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).

Malone Society Research Fellowship: Maria Shmygol

This is the first 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. Part two can be found here.

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 I: Working with the Play in MS HM4

I am currently editing William Percy’s manuscript play, The Aphrodysial (1602), which will be published by Digital Renaissance Editions. I’m very grateful to have received a Malone Society Fellowship, which helped to support me in carrying out a transcription of my copy-text at the Huntington Library earlier this year. This two-part blog entry will provide an introduction to Percy, his manuscript, and my work on it (Part I) and an overview of Percy’s remarkable play and its interests in staging marine spectacle (Part II).

William Percy, son to the Eighth Earl of Northumberland, was an amateur dramatist and poet who lived on the fringes of London and Oxford literary culture. His only published work is his Sonnets to the Fairest Coelia (1594) but his other poems and plays are extant only in three holographs: Alnwick Castle MSS 508 (1644) and 509 (1646), and Huntington Library MS HM4 (1647). While the plays were mostly composed in the first decade of the seventeenth century, the surviving manuscripts are later transcriptions carried out by Percy in the final years of his life while residing in Oxford. The majority of the plays were written between 1601 and 1603, as indicated by the dates borne by them in the manuscripts and through internal evidence, and Percy must have copied the surviving transcripts from earlier papers that are no longer extant.1

The Aphrodysial is extant in only two of these holograph copies: Alnwick 509 (1646) and HM4 (1647). As with the other plays in both manuscripts, The Aphrodysial is written in a legible, but shaky, italic and has been revised several times throughout. Working with Percy’s manuscript at the Huntington presented a number of interesting issues. I’m using the Huntington copy as the basis for my edition because it represents a more ‘final’ version of the play than does the ‘experimental’ text found in the slightly earlier manuscript. Nevertheless, as the images below make clear HM4 is riddled with copious emendations that take the form of deletions, insertions, marginal notes, and a plethora of pasted-on slips, which made transcription of the manuscript somewhat of a challenge.

 smygol image 1

The peculiarities of Percy’s shaky italic hand initially took some getting used to (e.g. the difficulty of distinguishing between his e/t forms). What proved most challenging were the repeated instances of very cramped text, which typically took quite some times to make sense of. However, nothing proved more frustrating than the presence of the pasted-on slips, especially the instances where multiple slips are pasted on top of one another, given that it’s impossible to see exactly what is underneath them. Oddly, the frustrations of working with this manuscript seemed fitting for a rather eccentric play such as this. The material presence of the emendations offers a valuable insight into the frustration that Percy himself much have felt when revising his play and preparing the manuscript, arduously fussing over fine details and changing his mind back and forth between choices such as ‘bracelet’, ‘love-rolle’ and ‘ceston’, for example.

  smygol image 2


The manuscript bears witness to the ways in which Percy worked with and shaped his play, revising and perfecting both the dialogue and the stage directions throughout. It’s evident that thinking about the play in performance was very important for Percy, since he provides alternative directions for boy and adult actors’ companies, being careful enough to note that fake beards should be provided for the boys but not for the men, for instance.

The format of my edition for Digital Renaissance Editions will enable me to do justice to Percy’s play by making the surviving manuscript versions available alongside my edited text. The edition will include facsimile images of both MS copies and my transcriptions of them, together with a modern-spelling annotated edition (which will have interactive links for glosses and longer explanatory notes). The material will be electronically tagged, which will facilitate navigability between modern text, transcription, and facsimile at the click of a mouse. DRE’s open-access policy will make this fascinating and regrettably little- studied play freely and easily available to students and researchers alike. The edition will likewise invite more critical engagement with Percy’s drama, the likes of which I have been undertaking in recent years.2 It is my intention that the edition will encourage a further reassessment of the style and content of Percy’s play and its place in early modern literary studies.

1. The plays composed between 1601 and 1603 are: The Cuck-queanes and Cuckolds Errants, or, The Bearing down the Inn (1601), Arabia Sitiens, or, a Dream of a Dry Year (1601), A Country’s Tragedy in Vacuniam, or, Cupid’s Sacrifice (1602), The Aphrodysiall, or, Sea Feast: A Marinall (1602), The Faery Pastoral, or, The Forest of Elves (1603). The sixth play was written significantly later: Necromantes or The Two Supposed Heads (1632)

2. I have carried out work on the play for the purposes of my doctoral thesis and have presented a seminar paper on ‘Dis-enchanting Marine Wonder in William Percy’s The Aphrodysial’ at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting (St. Louis, MO, April 2014) as well as a paper entitled ‘‘Such a fish as never was heard of’: A Whale for a Stage in William Percy’s The Aphrodysial’ at the Society for Renaissance Studies Conference (Southampton, July 2014).

