Thursday, 31 December 2020

31 December, 1596 - The Seven Days of the Week

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

Henslowe writes: ye 31 of desembȝ  1596 ... R at the vij dayes ... vj  
In modern English: 31st December, 1596 ... Received at The Seven Days ... 6 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men revived their enigmatic lost play The Seven Days of the Week, about which we know nothing beyond its title. Perhaps it was an anthology of seven short plays, or perhaps it was about the creation of the world. You can read more about it in the entry for 3rd June, 1595.


19th-century Italian bracelet illustrating each of the seven days of
the week with a portrait of the deity associated with it.
From the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

This week has been quite a rollercoaster ride, with very large Christmas season audiences being followed by embarrassingly small ones. Today's performance is the latter; we're halfway through the the twelve days of Christmas and playgoers are barely to be seen. 


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 30 December 2020

30 December, 1596 - That Will Be Shall Be

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

Henslowe writes: ye 310 of desembȝ 1596 ... ne ... R at that wilbe shalbe ... ls 

In modern English: 30th December, 1596 ... New ... Received at That Will Be Shall Be ... 50 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men premiered another new play, their fourth in as many weeks. Unfortunately, That Will Be Shall Be is lost and nothing is known about its content.

The title appears to refer to the unpredictability and inescapability of the future; the modern equivalent would be the song lyrics, "Que sera, sera, / Whatever will be will be", which is a good excuse for a bit of Doris Day:


But the saying goes back much further. Indeed, the Rose audience will have heard something very similar in the play of Doctor Faustus, last performed less than a fortnight ago; in the first scene, the protagonist sums up the doctrines of theology as, "Che serà, serà, / What will be, shall be".

Perhaps That Will Be Shall Be was a tragedy about a character doomed to an inescapable fate. But the tone of the title would seem better to suggest a comedy, and may be reminiscent of such Shakespearean titles as What You Will, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing

Whatever its content, That Will Be Shall Be has had a moderately successful premiere: the theatre is not full, but it is comfortably crowded.
A female archer tries to take down a war elephant. The man on the
right appears to share the sentiments of this play's title.
From the Smithfield Decretals (c.1340)




FURTHER READING


That Will Be Shall Be information

  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 94, 224-5
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1051
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "That Will Be Shall Be", Lost Plays Database (2020), accessed December 2020. 

Henslowe links


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Tuesday, 29 December 2020

29 December, 1596 - Vortigern

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

Henslowe writes: ye 309 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at valteger ... xxvjs 
In modern English: [29th] December, 1596 ... Received at Vortigern ... 26 shillings

Vortigern in his burning
castle. From a 14th-century
manuscript of Peter of
Langtoft's Chronicle of
England.
  
Today, the Admiral's Men performed Vortigern, their play about the legendary British king whose actions brought about the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. you can read more about this play in the entry for 4th December

After two performances that attracted huge Christmastide crowds, the Admiral's Men have been brought back to earth, with a much smaller audience for Vortigern. The same thing happened on this day last year, when the Christmas crowds began to ebb on the same date. Luckily, there are still seven days of Christmas left, with opportunities for things to pick up again.



Henslowe links



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Monday, 28 December 2020

28 December, 1596 - Captain Thomas Stukeley

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

Henslowe writes: ye 298 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at stewtley ... iijll iiijs 
In modern English: 28th December, 1596 ... Received at Stukeley ... £3 and 4 shillings

1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a holiday honouring the infants murdered by King Herod. At the Rose, the Admiral's Men revived Captain Thomas Stukeley, their tale about the English mercenary's adventures in Ireland, Spain and Morocco, and his death at the Battle of Alcazar. You can read more about this play in the entry for 10 December.

Once again, today's performance is a tremendous success! The Christmas season continues to encourage theatregoing among the London public, and the Admiral's Men are basking in some much-needed adoration. 


Henslowe links



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Sunday, 27 December 2020

27 December, 1596 - Nebuchadnezzar

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

Henslowe writes: ye 287 of desembȝ 1596 crismas day ... R at nabucadonizer ... iijll viijs 
In modern English: 27th December, 1596 ... Received at Nebuchadnezzar ... £3 and 8 shillings

Nebuchadnezzar's dream
of the tree, from
Speculum Humanae
Salvationis
, a 15th-
century French manuscript
Welcome back! Today, the Rose re-opened after a short Christmas break. Or at least, that's one way of interpreting Henslowe's records. There is some confusion, though: while the date of today's performance is given as the 27th (corrected by Henslowe from 28th), the words 'Christmas Day' are scribbled in tiny letters next to it. I have no explanation for this inconsistency, but given that '27th' is a correction, it makes sense to assume that it is the right date.  

