Call for Editions: Fletcher400

In 2025, the Malone Society plans to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the death of John Fletcher by publishing an edition of the surviving manuscript of one of his plays. Two important manuscripts are as yet unpublished, The Elder Brother (British Library Egerton MS 1994, ff. 2r-29r) and Beggars’ Bush (Folger Shakespeare Library, MS J.b.5), and we invite proposals for editions of these manuscripts.

Detailed information about the dates, auspices, narratives and surviving texts of these plays can be found in Martin Wiggins in association with Catherine Richardson, British Drama 1533-1642: A Catalogue: Volume VI: 1609-1616 and Volume VII: 1617-1623 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015-16), numbers 1799 and 1866.

The manuscript of The Elder Brother is apparently a scribal transcript made for a private patron. Information about this manuscript can be found in Peter Beal’s Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 (scroll down for MS 1994).

The manuscript of Beggars’ Bush appears to be an unknown scribe’s transcript of a prompt book in the hand of the book-keeper to the King’s Men, Edward Knight. Images of this manuscript on the Folger’s Luna database can be found here.

Please consult our guidelines for prospective editors before preparing your proposal. We also recommend, as you work on it, that you consult a recent Malone Society edition of a manuscript play, such as Siobhan Keenan’s editions of The Emperor’s Favourite or The Twice Chang’d Friar. The deadline for proposals is 31 December 2018; they should be submitted to the Co-ordinating Editor, Dr Paul Dean, at, in the usual manner.

Antonio’s Revenge: A One-Day Conference

The Playhouse Lab, the Oxford Marston, and The Malone Society


John Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge: a one-day conference

Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds
Saturday, 7 July 2018

This one-day conference will focus on Marston’s riveting revenge tragedy, an unfairly neglected jewel of late Elizabethan drama which resonates with Shakespeare’s Hamlet and other classic revenge tragedies of the period. In 1921 the Malone Society published facsimile editions of Antonio’s Revenge and its companion play, Antonio and Mellida, edited by W.W. Greg; these editions are now long out of print, but we are delighted to be co-sponsoring this event and renewing our support for Marston’s work.

The second part of a fascinating diptych preceded by the tragicomedy Antonio and Mellida, Antonio’s Revenge tells the story of the unfortunate lovers’ struggle in the Venetian court. Mellida’s father, the evil Piero, Duke of Venice, has murdered Antonio’s father, Andrugio, the Duke of the enemy Republic of Genoa. Andrugio’s ghost returns from beyond the grave to command his son to revenge his death. Mellida is imprisoned under a fabricated accusation of harlotry, and she dies of grief believing her lover is dead. Antonio, in disguise as a fool, prepares a masque that the Venetian court will never forget.

This conference will be a very rare opportunity to see this superb play on stage, using David Lindley’s newly edited text for the forthcoming Oxford University Press edition of The Complete Works of John Marston.


9:30 am – Registration + tea, coffee, and pastries

10:30 am – script-in-hand performance with The Playhouse Lab ensemble, including students and staff at Leeds

1 pm – buffet lunch

2 pm – Panel 1: Antonio’s Revenge in Performance. Speakers: Perry Mills (Edward’s Boys, King Edward VI School), Harry McCarthy (University of Exeter), and Lois Potter (University of Delaware).

3:30 pm – Tea and coffee

3:45 pm – Panel 2:  Antonio’s Revenge: Text, Context, and Afterlife. Speakers: David Lindley (University of Leeds), Janet Clare (University of Hull), and Richard Meek (University of Hull).

5:15 – wine and informal roundtable discussion

Registration: Full price: £15   Concessions: £10

The registration fee includes attendance to the performance and the academic sessions, as well as the two tea/coffee breaks, and a buffet lunch. (Please specify any dietary requirements in the box provided.)

For registration, please click here.

Performances in the Clifford Household

This is a guest blog-post by Professor C.E. McGee, who was the recipient of the Colin Baldwin Fellowship for 2017 for his work on the Records of Early English Drama (REED).


