Wednesday, 31 January 2018

31 January, 1594 - Abraham and Lot

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

Henslowe writes: R at abrame & lotte the 31 of Jenewary 1593 ... xijs 

In modern English: Received at Abraham and Lot, 31st January, 1594 ... 12 shillings


Abraham and Lot going their separate ways,
by Wenceslas Hollar
Today, Sussex's Men returned Abraham and Lot to the Rose stage. This lost play retold stories from the Old Testament, perhaps including Abraham's rescue of Lot from the Elamites, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. You can read more about it in the entry for 9 January.

The company last performed Abraham and Lot two weeks ago, and this is its third outing. Its box office has been slowly plummeting, and today's returns were extremely poor. This is not a play that the Rose audience has any enthusiasm for.


What's next?


For some reason, there are no further performances recorded at the Rose until the 4th of February (a Monday). But before then, on the 3rd, we'll receive forewarning of a looming disaster for Sussex's Men. Stay tuned...

Henslowe links



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Monday, 29 January 2018

29 January, 1594 - Titus Andronicus

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

Henslowe writes: R at titus & ondronicous the 28 of Jenewary ... xxxxs 

In modern English: Received at Titus Andronicus, 29th January ... 40 shillings

Titus and Lavinia kill Tamora's sons: illustration from
the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad of Titus
Andronicus (1680s)
Today, Sussex's Men brought back Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's gruesome revenge tragedy about a cycle of vengeance in ancient Rome; you can read more about this play in the entry for 24 January, 1594.

After the excellent box office at the premiere of Titus a few days ago, Sussex's Men have rapidly returned it to the stage. But although today's takings are above average for the Rose, and better than most plays on their second performance this season, they are not spectacular.


What's next?


For some reason there's no record of a performance tomorrow (a Wednesday in 1594). Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 31st of January for a bit of Biblical drama.

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 28 January 2018

28 January, 1594 - Buckingham

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

Henslowe writes: R at buckengam the 27 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xviijs 

In modern English: Received at Buckingham, 28th January, 1594 ... 18 shillings


Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham,
one possible subject of this lost play
Today, Sussex's Men revived again their lost play Buckingham, which was probably a tragedy about one of the Dukes of Buckingham from English history; you can read more about it in the entry for 30 December, 1593.

The company has allowed a fortnight to pass without a performance of Buckingham, but this has had no effect on its unimpressive box office, producing an audience slightly smaller than last time.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

24 January, 1594 - Titus Andronicus

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

Henslowe writes: ne ... R at titus & ondronicus the 23 of Jenewary ... iijll viijs

In modern English: New. Received at Titus Andronicus, 24th January ... £3 and 8 shillings

Today, Sussex's Men performed a play by William Shakespeare! This is only the second Shakespeare play that we have seen in Henslowe's Diary so far (the other was The First Part of Henry VIone of the Rose's most popular plays last year). Now, the company is offering Titus Andronicus, a gruesome tragedy set in a fantastical version of Ancient Rome. This play is on the fringes of Shakespeare's canon (parts of it may have been written by another playwright, George Peele, and its extremely violent plot encourages Shakespeare's more squeamish fans to dismiss it as early hackwork) but the Rose audience was not interested in such fussiness, and they packed the playhouse to see it.

The large audience may have been because Titus Andronicus was a brand new play. At least, Henslowe thought it was new, since he marked it as "ne" in the Diary, an annotation that normally means a performance was a premiere. There is in fact some uncertainty as to whether Titus Andronicus really was new when it was staged today, but the performance certainly achieved the high box office typically associated with premieres.

Whether or not the play was a new one, today may have been a transformative moment at the Rose. According to one theory, the arrival of Titus Andronicus marks the moment at which Sussex's Men were joined at the Rose by members of Pembroke's Men (the company to which Shakespeare belonged). Certainly, Titus is written for an unusually large number of actors, whereas George a Greene (the only surviving play from earlier in the season) requires a much smaller number. So, even if Shakespeare himself was not among the new arrivals, the Rose audience may have seen the performances there suddenly become bigger and more spectacular.


Was Titus really new?


Title page of the 1594 quarto
publication of Titus Andronicus
Henslowe labels Titus Andronicus "ne", but there are reasons to suspect that it was actually about two years old. As you may recall from last year, one of the plays of Lord Strange's Men, A Knack to Know a Knave, seems to allude to the opening scene of Titus. Does that prove Titus was written first, or could there be another explanation?

Complicating matters further is the puzzling title page of the 1594 printed text. It describes the play has having been performed by Derby's Men (another name for Strange's Men), Pembroke's Men and Sussex's Men. Does this refer to the three companies working together (which may have been what was happening at the Rose) or does it refers to performances by each company in succession (which is also plausible).

The debate is complex, but if we are trying to imagine today's performance, it boils down to the question: was this a famous old play being performed at the Rose to an audience that already knew it, or was it a new and unknown work? It's hard to be sure, but the difference must have affected the atmosphere in the Rose before the show began. If you would like to read more about the debate, an excellent up-to-date summary is provided by Jonathan Bate in his 2018 revised edition for the Arden Shakespeare.