Anyway, today, the Admiral's Men performed Nebuchadnezzar, their Biblical drama about the Babylonian king whose dreams were interpreted by the prophet Daniel. You can read more about this play in the entry for 18 December

After two disappointing performances of Nebuchadnezzar, the Admiral's Men must be delighted with the huge crowd that has filled the theatre today. Today is the third day of Christmas, and Londoners are clearly in a festive mood, happy to throng to the Rose no matter what is playing.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 23 December 2020

23 December, 1596 - Vortigern

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

Henslowe writes: ye 24 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at valteger ... xijs 
In modern English: [23rd] December, 1596 ... Received at Vortigern ... 12 shillings

Vortigern in his burning
castle. From a 14th-century
manuscript of Peter of
Langtoft's Chronicle of
England.
  
Today, the Admiral's Men performed Vortigern, their play about the legendary British king whose actions brought about the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. you can read more about this play in the entry for 4th December

After five performances, the box office receipts of Vortigern are collapsing. But perhaps that is only to be expected; after all this is still the season of advent, in which Londoners are expected to be sober and restrained. Soon, Christmas will begin, and that is a time for indulgences such as theatre-going. Maybe things are about to improve for the Admiral's Men?


What's next?


Henslowe records no more performances until 27 December, so Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return then, for the 1596 Christmas season at the Rose. See you then!

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 22 December 2020

22 December, 1596 - The Blind Beggar of Alexandria

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

Henslowe writes: ye 23 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at the beager ... iijs

In modern English: [22nd] December, 1596 ... Received at The Beggar ... 3 shillings

Beggars in Alexandria; an undated photograph
from Brooklyn Museum's Lantern Slide Collection
Today, the Admiral's Men revived The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, a comedy by George Chapman about a master of disguise. You can read more about this play in the entry for 12 February.

Oh dear me, how are the mighty fallen. Back in June, The Blind Beggar of Alexandria was a sure-fire hit that always pulled a huge crowd. Today, it has drawn one of the smallest audiences ever recorded at the Rose. 


Henslowe links



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Monday, 21 December 2020

21 December, 1596 - Nebuchadnezzar

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

Henslowe writes: ye 22 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at nabucadonizer ... xxvjs 
In modern English: [21st] December, 1596 ... Received at Nebuchadnezzar ... 26 shillings

Nebuchadnezzar's dream
of the tree, from
Speculum Humanae
Salvationis
, a 15th-
century French manuscript
Today, the Admiral's Men performed Nebuchadnezzar, their Biblical drama about the Babylonian king whose dreams were interpreted by the prophet Daniel. You can read more about this play in the entry for 18 December

This is the second performance of Nebuchadnezzar, which premiered three days ago. After its very disappointing premiere before a half-full theatre, today's box office shows that word of mouth has not improved matters: the audience is smaller today. 

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 20 December 2020

20 December, 1596 - Vortigern

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

Henslowe writes: ye 21 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at valteger ... xxvs 
In modern English: [20th] December, 1596 ... Received at Vortigern ... 25 shillings

Vortigern in his burning
castle. From a 14th-century
manuscript of Peter of
Langtoft's Chronicle of
England.
  
Today, the Admiral's Men performed Vortigern, their play about the legendary British king whose actions brought about the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. you can read more about this play in the entry for 4th December

This is the fourth performance of the new play Vortigern in just over two weeks. But despite this heavy promotion, the play does not seem destined to be a blockbuster: the box office has now slipped below the Rose average.

Henslowe links



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Friday, 18 December 2020

18 December, 1596 - Nebuchadnezzar

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

Henslowe writes: ye 19 of desembȝ 1596 ... ne ... R at nabucadonizer ... xxxs 
In modern English: [18th] December, 1596 ... New ... Received at Nebuchadnezzar ... 30 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play, the third in as many weeks. Nebuchadnezzar is lost, but its title tells us that it told a story from the Bible about the Babylonian king and how the prophet Daniel interpreted his dreams. Let's explore what such a play might have looked like..