The Fair Maid of the Exchange: Malone Society Staged Reading and Symposium

This guest post comes from Dr Eoin Price, who recently gained his PhD from The Shakespeare Institute, where he currently works. He is preparing a book about the meaning of the terms ‘public’ and ‘private’ in Renaissance theatrical discourse and has work forthcoming in Literature Compass and The Map of Early Modern London []. His reviews of Renaissance drama can be read at and Reviewing Shakespeare []

The Fair Maid of the Exchange

Are comedies meant to end happily? We’re often told this, but it’s easy to cite examples that don’t fit the bill. In Shakespearean comedy, we are left with unaccommodated figures like Shylock or Malvolio, while in Love’s Labour’s Lost death postpones the expected marriage. Jonson’s Volpone ends with punishment and the happy ending of Marston’s Antonio and Mellida turns out to be a ruse: in the tragic sequel, Antonio must avenge Mellida’s death. Renaissance dramatists devised a variety of ways to undercut the assumption that a comedy ends happily. To the long list of established comic undercutting must be added The Fair Maid of the Exchange, a curious play, of uncertain authorship, which was given a deserved outing in the form of a staged reading sponsored by the Malone Society and hosted by Somerville College, Oxford. A terrific cast, assembled at short notice by Edwina Christie and directed by Gerald Baker, used the full space of the Flora Anderson Hall to deliver a subtle and surprising production. As the illuminating post-show symposium discussion demonstrated, there were a number of points of interest: in the first session Martin Wiggins addressed the difficulties in attributing to the play a date, author, or playing company, Katherine Duncan-Jones discussed the play’s allusions to Shakespeare, Susan Anderson focused on the representation of disability, Tim Smith-Laing (who played the character known as ‘the Cripple’) talked about his experience acting in the play, and Baker commented on his experience directing it.

L-R: Martin Wiggins, Susan Anderson, Katherine Duncan-Jones, Gerald Baker, Tim Laing-Smith and Lucy Munro. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.
L-R: Martin Wiggins, Susan Anderson, Katherine Duncan-Jones, Gerald Baker, Tim Smith-Laing and Lucy Munro. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.

In the second session, Susan North offered an illustrated account of Jacobean embroidery and Rebecca Tomlin analysed the place of commerce in the play. In this post, however, I want to focus on the play’s oddly abrupt ending, which was so skilfully handled in the staged reading.

It’s first necessary to offer a brief and partial plot summary. In the play, two brothers, Antony (Peter van Dolen) and Ferdinand Golding (Ariel Levine) pursue the titular fair maid, the pleasingly alliteratively-named Phillis Flower (Edwina Christie). Phillis loves neither man but instead apparently unrequitedly loves the Cripple (Tim Smith-Laing) who, at the play’s outset, had bravely defended Philis and Ursula (Constance Greenfield) from an attack by the outlaws Bobbington and Scarlet (effectively doubled by the actors playing Antony and Ferdinand).

L-R: Constance Greenfield as Master Barnard, Jakub Boguszak as Master Bowlder, Tim Laing-Smith as Cripple and Sophie Duncan as Mall Berry. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.
L-R: Constance Greenfield as Master Barnard, Jakub Boguszak as Master Bowdler, Tim Smith-Laing as Cripple and Sophie Duncan as Mall Berry. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.

A third brother, Frank (Luke Rollason) also falls in love with Phillis but manages to hide his affection from his brothers. Calling upon a favour from the Cripple, he helps manipulate the situation to suit his own cause, winning the support of Master (Simon Tavener) and Mistress Flower (Lynn Randall) in the process. In the final scene, when the plot is revealed, Phillis must finally choose who she loves; after reflection, she chooses Frank.