Adding to the complication is the question of authorship. Stylistic analysis by modern scholars suggests that Act 1 was written by George Peele (whom we've already met as the possible author of Muly Molocco). Perhaps these two puzzles are related: Titus Andronicus could be a rewriting by Shakespeare of an earlier play by Peele, so drastic that Henslowe considered it a new play.


The story


Titus Andronicus is famous for one thing: violence. Although Shakespeare was not averse to extreme violence in his other plays (think of the onstage eyeball-gouging in King Lear, for example, or the assassination of Julius Caesar), the sheer number of horrific events in Titus Andronicus means that any plot summary sounds rather comical. Although the play does at times introduce a warped form of humour during some of its most gruesome moments, productions that are brave enough to take it seriously often reveal Titus to have a majestic and sombre quality that belies its surface trashiness.

(Just for fun, I'll illustrate this synopsis with woodcuts from 17th century printed versions of a ballad of Titus Andronicus. Its exact relationship with the play is unclear, but it was most likely inspired by it, not vice versa. If you like, you can listen to the ballad being sung thanks to the English Broadside Ballad Archive.)

The triumphal entrance of Titus into Rome;
illustration from the Roxburghe Collection's copy
of a ballad of Titus Andronicus (late 17th century) 
The play begins with Rome in crisis after the Emperor has died and his two sons - the virtuous Bassianus and the evil Saturninus - are vying for power. Into this maelstrom arrives Titus Andronicus, an aged general returning to Rome after a long war against the Goths during which most of his sons have been killed. He has brought to Rome the captive Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and a Moor named Aaron, who is her secret lover. Titus ritualistically executes one of Tamora's sons in front of her. It is a violent act that will breed a cycle of vengeance.

Titus's deference to tradition is one of the seeds of his tragedy. The senate of Rome elects Titus emperor but he declines the honour and instead follows custom in nominating Saturninus, the eldest son of the dead emperor. He even submits when Saturninus demands to marry Titus's daughter, Lavinia despite her existing betrothal to Bassianus. Titus's decisions infuriate his sons, who help Bassianus and Lavinia escape, and end up fighting their father, who kills one of them. And yet Saturninus then spurns Titus anyway, deciding that Tamora is a better match for him, and he marries her, to Titus's horror.

The 'Peacham drawing', an illustration from the 16th or early 17th century that depicts characters from Titus Andronicus. It's the only illustration of a scene from Shakespeare created during his own lifetime.
Things get nastier when Tamora uses her new position of power to exact revenge upon Titus. With the assistance of Aaron the Moor, Tamora's two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius, kill Bassianus and rape Lavinia, cutting off her hands and tongue to prevent her from communicating their guilt; they also capture two of Titus's sons and frame them for Bassianus's murder, so that the Emperor imprisons them. When Titus and his family find the brutalized Lavinia, they are shocked to the core, but are unable to act, as they do not know who the perpetrators were.

At this point, Shakespeare begins blending genres to dazzling effect: the violence increases, but to a degree that becomes almost farcical. Aaron informs Titus that the Emperor will free his two accused sons if Titus sends him his own severed hand. Titus permits Aaron to cut off his hand and take it. But the Emperor's response is to return Titus's hand accompanied by the decapitated heads of the sons. Seeing this, Titus laughs. "Why does thou laugh?" asks his brother Marcus, "It fits not with this hour." Titus replies, "Because I have not one more tear to shed."

Lavinia names her attackers; illustration from the
Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad of Titus
Andronicus (1680s)
The turning point comes when Lavinia manages to communicate with her father. Using a page from Ovid's Metamorphoses about the rape of Philomel, and writing in sand with a staff, she identifies Chiron and Demetrius as her abusers. Titus resolves to be revenged on them and their mother, and to overthrow the Emperor by inviting the Goths to invade. His task is made easier when Aaron is forced to flee after Tamora gives birth to a dark-skinned child that is obviously his and not the Emperor's; refusing to kill the baby, Aaron utters a powerful speech about black being better, and escapes into the wilderness with his newborn child.

Titus and Lavinia kill Tamora's sons: illustration from
the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad of Titus
Andronicus (1680s)
Meanwhile, Titus plots revenge and pretends to be mad. In order to torment him, Tamora and her sons dress up as the spirits of Revenge, Murder and Rape and haunt his house. But Titus captures Chiron and Demetrius and slits their throats, while Lavinia catches their blood in a bowl. As they die, Titus tells them that he will make their flesh and bones into pies. an idea drawn from the Greek legend of Thyestes.

Tamora and Saturninus eat the pies: illustration from
the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad of Titus
Andronicus (1680s)
The play thus ends in full-on grand guignol, as the Emperor, Tamora, and various Roman and Goth envoys gather for a banquet at Titus's house, humouring his 'madness' when he arrives dressed as a cook. Titus serves meat pie to his guests, and as they eat, he suddenly announces the crime done to his daughter and kills her for the sake of honour. He then reveals that the pie is made from Tamora's sons. In a flurry of violence, Tamora, the Emperor, and Titus murder each other.