The tale of Nebuchadnezzar


In chapters 1-4 of the Book of Daniel, we learn of King Nebuchadnezzar, who conquers Jerusalem and captures high-born young Jewish men to take back to Babylon, some of whom are to be trained in the mystical knowledge of the Chaldeans. They include the pious Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Hazariah. 

One night, Nebuchadnezzar is troubled by a strange dream, but when he wakes he cannot remember it. He calls the wise men of Babylon to him and tells them, "if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut into pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill" (2.5). They are unable to do so, and so Nebuchadnezzar orders the deaths of every so-called wise man in Babylon. Daniel prays for salvation and that night a miracle happens: God reveals to him the nature of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. 

Nebuchadnezzar's dream
of the statue, from
Speculum Humanae
Salvationis
, a 15th-
century French manuscript
Daniel helps Nebuchadnezzar recall his dream, in which a statue composed from different metals was smashed by a stone that then became a mountain. Daniel explains that the dream describes the supremacy of the kingdom of God's heaven over earthly kingdoms such as Nebuchadnezzar's. The astonished and humbled king acknowledges God's power and awards Daniel a governership. 

Despite what he has learned, Nebuchadnezzar's next act is to build a gigantic golden idol and order that "whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (3.6). The people of Babylon obediently worship the idol, but Hananiah, Mishael and Hazariah refuse. Nebuchadnezzar orders them thrown into the furnace, but another miracle occurs: the fire does not harm them. Nebuchadnezzar once again acknowledges the power of God and makes the three men governors. 

Nebuchadnezzar's dream
of the tree, from
Speculum Humanae
Salvationis
, a 15th-
century French manuscript
In the final part of the story, Nebuchadnezzar has another strange dream, this time about the chopping down of a great tree. Daniel interprets it to mean that Nebuchadnezzar risks being driven from power until he accepts that kingly power is awarded only at the mercy of God, who "giveth it to whomsoever he will" (4.25). But the king doesn't listen, because a year later, he boasts of his achievements in building up the resplendent city of Babylon. A voice from the sky announces, "Thy kingdom is departed from thee" (4.31) and Nebuchadnezzar finds himself thrown from power; he ends up living in the wilderness and eating grass like an oxen. When he acknowledges God's power, his kingdom is restored to him. 

Chapter 4 of the Book of Daniel thus ends with the words "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth" (4.37). 


Nebuchadnezzar on stage


The Biblical narrative seems a solid bedrock for a play; it has a clear beginning, middle and end, opening with Nebuchadnezzar's attack on the Holy city and closing with his humility and repentance. In an essay on the Biblical plays recorded in Henslowe's Diary, Paul Whitfield White proposes that Nebuchadnezzar could have been played as a stage tyrant reminiscent of Tamburlaine, that Daniel would be the hero, and that the golden idol and the fiery furnace provides opportunities for visual spectacle. 

Daniel in the Lions' Den by Rubens (1615)
White proposes that the play might also have included the sequence from later in the Book of Daniel in which the prophet is condemned to be thrown into the lions' den and is saved when God closes their mouths. Nebuchadnezzar is not in fact part of that story, but it is hard to imagine any self-respecting playwright ignoring such an opportunity for spectacle, and White notes the presence in Henslowe's inventory of props of various lion heads and lion skins, in addition to "Daniel's gown" in a list of costumes.


A disappointment


All of this may sound theatrically exciting, but London's theatregoers do not seem to have been enticed by the prospect of a play about Nebuchadnezzar. The theatre is only about half full, a devastating result for a premiere, indeed, in her book on the Rose documents, Carol Chillington Rutter observes that this is the worst opening performance of any Rose play. The Admiral's Men will need to hope for good word of mouth to turn this disappointment around.

What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 19 December was a Sunday in 1596 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 20th for the week leading up to Christmas!


FURTHER READING


Nebuchadnezzar information


  • The Bible: Authorized King James Version with Apocrypha (Oxford University Press, 1997)
  • Carol Chillington Rutter, Documents of the Rose Playhouse (Manchester University Press, 1984), 107
  • David McInnis, "Nebuchadnezzar", Lost Plays Database (2011), accessed December 2020
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1050
  • Paul Whitfield White, "'Histories out of the scriptures': Biblical Drama in the Repertory of the Admiral's Men, 1594-1603", in Loss and the Literary Culture of Shakespeare's Time, ed. by Roslyn L. Knutson, David McInnis and Matthew Steggle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 191-214


Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 16 December 2020

16 December, 1596 - Doctor Faustus

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

Henslowe writes: ye 17 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at docterfostes ... ixs

In modern English: [16th] December, 1596 ... Received at Doctor Faustus ... 9 shillings

Faustus summoning Mephistopheles: from the
1616 text of the play 
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Dr Faustus, Christopher Marlowe's famous tragedy about a scholar who sells his soul to the devil. You can read more about it in the entry for 2 October, 1594.