The Emerging Picture of Performances in the Clifford Household

Thanks to a grant from the Malone Society, I had the opportunity to spend several days working on Clifford family records at Chatsworth House for the REED North-East project. The focus of this research was the entertainment of King James I by Sir Francis Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, during the king’s progress from Scotland in 1617. For our knowledge of these entertainments, we are deeply indebted to the late R. T. Spence, who published a richly detailed narrative of the events in ‘A Royal Progress in the North: James I at Carlisle Castle and the Feast of Brougham, August 1617’, Northern History 27 (1991), 41-89. He drew heavily on the stewards’ accounts, noting, closely paraphrasing, or quoting from entries in these accounts. My aim was to locate the evidence of performance Spence integrated into his article, supplement it if more could be found, and supply the specific references that he did not.

Francis Clifford, fourth Earl of Cumberland
Skipton Castle, North Yorkshire

Doing this research confirmed my impression of how remarkable the Cliffords’ entertainment of King James was. Sir Francis took special care with the lavish celebrations at Brougham Castle in Cumbria. For this occasion, he hired the poet, composer, lutenist, and writer of court masques, Thomas Campion, who ‘Composed the whole matter, Songs etc.’ Campion received the remarkable reward of £66 13s. 4d. ‘for his paines therein, Coming downe to prepare, order it, and see all Acted, & for his Charges to and fro’ (Spence, 59). While Campion played a key role, Clifford also took advantage of the creativity and talent of his family and household. His son Henry (1591-1643), styled Lord Clifford and later 5th Earl of Cumberland, was responsible for inventing the device of the show. For its performance, the earl enlisted musicians in the service of his son-in-law Sir Gervais Clifton, employed John Johnson the headmaster of St. Peter’s School in York to sing, brought in a musician from Hull just in case he was needed, and entrusted two musicians who were currently, or had recently been, in his household – John Earsden and George Mason – to create the settings and to perform. Their work, The Ayres that were Sung and Played, at Brougham Castle (London, 1618), offers the only glimpse we have of the content  of the three separate shows on successive evenings during the king’s visit.

The Ayres that were Sung and Played, at Brougham Castle (London, 1618; STC 17601)
Image from Early English Books Online

Campion may have brought some of the sophistication of court music to the Clifford estate, but the musicians there demonstrated that they were up to the performance of it. That the Clifford family, household, extended family, and nearby associates in Yorkshire could invent the device, compose and play the music, sing, dance, and enact the script testified to the family’s nobility, accomplishments, and prestige. For Campion, the Brougham Castle entertainment confirmed his high praise for Clifford, the patron, ‘Whose House the Muses pallace I haue knowne’ (‘Dedication’, Two Books of Ayres [1613]).

My effort to recover and document the evidence of performances at Carlisle and Brougham Castles was successful, but not entirely so. The Westmorland account of John Taylor, noted by Spence as ‘Unlisted’, is still unlisted and could not be found during my time at Chatsworth House. Unfortunately, this manuscript is a key one: it includes the payment of £66 to Campion and documents how Sir Francis financed the entertainment, for Taylor was his agent in London and the earl raised much of the funding there. The account of the king’s visit that Spence provides also suggests that Taylor’s account is particularly valuable because it covered the period when the celebrations actually occurred. All the other stewards’ accounts cease about a week before the big event and begin again about a week afterwards. Presumably all household staff were in attendance at Brougham where they were needed.

The east side of Brougham Castle, Cumbria
Photograph by Paul Farmer

The search for this account book led to a serendipitous discovery however. In going through boxes of miscellaneous papers that the archivist produced, I found the original manuscript of the third Earl of Cumberland’s speech at the tiltyard on Accession Day 1600. We have had T.D. Whitaker’s edition in The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven since 1805 and a reference for that document – Bolton Abbey MSS. Sundry Documents #54 – since at least 1987, but efforts to find it had failed, because the specific document is numbered, but the box in which it is found is completely unmarked. This speech and that of Lord Compton on the same occasion illustrate how tiltyard devices could combine routine praise of the Queen and protestations of devoted service with personal complaints and petitions. The Earl of Cumberland appears in the lists as a ‘Melancholy Knight’, lamenting his financial losses at the hands of others. Lord Compton appeals to the Queen to dissolve ‘a marble stone’, that is, the heart of his father-in-law, Alderman Sir John Spencer, who had disinherited his daughter because he disapproved of her marriage.

