: he makes a deal with Ferneze to kill the leader of the invading Turks, but the governor is fooling him and it is Barabas who plunges into a boiling cauldron while the Christians and Muslims negotiate a wary peace.

The play's satirical tone, which emphasizes the way religion is used by all of  the characters in a self-serving manner, means that the play's final lines, spoken by Governor Ferneze, are filled with irony:
So march away, and let due praise be given
Neither to Fate nor Fortune, but to Heaven.

If you would like to read The Jew of Malta, there are plenty of modern-spelling editions available in print.

Looking towards Valletta - Malta

What we learn from this

It's interesting to take a famous play like the The Jew of Malta, which we would normally think of as a work of art on its own terms, and see it instead as just one part of the repertory of Lord Strange's Men at the Rose.

In that context, it has a lot in common with the other plays we've seen so far. In particular, religious conflicts in the Mediterranean have been present, even if only as a backdrop, in John of Bordeaux, Muly MoloccoOrlando Furioso, and Sir John Mandeville, so that The Jew of Malta's setting and subject matter are not surprising. And the play is therefore an important reminder that the Rose productions were not always straightforward fun. In my descriptions of the plays I've tended to emphasize the spectacle, the patriotism, and the simple entertainment value. But The Jew of Malta is a brilliant and intelligent satire that was nonetheless extremely popular with its audience, so perhaps we should not automatically assume any of these plays to have produced merely straightforward responses.

What's next?

There will be no post tomorrow, because 27 February 1592 was a Sunday and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary will thus return on 28 February!


Jew of Malta information

  • Roma Gill, intro. to The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, Volume IV: The Jew of Malta (Clarendon Press, 1995)
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 828.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 85-8.

Henslowe links


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

Thursday, 25 February 2016

25 February, 1592 - Harry of Cornwall

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

Henslowe writes: R at harey of cornwell the 25 of febreary 1591 ... xxxijs

In modern English: Received at Harry of Cornwall, 25th February 1592 ... 32 shillings.
(You may be wondering why Henslowe records the year as 1591, not 1592. It's because he's using the old style of dating in which the year begins on 25th March.)

The Assassination of Henry of Germany,
by Gustav Doré (1875)
Today's play, Harry of Cornwall, provided Henslowe with his most impressive box office so far: it made more than twice as much as Sir John Mandeville did yesterday. Unfortunately, it is another lost play that we can only reconstruct via guesswork.

The titular character was presumably Henry of Cornwall, better known as Henry of Almain or Henry of Germany (1235-1271). If so, this play would have been a tale of betrayal and revenge. Henry dithered over whether or not to support Simon de Montfort in his rebellion against King Henry III, and eventually abandoned him. De Montfort was subsequently defeated at the Battle of Evesham. Henry joined the Crusades. Later, he ended up in Italy, where he encountered de Montfort's sons, Guy and Simon, in the church of San Silvestro at Viterbo; there, they stabbed him, dragged him from the church and murdered him, while a bystander shouted "Remember Evesham!"  For this shocking crime in a holy place, Guy was excommunicated. After various escapades, he died in a Sicilian prison.

Sinners submerged
in boiling blood; detail
from an illustration
of Inferno XII
by Gustav Doré (1861)
Henry's murder may seem a footnote in history, but his death in a church was enough of a scandal for Dante to place Guy de Montfort in the seventh circle of the Inferno, where we find him sunk up to his throat in boiling blood. The Italians apparently believed that Henry's heart had been placed in a golden cup on London Bridge, where it still dripped blood into the Thames because Henry had not been avenged. So Virgil tells Dante,
There stands the one who, in God's keep, murdered
The heart still dripping blood above the Thames. (XII.119-20).

I wonder what the author of Harry of Cornwall did with this material. Was the tragic hero Henry, the indecisive murder victim? Or Guy, the hot-headed revenger? The latter does sound more like an Edward Alleyn role, so perhaps the play's protagonist was Guy, despite the title?


Harry of Cornwall information

  • Dante's Inferno: The Indiana Critical Edition, trans. Mark Musa (Indiana University Press, 1995)
  • Nicholas Vincent, ‘Henry of Almain (1235–1271)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009) 
  • J.R. Maddicott, ‘Montfort, Guy de (1244-1291/2)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009) 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 905.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 135-8.