Dr Faustus was last seen at the Rose a month and a half ago. The company is continue to revive this old classic, but one cannot help suspecting that they are doing so only for sentimental reasons; today's box office is dreadful. 


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because Henslowe records no performance, for unknown reasons. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 18th, when there will be a bit of mild excitement at the Rose.

Henslowe links



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Tuesday, 15 December 2020

15 December, 1596 - Vortigern

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

Henslowe writes: ye 16 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at valteger ... xxxvs 
In modern English: [15th] December, 1596 ... Received at Vortigern ... 35 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men performed Vortigern
Vortigern in his burning
castle. From a 14th-century
manuscript of Peter of
Langtoft's Chronicle of
England.
  
, their play about the legendary British king whose actions brought about the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. you can read more about this play in the entry for 4th December

This is the third performance of Vortigern, and the company has waited just over a week to try it again. The play has received exactly the same box office as last time, which suggests that the audience is not rejecting it, even though the actual amount is not very much (representing a playhouse just over half full) .

Henslowe links



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Sunday, 13 December 2020

13 December, 1596 - Captain Thomas Stukeley

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

Henslowe writes: ye 14 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at stewtley ... xxxxs 
In modern English: [13th] December, 1596 ... Received at Stukeley ... 40 shillings

1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Today, the Admiral's Men revived Captain Thomas Stukeley, their tale about the English mercenary's adventures in Ireland, Spain and Morocco, and his death at the Battle of Alcazar. You can read more about this play in the entry for 10 December.

This is the second outing for Stukeley, which premiered just a few days ago. The box office for its debut performance was disappointing for a first night, but today's is exactly the same, which is less disappointing in relative terms. It at least suggests good word of mouth, even though theatregoing clearly isn't very popular at this time of the year.


What's next? 


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because Henslowe records no performance, for unknown reasons. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 15th. See you then!


Henslowe links



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Friday, 11 December 2020

11 December, 1596 - The Seven Days of the Week

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

Henslowe writes: ye 12 of desembȝ  1596 ... R at the vij dayes ... ix  
In modern English: [11th] December, 1596 ... Received at The Seven Days ... 9 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men revived their enigmatic lost play The Seven Days of the Week, about which we know nothing beyond its title. Perhaps it was an anthology of seven short plays, or perhaps it was about the creation of the world. You can read more about it in the entry for 3rd June, 1595.


19th-century Italian bracelet illustrating each of the seven days of
the week with a portrait of the deity associated with it.
From the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

The players have waited a fortnight to return The Seven Days of the Week, one of the few plays they are still regularly performing. Its box office today is dreadful. These are lean times for the Admiral's Men. 


What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow because 12 December was a Sunday in 1596 and the players did not perform. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 13th for a week in which the Admiral's Men will retry some of their new plays.

Henslowe links



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Thursday, 10 December 2020

10 December, 1596 - Captain Thomas Stukeley

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

Henslowe writes: ye 11 of desembȝ 1596 ... ne ... R at stewtley ... xxxxs 
In modern English: [10th] December, 1596 ... New ... Received at Stukeley ... 40 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men performed another new play! It has been a only a few days since we welcomed Vortiger to the repertoire, and now we must welcome Captain Thomas Stukeley. And in a rare turn of events, this play actually survives for us to read today, albeit in a rather muddled form. The play's authorship is uncertain, but most scholars who have worked on it suspect the presence of Thomas Heywood, one of the most prolific playwrights of the period.

Who was Thomas Stukeley? 


Captain Thomas Stukeley was a maverick English mercenary who had many adventures in Europe and Africa. Most famously, he travelled to Morocco to fight alongside the forces of King Sebastian of Portugal as they supported Abd el-Malik's quest to reclaim his throne from the usurper Muly Mahamet. This venture resulted in the loss of his life at the Battle of Alcazar, where a cannonball took off his legs as he was deserting his troops. You can read an authoritative survey of his life in Charles Edelman's introduction to The Stukeley Plays (2005).