T.D. Whitaker’s edition of the third Earl of Cumberland’s Accession Day speech in
The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven (1805) (click on the image to read the text)

Both the failure to find John Taylor’s Westmorland account for 1617 and the surprising discovery of Cumberland’s speech at the tilt suggest that the picture of performance activity rewarded by the Cliffords is still emerging. Records of dramatic activity for the family have been emerging for many years. Whitaker included payments to seven companies of travelling players in his History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven (1805). The number of records of such performances more than quadrupled when Lawrence Stone revisited the Bolton Abbey manuscripts at Chatsworth. Searching the financial records of the Francis Earl of Cumberland and Henry Lord Clifford from 1607 to 1639, he discovered the evidence of thirty-one rewards to troupes of players. His findings, published by the Malone Society in Collections V (1959 [1960]), demonstrated the importance of household records for knowledge of actors travelling in the north of England.

John Wasson and Barbara Palmer, the late REED editors of the Derbyshire and Yorkshire West Riding, took Stone’s work further. He had thought that the players probably received food and lodging because some performances occurred after supper. This idea remained conjectural because, he noted, “there are no kitchen accounts with which to check this point” (19). Wasson and Palmer, however, found the ‘Pantry Accounts’ for the Clifford household; indeed, they are extant for the same eight-month period in 1612 that Stone focused on when he illustrated the variety and frequency of visiting performers. For each day, the Pantry Accounts list ordinary members of the household on the left page, extraordinary members on the facing page. Individual entries contain only the information needed for accounting purposes: who dined, how many, and at what meal. As a result, to Stone’s record of a payment in this Household Accounts –

1611/12 March 14, at Londesborough

Item giuen this day in rewarde to the Queenes Players by my Lord’s Comandment. whoe Played one Play this day after dinner Fourtie Shillinges   xls (21) –

we can add this information from the Pantry Accounts:

14 March

Twelve players diner (Bolton Abbey MS  59, f. 34)

In this instance the Pantry Account tells us the size of the Queen’s men on this occasion. Other Pantry Account entries provide evidence of troupes of players unrecorded in the Household Accounts; for example, just a little later in March 1612, a company of 14 players had three meals in the household over a two-day stay. Besides recovering the Pantry Accounts, Palmer and Wasson extended their search in accordance with REED’s parameters. As a result, we have scores of payments to musicians from as early as 1510 and eighteen more records of travelling companies of actors between 1590 and 1607, the starting point of Lawrence Stone’s work.

During my time at Chatsworth House last summer, I focused on the accounts books from 1616 to 1619, the period before and after the Earl of Cumberland’s entertainment for King James I. A close reading of these books produced no new information about the festivities for the king or about visits of companies of actors to Clifford estates. I was surprised to find, however, in sections of the account books devoted to ‘Riding Charges’, ‘Carriage Costs’, and ‘Apparell’ a significant cache of payments for town waits, musicians, instrument makers, music books, and musical instruments along with expenses for their care, repair, transport, and supplies. These records of performance activity at the Cliffords’ estates in the north of England represent only part of the emerging picture of their patronage. We have to supplement those records both their rewards (almost daily rewards) to musicians when they travelled to and from London and their expenditures to attend masques at court and plays in London’s public theatres. The ‘complete’ picture of the Clifford household records of performance promises to be rich and complex.

The Masque of Queens

This is a guest blog-post by Dr Daniel Smith of King’s College London, who was the recipient of a Malone Society Research Grant in 2016.


Staging The Masque of Queens

As part of a conference in Oxford dedicated to the pre-eminent non-royal woman patron and masque-dancer of early Stuart England, Lucy Harington Russell (1580–1627), Countess of Bedford, the Masque of Queens by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones was staged at New College, Oxford on 11 August 2016. A grant of £800 from the Malone Society substantially covered the costs of this one-off performance, enabling us to record it for posterity and create an open-access teaching resource for academics wishing to bring the masque into their classrooms. The masque recording was completed in time to join King’s College London’s Shakespeare400 celebrations of 2016, and can be found here.

Our Masque of Queens was directed by Dr Emma Whipday (KCL/UCL), and featured professional dancers and musicians alongside a performance of the script by six actors, most of them MA students from King’s, in the stunning chapel of New College, its glorious reredos standing in for Inigo Jones’s imposing House of Fame, a principal architectural feature of the original 1609 performance. The executive producers were Dr Nadine Akkerman and Dr Daniel Smith, and the producer at New College was Rev. Dr Erica Longfellow, the college chaplain.