Luke Rollason as Frank, Simon Tavener as Master Flower, and Edwina Currie as Phillis Flower. Photo credit: Jackie Watson
Luke Rollason as Frank, Simon Tavener as Master Flower, and Edwina Christie as Phillis Flower. Photo credit: Jackie Watson

On the one hand, this might be seen to be a fairly uncomplicated ending. Antony and Ferdinand have done nothing to suggest that they would be deserving husbands and the Cripple passes up on the opportunity to return Phillis’ love; Frank may be a somewhat underhanded and mischievous fellow, but he is also charismatic and clever. However, the production did a wonderful job of rendering such a reading problematic. The image of Phillis, surrounded by suitors, wavering before choosing Frank, was an evocative one. In the post-show discussion Tim Smith-Laing hinted at the difficulties in deciding how to play the Cripple’s reaction. Does he feign his disinterest in Phillis, or is he secretly in love with her? Is he happy about the arrangement? It’s difficult to tell, or for the actor to transmit that information, but the fact that the Cripple is a silent watcher for much of the final scene is instructive. Upon entering, he asks ‘‘Gentlemen sweet bloods, or brethren of familiarity,/I would speake with Phillis, shall I haue audience?’ (TLN 2587-8) He does not have audience; these are in fact, the last words he speaks in the play and the rest of the ending is played out around him. Some may feel glad about the prospective union of Phillis and Frank, but several spectators commented on feeling like the fair maid had made the wrong choice.

There may, then, already be misgivings among the audience before the final revelation, which causes a postponement to the festivities. Master Flower, the father of the bride-to-be, is unexpectedly arrested for (unknowingly, as it happens) possessing a stolen diamond. The play ends in infamy, as Flower says: ‘Words here are little worth, wife and friends all/Goe with me to my tryall, you shall see/A good conceit now brought to infamie’ (TLN 2690-2). In the day’s final discussion session, Caroline Barron suggested that this ending might offer a critique of the dark side of commerce; Flower is implicated in this seedy business even if not completely aware of his transgression. Again, the staging here drew out brilliantly the strangeness of the ending. The accusatory lines, spoken by Master Wood, were here delivered, to general surprise, by an audience member, Richard Proudfoot. The metatheatrical playfulness was certainly funny, but this staging also emphasised the jarring nature of the ending. The strangeness of his appearance may partly be to do with cuts made to the text, which slightly obscure the backstory of the diamond, but it was a smart and effective way to conclude this curious comedy. In the printed text, as well as in the performance, Wood emerges, like an inverse deus ex machina, not to solve a convoluted problem, but to cause one.

Collecting the major works of Sir E.K. Chambers

This guest post comes from Charles Littrell, who has put together some top tips for collecting the major works of Sir E.K. Chambers…

Sir Edmund Kerchever Chambers (1866—1954) was the first president of the Malone Society, serving from 1909 to 1939. He was a prime example of those late Victorian gentlemen who productively channelled their interests into something of great use to society. Chambers was simultaneously a leading public servant, rising from the 1890s to the 1920s to second secretary of the U.K. Department of Education, and one of the greatest ever researchers of the early modern stage. The story as we have it is that Chambers wished to write a life of Shakespeare, but decided to undertake a little preliminary research first. Over the ensuing 30 years, this research became The Medieval Stage, The Elizabethan Stage, and finally his work on Shakespeare. It would be fair to note that the Chambers Shakespeare biography is not universally acknowledged as the best of its type. The “preliminary research” works, by contrast, were and remain monumental works of painstaking scholarship.

Readers may be surprised that Chambers’s landmark works are, with some care, able to be acquired in collectable versions for modest sums.

Chambers was astoundingly prolific despite (or on second thought, more likely due to) his lack of an academic appointment.

His three major works are:

The Medieval Stage (Two Volumes, 1903)

The Elizabethan Stage (Four Volumes, 1923) and

William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (Two Volumes, 1930)

In addition to these works, a collector and particularly a scholar should also acquire Beatrice White’s Index to the latter two works above.

All the above works were published in first editions by Oxford Clarendon Press, so were printed to last a long time with good care.

Some Collecting Tips

1)    All the works have been extensively reprinted, so collectors seeking first editions would be well advised to contact the bookseller before purchase, to confirm the above editions and publication dates. Some scholars may prefer later editions which will include some corrections from the first editions.

2)    It can be much cheaper to collect multi-volume sets from among “orphan” volumes, but this exposes the collector to the risk that the assembled set will suffer from variable quality.

3)    I find that ABE Books ( has by far the best selection, and also has good online search and sales functionality.

4)    The multi-volume sets often attract extra shipping charges, but this can sometimes be negotiated.

