Thursday, 17 May 2018

Back on 5th June

London and the village of
Newington (bottom left), in
Symonson's map of Kent (1596)
After only three performances by the Admiral's Men, the Rose playhouse appears to have closed again. We don't know much about the reasons for this beyond a general sense that London theatre was going through a period of flux; you can read more about it here.

This blog will therefore be on a short hiatus until 3rd June, whereupon Henslowe's Diary will begin a lengthy and relatively uninterrupted series of records that will stretch into next year. But there will be complications: for the first week, we'll be at a different theatre (Newington Butts, far out in the countryside), and we'll have some intriguing encounters with the plays of William Shakespeare. See you then!

Rose theatre information

  • Carol Chillington Rutter, Documents of the Rose Playhouse (Manchester University Press, 1984), 81-2

Henslowe links


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

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

16 May, 1594 - Cutlack

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

Henslowe writes: R at Cvtlacke the 16 of maye 1594  ... xxxxijs 

In modern English: Received at Cutlack, 16th May, 1594 ... 42 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men performed a play that we have not previously seen at the Rose. Unfortunately, Cutlack is now lost, and its subject matter is not certain because there are two legendary figures with similar names: St. Guthlac, a 7th-century hermit who battled demons in the Lincolnshire fens, and Guthlagh, a 4th-century king of Denmark who fought the Britons.
St. Guthlac being harassed by
demons; probably not the
subject of today's play,
but this fabulous image is
worth a click anyway! From the
'Guthlac Roll' at the
British Library.

Although St. Guthlac is a very interesting figure, most scholars lean toward the Danish king as the likelier subject. The main piece of evidence dates from 1598, when a satirical poet, Everard Guilpin, mocked those who imitate "Alleyn's Cutlack's gait".

Guilpin's words tell us that Edward Alleyn, the star actor of the Admiral's Men, played Cutlack, and that he had a particularly memorable walk when doing so. What kind of walk? In context, Guilpin is satirizing men who put on acts of being tough, and at this point he is scoffing at the "braggart" whose "eyes are lightning", whose "words are thunder", and who goes around "stalking and roaring like to Job's great devil". This suggests that Cutlack was a bombastic character akin to Alleyn's most famous role, the all-conquering Tamburlaine. And it does not sound like St. Guthlac, who was, aside from his demon-bashing, noted for peacefulness. I will therefore assume that Cutlack was a play about the Danish king.

The legend of King Guthlagh was fairly well known in Elizabethan England. Unfortunately, there is no 'official' way to spell his name: as Roslyn L. Knutson and Matthew Steggle note in their Lost Plays Database entry, spellings include "Ginchtalacus; Guilthdacus; Gurthlac; Guitlacke; Guthlach; Gutlake; Cuthelake; Cutlake; and Cutlax". I'm going to stick with Henslowe's "Cutlack", which I assume reflects the way it was pronounced by the actors.

The legend of King Cutlack

Illustration of Belinus (or Brennius, it's not clear)
from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)
The story of King Cutlack originates in the medieval pseudo-historian Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the British Kings (c. 1135). Geoffrey tells of a time long ago, when Brennius, King of Britain, was locked in a civil war with his brother Belinus.

Brennius seeks help in Norway, where he marries a princess and hires warriors. But as they all sail back to Britain, they are attacked by the Danish king Cutlack (or Guichthlac, as Geoffrey spells it). During the ensuing sea battle, Cutlack captures Brennius's new wife. But then a storm scatters the ships and by fluke, Cutlack and Brennius's wife end up on the Northumbrian coast, where the other brother, Belinus, captures them. 

Belinus then defeats Brennius in battle and becomes King of Britain. Cutlack, still his prisoner, makes a deal: if Belinus will release him, and let him keep Brennius's wife for himself, Cutlack will pay tribute to the British every year. Belinus agrees, so Cutlack returns to Denmark and keeps his word.

Illustration of Gurguint, from Holinshed's
Chronicles (1577)
All seems well until Bellinus dies and his son, Gurguint, inherits the British crown, whereupon Cutlack refuses to pay the tribute any more. So Gurguint invades Denmark, kills Cutlack, and forces the Danes to pay up.