The performance was designed in part to show how a masque works on stage, but also to show its potential for modern-day adaptation. Whipday made some small cuts to the text, and fitted the performance’s tone the requirements of the setting and the cast. Out of term and with no advertising, the full complement of 200 free tickets were taken within 48 hours – this kind of popularity underscores the importance of having a video recording, and points to the potential success of future masque performances.

Despite the popularity of Renaissance drama today, early modern masques are hardly ever performed, since they require so many individual talents in the performers and such a range and depth of historical understanding by the directors and producers. Bringing masques back on to the stage is the best way to increase our understanding of these vividly visual and musical events. We are fortunate to have images attesting to the costume designs and sets of the Masque of Queens, as well as notes about the original make-up and Alfonso Ferrabosco’s score. The survival of such information is rare in this period and enabled us to base our performance firmly on historical evidence.

This recording enables future scholars to study two fascinating figures in seventeenth-century culture simultaneously. Ben Jonson’s outstandingly significant Workes enjoyed a quatercentenary in 2016, a year naturally dominated by events marking Shakespeare’s death. The Countess of Bedford pioneered a space on stage and in society for female creativity and political expression, but her contribution to the history of women’s stage-craft is little known beyond academic masque studies. Lady Bedford danced in more court masques than any non-royal figure and was intimately associated with this now-neglected genre. To comprehend the achievements of this pioneering woman we must understand the masque in relation to visual culture, materiality, and performance, and how these factors helped negotiate political authority and gender structures.

With The Masque of Queens performed in an ornate chapel in Oxford, and John Milton’s A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (aka Comus) drawing audiences at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London, perhaps other directors, producers, scholars, and performers will take up the challenge of recreating the masque for twenty-first century audiences?

Blame Not Our Author

This is a guest post by Fran Hughes and Ben Martineau, directors of a performance of the academic play Blame Not Our Author at the University of Cambridge in January 2017. The Society would like to thank Fran and Ben for writing for us, and for bringing our edition to life in performance.


A Cambridge Student Production of Blame Not Our Author

This January marked the first re-performance in around four hundred years of ‘Blame Not Our Author,’ written circa 1630 for students in the Venerable English College in Rome. The play is set in a Euclidean world, populated by shapes and ruled over by Regulus, the Ruler.  A melancholic young square named Quadro dreams of becoming the perfect circle, whilst his dastardly friend, Rectangulum, decides to seek revenge on the entire shape-world, turning Quadro, Line and Circulus against their weary creator, the Compass. Geometric chaos ensues, as the characters in an overused textbook are finally given the chance to rebel against their lot in life.

Transcribed and published by the Malone Society in 1983, Blame Not Our Author has not knowingly been performed since it was penned in the English Jesuit College (now the Venerable English College) in Rome circa 1630.  Written for students some 400 years ago, it is packed with visual gags that are farcical, witty, and still eloquent to anyone familiar with school geometry lessons. On another level, it provides a rich insight into a world where publications on practical mathematics, geometry, and technical skills were proliferating in print culture, and reflects certain historical anxieties about the public use and abuse of mechanical knowledge.

Quadro and Rectangulum in Blame Not Our Author,
directed by Fran Hughes and Ben Martineau,
University of Cambridge,
January 2017.
Image Credit: Fran Hughes.

The focus of the play reflects the heavy emphasis on geometrical learning in the Jesuit-influenced curriculum at the college.  Alongside the classroom jokes, however, are darker references to the religious conflicts of the time.  When Quadro is bound in a circular contraption named the ‘Squarenigher’s Daughter’, the author was directly alluding to the torture instrument known as the ‘Scavenger’s Daughter’, said to have been used on Catholics during the Reformation.  Moreover, when the character of Line taunts the fact that ‘Bible the Minister’ has had her translate the Psalms ‘into better lines’, the author was mocking the verse of the Protestant Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, written in ballad metre.  Despite these poignant historic references, the play is a comedy, and was probably performed for the annual Shrovetide festivities before the beginning of Lent.