Medieval Stage

When searching for the 1903 volumes, use all of “Mediaeval” “Medieval” and “Mediaval” as search terms. Currently “Medieval Stage” is selling online in at least good condition for $45 to $300 for a matched 2 volume set. The more expensive sets tend to have former owner association values; otherwise collectors can find completely acceptable sets for $50 to $75. Those of a competitive shopping bent are invited to match my daughter, who acquired her two volumes separately and in excellent condition for a total of $17.07 shipping included.

Elizabethan Stage

It is possible to spend a great deal of money on the four volume set, with $700 to $800 often asked for fine sets—and not much less than that for the 2009 reprint. But good to very good sets are reasonably available for around $200, and one can sometimes do much better, with $50 for a good set achievable with luck and patience.

William Shakespeare

This is the book Chambers spent 30 years getting ready to write, including producing the above volumes. Prices for the two volume set start around $50, but $75 to $200 is more common for a set in good condition. Volume II can be purchased in good condition for less than $10, but finding an “orphan” Volume 1 is difficult.

White’s Index

White produced this under the auspices of the Shakespeare Association, and Chambers was kind enough to put in a laudatory preface. A more honest preface might have had Chambers admitting to such sparse indexing, that frustrated readers banded together to produce an independent index!

Very useful for active users, and at prices starting from $7 (but $25 more common), not a major investment.

Other works

Chambers produced a great many other works, often printed in high quality editions by Oxford Clarendon. Plus of course he had considerable input into the early Malone editions. A quick search through ABE reveals many interesting “minor” Chambers works for under $10.

Happy collecting, and happy reading.


Bursary Funded Research: Performing ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’

This post is the third in our series of guest-authored posts written by scholars who have been awarded funding for their research by the Society. This post was written by Emma Whipday, a PhD candidate at University College, London.

Performing ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’

I was awarded a 2014 Malone Society Bursary to stage a research production of ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ from Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601), which portrays the murder of a London shopkeeper by his neighbour. The play is significant in its tragic portrayal of a murder in the home of an ordinary Londoner, and in its unprecedented attention to the forensic processes of detection. On Friday 21st March, the production was staged at UCL in what was, to my knowledge, its first performance in modern times.

Freyja Cox Jensen as Merry and Eleanor Rushton as Rachel. Photo credit: Niina Tamura
Freyja Cox Jensen as Merry and Eleanor Rushton as Rachel. Photo credit: Niina Tamura

The play is based on a true murder that took place in London in 1594: Master Merry, who ran a tavern, murdered a neighbouring shopkeeper, Master Beech, and the surrounding community worked together to solve the crime. This sensational murder caught the attention of Elizabethan London; it was reported in news pamphlets and sung about in broadside ballads. In 1600, a play named ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ was performed at the Rose by the Admiral’s Men. The following year, a play based on Merry’s crime was printed in quarto, in a collection entitled Two Lamentable Tragedies. The title page claims that the author of the plays is Robert Yarington. The only surviving record of a Robert Yarington living in London refers not to a playwright, but to a scribe; it is impossible to discover whether he was the author of the plays, or whether he simply compiled them into a single narrative. The second play is fictional, set in Padua, and stages the murder of a nobleman’s ward. Scenes from both tragedies are intertwined in the quarto, and thus Two Lamentable Tragedies is unique in presenting a traditional, elite tragedy alongside a true and recent neighbourhood murder. In staging only the tragedy of Merry, I wanted to test whether it was performable as a standalone play.

Drawing on the Malone Society edition of Two Lamentable Tragedies (edited by Chiaki Hanabusa), which was the Society’s ‘Book of the Year’, this research production aimed to discover how our understanding of the play alters when it is performed. This project is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to practice as research, combining the expertise of theatre practitioners with the knowledge of literary critics and historians. Freyja Cox Jensen (University of Exeter) co-organised the production; Helen Hackett and Alexander Sampson (UCL) were the executive producers; and the cast was composed of both professional actors and UCL staff and students.

Our production was prepared using Elizabethan rehearsal practices, based on the research of Tiffany Stern (Oxford). We sought to explore the ways in which reconstructing early modern rehearsal and performance practices could illuminate spatial dynamics and character development in the play. In so doing, we hoped to demonstrate the validity of practice as research as an approach to early modern drama.

