Bristow Merchant

John Ford & Thomas Dekker (1624)

Historical Records

Dramatic Records of of Sir Henry Herbert

J. O. Halliwell-Phillips transcribed a number of Sir Henry Herbert's licensing records and compiled them in various scrapbooks now held at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Amongst them is the following transcription of plays from 1624, which includes:

For the P: comp: A new P. call: The Bristow Marchant writt: by Forde & Decker 22 Oct ^ 1624 1 li.

HP Herbert Sept 1624.jpg

(Folger Shakespeare Library, MS W.b.156 ("Fortune"), p149. Reproduce by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library)

In 1996, N. W. Bawcutt published new records deriving from hitherto overlooked transcriptions and cuttings from the Ord manuscript, made by its previous owner (i.e. previous to Halliwell-Phillipps) the nineteenth-century scholar Jacob Henry Burn (Beinecke Library, Osborn d1):

The Bristow Merchant. a New Play ^written by Ford and Decker alld for Prince's Company 22 Oct 1624      1li

Burn Transcript 1467725 Bristow Merchant sml.jpg

(Jacob Henry Burn, "Collection towards forming a history of the now obsolete office of the Master of the Revells", [1874]. James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Reproduced with permission).

Theatrical Provenance

The Prince's company. Harbage, working without the benefit of the Burn transcript (see above), presumably interpreted the "P: Comp:" of the Halliwell-Phillips transcript as meaning "Palsgrave's company" instead.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

It is basically impossible to ascertain which merchant from Bristol, historical or fictional, might be the subject of this lost play. However, it may be worth considering the possibility (see Critical Commentary below) that the "Bristow Merchant" of Dekker's own subsequent text, Penny-wis pound foolish or, a Bristow diamond, set in two rings, and both crack'd (1631) may have also been the titular character of the Dekker and Ford play of 1624.

References to the Play

(Information welcome).

Critical Commentary

Fleay (BCED 1.233) lumps this title together with the "Bristow Tragedy" by Day (1602) purely on the basis of the similar names; a fact that Chambers notes with disapproval (3.304).

Hunt followed earlier critics in assuming the "P: comp:" of Halliwell-Phillips' transcription of licensing records meant "Palsgrave's" not "Prince's" (178). She drew attention to W. Bang's critical edition of Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish (which appeared in Materialien zur Kunde des älteren Englischen Dramas [1908]), in which Bang suggested that there might be some connection between this lost play and Dekker's novella, even though the latter was not published until 1630. Noting the subtitle, "A Bristow Diamond set in two Rings, and both Crack'd. Profitable for Married Men, pleasant for young men, and a rare example for all good Women", Hunt summarises the novella as follows:

It tells the rather dreary story of a "Bristow" merchant, who after an extended career of profligacy and an attempt at murder, is finally ransomed and lovingly received by the wife he has twice betrayed --"a rare example for all good Women." He repents, and reduced to poverty, they live in a small shop until the wife's penny, which was all the venture she would entrust to her husband in his pound-foolish days, and which he had given to a subordinate, returns with an increment of many pounds and is the means of restoring prosperity to them. We are told that the story is true but that the names of the characters have been changed. (Hunt 188)

For What It's Worth

There is a ballad called 'The Merchant's Daughter of Bristow', which was first published in the late sixteenth century. It tells the story of Maudlin, a young woman who cross-dresses to follow her lover. A digitisation and audio recording can be accessed here, via the 100 Ballads project.

Works Cited

Dekker, Thomas. Penny-wis pound foolish or, a Bristow diamond, set in two rings, and both crack'd Profitable for married men, pleasant for young men, and a rare example for all good women. At London : Printed by A. M. for Edward Blackmore, and are to be sould in Pauls Church-yard, at the signe of the Angell, 1631.
Hunt, Mary Leland. Thomas Dekker: A Study. NY: Columbia UP, 1911. (Internet Archive)

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 28 March 2016.