The ‘Squarenighter’s Daughter’ in operation.
Image Credit: Benedict Flett.

Working with the Malone Society’s thorough transcription of the original manuscript and adapting it for re-performance allowed for an extremely dynamic relationship with the script.  As directors, the excitement of working with a neglected and relatively unknown play allowed for a degree of creativity not usually afforded to well known early modern plays, where audience members often arrive with many preconceptions about the text.  Rehearsing revealed many more hidden jokes and farcical elements within the play.  Rather than going for a strictly historical reconstruction, the actors wore contemporary dress with subtle allusions to their ‘shapes’, such as a chequed shirt for Quadro, and a walking-stick-come-compass for the elderly, academically-dressed Compass.  The black-and-white theme of the set evoked the palette of printed textbooks, whilst a planetarium-like mobile at the centre with suspended shapes allowed characters to enact some of the more abstract jokes, and also alluded to their shared desire to become heavenly, Platonic forms.

Image Credit: Benedict Flett.

The introductory notes provided in the Malone publication sparked lots of discussions during the rehearsals.  Knowing that different hands feature in the original manuscript helped to create a real sense that we were reviving a collaborative, historic, student project, and all members of the cast and crew were keen to pitch in with various interpretations.  The current custodian of the manuscript in the archives in Rome was in attendance, and we have had multiple expressions of interest concerning where the script can be read – it is thanks to the Malone Society that this project was even possible, and we are extremely thankful for the existence of their publication!


Fran Hughes and Ben Martineau – Directors

Select Bibliography

Gossett, S. ed., ‘Blame not our Author, from the MS. (Scrittura 35.1) at the Venerable English College, Rome’, Malone Society Collections 11 (1983), pp. 85-132.

Mazzio, C., ‘The Three-Dimensional Self: Geometry, Melancholy, Drama’, in D. Glimp, and M.R. Warren, eds., Arts of Calculation: Quantifying Thought in Early Modern Europe (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 35-65.

Colin Baldwin

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our Production Manager, Colin Baldwin, who died in his sleep on October 19th, after a short illness.

There can be no doubt that the esteem in which the Society’s publications continue to be held is due, in large measure, to the care and accuracy with which Colin saw our volumes through the press, and the advice that he offered on every aspect of their progress, from the initial submission of the material to the choice of printer to whom to entrust the work. His advice to individual members of Council proved invaluable in a host of respects, and his readiness to respond, with the utmost patience, to our doubts, hesitations, and frequent changes of changes of mind has left a succession of editors (and Council officers) deeply in his debt.

There can be very few societies that have relied on the judgement of a single person over such a remarkable length of time. The majority of members of Council were still at school when he checked the proofs of his first Malone Society volume, and none of our more senior members had completed their first degree. It is the consistency that this length of familiarity with our work has afforded our publications that is, perhaps, his greatest contribution to the society’s work. The Malone Society has long been regarded as a bastion of unselfregarding scholarship. The fact that his name has never appeared in any of our editions speaks volumes for his commitment to that ideal.

Flash Sale!

For the more honour of our English men,
I will that this be for euer cald the battell of Agincourt.

Sunday 25th October 2015 marks six centuries since the battle of Agincourt. To commemorate this, the Malone Society are offering our unique edition of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth at a special discount of £10 for members and £20 for non-members for one week only from today. In this wonderful Elizabethan retelling of medieval history – a source for Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V – the reprobate prince Henry sins, reforms and goes to war with France. Our text reproduces the 1598 edition, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth: Containing the Honourable Battle of Agincourt, from the Huntington Library copy, and was prepared by Chiaki Hanabusa.

Members should enter the code MALSOCMEM when asked for a coupon code in the shopping cart or checkout page to receive their discount. Books ordered through the bookshop are sent from the UK, and appropriate international shipping rates will be applied. Click here to go directly to the bookshop.


Professor Thomas L. Berger

It was with deep sadness that members of Council received the news, at their meeting on October 17th, of the death of Professor Thomas L. Berger the previous week.