The actors received their ‘parts’, composed of only their own lines and short cues, thirteen days before the production, at the read-through, at which they read the play aloud; they then met with me individually to discuss their character choices and work on their lines. A week later, we also had a single ‘stage business’ rehearsal, where we plotted use of props, fights and the closing jig, and a single dress rehearsal. These were the only times the actors rehearsed together; the rest of their work on the text took place alone. As the ‘book holder’ or prompter, I sat to the left of the playing space during the final performance, visible but not part of the action, to highlight the role of the book holder for the audience.

 - ?? as ??. Photo credit: Niina Tamura.
Charlie Howitt as Second Waterman, Becky Moore as First Waterman, Brian McMahon as Constable, and Eleanor Rushton as Rachel. Photo credit: Niina Tamura.

The performance was accompanied by music contemporary to the play. Our lutenist Sam Brown performed at the side of the stage, and was visible to the audience throughout. He drew from his repertoire pieces by various composers, including John Dowland, Robert Johnson and Francis Pilkington. Our musical director Simon Smith assisted in the selection of pieces, and worked with us on adding musical cues to the script, ensuring that our musical practices were appropriate. Music was used as an overture, in the act breaks, at moments of heightened theatricality – such as when the narrator-figure, Truth, appeared – and to accompany the closing jig.

Lutenist Sam Brown in rehearsal. Photo credit: Niina Tamura
Lutenist Sam Brown in rehearsal. Photo credit: Niina Tamura

The production was a great success. The actors gave wonderful performances, my services as prompter were only needed a couple of times, Tiffany Stern’s introductory talk about actors’ parts and early modern rehearsal methods was fascinating and accessible, and the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. We were amazed by how smoothly the play went with so little rehearsal time; it seemed to suggest that, with early modern actors accustomed to learning lines from ‘parts’ and a limited rehearsal period, Elizabethan first performances may have been more polished than we might imagine. We were even more surprised by how funny the play was – the audience laughed heartily throughout, even at seemingly ‘tragic’ events. This has raised interesting questions about how comedy and tragedy interact in the play. There are plenty of comic moments, from farcical falls to one character’s mis-hearing of murder as ‘mustard’, and even seemingly ‘tragic’ moments, involving murder and dismemberment, are macabre to the point of absurdity, and thus provoke laughter. Yet the narrator-figure, Truth, repeatedly calls attention to the truth of the crime that is staged, and comments on the teary eyes of the audience, reminding them that the action they watch is ‘but a play’. In our production, Truth’s commentary became an uncomfortable counter-point to the audience’s vocal amusement; this provoked further thought about how the hybrid genre of domestic tragedy may have been received by its original audience. I will be discussing the production at Andy Kesson and Stephen Purcell’s ‘Practice as Research’ seminar at the upcoming 2014 Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting, and look forward to exploring this issue further.

I am extremely grateful to the Malone Society for supporting this project; their generosity made our performance possible. This allowed us to purchase necessary stage properties, from pewter tankards to stage blood. It also made it possible for us to provide refreshments for the audience, so that Freyja and I could distribute questionnaires about audience responses to the play, and then swap completed questionnaires for glasses of wine, which proved a popular bargain! We look forward to exploring these audience responses over the coming weeks.

Furthermore, thanks to the Malone Society Bursary, I was able to invite Philip Bird, an experienced actor, director and teacher, to lead a workshop for our actors on Elizabethan rehearsal practices. Philip worked with the Original Shakespeare Company in the 1990s, and regularly leads workshops on cue-scripts at Shakespeare’s Globe and elsewhere. Concentrating on examples from Shakespeare, he worked with the actors on how to approach a part, before giving out the cue-scripts for scenes of various sizes. The actors all rose to the challenge, and though they admitted to finding the experience of working with cue-scripts ‘terrifying’ at first, they produced some fantastic scenes where everyone was engaged, responsive, and listening very hard indeed. It was a demanding process, but Philip was generous with his advice, and everyone participated with enthusiasm and immense concentration. The workshop proved invaluable for the actors in preparing for the final performance.

An analogy Philip shared with us in a good luck message just before the performance proved particularly useful:

‘The audience will be on your side… Instead of baking a cake and offering it up for consumption on the night, you are bringing the ingredients and baking it in front of them. They will be delighted.’

This was a hugely enjoyable, if daunting, process for everyone involved. The fruits of this production will inform and substantially benefit my own research on both Two Lamentable Tragedies and the genre of domestic tragedy, and I hope that the performance of the play proved illuminating for other scholars in the field.