Titus's son Lucius becomes the next Emperor and resolves to bring peace. He sentences Aaron - who has been captured  - to death by being buried up to his neck in earth. The unrepentant Aaron says, "If one good thing I did in all my life, / I do regret it, to my very soul." And in the play's closing lines, Lucius recommends that Tamora's body be left to be eaten by birds:
As for that heinous tiger, Tamora,
No funeral rite, nor man in mourning weeds,
No mournful bell shall ring her burial;
But throw her forth to beasts and birds of prey:
Her life was beast-like, and devoid of pity;
And, being so, shall have like want of pity.
And on that bleak note, this exhausting play ends.


The play today


Titus Andronicus is rarely staged, but of all the plays we've looked at in this blog so far, it's the one of which you have the best chance of seeing on the stage some day. It was largely ignored after the seventeenth century, as its violent content clashed with the tastes of more refined eras. But in 1955, Peter Brook staged a groundbreaking RSC production starring Laurence Olivier. This paved the way for many other productions that experimented with different ways of dealing with the play's challenges. If you'd like to look at images from different productions, the Designing Shakespeare website from Royal Holloway University is a great way of doing so. Some productions go for a camp comedy approach, but others find ways to extract gravitas and profoundity from the play. This trailer for the 2017 RSC production seems to be going for the latter approach:





Two major films also exist. In 1985, Jane Howell filmed Titus Andronicus as a studio-bound TV movie for the BBC's complete works of Shakespeare project. It is  one of the better films in the series, and draws special attention to the presence of Titus's grandson, Young Lucius, who is presented as an innocent child increasingly traumatized by what adults are capable of doing to each other.

In 2000, Julie Taymor created a big-budget cinematic adaptation, called simply Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins as Titus, Jessica Lange as Tamora, and Alan Cumming as Saturninus. It borrows several ideas from the BBC film, most notably the idea of framing the story through the eyes of Young Lucius, but Taymor expands the concept further by framing the film through the eyes of a small boy playing violent games with his toys, and by making the world of the play a mishmash of costumes and settings from different historical periods, blurring ancient Rome with the twentieth century.

Taymor's film is full of imaginative visuals - such as Young Lucius buying wooden hands for Lavinia at a puppet shop - and interesting acting choices - for example, Harry Lennix finds ways to make Aaron the Moor a strangely moving and tender figure by the end. The film isn't perfect, but it contains many moments that deftly juggle the play's comedy and tragedy, and many others that give it an epic grandeur.


What we learn from this


Titus Andronicus looks quite unusual amid the rest of Shakespeare's works, but if we think of it as a Rose play it looks less incongrous. As we saw last year, violence was a popular component of the repertories of the performers at the Rose, and although a lot of that violence involved fight scenes rather than gore, horror has not been absent from the stage, if our hypotheses about the plot of Titus and Vespasian are correct.

But the most striking thing that comes out of reading Titus as a Rose play is its close relationship with Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta, the most popular play of last year. The mixture of comedy and tragedy is similar (although The Jew is more consistently comic throughout), and Shakespeare's inspiration from Marlowe is very obvious. In my description of the play, I quoted Barabas's gloriously sadistic speech about his violent hobbies, but Shakespeare's Aaron has a speech that seems designed to outdo his predecessor's: he boasts,
Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves
And set them upright at their dear friends' door,
Even when their sorrows almost was forgot,
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
"Let not your sorrow die though I am dead."
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed,
But that I cannot do ten thousand more. (V.i)
It's interesting to imagine these words being spoken at the Rose theatre, where, less than a year earlier, the audience had seen the Marlowe play that had inspired them. And very soon, The Jew of Malta will return to the Rose, so that the two plays will be performed in tandem. Stay tuned...


What's next?


For some reason, there are no records of any performances tomorrow (a Friday) or over the weekend. Henslowe's list becomes elliptical from this point on, and it's hard to be sure whether there really were no performances on some days, or whether he simply failed to record them. Either way, Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on 28th January.



FURTHER READING


Titus Andronicus information

  • Scott McMillin, "Sussex's Men in 1594: The Evidence of Titus Andronicus and The Jew of Malta", in Theatre Survey 32.2 (1991): 214-23
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 928.
  • Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 106-10.
  • Jonathan Bate, ed. Titus Andronicus, revised edition (Bloomsbury, 2018)


Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

23 January, 1594 - George a Greene

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

Henslowe writes: R at gorge a grene the 22 of Jenewarye ... xxvs 

In modern English: Received at George a Greene, 23rd January ... 25 shillings


Fighting with staves, from a German fighting
manual published by Christian Egenolff
Today, Sussex's Men revived George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield. This is a festive comedy in which the eponymous northern folk hero helps the king, wins the hand of a fair maiden, and beats several opponents at stave-fighting. You can read more about this play in the entry for 28 December.

