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).

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: 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:

Fellowships and Bursaries: FAQs

The Malone Society invites applications from scholars for fellowships and bursaries. If you are considering applying for one of these awards, but would like to know more, here are some Frequently Asked Questions

1. What kind of work does the Malone Society fund?

We fund scholarly and textual research relating to drama by English, Welsh, Scottish, or Irish dramatists prior to 1642.  Some examples of this type of research include: an edition of a dramatic text or a study of a play’s textual history; dramatic records and early performance history; the role of drama in the court, in the commercial sector, or elsewhere.

2. What’s the difference between a fellowship and a bursary?

A fellowship is a major grant, up to a total sum of £1,000. Fellowships are awarded to established academics in support of a major research project.

A bursary is an award, often of a smaller amount, made to graduate students and early career scholars in order to support immediate research needs such as travel expenses to visit libraries and archives or accessing resources such as microfilms.  A total of £1,000 may be awarded in any one year, and is often divided between several applicants.

Both fellows and bursary-holders are required to report on the work undertaken and to submit receipts for their expenditure, which is reimbursed in arrears.

3. What types of expenses will not be funded?

The Malone Society is unable to offer funding for work of a purely theoretical kind, secretarial or administrative costs, or publication expenses.

4. Do I need to be a member of the Malone Society to apply?

No. (But if you’d like to become a member you can find out how here)

5. Are there other restrictions about who can apply?

We welcome applications from scholars and students of any age or nationality. If the applicant is currently registered in a research degree a letter of support from their academic supervisor should accompany their application.

6. How can I apply?

Download and complete the application for that you will find here.

Your application should describe your proposed research in detail, and should be carefully costed.  You will be asked to provide statements of support from two referees who are familiar with your research.

Completed applications should be sent to the Chairman of the Fellowships and Bursaries Sub-Committee (Dr Martin Wiggins) by 30 November, 2012. Successful applicants will be notified in Spring 2013.