Henslowe links


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

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

24 February, 1592 - Sir John Mandeville

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at syr John mandevell the 24 of febreary ... xijs vjd

In modern English: Received at Sir John Mandeville, 24th February ... 12 shillings and sixpence.
Today's play is the first we have encountered for which no text survives at all: it is a truly lost play and is known only from the title that appears in Henslowe's Diary.

We can guess about its content, though. Sir John Mandeville was the medieval author of the Travels, a fantastical account of his supposed journeys around the world. Mandeville describes such places as Egypt, the Holy Land, the Caucasus, the lands of the Tartars and of the Amazons, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and China. He attributes unlikely qualities to these places: for example, he claims that the Andaman Islands are inhabited by such classic medieval monsters as cyclopes, headless men with eyes in their shoulders, pygmies who can eat only though a straw, people whose ears hang down to their feet, monopods (people with one giant foot), and, my personal favourite, an island where people will die if they are unable to smell apples.

This is all extremely entertaining, but it's hard to imagine the Travels being adapted into a play, since there's no real story, just a series of descriptions. A scholarly consensus has thus emerged that the play was more likely an adaptation of a tale about Mandeville in William Warner's Albion's England (1589). In this tale, Sir John wins the love of the noblewoman Eleanor while jousting in the guise of a Green Knight, but, knowing that beneath the disguise he is socially inferior to her, he leaves to aid the Sultan of Egypt in fighting the Arabs. Back in England, Sir John's friend Stafford finds his green armour, and helps Eleanor realize that Sir John is the object of her love. They travel to Rome, where he now resides, and, despite a series of mishaps involving masks and rings, Eleanor is eventually able to reunite with Sir John and marriage ensues. If you would like to read William Warner's tale of Mandeville and Eleanor, you may do so via this facsimile of the 1602 edition.

Mandevillian monsters from
the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
I suppose a play based on Warner would certainly have fitted well with the repertory of Lord Strange's Men: the medieval setting, chivalry, Middle Eastern wars, and romance are all echoed in plays we have already seen. Still, I have to admit to some disappointment: Warner's tale is a very generic courtly romance narrative and doesn't fire the imagination. I would prefer to believe that Sir John Mandeville was an epic travel play featuring monopods, headless men and an entire army of apple-smellers. I think that would be the best play ever, although I do acknowledge that I am shallow.

Incidentally, it was sad to hear of the passing of Umberto Eco this week, and I would thus like to give a nod to his novel Baudolino, a very enjoyable riff on Sir John Mandeville and all he stood for.


Sir John Mandeville information

  • John Mandeville, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, trans. C.W.R.D. Moseley (Penguin, 1983)
  • David McInnis,"Sir John Mandeville", Lost Plays Database (2009) [accessed 9 February 2016]. 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 911.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 133-5

Henslowe links


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

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

23 February 1592 - The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at spanes comodye don oracoe the 23 of febreary ... xiijs vjd

In modern English: Received at Spanish Comedy Don Horatio, 23rd February ... 13 shillings and sixpence.

Today, Lord Strange's Men performed a play whose title could be interpreted as The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio. So, who was Don Horatio and why was he in a comedy? Well, this is a very complicated story, but I'll try to explain it as simply as I can. Take a deep breath.

Hieronimo discovers the hanging corpse
of his son Horatio in The Spanish Tragedy.
Detail from a woodcut on the title page
of the 1615 text.
1. There is a play called The Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd around 1589. It was extremely popular and arguably invented English Renaissance tragedy as we know it. Among its characters are Horatio (a young man who is murdered) and Hieronimo (his father, who goes mad and then exacts revenge on the murderers).

2. You'll see a play called Hieronimo appear several times in Henslowe's Diary in the future. Most scholars assume that this is an alternative title for The Spanish Tragedy, which became known by the name of its famous protagonist.