The company is maintaining its habit of performing George a Greene once a week. The play continues, however, to receive unimpressive box office.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 22 January 2018

22 January, 1594 - The Fair Maid of Italy

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

Henslowe writes: R at the fayer mayd of ytaly the 21 of Jenewary ... xxijs 

In modern English: Received at The Fair Maid of Italy, 22nd January ... 22 shillings

Portrait, supposedly of Simonetta
Vespucci, by Sandro Botticelli
(late 15th century)
Today, Sussex's Men revived again The Fair Maid of Italy, a lost play that was presumably some kind of romantic comedy about an Italian maiden. You can read more about this play in the entry for 12th January, 1594.

The company had given The Fair Maid of Italy its first Rose performance a week and a half ago, at which it had received apocalyptically bad box office. But they must have had some confidence in the play to return it to the stage so soon, and indeed today it was more successful, albeit still below the Rose's average. Perhaps the first performance had been affected more by weather than by the choice of play.



Henslowe links



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Sunday, 21 January 2018

21 January, 1594 - Friar Francis

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

Henslowe writes: R at ffrier ffrances the 20 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxxs 

In modern English: Received at Friar Francis, 21st January, 1594 ... 30 shillings

Image from Hans Holbein's
Dance of Death (1538)
Henslowe has started to muddle his dates again; he'll be out of sync for the rest of this week.

Anyway, today, Sussex's Men today revived their lost play Friar Francis, a play that had become legendary for having provoked a real-life murderess in Norfolk into confessing her crime. The play was about a woman who murdered her husband and was haunted by his ghost, and it may included another plotline about two friars fighting over a pretty nun. You can read more about this play in the entry for 7th January.

Friar Francis was last performed only a week ago. Although it continues to receive only average box office, it seems to be more reliably average than some of the other plays in Sussex's repertory, so it could be turning into one of their stalwarts. 


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 18 January 2018

18 January, 1594 - King Lud

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

Henslowe writes: R at kinge lude the 18 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxijs 

In modern English: Received at King Lud, 18th January, 1594 ... 22 shillings


Today, Sussex's Men introduced yet another play to the Rose audience. King Lud is now lost, but it must have been about the mythical pre-Roman king of the Britons after whom London is named. The audience would therefore have come to the theatre expecting a dramatization of local history. So, what might a play about King Lud have been like?


The legend of King Lud


The audience that gathered at the Rose would already have had a strong image of King Lud in their minds. Just a few years ago, in 1586, Ludgate, the great archway next to St Paul's Cathedral, had been enhanced with brand new statues of Lud and his two sons. You can still see these statues today: although Ludgate itself was demolished in the eighteenth century, Lud and his sons can be found standing awkwardly in the porch of the nearby church of St Dunstan in the West.

King Lud and his two sons -St. Dunstan-in-the-West



Ludgate, from Wenceslas Hollar's map of
London (late 17th century)
Why did Lud deserve a statue? According to legend, London was founded by Trojan exiles who named their city Troynovant ('New Troy'); Lud was one of their descendants and made London the great city that it is today. According to the 16th century historian Raphael Holinshed, Lud began his reign in 72 BC. He was a virtuous monarch, whose achievements included "amending the laws of the realm that were defective, abolishing evil customs and manners used amongst his people, and repairing old cities and towns which were decayed".

Lud was most famous for his beautification and enlargment of Troynovant, "which he compassed with a strong wall made of lime and stone in the best manner, fortified with diverse fair towers, and in the west part of the same wall he erected a strong gate, which he commanded to be called after his name, Lud's Gate, and so unto this date it is called Ludgate".

The area of Ludgate and St Paul's, from the 'Agas
Map' (1563)
Holinshed describes how Lud enhanced the surrounding area by causing "buildings to be made betwixt London Stone and Ludgate, and builded for himself not far from the said gate a fair palace ... He also builded a fair temple near to his said palace, which temple (as some take it) was after turned to a church, and at this day called Paul's."

For this reason, it was only natural that the city took his name; as Holinshed explains, "the name was changed so that it was called Caerlud, that is to say, Lud's Town, and after, by corruption of speech. it was named London".

None of this is actually true, but it was a good story, and was deeply embedded in London folklore.


The play



Although Lud was a beloved figure for Londoners, it is hard to imagine the plot of this lost play, because there is no drama or conflict in his legend. For Holinshed, Lud was simply a perfect king: "strong and valiant in arms, in subduing his enemies, bounteous and liberal both in gifts and keeping a plentiful house, so that he was greatly beloved of all the Britons". Perhaps the playwright manufactured an imaginary story about Lud and his subjects and used the building of Ludgate and St Paul's as a spectacular climax.

Whatever its story, King Lud did not draw large crowds to the Rose. The theatre was only half full and the company never performed it there again.


What's next?


There's no record of a performance at the Rose tomorrow, or the day after (which was a Sunday), so Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on the 21st, for a week that will include the return of Shakespeare to the Rose. Stay tuned!