Tom Berger became Malone Society Treasurer for the United States (a position he held for nearly thirty years) at a particularly turbulent period in the Society’s affairs. The chaos into which the Society had fallen in the early 1970s had been restored to a degree of order in America through the sterling work of Professor G. E. Bentley, but it fell to Tom, as his successor, to return the US sphere of the Society’s activities to their once-flourishing state. Characteristically, he brought not only considerable energy and enthusiasm to the task, but a whimsical humour designed to attract younger scholars to an organization associated with scholarship of the most exacting (and superficially uninviting) kind. It is to Tom that we owe the ‘Malone Ranger’ badges and Tee shirts (the latter recently revived), the ‘Malone Society Fun Run’, and a host of highly inventive conference stalls acquainting the uninitiated with the joys of belonging to a quirky, dynamic and highly idiosyncratic organization. For those of us who worked with him he was a tower of strength on a range of fronts – ready to conjure up money when needed, to offer advice as we confronted a host of problems arising from the Society’s near-demise, and to bring his own scholarly expertise into play in the editing of three of our publications (and making a signal contribution to a fourth). He was a relaxed presence at Council meetings on his visits to England, a witty and charming correspondent, and a firm believer in the value of the Society’s work. We shall miss him very much.

malone ranger

Malone Society Research Fellowship: Maria Shmygol, part 2

This is the second of two blog posts from Maria Shmygol about her research into William Percy’s manuscript play The Aphrodysial, for which she received a Malone Society Fellowship.

Maria is based at the English department of the University of Liverpool, where she is assisting Nandini Das with her work editing Volume 6 of a fourteen-volume critical edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, general edited by Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt for Oxford University Press. She recently completed an AHRC-funded doctoral project entitled ‘“A Sea-Change”: Representations of the Marine in Jacobean Drama and Visual Culture’, research for which engaged with a range of commercial plays, civic entertainments, and court masques.

Maria’s current work—particularly her edition of William Percy’s The Aphrodysial, for which the Malone Society awarded her a Research Fellowship—develops her interests in textual editing and manuscript culture. Other research interests include cultures of knowledge in the early modern period and the relationship between natural history and print.

She was the co-organiser of a conference entitled ‘Making Knowledge in the Renaissance’ (Liverpool, March 2015) and is currently writing an article on theory and practice in the textual works and artisanal practice of the French Huguenot potter, Bernard de Palissy.


William Percy’s The Aphrodysial (1602)

Part II: An Early Modern ‘Marinall’ 

The Aphrodysial is a piscatory pastoral (Percy himself identifies it as a ‘marinall’ in the running title) and is rather unique as it is set almost entirely underwater. The play follows the events leading up to the Aphrodysial sea-feast at the court of Oceanus, where Cytheræa presides over the festivities and features an exciting array of characters lifted from classical mythology and literature. As well as Vulcan, Jupiter, Proteus, Cupid, and the nymphs Arida and Humida, the play unsurprisingly makes use of characters specifically associated with the sea, such as Thetis, Nereus, Oceanus, and Arion, all of whom, in one way or another, become embroiled in romantic schemes and pursuits. Likewise, Percy capitalizes on the popularity of the Hero and Leander story which he adapts in his play with a suitably happy conclusion befitting the festivities and contests in this remarkably innovative piece of drama.

The Aphrodysial bears the date 1602 in both surviving manuscripts (although the manuscripts themselves were transcriptions carried out in the 1640s; see Part I). Madeleine Hope Dodds used this evidence to suggest that the play was most likely written for performance at the christening celebrations of Percy’s nephew, Algernon Percy at Essex House in October 1602, although this is conjecture and ignores the external evidence that links Percy to the child actor companies elsewhere.1 Although there are no known records of Percy’s plays being professionally performed, the detail and richness of the stage directions (particularly in The Aphrodysial) demonstrate his keen awareness of staging practices reveal much about how Percy envisaged his play in performance by child and adult companies.2

One of the play’s most striking elements is a monstrous talking whale that a group of somewhat dim-witted fishermen attempt to capture as a prize for Cytheræa. As well being a source of spectacle and slap-stick, the whale proves instrumental in resolving several of the play’s weightier concerns. When the ‘monstrum horrendum’ is dissected at court, an apprentice boy is found in its belly and revealed as the ventriloquizer of the hideous creature. The boy makes known that he is in possession of Thetis’s lost magical bracelet, which explains the oracles and different tongues that the whale was previous able to utter to the amazed fishermen. The preceding parts of the play devote ample attention to Thetis’s suitors and their fruitless search for the enchanted bracelet, since she had vowed to marry no-one other than its finder. Following her initial chagrin at the idea of marrying the apprentice boy, she offers him a bribe to forego his right to her hand and so preserves her virginity.