3. Since the title The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio contains the name of a character in The Spanish Tragedy, and since there's an obvious parallelism between 'Spanish Comedy' and 'Spanish Tragedy', most scholars suspect that this was a play about the events leading up to those of the Spanish Tragedy. There is debate about whether the comedy was written first, or whether the two plays were always a two-parter, or whether the Comedy was a 'prequel' written to capitalize on the Tragedy's success.

4. Henslowe's Diary will later record a play called The Comedy of Hieronimo. Most scholars assume that this was an alternate title for The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio; perhaps Edward Alleyn's performance as Hieronimo caused a shift of emphasis in Henslowe's mind?

Don Horatio being performed the day before Hieronimo
in Henslowe's Diary.
5. Supporting the connection with The Spanish Tragedy, Henslowe's Diary sometimes shows the comedy being performed the day before Hieronimo, as if they were a two-part play.

6. So, to summarize so far: there is a surviving play called The Spanish Tragedy (a.k.a. Hieronimo) and there was a lost play about events preceding it called The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio (a.k.a. The Comedy of Hieronimo).

The First Part of Hieronimo,
published 1605.
7. Did I say the Comedy was lost? Not so fast! There is in fact a surviving prequel to The Spanish Tragedy. It was printed in 1605 under the title The First Part of Hieronimo. It tells a story that sets up (albeit imperfectly) the events of the tragedy, and in it Horatio is heroic in battle. It seems to have been written after the 1590s. But perhaps it is some kind of reworking of The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio?

8. Lukas Erne has recently proposed something more complicated: he thinks The First Part of Hieronimo is a reworking of the old play for a children's theatre, in which the war plot of the hypothetical Spanish Comedy is combined with a new love intrigue performed in burlesque style. Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean are convinced by Erne's theory. Martin Wiggins thinks the evidence is not conclusive, though.

9. Blimey. I'm exhausted. I'm going to have a cup of tea.

So, in short, The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio was probably a play about the events preceding  The Spanish Tragedy and it may or may not be lost. There are a ton of scholarly surmises, with lots of ifs and maybes behind that statement. And there are complications that I'm not even mentioning here. So I'm not going to venture any kind of opinion.

However, in order to make things more interesting for you, let's imagine that today's play was The First Part of Hieronimo, or at least something vaguely similar to it.  

 If the play was something like The First Part of Hieronimo...

This play begins by introducing Hieronimo and his intense pride in his young son Horatio. Meanwhile, the evil Don Lorenzo (who will order the murder of Horatio in the Tragedy) is jealous of Don Andrea (who will be an angry ghost in the Tragedy), who is going to Portugal as ambassador. Since Andrea loves Lorenzo's sister, Bel-Imperia (who will love Horatio in the Tragedy), Lorenzo concocts devious plots to ruin their love, or, if that doesn't work, have Andrea killed on his return. But Hieronimo and Horatio overhear his plotting, and manage to foil Lorenzo's plans.

War then breaks out between Spain and Portugal, and heroism ensues: among other things, Horatio rescues Andrea; Andrea tries to kill Balthazar the Portuguese heir, but is himself killed when Bathazar's soldiers rescue him; Horatio then kills Balthazar but Lorenzo  dishonestly seizes their slain foe's weapons as his prize. Throughout the battle, Hieronimo marvels at his son's warlike prowess. At the end of the play, the characters are thus in position to begin The Spanish Tragedy.

The play ends with the funeral of Andrea, which is attended by Andrea's own ghost and a figure representing Revenge; this prefigures the opening of The Spanish Tragedy, which opens with Andrea's ghost recalling his death and joining with Revenge to watch his vengeance play out. The last lines are a rather lame couplet from a general:
The day is ours and joy yields happy treasure;
Set on to Spain in most triumphant measure.
I suppose if you know what happens in the next play, these lines at least generate some dramatic irony.

If you would like to read The First Part of Hieronimo, the only modern-spelling text was published by Regents Renaissance Drama in 1967, edited by Andrew Cairncross; it bears the suitably convoluted title [The Spanish Comedy, or] The First Part of Hieronimo, and The Spanish Tragedy [or Hieronimo is Mad Again].