Title page of the 1605 text
of the play
If this story sounds familiar, it's because you are remembering the early years of Henslowe's Diary, back in 1592, when Lord Strange's Men were the players at the Rose and performed a play called Muly Molocco that may have been the same play as the extant Battle of Alcazar by George Peele. You might also recall that more recently, the Admiral's Men were performing a play entitled Mahamet, which might have been the same play under yet another title. 

In The Battle of Alcazar, Stukeley plays a relatively small role. This new play, however, focuses entirely on him, and is best thought of as an overlapping prequel that portrays Stukeley's adventures before the battle, and then ends with an alternative depiction of the battle and of Stukeley's death.

As with so many of the surviving plays of the Rose, the playtext of Captain Thomas Stukeley is messy and often incoherent. Scenes appear to be missing, and, bizarrely, one scene appears twice, the second time rewritten in Irish dialect.  Nonetheless, the overall plot of the play is fairly clear, and it depicts Stukeley as an heroic and dashing chaser of glory. 

The play


The title page of Captain Thomas Stukeley, published in 1605, sums up the essence of its plot: "The Famous History of the Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley, with his marriage to Alderman Curtis's daughter and valiant ending at the Battle of Alcazar" .

The play begins in the 1550s, with our eponymous hero as a young law student in London, known more for spending freely than for studying. He marries Nell, daughter of a  wealthy family; her father is concerned about Stukeley, calling him "very wild, a quarreler, a fighter, / Ay, and I doubt a spend-good too" (sc. 1), but Stukeley wins Nell because she loves him and because her former suitor, Vernon, acknowledges his inferiority to Stukeley and withdraws his claim.

Now extremely wealthy, Stukeley is not content to remain in England, but rather seeks glory in foreign adventures. He raises an army to fight in Ireland against the rebels challenging English rule. There, he defeats an Irish army in the town of Dundalk after what the stage direction calls "a good pretty fight" (sc. 11). But things are tense in the English camp; Vernon is among the soldiers there and leaves because he doesn't want to be around Stukeley. 

King Philip II of Spain
Stukeley decides to next seek his fortunes in Europe; in the Spanish city of Cadiz, he is is arrested for not paying harbour taxes, but gets away with it by charming the Governor's wife (who "never saw a fairer gentleman"; sc. 13) and then King Philip of Spain himself into forgiving him.

Meanwhile, Vernon is suffering similar problems with Spanish bureaucracy and Stukeley nobly helps him too. Stukeley learns from Vernon that he is no longer rich: Nell and her family have died and have left him nothing. But you can't keep Stukeley down. He has won the favour of the King of Spain and is confident in his abilities: "Tom Stukeley lives, lusty Tom Stukeley, / Graced by the greatest King of Christendom!" (sc. 17). And Vernon ponders their contrasting successes in life, comparing himself to a colewort (a kind of cabbage):
In Ireland there he braved his governor,
In Spain he is companion to the King;
His fortune mounts and mine stoops to the ground,
He as the vine, I as the colewort grow. (sc. 17)
King Sebastian of Portugal
King Philip hires Stukeley as an envoy to Rome, but doesn't tell him about his devious plan to conquer Portugal. Philip is pretending to support the young King Sebastian of Portugal's intent of intervening in a Moroccan civil war; Sebastian has decided to support Muly Mahamet in his war against his brother Abd el-Malik and Philip is pretending to support him in turn. But he is only doing so because he thinks Sebastian's foolish enterprise will result in his death, leaving a gap for Philip to invade Portugal. 

Stukeley finds out about Philip's duplicity, and decides to support Sebastian's venture in Morocco, raising an army of Italian soldiers. He and Sebastian are delighted to see a portent at this moment: as the stage direction specifies, "with a sudden thunder-clap the sky is on fire and the blazing star appears, which they, prognosticating to be fortunate, depart very joyfully" (sc. 20). Unfortunately, they have interpreted the omen incorrectly; it is anything but a fortunate sign. 


And so, we have now caught up with the events of the older plays, as the Battle of Alcazar begins. Stukeley and Sebastian join with Muly Mahamet and fight the armies of Abd el-Malik under a blazing sun that "so heats our armour with his beams / That it doth burn and sear our very flesh" (sc. 25). At the end of it all, Sebastian, Muly Mahamet and Abd el-Malik are all dead.  