While Percy is careful to specify that the monstrous whale keeps to his ‘den’ throughout the play, the descriptions of the creature that we hear from the group of startled fishermen constructs a rather terrifying image:

It is a thing Abosonaunt in Nature, see what Fegaries the villain will fetch. He roareth like thirty Barril of gunpowder,
He springeth at a spring Three Acres, o[f] water, He squirteth Fyre not onely before but also behind. (fol. 124r)

This description vividly calls to mind the mechanical water pageant devices commonly used in the Lord Mayors’ Shows on the Thames. The hydraulics and pyrotechnics that the fisherman’s description alludes to reveals Percy’s familiarity with such devices shaped like fish. A description of precisely such a device is found in the Ironmongers’ records for the waterworks used in the 1609 show: a whale ‘rounded close without sight of the boate and to row with ffins open for ffireworkes at the mouth and water vented at the head.3  It is my hope that my edition will make it possible to fully address the ways in which Percy’s literary and cultural experiences shaped this fascinating and regrettably little-studied play.

Although Percy’s poetic and dramatic efforts were derided in a smattering of essays written in the 1930s, Matthew Dimmock’s more recent edition of Mahomet and His Heaven (Ashgate, 2006) has highlighted how provocative Percy’s drama can be when read alongside similar material written by his contemporaries. Percy’s plays are remarkably inventive and, as is the case with The Aphrodysial in particular, bring together a variety of diverse literary sources and characters.4 For example, Percy imaginatively dramatizes a world of classical deities in a way that shows awareness of conventions used in masque texts as well as civic pageantry. The play is an important early example of the kinds of ‘underwater’ themes that would characterise masques and entertainments that flourished at the Jacobean court in the years following its composition.5 I’m really excited to be working on the play and hope that my edition will generate interest among scholars and practitioners alike – I’d be delighted to see a script-in-hand production of the play once the modernized text is ready, so if there are any interested parties, please do get in touch!


1 Madeleine Hope Dodds, ‘William Percy’s Aphrodysial’, Notes and Queries, 161 (1931), 237-40 (p. 237). In his entry on Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven, Wiggins suggests that ‘one scrap of evidence tying the play [i.e. Mahomet] to 1601 (and indeed the Children of Paul’s) is the fact that the subtitle, A Dream of a Dry Summmer, is quoted in Blurt, Master Constable, performed late that year by the same company (see British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-2014), vol IV: 1598-1602, p. 339). Mary C. Erler provides a very useful overview of ‘William Percy and Plays at Paul’s’ in Ecclesiastical London, Records of Early English Drama (Toronto and British Library: University of Toronto Press, 2008), pp. 278-91.

2 For instance, towards the end of first act of the The Aphrodysial, the stage direction calls for ‘a shower of rose-water and comfits, as was acted in Christ church, in Oxford, in Dido and Aeneas’, which clearly refers to a performance of William Gager’s play, an account of which appeared in Holinshed’s Chronicles (see Patrick Kincaid, ‘A Critical Edition of William Percy’s The Cuckqueans and Cuckolds Errants’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 1999, p. 25.

3 Jean Robinson and D. J. Gordon, eds, A Calendar of Dramatic Records in the Books of the Livery Companies of London, 1485-1640, Malone Society Collections, 3 (Oxford: Malone Society, 1954), p.73.

4 Harold N. Hillebrand rather unfairly described Percy’s works as ‘dramatically and artistically […] wretched—the prolix, pedantic, bloodless, laboured excogitations of a queer, cramped, academic personality; only when one tries to build [the plays] into this picture of the man do they acquire a half-pathetic, half-absurd interest’ (‘William Percy: An Elizabethan Amateur’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 1:4 (1938), 391-416 (p. 408)).

5 In fact, Kincaid supposes that the Percy’s affectation to write the stage directions in past tense was caught from masque texts (‘A Critical Edition of William Percy’s The Cuckqueans and Cuckolds Errants’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 1999, p. 107).