What we learn from this

Let's be blunt. The First Part of Hieronimo is a deeply unnecessary play. It might be fun in its own right, but it will affect your reading of The Spanish Tragedy about as much as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will affect your experience of Raiders of the Lost Ark (i.e. not a whit). Maybe The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio was more interesting, but we'll never know.

Still, we have learned something: Elizabethan audiences really liked The Spanish Tragedy and wanted more! Kyd's tale of the grieving father and his madness for revenge was a long-lived fixture of the stage and spawned numerous offshoots and imitations. Its most famous lines were quoted endlessly in later works (look at Emma Smith's edition, cited below, for loads of examples). And it's no secret that Shakespeare's Hamlet takes inspiration from Kyd's play. I'll have more to say about The Spanish Tragedy itself when it appears in Henslowe's diary later, so stay tuned...


Information on The Spanish Comedy and The First Part of Hieronimo 

  • Andrew Cairncross, ed.  '[The Spanish Comedy, or] The First Part of Hieronimo, and The Spanish Tragedy [or Hieronimo is Mad Again] (Edward Arnold, 1967)
  • Emma Smith, ed. Thomas Kyd: The Spanish Tragedie, wih Anonymous: The First Part of Jeronimo (Penguin, 1998)
  • Lukas Erne, Beyond the Spanish Tragedy: A Study of the Works of Thomas Kyd (Manchester University Press, 2001)
  •  Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642, vols. 3 and 4 (Oxford University Press, 2013-14), entries 909 and 1270
  • Sally-Beth Maclean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 81-5

Henslowe links


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

Monday, 22 February 2016

22 February 1592 - Orlando Furioso

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at orlando the 21 of febreary ... xvjs vjd

In modern English: Received at Orlando the [22nd] of February, 16 shillings and sixpence
Yes, Henslowe wrote the date wrong again today; by 21st he probably meant meant the 22nd. Don't worry, he gets back on track tomorrow...

Anyway, on this day 424 years ago, the audience at the Rose saw Robert Greene's play The History of Orlando Furioso, One of the Twelve Peers of France. This is the only performance of Orlando that Henslowe will record in his diary; it may have been an old play that was being phased out because it was no longer profitable.

Sir John Harington's 1591 translation
of Ariosto

The play survives as a printed text published in 1594. It is a very loose adaptation of Orlando Furioso, the epic Italian poem by Ludovico Ariosto, which tells stories associated with the legendary hero Orlando (who originates in French literature as Roland, hero of the Chanson de Roland). Orlando is a knight during Charlemagne's wars with the Moors of Spain and Ariosto spins fabulous tales about his adventures. There is a famous 1591 English translation of Ariosto's poem by Sir John Harington, but scholars debate whether or not Greene used it.

The play also survives in a much rarer form. Edward Alleyn's 'part' for the role of Orlando is miraculously preserved at the Dulwich College archives. An actor's 'part' was the scroll on which was written the lines of his character, with cues indicated; from this scroll, the actor learned his lines. No other such parts have survived from the Elizabethan theatre, so this document is extremely valuable to theatre historians. You can read more about the part here, and can explore an online facsimile here.

The story

Angelica and Medor writing love
poetry on trees (by Jacques
Blanchard, 1630s). In
Ariosto's poem, this really
happens; in Greene's play,
Orlando is tricked into 
believing it has happened.
Greene's Orlando Furioso is a tale of love, madness and revenge. Orlando has arrived in an far-off land (a vague mish-mash of Africa and India), where he is attempting, alongside various exotic kings, to win the hand of the beautiful princess Angelica. She chooses Orlando and all seems well. But a jealous rival hangs love poems on trees in order to fool Orlando into believing that Angelica loves the peasant Medor. Orlando is consumed with jealousy and later comes to believe that Angelica and Medor are dead. He goes insane and tries to follow the pair to Hell in order to get revenge, recruiting an army of comic yokels to aid him.

Various comic and violent adventures ensue as the mad Orlando kills a rival and beats up a clown disguised as Angelica. Eventually, Orlando's madness is cured by a witch, and he learns that Angelica is innocent and alive. Due to the slanders on her name, Angelica is being tried for adultery by the Twelve Peers of France, but Orlando saves the day by fighting as her champion in disguise, and he and Angelica are reunited. And so, in the play's final lines, Orlando announces to the French lords that they will all return to France:

Thus, lordings, when our banquetings be done,
And Orlando espousèd to Angelica,
We'll furrow through the moving ocean,
And cheerly frolic with great Charlemagne.

