Anon. (1625?)

NB. "Amboyna" is a recent assignation for this untitled play, and should be viewed as a convenience for the database.

Historical Records


21 February 1625. Thomas Locke to Dudley Carleton.

The marchants of the East India Companie have sett a Painter called Greenebury on worke, to sett forth in a Table the whole manner of torturing the English at Amboyna & the matter w[i]th all circumstances should haue bin acted in a playe verie shortlie, but the Duch ministers intimating the same to the Councell fearing that it might bee the cause of some tumult now at Shrouetide, the lls: [i.e. lords] tooke order for the staying of all, & the marchants & the Paynter were checked for their Labors. (SP 14/184, ff. 44-44v; cf. the summary in CSP Dom 481, which contains some substantial differences)

26 February 1625. John Chamberlain to Dudley Carleton.

… a sermon newly printed but made long since by one Wilkenson, which I know not what relation yt can have to this late accident, (for I have not read yt) but the epistle or preface made by a minister is bitter enough; then of a play or representation of all the busines of Amboyna redy to be acted: and of a large picture made for our East Indian companie describing the whole action in manner and forme wherupon the counsaile gave order the picture shold be supprest, the play forbidden, and the booke called in: and withall for a strong watch of 800 men extraordinarie against Shrove Tewsday to see the citie be kept quiet. (Chamberlain 602; cf. the summary in CSP Dom 485, which contains some substantial differences)

(The Robert Wilkinson sermon newly printed is The stripping of Joseph: or the crueltie of brethren, 1625).

Theatrical Provenance

Apparently scheduled on or near Shrove Tuesday, 1625, Council suppression (resulting from appeals by Dutch ministers) ensured this controversial play was never performed. Heinemann (see Critical Commentary below) infers that a public playhouse was the intended venue.

Probable Genre(s)

History; Foreign History; Tragedy. (Not listed in Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

As Karen Chancey neatly summarises it:

On March 9, 1623, ten English merchants were beheaded on Amboyna in Indonesia by order of Harman van Speult, the Dutch governor of the island. They died accused of plotting to seize control of Fort Victoria, the island's stronghold, in order to take over the local spice trade. Considering the number of lives lost in the centuries of conflict between Dutch and British merchants in the East Indies, the incident on Amboyna seems in hindsight to have been a rather insignificant affair. Yet the occurrence played an important role in English politics under the early Stuarts, and influenced English/Dutch relations for a century.

News of the incident, which the English came to know as the Amboyna Massacre, reached England on May 29, 1624, and caused a diplomatic dilemma. James I, who was negotiating an alliance with the Netherlands against Spain, chose to deal with the situation through diplomacy rather than military reprisals, a position his son supported. It was a decision for which neither the Stuarts' contemporaries nor their modern chroniclers would forgive them. (583)

In the flurry of propagandistic pamphlets published by the Dutch and English in the wake of the massacre (see Chancey 587ff), the torture and execution of the English was also related in a ballad, Newes out of East India: Of the cruell and bloody vsage of our English Merchants and others at Amboyna, by the Netherlandish Gouernour and Councell there (1624) EBBA.

The ballad concludes with a list of the executed and an ad for further reading, which may suggest an alternative or additional source: "You may read more of this bloody Tragedy in a booke printed by authory. 1624." The text referred to may conceivably be either of Sir Dudly Digges's 1624 tracts, A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruell, and Barbarous Proceedings Against the English at Amboyna (Internet Archive, 3rd edn), or The Answere unto the Dutch Pamphlet, Made in Defense of the Unjust and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna, in the East-Indies, by the Hollanders There, both of which were read by Dryden prior to penning his own Amboyna, or The Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants: A Tragedy (1673).

References to the Play

Only the Locke and Chamberlain references above.

Critical Commentary

Bentley (citing Chamberlain) only notes in an Appendix (the "Annals of Theatrical Affairs") that the "Privy Council had recently ordered a play on the Amboyna massacre, ready to be acted, to be forbidden" (7.58). He does not name the play or give it an entry elsewhere in his volumes.

Chancey (588) contextualises the play within the propagandistic pamphlet wars between the Dutch and English which followed the Amboyna massacre.

Margot Heinemann explains that the Privy Council's suppression of the play partially out of "fear of disturbance on Shrove Tuesday" is significant in that Shrove Tuesday was "the traditional day for apprentice rioting (which rather suggests that a public theatre performance, and not merely one for a privately invited audience, was intended)" (209-10).

David McInnis situates the play alongside a number of other lost travel plays in the tragic mode, that appear to have dramatised "not only recent history, but sensitive recent history at that" (539), and which therefore ought to prompt a reassessment of our picture of voyage drama.

Alison Games examines the historical contexts of two events labelled as "massacres" by the English, and how meaning was ascribed to these acts of violence in popular representations; she includes the lost "Amboyna" play in discussion of the 1623 events in the Spice Islands (519) and the lost "Plantation of Virginia" play in discussion of the 1622 events in Virginia (519), arguing that "[t]he plays, ballads, pamphlets and pictures convey some of the strategies deployed in England both to understand and to respond to the violence English colonists and traders had endured so far from home" (520).

For What It's Worth

Two years earlier, in 1623, a company at The Curtain had staged "The Plantation of Virginia" which was similarly steeped in recent history abroad involving the massacre of Englishmen. That play had ultimately been allowed after certain profanities were removed on Sir Henry Herbert's orders.

As Bentley notes, "inflammatory references to the Amboyna massacre and other unfriendly acts of the Dutch" (4.924) were still being censored by Sir Henry Herbert in 1633, with Walter Mountfort's dramatic defence of the East India Company's activities, The Launching of the Mary (written on his return voyage from India, and evidently intended for performance --- possibly subsidised by the Company itself).

Works Cited

Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of James I. 1623-1625, with Addenda. Ed. Mary Anne Everett Green. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1859. Print.
Chamberlain, John. The Letters of John Chamberlain. Vol.2. Ed. Norman Egbert McClure. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1939. Print.
Chancey, Karen. "The Amboyna Massacre in English Politics, 1624-1632." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 30.4 (1998): 583-598. Print. JSTOR
Dryden, John. Amboyna, or The Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants: A Tragedy. The Works of John Dryden. Ed. Vinton Dearing. Vol. 12. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. 1-77. Print.
Games, Alison. "Violence on the Fringes: The Virginia (1622) and Amboyna (1623) Massacres." History 98.336 (2014): 505-529.
Heinemann, Margot. Puritanism and the Theatre. Cambridge: CUP, 1982. Print.
McInnis, David. “Lost Plays from Early Modern England: Voyage Drama, A Case Study,” Literature Compass 8/8 (2011): 534-42.
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Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; created 12 July 2010, updated by Misha Teramura 07 Aug 2014; updated by David McInnis 19 March 2016.