FURTHER READING



King Lud information


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

17 January, 1594 - Abraham and Lot

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

Henslowe writes: R at abram & lotte the 17 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxxs 

In modern English: Received at Abraham and Lot, 17th January, 1594 ... 30 shillings


Abraham and Lot going their separate ways,
by Wenceslas Hollar
Today, Sussex's Men returned Abraham and Lot to the Rose stage. This lost play retold stories from the Old Testament, perhaps including Abraham's rescue of Lot from the Elamites, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; you can read more about it in the entry for 9th January.

The company had last performed this play just over a week ago, when it had received an above average box office of 52 shillings. Like many of the plays this season, we now see an unsurprising descent into merely average box office, as audience interest lowers after the initial performance.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

16 January, 1593 - Richard the Confessor

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

Henslowe writes: R at Richard the confeser the 16 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xjs 

In modern English: Received at Richard the Confessor, 16th January, 1594 ... 11 shillings


Wall painting of Richard of
Chichester (in St Mary the
Virgin Church, Black
Bourton, Oxfordshire)
Today, Sussex's Men brought Richard the Confessor back onto the Rose stage. This lost play probably told the story of Saint Richard of Chichester's generosity toward the poor and needy; you can read more about it in the entry for 31 December, 1593.

The company had last performed Richard the Confessor two weeks ago, when it received average box office taking; today, it did considerably less than that. The play does not seem to have been one of the big successes of the season.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 15 January 2018

15 January, 1594 - George a Greene

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

Henslowe writes: R at gorge a grene the 15 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxs 

In modern English: Received at George a Greene, 15th January ... 20 shillings


Fighting with staves, from a German fighting
manual published by Christian Egenolff
Today, Sussex's Men revived George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield. This is a festive comedy in which the eponymous northern folk hero helps the king, wins the hand of a fair maiden, and beats several opponents at stave-fighting. You can read more about this play in the entry for 28 December.

The company seems to be settling into a rhythm of performing George a Greene once a week. However, today's performance was just as unimpressive as last week's in terms of box office.


Henslowe links



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Henslowe links



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Sunday, 14 January 2018

14 January, 1594 - Friar Francis

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

Henslowe writes: R at frier frances the 14 of Jenewary 1593 ... xxxvjs 

In modern English: Received at Friar Francis, 14th January, 1594 ... 36 shillings

Image from Hans Holbein's
Dance of Death (1538)
Today, Sussex's Men revived their lost play Friar Francis, which had become legendary for having provoked a real-life murderess in Norfolk to confess her crime. The play was about a woman haunted by the ghost of the husband that she had murdered, and it may have included another plotline about two friars fighting over a pretty nun. You can read more about this play in the entry for 7 January.

Friar Francis played to a packed house when it was staged last week. Today's house was merely average for the Rose, but it was a huge step up from the catastrophic box office that had befallen the two plays staged previously.


Henslowe links



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Friday, 12 January 2018

12 January, 1594 - The Fair Maid of Italy

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

Henslowe writes: R at the fayer mayd of ytale the 12 of Jenewary 1593 ... ixs 

In modern English: Received at The Fair Maid of Italy, 12th January, 1594 ... 9 shillings

Portrait, supposedly of Simonetta
Vespucci, by Sandro Botticelli
(late 15th century)
Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience: The Fair Maid of Italy. Unfortunately, this is a lost play about which we know almost nothing, except, of course, that it was about a beautiful Italian maiden.

In her article for the Lost Plays Database, Roslyn L. Knutson speculates that "the fair maid of Sussex's play was a commoner, doubtless pursued by various unsuitable suitors but perhaps one desirable one"; she also wonders whether the Italian maiden's foreignness gave her "an exotic sexuality". These are good guesses based on the typical tropes of Elizabethan comedy, but unless a manuscript of the play happens to turn up in a garage sale, we'll probably never know.

Whatever its plot, today's performance received dire box office, almost as bad as yesterday's. Not even the novelty of a play so far unseen at the Rose could draw London's theatregoers this week.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow, because 13th January was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on 14th January for a week that will include one new play along with the usual suspects.


Further reading



Fair Maid of Italy information


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 11 January 2018

11 January, 1594 - Huon of Bordeaux

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


18th century French Huon text
Today, Sussex's Men revived their chivalric adventure, Huon of Bordeaux, which they had last performed just over a week ago. This play was based on the epic French tale about a knight who travels to Babylon to steal the Admiral's teeth with the help of Oberon, Kng of the Fairies. You can read more about Huon of Bordeaux in the entry for 27th December.