Greene seems to have liked a good frolic at the end of a play; you may recall King Henry encouraging the crowned heads of Europe to frolic at the end of his Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.

If you would like to read Orlando Furioso, here is an online transcript of Alexander Dyce's 1861 edition. No modern printed editions exist, but there are some old ones available, such as the one in J. Churton Collins' Plays and Poems of Robert Greene (1905).

What we learn from this

Orlando Furioso is almost an amalgam of everything we've seen at the Rose so far. It has the violent battles and the exoticism that we saw in Muly Molocco, combined with the comical and magical spectacle that we saw in Friar Bacon. Perhaps it is the ultimate Rose play?

We're also starting to recognize the typical roles played by Edward Alleyn, the leading actor of Lord Strange's Men. The role of Orlando requires an actor who is larger-than-life and physically powerful while also romantic, and who is able to shift through different psychological states (distinguishing the brave warrior at the beginning of the play from the deranged revenger that he becomes). Alleyn was clearly an actor of many talents and must have been an astonishing stage presence in this role. What will he play tomorrow? Wait and see...

By the way, if you experienced déjà vu when you read about love poems being hung on trees to fool Orlando, it may be because of Shakespeare's As You Like It, in which a lover named Orlando defaces trees with his poetry (watch the young Laurence Oliver doing so in the 1936 film below). This is presumably Shakespeare's little joke, and it's a reminder that Orlando Furioso, though forgotten in our own time, was a familiar part of the theatrical world that Shakespeare and his audience lived and breathed.


Orlando Furioso information

Henslowe links


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

Sunday, 21 February 2016

21 February, 1592 - Muly Molocco

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at mvolmvrco the 20 of febreary ... xxixs

In modern English: Received at Muly Molocco the [21st] of February, 29 shillings
Although Henslowe wrote 20 February, this is likely a mistake since there was a law against performing on Sundays; he presumably meant to write the 21st.

So, today, Lord Strange's Men performed a play called Muly Molocco. Now, I know what you're thinking - how does anyone get "Muly Molocco" from "mvolmvrco"? The answer is that Henslowe will list the same play many more times in the coming months, and will spell it many other ways, including "mvlo mvllocco", "mvlomvlucko" and "mvlemvloco". Henslowe's crazy spelling is one of the unsung glories of English literature; there was no standardized spelling in Elizabethan times, but even so, his exceptionally bizarre ways of writing even the simplest word are endlessly astonishing.

"Muly" (or "Mulai") was a title for members of the nobility of Barbary (modern Morocco). "Muly Molocco" refers to the historical figure of Abd el-Malik, a sixteenth century prince of the Barbary royal family who was wrongly skipped over in the succession to the throne, and who returned from banishment with a Turkish army to reclaim his crown.

No play called Muly Molocco survives today, so the one performed by Lord Strange's Men may, like so many Elizabethan plays, simply never have been printed. However, some scholars think the play  survives under a different title, because George Peele's The Battle of Alcazar features Abd el-Malik as a character, and occasionally refers to him as Muly Molocco.

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. Abd el-Malik is played by Massimo Ghini.


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 Muly Molocco...

Muly Molocco may have been a new play intended to capitalize on the popularity of The Battle of Alcazar. If so, it presumably told a similar story but perhaps focused more on the character of Abd el-Malik. For example, it may have been a prequel, showing his banishment and his return.

What we learn from this

The subject matter of today's play has little in common with yesterday's, except for one connection: you may recall that John of Bordeaux was set during a war with the Turks, and Muslim armies are even more the focus in this play. However, here the Moroccan Moors are not simply generic enemies; the audience is encouraged to sympathise with Abdelmelec against the cruel Muly Mahamet and the European Catholics who support him.