1629 Portuguese illustration of the Battle of Alcazar
Meanwhile, who should Stukeley meet amid the battle, but his old rival Vernon? They are both wounded to the death, and vow to meet again in heaven; as Stukeley says, "we two / Were so ordained to be of one self heart, / To love one woman, breathe one country air, / And now ... we both shall die one kind of death" (sc. 28). And so they do, but not in the way they expect, for the Italian soldiers are angry at the foolhardy enterprise Stukeley has led them into, and stab the two men to death. 

That's the final scene in the published text. But scholars suspect that the last two scenes were somehow reversed during printing, as the penultimate scene provides more conventional closure: Abd el-Malik's brother orders the burial of the Christians who fought for him, and orders the body of Muly Mahamet to be flayed, stuffed, and paraded as a warning to would-be usurpers. In the last lines, he proposes that,
     in memorial of this victory,
For ever after be this fourth of August
Kept holy to the service of our gods,
Through all our kingdoms and dominions. (sc. 29)
If you would like to read Captain Thomas Stukeley, the most readable text is Charles Edelman's modern-spelling edition, which can be found in his anthology The Stukeley Plays (2005).


What we learn from this


From this play we learn, once again, that popular plays at the Rose never die; they just get recycled. It's not clear what happened to the old plays (or play, singular?) of The Battle of AlcazarMuly Molocco and Mahamet, but for unknown reasons they are no longer being performed at the Rose. Captain Thomas Stukeley appears to be an attempt at reviving popular material by reworking it into a different form. Instead of a focused play about the participants in the Moroccan civil war and the resulting battle, Thomas Heywood created instead a sprawling, episodic play about a glamorous English hero.

It is fascinating to consider that Edward Alleyn, the charismatic leading actor of the Rose, may have played different characters in these plays. In The Battle of Alcazar, he is believed to have played the flamboyantly evil Moor Muly Mahamet. But in Captain Thomas Stukeley, the role of Muly Mahamet is much smaller, and we may presume that Alleyn instead played the flamboyantly heroic Stukeley.

Despite all these good omens, however, the Admiral's Men must be disappointed with the reception of the premiere of Captain Thomas Stukeley. The 40 shillings received as the box office are not at all impressive for an opening night, and suggest that the subject of the Battle of Alcazar might have already been played out. 


FURTHER READING



Captain Thomas Stukeley information


  • Charles Edelman (ed.), The Stukeley Plays (Manchester University Press, 2005)
  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 154-5, 224
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1049.

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 9 December 2020

9 December, 1596 - The Blind Beggar of Alexandria

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

Henslowe writes: ye 10 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at the beager ... xs

In modern English: [9th] December, 1596 ... Received at The Beggar ... 10 shillings

Beggars in Alexandria; an undated photograph
from Brooklyn Museum's Lantern Slide Collection
Today, the Admiral's Men revived The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, a comedy by George Chapman about a master of disguise. You can read more about this play in the entry for 12 February.

During the past entire week, the Admiral's Men have performed only two plays: the new Vortigern and the once-popular Blind Beggar. It is the beggar who is coming out worst, as today's audience is tiny compared to the more impressive ones for the new play. The company needs to move on from has-been plays like this one. 


Henslowe links



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Monday, 7 December 2020

7 December, 1596 - Vortigern

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

Henslowe writes: ye 8 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at valteger ... xxxvs 
In modern English: [7th] December, 1596 ... Received at Vortigern ... 35 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men performed Vortigern
Vortigern in his burning
castle. From a 14th-century
manuscript of Peter of
Langtoft's Chronicle of
England.
  
, their play about the legendary British king whose actions brought about the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. you can read more about this play in the entry for 4th December

This is the second outing for Vortigern after its premiere a few days ago. The company records no performance of any play in the intervening days; this month of December 1596 is full of such mysterious silences that cannot be explained.

Perhaps there are problems occurring within the playhouse. But nonetheless, Vortigern has received respectable box office today, attracting an audience that has filled half the theatre.

What's next?


There will be another mysterious quiet day at the Rose tomorrow. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 9th. See you then!



Henslowe links



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Friday, 4 December 2020

4 December, 1596 - Vortigern

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

Henslowe writes: ye 4 of desembȝ 1596 ... ne ... R at valteger ... ls 
In modern English: 4th December, 1596 ... New ... Received at Vortigern ... 50 shillings

Today, at long last, the Admiral's Men premiered a new play! It's been a very long time since we have seen anything new at the Rose, and the unimpressive box office since the re-opening in October may have been caused in part by this lack of novelty in the company's output. Now, finally, the players are offering their audience something different! 

