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


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


  1. Reading this week makes me extra aware of how very many plays we've lost. (And we still have lots, thank goodness.) I wonder what percentage of plays we've lost?

    1. We don't know the exact percentage, but in their book Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England, Matthew Steggle and David McInnis reckon that the number of known lost plays outnumbers the ones that have survived.

  2. Thanks, David! Another book for the list!