We also learn from The Battle of Alcazar that audiences liked exotic spectacle, onstage battles, and grand speeches by ambitious characters. The following stage directions (which I've adjusted for clarity) capture the visual and auditory excitement of the play:
The trumpets sound, the chambers are discharged [i.e. the cannons are fired]. Then enter at one door the Portuguese army with drum and colours: King Sebastian, Christophero de Tavora, the Duke of Avero, Stukeley [...]. At another door the Governor of Tangier and two Captains. From behind the curtains to them Muly Mahamet and his wife Calipolis in their chariot with Moors, one on each side, attending Young Mahamet. (Scene 3.4)
Imagine all the colourful and gloriously different costumes of these warriors of multiple nationalities. And imagine the excitement of onstage battles with cannons booming:
Alarums within; let the chambers be discharged, then enter soldiers to the battle and let the Moors fly. Skirmish still, then enter Abdelmelec in his chair. (5.1)
And the play is full of soaring speeches from the various participants in the battle, speeches designed for actors with powerful lungs:
Ride, Nemesis, ride, in thy fiery cart,
And sprinkle gore among these men of war,
That either party eager of revenge
May honour thee with sacrifice of death;
And having bathed thy chariot wheels in blood,
Descend and take to thy tormenting hell
The mangled body of that traitor king
That scorns the power and force of Portugal! (4.2)
Speeches like this are full of the "high astounding terms" that Christopher Marlowe admired in his play Tamburlaine, and it was Tamburlaine that inspired this genre of exotic and spectacular battle plays; we'll see more of them in the near future.


Muly Molocco and Battle of Alcazar information

  • Charles Edelman (ed.), The Stukeley Plays (Manchester University Press, 2005)
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Muly Molocco", Lost Plays Database (2011). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vols. 2 and 3 (Oxford University Press, 2012-13), entries 811 and 918.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 75-8.

Henslowe links


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

Friday, 19 February 2016

19 February, 1592 - Friar Bacon

Welcome to the first post in a day-by-day journey through the life of an Elizabethan theatre! In this blog, I'll be using the records preserved in Philip Henslowe's diary to post daily information on the plays performed at the Rose playhouse, 424 years ago. The aim is for you to experience a little of how it felt to be a playgoer or actor in Shakespeare's London by glimpsing the daily parade of plays performed at just one theatre. You can read more about the project here.

This blog is founded on a list of box office takings from the Rose playhouse, written by its owner, the businessman Philip Henslowe. His list begins on this very day, 19 February, in 1592. So, let's see what was performed at the Rose that day:

Henslowe writes: R at fryer bacvne the 19 febrary satterdaye ... xvijs iijd

In modern English: Received at Friar Bacon, 19th February (Saturday) ... 17 shillings and threepence.

Once we translate Henslowe's arcane spelling, we can see that on this day in 1592, the audience at the Rose was entertained with a play about Friar Bacon, a fantastical version of the real-life medieval scholar Roger Bacon, who was often portrayed as a wizard in popular culture.

Today's post will be more long-winded than most, because two plays about Friar Bacon have survived from the Elizabethan theatre and we don't know which was performed at the Rose on this day. Was it Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay or was it John of Bordeaux? I'll have to tell you about both...

If the play was Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay...

Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay portrays Bacon as an academic experimenting with magic. Bacon repeatedly demonstrates his skills by bamboozling sceptics and out-performing rival magicians, who include the eponymous Friar Bungay and a German named Vandermast. This results in a great deal of onstage spectacle, including a a magic mirror that can show far-off events, and the summoning of Hercules to pull down a golden tree. A romantic subplot tells of Bacon assisting Prince Edward in his wooing of a country girl named Margaret, but Edward eventually marries Eleanor of Castile.

From the title page of a prose tale of Friar Bacon, 1629,
which was re-used for the 1630 edition of the play.
In the play's most famous scene (depicted in the illustration on the right), Bacon makes a bronze head, which he hopes will give lectures in philosophy. He stays up all night but the head says nothing, so the sleepy Bacon orders his comic servant, Miles, to wake him if it speaks. Miles watches the head, which suddenly utters mysterious words ("Time is ... Time Was ... Time is Past"), but Miles doesn't wake Bacon in time, and the head self-destructs. The angry Bacon summons a demon who carries Miles to Hell on his back, with the fabulous stage direction "Exeunt, roaring".