Henslowe calls today's play Valteger, but this is probably his idiosyncratic rendering of Vortigern, a mythical king of the Britons whose power-hungry machinations brought about his own doom and the loss of part of Britain to the Anglo-Saxons. The play is lost, but information from various sources allows us to imagine the story it told. 

Who was Vortigern?

Vortigern, a detail
from a manuscript
of the Roman de Brut
by Wace
It is not known whether Vortigern was a real person. His story emerges out of the murky period following the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. It can be found in some of the legendary histories of Britain, the best known being the 12th-century History of the British Kings by Geoffrey of Monmouth. 

The typical pattern of the legend is that Vortigern schemes his way to the British throne by having the pious king Constantius assassinated and by forcing Constantius's brothers to flee (the brothers are Aurelius and Uther Pendragon, the latter being the future father of King Arthur). Vortigern takes the crown. 

But a war is ongoing with the Picts and Scots, and Vortigern makes a fatal error. To defeat them, he calls upon the Saxon warlords Hengist and Horsa, who to cross the sea from Germany to Britain to aid him.  But the Saxons do not leave afterward, and Hengist uses his daughter Rowena (or Roxena) to seduce and manipulate Vortigern. 

In addition, the Saxons use trickery. In one legend, Vortigern allows them to keep only as much land in Britain as they can cover with a leather hide, but the Saxons cut the hide into narrow thongs and encircle a huge amount of land. There, they found the the kingdom of Kent, setting in motion events that will lead to further Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain and, ultimately, the creation of England.

Vortigern (right) meets young Merlin.
From a 13th-century manuscript of
Geoffrey of Monmouth's The
Prophecies of Merlin.
Note the
dragons underneath them...

Vortigern is now unpopular with the Britons, and retreats into Wales. He tries to build a new fortress there, but it keeps collapsing. He is told that the tower will only stand if he sprinkles onto the ground the blood of a boy without a father.  Vortigern tracks down such a boy; in some versions of the legend, the boy is the young Merlin the magician. The boy identifies the problem: there are two dragons, one red, one white, fighting underground, beneath the tower. The red dragon symbolizes the Britons, the white the Saxons. 

Vortigern in his burning
castle. From a 14th-century
manuscript of Peter of
Langtoft's Chronicle of England.  
The Saxons follow Vortigern to Wales and he is ultimately killed; in some versions of the legend when fire from heaven blasts his castle and burns it to the ground. 

Such is the legend of Vortigern. Its purpose seems to be to provide someone to blame for the Anglo-Saxon dominance over the Britons in England. Vortigern's blinkered ambition results in a great loss for his people. 


What was the play like?


We cannot know exactly which elements of the Vortigern legends appeared in the play at the Rose, but we can speculate as there are two surviving plays about him from, albeit from a few decades later. 

Hengist and Horsa arriving in 
Britain. From Richard Verstegan's
A Resitution of Decayed
Intelligence
(1605)
Thomas Middleton's Hengist, King of Kent (c.1620) tells the story of Vortigern's usurpation of the throne and of the arrival of Hengist and Horsa. It dramatizes the legend of the leather strips (see above). Vortigern falls for Hengist's daughter, called Roxena in this play, and spurns his own queen, Castiza. The Britons do not like this and rebel, replacing Vortigern with his son, Vortiner. But Roxena assassinates Vortiner. Vortigern returns to power, but on condition that he get rid of the Saxons. Instead, Hengist takes Vortiger prisoner and forces him to cede eastern Britain to the Saxons, thus becoming King of Kent. Vortigern escapes to Wales, whereupon Aurelius and Uther return. Vortiger's castle burns, as per tradition, and the play builds toward a fight between Vortiger and Horsus in which they kill one another, while Roxena dies in the flames. Afterward, Aurelius and Uther force the Saxons to convert to Christianity. 

Vortigern finds the dragons fighting beneath
the unstable tower. From a 15th-century
manuscript at Lambeth Palace Library.
William Rowley's The Birth of Merlin (1622) at first glance appears to be a sequel to Hengist because Aurelius is now King of Britain and at war with the Saxons.  However, the play is better thought of as an analogue, because Vortigern is still alive in Wales, albeit as a minor character. The play dramatizes the legend of the collapsing tower, Merlin, and the dragons. Vortigern ultimately dies in his burning castle, but this takes place offstage, almost as an afterthought. The play concludes with Merlin showing Uther a vision of Britain's future, in which his son Arthur will have many triumphs, but the Saxons will gradually take over. 

