Actors Mufti Nassuf etc

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Anon. (probably 1614-1642)

Historical Records

Hill's List of Early Plays in Manuscript

Hill's List was compiled by the book collector Abraham Hill (1635-1721): "The list seems to have been Hill's record of the stock of some bookseller, set down between 1677 and 1703, but it is notable that nearly all the identifiable plays and playwrights of the list are Jacobean or Caroline" (Bentley, 5.1283). The list was transcribed by J.Q. Adams, who also added numbers for ease of reference. Adams's Record 34 runs as follows:

34 Tereus with a pastoral M.A
Actors. Agnostus Eupathus &c
Actors Mufti Nassuf &c

Sloane ms 2893 p190.jpg

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown, but of the other play-titles on the list, ten can be associated with the professional theatre. The presumption, then, is that this play too came from that theatre.

Probable Genre(s)

Turk play
History/current affairs play

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The career of Nasuf Pasha, Grand Vizier of Constantinople, executed in 1614. There are numerous versions of the Nassuf story in English, French, and Spanish sources of the early seventeenth century. Among them is a biography published in 1621, within Edward Grimeston's continuation of Knolles's General History of the Turks. The quotations that follow are from Grimeston::

[T]o comprehend more plainly the fall and declining of [Nassuf's] fortune, let us behold him in his beginning and first rising. Hee was the Son of a Greeke Priest, borne in a little Village neere vnto Solonica, and hauing been taken by the tribute, which the Turks exact from Christians upon their miserable children, taking one of three; he was carried verie young to Constantinople, and there sold for three chequines or sultanins (euery one of which is not above eight Shillings starling) to an Eunuch of the Sultans, who nourished him and bred him vp till he came to the age of twentie yeares… (1335)

The young Nassuf is sold to one of the Sultana's stewards, who recognizes his potential and promotes him to be an overseer. Soon Nassuf is himself Chief Steward to the Sultana. From there he continues his rise, made Bashaw of Aleppo and then Governor General of Mesopotamia.

The commoditie of his gouernment (frontiring upon Persia) stirred vp his ambitious Thoughts, and his disordinate desire to become soueraigne of that countrey, and made him to entertaine many practices with the King of Persia, an ancient enemy to his master. (1335)

The Sultan, aware both of his ability and of his potential treacherousness, continues to reward him.

…he honoured him with the place of graund Visier, and gaue him all his goods, and in his place made him Generall of the armie against the Persian, with promise to giue him his daughter in mariage. Thus was Nassuf advanced by his dexteritie, wit, diligence, and trecherie, to the greatest charges of the greatest empire of the world. (1335)

Now Lieutenant-General of his master's army, he invades Persia like a latter-day Tamburlaine, and forces the King of Persia to capitulate to him. Returning to Constantinople,

He enters in pompe, presents a million of gold vnto his Emperour, is well receiued at the seraglio, much made of by the Bassas, but more by the Sultan, who caused him to marrie his daughter. Fortune having thus aduanced him to the height of greatnesse, not being possible to climbe higher, she overthrowes him, & doth precipitate him to the lowest degrees of misery... The Sultan feares his spirit, too headstrong by reason of his ambition; he growes iealous of his actions, and about the end of the yeare [1614] concludes his ruine and death. The commandement is given to Bostangi Bassa, that is to say, the Sultans chiefe gardiner, & ouerseer of his seraglio, and all his houses, one of the goodliest dignities of the court. Nassuf was at that time sicke in his house, Bostangi goes thither to visit him, & to cause him to be strangled, being accompanied onely with 7 or 8 men.

Arriving at the house, the Bostangi Bassa gains admittance after some argument, and enters Nassuf's bedroom with his men, who are all mutes.