The play ends with Bacon renouncing magic after two men die as a result of what they see in his magic mirror. Bacon's final act is to predict England's future: war followed by peace.The last lines of the play are spoken by King Henry III, who tells the King of Castile and the Emperor of Germany,
You shall have welcome, mighty potentates.
It rests to* furnish up this royal feast:
Only your hearts be frolic, for the time
Craves that we taste of naught but jouissance.
Thus glories England over all the West!
 *i.e. All that is left is for us to
Why am I quoting the last lines? I'll do this for all of the plays I describe, because their closing lines offer a glimpse of the imagery that would have rung in the audience's ears as they left the theatre. Here, as you can see, the climactic tone is one of joyous patriotism in the aftermath of Bacon's prophecy.

If you would like to read Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, there is an online, old-spelling edition produced by the Queen's Men Editions. For a more reader-friendly experience, track down the modern-spelling annotated editions published in the 1960s by New Mermaids or by Regents Renaissance Drama; alternatively, you can find it in anthologies such as English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology (2002).

It is even possible to watch a recording of the play in performance. In 2006, a team of scholars, actors, and directors created an experimental production of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay that attempts to reproduce as closely as possible some Elizabethan performance practices. The videos can be found at the Performing the Queen's Men website; here is a direct link to Friar Bacon, but the videos are password-protected, so you must first obtain the password by contacting the webmasters.

If the play was  John of Bordeaux...

This play is a sequel to Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. It is of unknown authorship and survives only in a manuscript now held at Alnwick Castle.The manuscript is untitled; most scholars call it John of Bordeaux, but others call it The Second Part of Friar Bacon or Friar Bacon and John of Bordeaux

In the play, Friar Bacon has returned to his study of magic, and gets involved with battles around the Italian city of Ravenna, which is being beseiged by the Turks and defended by the stalwart Sir John of Bordeaux. But Bacon's old enemy, the German magician Vandermast, is trying to discredit Sir John in order to aid the Emperor's son in his seduction of Sir John's wife. Magical adventures ensue, including demons and compulsive dancing. Far from relinquishing magic, Bacon this time uses it to save the day: after many reversals he proves to the Emperor his son's villainy using a magical show of the rape of Lucrece, and the play ends with Sir John of Bordeaux back in the Emperor's favour.

I wish I could tell you the last lines of the play, but unfortunately the final page of the manuscript is damaged. I will quote the fragments anyway, as they read like avant-garde poetry and make a rather groovy shape:

You will expect him
And since Sir John of B
Receive thy loyal subject
                    John to make
                                tre a
                             a leav
                         st not stale
                        come this way

If you would like to read John of Bordeaux, there is no modern-spelling edition available, so you'll need to struggle through the Malone Society's transcript of the damaged manuscript.

What we learn from this

One obvious thing we have learned here, at the beginning of our journey through Henslowe's Diary, is that Elizabethan audiences loved plays about magic: even if their magician hero virtuously renounces his spells in one play, he will be obliged to pick up his wand again in a sequel. No doubt they liked magic because these plays take every opportunity to use the special effects capabilities of English Renaissance theatres. Look at some of these examples:
 Bungay conjures, and the tree appears with the dragon shooting fire (from Friar Bacon, Scene 9)
Here the Head speaks, and a lightning flasheth forth, and a hand appears that breaketh down the Head with a hammer (from Friar Bacon, Scene 11)
Thunder and lightning; enter [the demons] Asteroth and Rabsack (from John of Bordeaux, fol. 12)
 Plays like these are contemporary with Christopher Marlowe's famous Dr Faustus and are full of the same imagery of devils and magic. The Harry Potter films are a good example of how this delight in magical special effects persists to the present day. And of course, duelling wizards are always popular:


What's next?

There will be no post tomorrow because 20 February was a Sunday in 1592 and the actors did not perform. So, the next post in Henslowe's Diary... as a Blog! will be on February 21. See you then.


Friar Bacon information

  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vols. 2 and 3 (Oxford University Press, 2012-13), entries 822 and 908.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 93-6.

Henslowe links



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