Wednesday, 2 October 2019

2 October, 1595 - The Disguises

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

Henslowe writes: ye 2 of octobȝ 1595 ... ne ... R at the desgysses ... xxxxiijs 

In modern English: 2nd October, 1595 ... New ... Received at The Disguises ... 43 shillings

Lorenzo Lippi, Woman with a Mask
(The Allegory of Deception)
, 1650
Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play - and, as so often, it is not only lost but also has an extremely uninformative title. Disguises are a common plot element of Elizabethan plays, so the title gives few hints as to what else the play was about.

In his book on the Admiral's Men, Andrew Gurr speculates that The Disguises might be an alternative title for an extant play called Look About You. Gurr explains that this play was published in 1600 with a title page attributing it to the Admiral's Men, but since no play of that title appears in the Diary it may have had a different name. It is certainly easy to see why Look About You could have become known as The Disguises; take a look at this brief passage from the lengthy synopsis in Martin Wiggins' catalogue of British drama:

Pursued by the watch, Skink evades arrest by swapping clothes with Redcap, but is taken to the Fleet prison for identification by Redcap's father, the porter. Gloucester swaps clothes with him in turn and escapes, and finally Skink too gets away by purloining Prince John's clothes. Lady Falconbridge disguises Gloucester as her husband, fooling the watch sent to search for him. The substitutions cause misunderstandings...
This sort of thing persists for several more paragraphs,as the play revolves around manically complicated disguises and misunderstandings. However, Wiggins argues that Look About You seems to borrow from a couple of plays dating from 1598, which would rule out an identification with The Disguises.

Whatever the exact content of The Disguises, its title may have been too generic even for the intrigue-loving theatregoers of London: the audience turnout is disappointing for a premiere.


The Disguises information

  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 51-2, 57.
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vols. 3 and 4 (Oxford University Press, 2013-14), entries 1010 and 1184.
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Disguises", Lost Plays Database (2015). 

Henslowe links


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