Both of these plays follow tradition in portraying Vortigern as a tragic but overambitious villain. We can thus speculate that the play at the Rose did something similar (and indeed that Middleton and Rowley might have borrowed elements from this lost play). Paul Whitfield White has identified a couple of clues in Henslowe's 1598 inventories: the inventory of costumes lists a "Merlin gown and cape" and the inventory of props lists a "chain" (possibly meaning a pair) of "dragons".

Performing Vortigern


While we cannot be certain of the plot, is is easy to speculate that Edward Alleyn took the role of Vortigern and gave the Briton king some tragic glamour. And there are some scraps of information about how Vortigern might have appeared onstage. Last week, Henslowe recorded in his accounts the purchasing of "copper lace and fringe", and later, "lace and other things" for Vortigern. And a couple of years from now, Henslowe will list in his inventory of costumes "one pair of hose and a jerkin for Vortigern", and a few days later, "one Vortimer suit" and a "Vortiger robe of rich taffeta". 

Clearly, Alleyn wore a resplendent costume, and from this list we also learn that young Vortimer also appeared in the play. 


The rewards of novelty


This is the first time in nearly 6 months that a new play has appeared at the Rose, the last one being the ill-fated Tinker of Totnes on 24 July. Today's box office, though not representing a full house, is still much more impressive than the most other performances this season. The Admiral's Men must feel as though they are back in business as a company that is moving forward instead of stagnating. 


What's next?


For reasons unknown, there are no performances recorded at the Rose for the next two days. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 7th. See you then!



FURTHER READING


Vortigern information


  • Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 233.
  • Robert W. Vermaat, Vortigern Studies (1999-2010).
  • Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2013), entry 1048.
  • Paul Whitfield White, "The Admiral's Lost Arthurian Plays," in Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England, edited by David McInnis and Matthew Steggle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 151-3.
  • Roslyn L. Knutson, "Vortigern", Lost Plays Database (2019), accessed September 2020. 

Henslowe links



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Wednesday, 2 December 2020

2 December, 1596 - The Blind Beggar of Alexandria

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

Henslowe writes: ye 2 of desembȝ 1596 ... R at the beager ... xxs

In modern English: 2nd December, 1596 ... Received at The Beggar ... 20 shillings

Beggars in Alexandria; an undated photograph
from Brooklyn Museum's Lantern Slide Collection
Today, the Admiral's Men revived The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, a comedy by George Chapman about a master of disguise. You can read more about this play in the entry for 12 February.

After a mysterious short hiatus, the company has returned with The Blind Beggar, which had once been a sure-fire hit, but which today receives only a smallish audience. 

What's next?


There will be no blog entry tomorrow, as for unknown reasons Henslowe records no performance. Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will thus return on the 4th December, whereupon we will finally see a new play at the Rose!


Henslowe links



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Friday, 27 November 2020

27 November, 1596 - A Toy to Please Chaste Ladies and a short hiatus

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

Henslowe writes: ye 27 of novmbȝ 1596 ... R at the toye ... xjs 

In modern English: 27th November, 1596 ... Received at The Toy ... 11 shillings

Two Women at a Window by Murillo (1655-60)
Today, the Admiral's Men returned to A Toy to Please Chaste Ladies, an enigmatic lost play; you can read more about it in the entry for 14 November, 1595.

The Toy continues to return very poor box office, as is so often the case. 

A short hiatus


There will be no blog entries for a few days, for reasons unknown. For the rest of December, Henslowe's Diary becomes rather spotty, with the Rose apparently silent on occasional days. We don't know the reason for this, but Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on December 2 for a week that will include a new play - see you then!


Henslowe links



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Thursday, 26 November 2020

26 November, 1596 - The Seven Days of the Week

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

Henslowe writes: ye 26 of novmbȝ  1596 ... R at weake ... xvij  
In modern English: 26th November, 1596 ... Received at Week ... 17 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men revived their enigmatic lost play The Seven Days of the Week, about which we know nothing beyond its title. Perhaps it was an anthology of seven short plays, or perhaps it was about the creation of the world. You can read more about it in the entry for 3rd June, 1595.


19th-century Italian bracelet illustrating each of the seven days of
the week with a portrait of the deity associated with it.
From the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

The players keep reviving The Seven Days of the Week, but it continues to disappoint, with another mediocre audience today. 


Henslowe links



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