hauing demanded some questions of him touching his health, he drew out of his Pocket a commandement from the Sultan to Nassuf, to deliver unto him the seales of the empire, the which being presently done, he drew out another commandement vnto him, by the which he was enioyned to send him his head... Nassuf cryed out aloud, and desired to speak with the Sultan, but the Bostangi answered, that he had no commission to conduct him to the seraglio, but to cause his life to be taken away presently: vpon this refusall, he intreats him to giue him leaue to wash himselfe in the next chamber, to the end that his soule (said hee) should not depart this world in the estate of pollution, according to the Turkes beliefe, who hold the washing of the body for a true purification. This fauour was also denied him; he saw there was no remedie in his miserie, not any hope of grace. Bostangi Bassa's followers (which were seuen or eight Capigies [i.e. mutes]) being come to take away his life, and inuironing his bed, which was an vndoubted summons that hee must die; in the end he resolues, and turning himselfe vnto these executioners, he willed them to doe their dueties; whereupon they fell to worke, and casting themselues vpon him, they put a coad [sc. cord] about his necke, and sought to strangle him; but seeing that the fatnesse of his repleat bodie would not suffer them to take away his life presently, they cut his throat with a knife.
His death could not be displeasing to the Christians, seeing that all his designs tended to their ruine: He had perswaded his master to break the peace with the Emperour, the French king, and the Venetians, promising him to make him soueraigne monarch of the whole world, to the end he might keepe his spirit in action, and make himselfe necessarie to his master, and liue more safely in combustions than in a calme; whereas the enuie and malice of his enemies gave him a thousand furious assaults. Thus Nassuf Bassa ended his dayes and fortune; before Gouernor of Mesopotamia, Generall of an Imperiall armie, and grand Visier of the Turkish Empire, aduanced to these supreme dignities by the great actions of his mind, but ouerthrowne shamefully to his ruine by his boundlesse ambition… The riches of Nassuf were so great and proportionable to his Fortune, as after his death they found about two bushels of diamonds and pearles. (1335-6)

References to the Play

None known

Critical Commentary

The only discussions of this record prior to the Lost Plays Database are those of Adams and Bentley. Both list Record 34 as if a single play, and then consider the possibility that there might be two separate plays contained within it. Thus, Adams comments that the details of Record 34 are hard to interpret:

To me it seems likely that Hill is describing a single dramatic manuscript in two parts, and quoting the name of typical "actors" from both parts by way of illustrating each. (94)

The implication here is that the two parts are, firstly, a play about Tereus, and secondly, a pastoral, and that one should imagine a mufti somehow featuring in a pastoral, perhaps as comic relief. Similarly, Bentley discusses the problem under an entry for M.A.'s Tereus with a Pastoral (?), observing that "This rather enigmatic set of notes might indicate one play or two", or, again, one dramatic manuscript in two parts. Bentley adds: "neither Tereus nor any of the character names is familiar from other seventeenth-century records". (Bentley, 3.1)

Matthew Steggle uses a search to argue that "Nassuf" has a consistent meaning in EEBO-TCP:

The database EEBO-TCP currently records 110 examples of [the string "Nassuf"], and all 110 of them refer to one particular historical figure: Nassuf, Grand Vizier of Constantinople, rich, powerful, and notorious until his gruesome death in the year 1614.

Given this fact, Record 34 must in fact refer to more than one play.

Steggle collects together early references to Nassuf and concludes:

Rich, Machiavellian, anti-Christian, and fat, Nassuf would make an ideal overreaching villain for a Renaissance tragedy, and his ending, for Grimeston, is a most satisfactory piece of poetic justice.... To sum up: the lost play here called Actors Mufti Nassuf &c featured, as a character, Nassuf, Grand Vizier of Constantinople in the reign of Ahmed I. It was therefore a play about near-contemporary Turkish history. Given the meteoric nature of Nassuf's rise and fall, it is hard to see the play as other than a tragedy culminating in Nassuf's violent death, in his own house, by strangling and knife.

For more on the other play(s) referred to in Record 34, see Tereus with a pastoral.

For What It's Worth

Works Cited

Adams, Joseph Quincy. “Hill’s List of Early Plays in Manuscript,” The Library 20 (19 39): 71-99.
Harbage, Alfred. "Elizabethan: Restoration Palimpsest", Modern Language Review 35 (1940): 287-319.
Knolles, Richard. The Generall Historie of the Turkes, rev. Edward Grimeston. [London]: Adam Islip, 1621.
Steggle, Matthew. "A Lost Turk Play: Actors Mufti Nassuf &c (1614-42)", Ben Jonson Journal 19.1 (May, 2012): 45-64.

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University: updated 08 Nov 2012.