Today, Huon did something remarkable: it achieved the lowest box office recorded so far in Henslowe's Diary! Its measly five shillings is even lower than the 7 recorded for a performance of A Looking-Glass for London and England back in 1592. We don't know what caused this catastrophe - awful weather or a sudden attack of apathy for all things chivalric? - but this must have been an embarrassing day for Sussex's Men as the voices of Huon and Oberon echoed around a near-empty theatre.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

10 January, 1594 - Buckingham

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

Henslowe writes: R at buckingam the 10 of Jenewarye 1593 ... xxijs 

In modern English: Received at Buckingham, 10th January, 1594 ... 22 shillings


Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham,
one possible subject of this lost play
Today, Sussex's Men revived again their lost play Buckingham, which was probably a tragedy about one of the Dukes of Buckingham from English history; you can read more about it in the entry for 29 December, 1593.

After performing the play twice in three days to large crowds, Sussex's Men have now let Buckingham rest for a week and half before staging it again. It seems, however, that the Rose audience is no longer as excited about the play, as Buckingham received half what it did in the earlier shows.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

9 January, 1594 - Abraham and Lot

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

Henslowe writes: R at abrame & lotte the 9 of Jenewarye 1593 ... lijs 

In modern English: Received at Abraham and Lot, 9th January, 1594 ... 52 shillings

Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience. Abraham and Lot is now lost, but it was clearly a Biblical drama about the characters from the Book of Genesis.

Abraham is of course a major figure in the Old Testament, and his life contained many incidents worthy of dramatic re-enactment. But if we assume that the play focused on his relationship with Lot, we can speculate on the play's likely plot. The following expands on Martin Wiggins' hypothetical reconstruction in his Catalogue of British Drama. 

Abraham and Lot going their separate ways,
from Wenceslas Hollar's Illustrations of Genesis
The play may have begun with Abraham and his nephew Lot pasturing their cattle together. The two are forced to separate because the land cannot hold their large herds, so Lot parts with Abraham and settles in a fertile place near the city of Sodom. But the Sodomites turn out to be an evil people (Genesis 13.5-13).

Abraham rescuing Lot from the Elamites,
etching by Antonio Tempesta (1613)
War then breaks out between the kingdom of Elam and various cities, including Sodom. During the war, Lot is taken captive. When he hears of this, Abraham raises an army and attacks the Elamites, rescuing Lot and his household (14.12-16). The Sodomites offer him a reward for his service, but Abraham virtuously refuses: "I will not take of all that is thine so much as a thread for shoe-latchet, lest thou shouldest say, 'I have made Abram rich'" (14.32).

Lot returns home to Sodom. But later, Abraham learns that God intends to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because they are full of sinners (ch.18). Two angels visit Lot's house to warn him. Not knowing who they are, he hospitably invites them in for bread. But the men of Sodom gather outside Lot's house demanding that he send the visitors out so that they can "know" them. Lot refuses, and offers them his virgin daughters instead (yes, this is getting kinda disturbing, but don't blame me, I didn't write it). That's not good enough for the Sodomites who advance on the door. The angels therefore blind the men, preventing them from finding the door (19.2-11).

Lot's wife looks back at the destruction\
of Sodom and Gomorrah; from a
mosaic in Monreale Catheral, Italy
The angels tell Lot that Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed, and they lead him and his family to safety. They warn them not to look back as they do so, but Lot's wife does, and is turned into a pillar of salt (19.15-26).

Perhaps the play also included the eyebrow-raising sequence in which Lot and his family end up living in a cave in the mountains. The daughters want children, and since there aren't any men around, they get Lot drunk and have sex with him, and end up giving birth to sons who found great dynasties (19:30-36). Again, don't blame me.

As you can see, there is a lot of dramatic potential in the story of Abraham and Lot, and it makes one wonder how such things as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or the pillar of salt might have been staged. Some of the material about Lot's daughters raises questions though, to put it mildly, and I suspect that the players might have skipped over it.

Whatever the players did with this story, it was much more successful at the Rose than some of the other performances of late, receiving 52 shillings, which represents a very large crowd.


Further reading



Abraham and Lot information

  • Genesis 13-24. (Quotations are from the 1587 'Bishop's Bible' translation.)
  • Rosyln L. Knutson and June Schlueter, "Abraham and Lot", Lost Plays Database (2012). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 2012), entry 795.


Henslowe links



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Monday, 8 January 2018

8 January, 1594 - George a Greene

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

Henslowe writes: R at the piner of wiackeffeld the 8 of Jenewary 1593 ... xxiijs 

In modern English: Received at The Pinner of Wakefield, 8th January 1594 ... 23 shillings


Fighting with staves, from a German fighting
manual published by Christian Egenolff
Today, Sussex's Men revived George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield. This is a festive comedy in which the eponymous northern folk hero helps the king, wins the hand of a fair maiden, and beats several opponents at stave-fighting. You can read more about this play in the entry for 28 December.

After the popularity of Friar Francis yesterday, the Rose receipts have returned to sluggishness again. However, despite this uneventful day, I encourage you to enjoy Henslowe's spelling of 'Wakefield' (see above), which is one of his masterpieces.