Why this story?

The story as told by Geoffrey does not seem very interesting on paper. There are battles and princesses to be sure, but the characters are devoid of personality. Yet Cutlack will become one of the great successes of the Rose stage and we should therefore speculate about why it was so successful.

In his book on lost plays, Matthew Steggle describes various Elizabethan retellings of the Cutlack legend. Of particular interest is the version in William Warner's Albion's England (1586), an epic poem about English history (we've already encountered this text as a possible source for Sir John Mandeville and King Leir), which manages to make Geoffrey's tale more dramatic. For example, Warner invents a scene at the Norwegian court in which Brennius and Cutlack compete for the hand of the Norwegian princess. Cutlack is loud and bombastic, sneering at Britain as a "sorry isle". But when Brennius challenges him to single combat, Cutlack chickens out and Brennius wins the princess. This humiliation is Cutlack's motivation for wanting the princess, and for attacking Brennius by a cowardly sea-ambush later.

As Steggle points out, Warner frames the story as a contest between a brave Briton and an arrogant foreigner, which is exactly the sort of thing that went down well at the Rose. We don't know whether the author of Cutlack really knew this poem, but it hints at the kind of elaborations that a dramatist might have made. If you would like to read Warner's tale of Cutlack from chapter 16 of Albion's England, you may do so via this facsimile of the 1602 edition
A remarkably anachronistic illustration of the battle between Belinus and Brennius; from Holinshed's Chronicles (1577)

What's next?

Despite having re-opened only two days ago, the Rose will close tomorrow for unknown reasons. This blog will thus return on the 5th June - see you then!


Cutlack information

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, Book 3 (c.1136), trans. Aaron Thompson and J.A. Giles (1842)
  • William Warner, Albion's England, ch. 16 (1586)
  • Everard Guilpin, "Epigram 43", in Skialetheia (1598)
  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 203.
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 858.
  • Matthew Steggle, Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2015), 61-76
  • Roslyn L. Knutson and Matthew Steggle, "Cutlack", Lost Plays Database (2016).

Henslowe links


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

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

15 May, 1594 - The Ranger's Comedy

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

Henslowe writes: R at the Rangers comodey the 15 of maye 1594 ... xxxiijs

In modern English: Received at The Ranger's Comedy, 15th May, 1594 ... 33 shillings

An Elizabethan hunting scene: one of the
possible subjects of today's play
Today, the Admiral's Men revived a lost play called The Ranger's Comedy. We do not know what this play was about, as the word "ranger" could refer to many things, including a gamekeeper, a rake, a wanderer, or an organizer of troops. You can read more about it in the entry for 2 April.

The Ranger's Comedy had last been performed at the Rose a month ago, by Sussex's Men and the Queen's Men, when it had produced an almost full house. Today, its receipts were more modest, representing a theatre only half full.

Henslowe links


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

Monday, 14 May 2018

14 May, 1594 - The Jew of Malta

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

Henslowe writes: R at the Jewe of malta 14 of maye 1594  ... xxxxviijs 

In modern English: Received at The Jew of Malta, 14th May, 1594 ... 48 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
Welcome back! Today, the Rose playhouse re-opened after an month-long closure - but in three days time it will close again and we do not know why.

There are new faces on the Rose stage because a different playing company, the Admiral's Men, is now resident. But many things remain the same; in particular, Edward Alleyn, the great star who has dominated the Rose over the last few years, remains there, having now become a member of the incoming Admiral's Men.

And today's opening performance was more about continuity than change. The company elected to begin with The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe's satirical comic tragedy (you can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February 1592). This was a sensible choice: Alleyn had performed in this play at the Rose many times with other companies, and it had proven consistently popular.

The play did not disappoint: today's performance won Henslowe 48 shillings, indicating very large audience. Still, it was not a full house; one suspects that Londoners had not been starved of theatre, despite the Rose's recent closure. 

This will be the briefest of seasons at the Rose, but for now, let's imagine Alleyn feeling happy to be home as he strides back onto the stage as the anti-hero Barabas.

    Henslowe links


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