N. B. Click here if you would like to see the actors discussing their experience of working with ‘cue-scripts’ and early-modern rehearsal methods.

Bursary Funded Research: Staging Daniel’s Cleopatra

This post is the second in our series of guest-authored posts written by scholars who have been awarded funding for their research by the Society. This post was written by Yasmin Arshad, a PhD Candidate at University College London.


I was awarded a 2013 Malone Society Bursary to mount a production of Samuel Daniel’s neo-Senecan closet drama, The Tragedie of Cleopatra. The performance, with Emma Whipday as director and Professor Helen Hackett as executive producer, was held on Sunday, 3 March at the Great Hall of Goodenough College. This may well have been the first such staging of Daniel’s play in four hundred years and certainly the first in modern times.

Published in 1594, Daniel’s tragedy is significant as the first original drama about Cleopatra in English. Written as a companion piece to his patron, Mary Sidney’s Antonius (a translation of a French play by Robert Garnier), it portrays a strikingly different Egyptian Queen from the usual representations of the scheming seductress we have come to expect. Daniel’s play focuses on the final hours of Cleopatra’s life, showing a great queen in defeat as she struggles to negotiate some form of mercy for her children, while knowing that she has no option but to commit suicide or be led as a trophy in Caesar’s triumph.

Charlotte Gallagher as Cleopatra
Charlotte Gallagher as Cleopatra. Photo credit: Yi Ling Hunag

Daniel’s closet drama is important also as a play that is in dialogue with Shakespeare. It was almost certainly a source for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, but Daniel was in turn influenced by Shakespeare in his much-revised 1607 edition. Although considered obscure today, Daniel’s play was a best-seller in its time, going through nine editions and five sets of alteration. Malone Society bibliophiles will be interested to know that in his study of early English plays, Peter W. M. Blayney has pointed out that Cleopatra would have ranked second in the number of editions published, out-performing Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and doing better than any of Shakespeare’s plays.

The idea for this production is based on my research on a portrait of an early-seventeenth century English aristocratic woman depicted as Cleopatra holding the asp, accompanied by an inscription. The painting has remained relatively unknown and was misidentified and misdated, with little work done on its inscription. The lines can be identified as coming from the 1607 Cleopatra (or the 1611 reprint) and the sitter as possibly being Lady Anne Clifford. The portrait is exciting as it may be a record of an actual performance of a closet drama. Until recently it was thought that such plays were written to be read aloud in coterie circles, but recent scholarship has suggested that they may have been fully staged in elite country house settings. The painting, which last came up for sale at Christie’s in 1948, has disappeared during the last sixty-five years. Its only visual record is the photograph the National Portrait Gallery had taken at the 1948 auction. Although more light can only be shed on the questions surrounding the portrait with its location, the painting itself provides us with a remarkable visual image of a Jacobean lady ‘playing’ Daniel’s Cleopatra in some way. It adds something new to our knowledge and understanding of early modern closet drama and female agency.

The aim of our production was to test the performability of Daniel’s closet drama, and to change the commonly held perception that there was no female participation in drama in Shakespeare’s time. Women were not only writing closet drama, but may well have been performing in these plays in the great country houses, using them to explore models of female heroism. As much as possible we wanted to replicate the probable conditions of a Jacobean country house performance.

We used Daniel’s 1607 Cleopatra as our play-text, primarily because the lines in the portrait’s inscription come from this edition. We decided to keep the play to about two hours for audience comfort, and as we were preparing the script and reading it out loud to time it, we began to realise that Daniel’s closet drama with its implicit performance cues, make it very performable. We also decided to follow the inscription’s lines in the script rather than those from the play text itself. If the portrait is a record of a performance then the excerpted inscription may suggest that an abridged version of the closet play was staged to make Cleopatra’s final 36-line speech more manageable for the actor –this also set a precedent for our cutting some lines. By moving beyond a staged reading with script in hand, we are satisfied that we have demonstrated that Daniel’s closet drama is fully performable. We were fortunate to have a cast and production team of extraordinary talents, and to have Charlotte Gallagher as our impressively mesmerisng Cleopatra and the talented Beth Eyre as our coldly ambitious Caesar. Both, alumni of UCL’s English Department, are now professional actors.