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 7 January 2018

7 January, 1594 - Friar Francis

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

Henslowe writes: R at frier frances the 7 of Jenewary 1593 ... iijll jds

In modern English: Received at Friar Francis, 7th January, 1594 ... £3 and 1 shilling


Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience. Friar Francis received very impressive box office despite the failure of William the Conqueror to do the same thing last week, and despite the Christmas holidays being over.

Friar Francis is a lost play, but we do possess some information about it from an unusual source. It seems that before the play was staged at the Rose, it had already achieved fame due to a curious incident during a performance in the Norfolk town of King's Lynn. Perhaps it was this notoriety that drew large crowds to the Rose today.


The legend of the King's Lynn performance


A legend of the performance of Friar Francis in King's Lynn was recounted many years later by the actor-playwright Thomas Heywood. In his book An Apology for Actors (1612), Heywood defends theatre against those who believed it to be sinful, arguing that plays can be morally improving. He uses as an example an event that "within these few years happened" during a performance of "the old history of Friar Francis" by Sussex's Men in King's Lynn.

A 1608 news pamphlet reporting a
murder; perhaps Friar Francis was
inspired by a true crime narrative
similar to this one.
According to Heywood, the play was about a woman who was haunted by the ghost of the husband she had murdered: "in her most solitary and private contemplations, in most horrid and fearful shapes, [it] appeared and stood before her". During the King's Lynn performance, a widow in the audience suddenly cried out "Oh my husband, my husband! I see the ghost of my husband fiercely threatening and menacing me!" When audience members "enquired the reason of her clamour", the widow confessed that she too had murdered her husband - and now, his "fearful image personated itself in the shape of that ghost" upon the stage! The woman was taken to court where she confessed her crime voluntarily.

Heywood insists that "this is true, as well by the report of the actors as the records of the town" and "there are many eyewitnesses of this accident yet living, vocally to confirm it". Historians have found no trace of any such records. But there is a record of a performance in the town by Sussex's Men in 1592, so at least some of Heywood's tale is based in truth.

Perhaps the story is a myth, or had gotten exaggerated in the retelling. But Heywood certainly didn't make it up, for it also appears in the anonymous play A Warning for Fair Women (printed in 1599), in which a character recounts the same tale:

A woman that had made away her husband,
And sitting to behold a tragedy,
At Lynn, a town in Norfolk,
Acted by players travelling that way,
Wherein a woman that had murdered hers
Was ever haunted with her husband's ghost,
The passion written by a feeling pen
And acted by a good Tragedian,
She was so moved with the sight thereof,
As she cried out the play was made by her,
And openly confessed her husband's murder.

Whether or not it is true, the story expresses the belief that seeing a representation of ones own sins onstage can elicit a guilty urge to confess. You can see the same idea in Hamlet, when the prince stages his father's murder before the eyes of his guilty uncle, and produces a telling response.


But what about Friar Francis?


The story of the guilty murderess is all very interesting, but there is no mention of a friar in it, which is rather disappointing for a play called Friar Francis. Perhaps the friar appeared in a subplot. In their entry on the play for the Lost Plays Database, David McInnis and Matthew Steggle point out a little book from 1590 entitled A Subtle Practice Wrought in Paris by Friar Francis which may perhaps describe that hypothetical subplot.

Image from Hans Holbein's
Dance of Death (1538)
This short text, which purports to be a letter from France, tells a rather silly tale of two French friars quarreling over a pretty nun with whom they are both in love. Friar Francis manages to trick his rival into going to the Pope with a fraudulent message about the king having been captured in battle, thus leaving himself alone with the nun.

Chaos erupts at the Vatican when the fraudulent news is exposed. As punishment, both friars are forced to walk barelegged through Rome while whipping each other with wire. After a surprisingly gruesome description of the resulting injuries, the author then informs us that the the pain and humiliation were so unbearable that both friars died.

What's the moral? The author ends with a shrug: "thus have you heard in as brief sort as I could, the comitragical history of these unfortunate friars, which is so laughed at here, and so much moaned elsewhere". I will leave you to consider your own response.


FURTHER READING



Friar Francis information

  • David McInnis and Matthew Steggle, "Friar Francis", Lost Plays Database (2011). 
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 924.

Henslowe links



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Friday, 5 January 2018

5 January, 1594 - God Speed the Plough

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

Henslowe writes: R at god spead the plowe the 5 of Jenewary 1593 ... xjs 

In modern English: Received at God Speed the Plough, 5th January ... 11 shillings

Today, Sussex's Men revived God Speed the Plough, the play with which they had begun their stint at the Rose just under a fortnight ago; you can read more about this play in the entry for 26 December, 1593. Once again, the enormous audience on the opening day has not been matched in the repeat performance, which scraped a paltry eleven shillings, representing a near-empty theatre.

We don't know the subject matter of God Speed the Plough, but in his Catalogue of British Drama, Martin Wiggins points out that today's performance was very close to Plough Monday, the traditional start of the agricultural year (which in 1594 was January 7), so if the play was about country life, its timing was very appropriate.


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 6th January was a Sunday in 1594 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 7th, for a week that will contain a mixture of old and new plays.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 4 January 2018

4 January, 1594 - William the Conqueror

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

Henslowe writes: R at william the conkerer the 4 of Jenewary 1593 ... xxijs 

In modern English: Received at William the Conqueror, 4th January, 1594 ... 22 shillings

William the Conqueror,
depicted in the
Bayeux Tapestry
Today, Sussex's Men introduced another of their plays to the Rose audience:  William the Conqueror. No play of that title survives today, but some scholars assume Henslowe was referring to an existing play entitled Fair Em, the Miller's Daughter of Manchester, with the Loves of William the Conqueror.

It's not certain William the Conqueror was Fair Em. After all, the two plays were owned by different playing companies: the title page of Fair Em's printed text states that it was performed by Lord Strange's Men, the previous incumbents of the Rose. But since Strange's Men had broken up by this point, and since it's theorized that some of its members became part of Sussex's Men, we can postulate that a play from the former company might have ended up being been performed by the latter.

Here, then, is a description of Fair Em. Even if it wasn't the same play, it may tell us something about what the one performed at the Rose today was like.


If the play was Fair Em


As you can tell from its title, Fair Em, the Miller's Daughter of Manchester; with the Love of William the Conqueror contains two storylines. The title also hints that the focus is on William's romantic escapades rather than the Battle of Hastings.

A man and a woman in the Bayeux Tapestry
In the play, William has already conquered England. He falls in love with a portrait of the Danish princess Blanche and travels in disguise to Denmark to woo her. But he finds the real Blanche disappointing: "Ill head, worse featured, uncomely, nothing courtly," he complains to himself, "I never saw a harder-favoured slut." William is not much of a charmer.

William falls in love instead with Mariana, a Swethian princess held captive by the Danes. Blanche becomes jealous and Mariana is not interested in William at all, so the whole thing is getting quite messy.

Mariana persuades the lovestruck William to help her escape in disguise, but she arranges things so that Blanche (her face hidden by a mask) is the woman who actually accompanies William back to England. William doesn't notice that the women have swapped places until much later when the angry Danes invade England to get Blanche back. The King of Denmark tries to forge peace by offering Blanche to William as a bride, but by this point William has become a confirmed woman-hater: "utterly I do abhor their sex," he announces, "they are all disloyal, unconstant - all unjust!".

Shambles Square, a fragment of old Manchester
in the heart of the city . Photo by Richerman
at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Let us leave William stewing in misogynist fury and turn to the subplot. Following the Norman invasion, the old Anglo-Saxon nobility is in hiding. The eponymous Em is the daughter of one such nobleman, Sir Thomas Goddard, who has disguised himself and Em as a Manchester miller and his daughter (it's worth remembering that in Henslowe's day, Manchester was a small rural town rather than the industrial metropolis of today).

Em, as the title indicates, is beautiful, and attracts many suitors despite her humble status, including a local gentleman named Manville, and two Normans, Mountney and Valingford. Manville is Em's preferred choice, so she tries to dissuade the other suitors by faking blindness and deafness. This certainly succeeds in repelling Mountney, but unfortunately for Em it repels Manville too, who decides to chase another woman instead. Only Valingford is revealed to be the only loyal wooer.

In the play's conclusion, Em and her suitors appear before King William the Conqueror for judgement. Em reveals that she's not really blind and deaf. Seeing this, Manville switches his affections back to her, but by this point, Em has decided she no longer wants a fickle suitor and prefers Valingford. Of course, this is tricky, because she's only a miller's daughter, and he's a Norman lord. But when it is revealed that her father is in fact a disguised nobleman, that makes everything all right.

The two plots are finally knitted together when King William is so impressed by Em's virtue that his  misogyny crumbles away and he recognizes that he should have loved Blanche all along. A royal wedding is thus in the offing, and in the play's last lines, King William announces,

Then here, Lord Valingford, receive fair Em;
Here, take her, make her thy espous├Ęd wife.
Here go we in, that preparation may be made
To see these nuptials solemnly performed.

If you would like to read Fair Em, take a look at Brett Greatley-Hirsch and Kevin Quarmby's in-progress online edition at Digital Renaissance Editions. If you prefer print, Standish Henning's 1980 edition is the most readable edition, although it's hard to find.


What we learn from this


Fair Em reminds us that it's hard to speculate about a play's nature from its title alone. We might assume that a play called William the Conqueror would have told the story of the Battle of Hastings and the conquest of England. But Fair Em tells us that it could instead have been a wacky romantic comedy, with the Norman conquest used only as an excuse for yet another tale about noblemen disguised as commoners.

Whether or not William the Conqueror was Fair Em, it was performed only once by Sussex's Men at the Rose. If the company was expecting a big audience for this newly-introduced play, they were sorely disappointed with a theatre less than half full, and they never performed it again.


FURTHER READING


Fair Em information

  • Standish Henning, ed. Fair Em: A Critical Edition (Garland, 1980)
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 852.
  • Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014)


William the Conqueror information


Henslowe links



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