The cast of Cleopatra
The cast of Cleopatra. Photo credit: Yi Ling Hunag

It has been an exciting and wonderful experience to produce Daniel’s Cleopatra and to show how fantastic this moving and fascinating play is in performance. Staging this production has provided valuable insights into Daniel’s play and into understanding the workings of closet drama in general. I am very grateful to the Malone Society for their generous support of this project and in helping make the magnificent costumes and the DVD of this production possible.

Malone Society editions have formed an important part of my PhD research, particularly Daniel’s Hymen’s Triumph and Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam.

DVDs of the production can be purchased at:

To learn more about the production please visit:

The Cleopatra team will be discussing the research that led to this production and performing scenes from the play at Knole House in Kent, on Saturday, 9 November, and at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford on Tuesday, 12 November. Details will be posted on our blog and on the UCL Centre for Early Modern Exchanges website (

For more on women’s participation in drama in Shakespeare’s time, see Helen Hackett, A Short History of English Renaissance Drama (London: I. B. Tauris, 2013), pp. 175-88.

For more on the portrait of a Jacobean lady in role as Daniel’s Cleopatra, see Yasmin Arshad, ‘The enigma of a portrait: Lady Anne Clifford and Daniel’s Cleopatra’, The British Art Journal 11.3 (Spring 2011), pp.30-36.

Elizabeth Sharrett, manning the Malone Society table at the Great Hall, Goodenough College, March 2013.
Elizabeth Sharrett, manning the Malone Society table at the Great Hall, Goodenough College, March 2013. Photo credit: Yi Ling Hunag

Bursary Funded Research: a visit to the Houghton

The Malone Society offers bursaries, fellowships, and grants to support research. This blog post is the first in a series of pieces written by scholars who have been awarded funding from the Society. It was written by C. K. Ash, a doctoral student at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.  

Houghton Library. Photo credit: C. K. Ash
Houghton Library. Photo credit: C. K. Ash

In 2012 I won a Malone Society Bursary that funded a research trip to the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The Houghton is home to rare books and manuscripts at Harvard, and so home to an original quarto of the Admiral’s Men comedy Look About You, first printed in 1600, and to an undated manuscript transcription of the play. Because I imagine you, dear reader, as a bibliographically kindred spirit, a few technical notes on the two quarto-sized volumes of Look About You housed in Houghton.

The Kemble-Devonshire copy is one of the eight known extant quartos from the 1600 printing by Edward Allde for William Ferbrand. The actor-manager Kemble’s tidy manuscript labels the title page as a ‘First Edition’ and announces it ‘Collated | & | Perfect.’ as of 1798. The text is in mostly good condition, but the inlay obscures many headlines and some catchwords; small tears exist on several pages. The Harvard library system sent high-quality digital images of the quarto to The Shakespeare Institute, from which I did my first collation. Having checked doubtful readings in person, I highly recommend their imaging services, and cross my fingers that more archives will be able to digitize their treasures so well.

The manuscript copy is bound in half red morocco leather with marbled paperboards, done in the shop of Scottish binder C. Murton sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. It has 82 leaves, and the pages of text are lined in red to create 10.5 cm x 16 cm boxes, lightly lined and filled with neat handwriting. The copy text is unknown, but it appears not to be based on the Folger Shakespeare Library (Huth) copy, which has uncorrected variants on the inner forme of L. As far as I can tell it is a unique copy. No clear provenance for the copy has been discovered – if you know something about the c 1830 practice of transcribing Renaissance plays, for any purpose, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter (@cassieash).

The bursary also allowed me to acquire a copy of Anne (Begor) Lancashire’s unpublished 1965 doctoral dissertation, the only other modernized edition of the play. Her careful research is an excellent beacon as I tramp through sometimes boggy editorial terrain. The Houghton reading room and its staff are lovely, and I spent a few happy days poring over the two copies of Look About You. (Honestly, it was one of the most pleasant guest-researcher experiences I’ve had.)

Malone Society Reprints are one of my most valued daily resources, and I am very fortunate indeed to have received the Society’s support for my research.

C K Ash


1. The Malone Society reprint of A Pleasant Commodie, called Looke about you was published in 1913. I bought my copy second-hand in Renaissance Books at Mitchell Airport (Milwaukee, WI). If you want one of your own, and why wouldn’t you, head over to the bookshop. It’s that easy.

2. For peeks at old things newly digitized (and more!) follow the Houghton Library on Twitter: @HoughtonLib

3. Sometimes I blog about my work, sometimes generally about the arts, and sometimes I forget I have a blog. If you like, you can check it out: