Chance Medley

Henry Chettle and/or Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Anthony Munday and Robert Wilson (1598)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 49 (Greg I.93)

Lent vnto the company the 19 of aguste 1598 to }
paye vnto mr willson monday & deckers in pte }
of payment of a boocke called chance medley the } iiijll vs
some of iiijll vs in this maner willson xxxs cheattell }
xxxs mondy xxvs J say . . . . . . . . . . . . }

Fol. 49v (Greg I.94)

pd vnto mr. drayton the 24 of aguste 1598 }
in fulle payment of a Boocke called chance } xxxvs
medley or worse a feared then hurte the some of . . }

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's were at the Rose when Henslowe paid Chettle, Dekker, Drayton, Munday and Wilson for "Chance Medley."

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage); Tragedy (see below).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

See Critical Commentary below.

References to the Play

Malone does not comment on this play (p. 310). Collier does not comment on the possible subject matter of "Chance Medley," but he does flag the itemized payments, claiming that a mistake was made: "Dekker ought to have been paid, and not Chettle" (p. 132, n. 1). [[WorksCited|Fleay, BCED lists the play among entries for Chettle (1.68, #14), Dekker (1.123, #17, in which he opines that Chettle, not Dekker, is the correct assignment), Drayton (1.158, #13), Monday (2.116, #9), and Wilson (2. 284, #9); he does not guess at the subject matter.

Greg II tentatively suggests that Jonson's phrase, "Slid carry him afore a iustice, 'tis chance medley, o' my word", in Every Man Out of his Humour (1599) "possibly ... contains an allusion to the present play" (#148, p.196).

Critical Commentary

Subject Matter

Greg II notes that "[t]he title is a legal phrase signifying a casualty not purely accidental, particularly accidental homicide, not without the killer's fault, though without evil intent. It was, however, very early though erroneously used in the sense of random action or fortuitous medley and confusion" (#148, p.196).

Hunt, following the implications of Greg's second observation, suggests it "may be a comedy of errors or possibly a tragedy" (p. 49).

Knutson considers the play a comedy taking "folk expression, saying, or proverb" for its title (cf. "God Speed the Plough", "All Is Not Gold That Glisters", or "The Blind Eats Many a Fly") (p. 42).

Wiggins, Catalogue notes that " 'chance medley' could refer to a narrative which proceeds by a chaotic agglomeration of accidents, or more specifically to the legal term for culpable but clergyable homocide" (#1142).


Henslowe's apparent substitution of Chettle's name where he had first given Dekker's is noticed by Fleay, BCED, who thinks Chettle is the correct attribution (1.68) and Chambers, ES (2.169), whose preference to keep both names is followed in this entry. Gurr lists Dekker but not Chettle, and does not provide any discussion of this choice (#105, p. 238). Wiggins, Catalogue (#1142) neither includes Dekker in his list of playwrights associated with this title nor addresses this omission in his commentary, but the implication is that he believes Henslowe's "willson monday & deckers" is a mistake subsequently rectified by the specification of sums to be paid to Wilson, Chettle and Munday.


Regarding the cancellation in the title as recorded by Henslowe, Wiggins, Catalogue observes: "Henslowe left space in the second entry for an alternative title; the title Worse Afeared than Hurt, was later added to this entry, but then deleted." He suggests it "may simply have been added in error, on the assumption that the payment (to Drayton) related to #1146 "Worse Afeared than Hurt", originally entered by Henslowe as "Bad May Amend" on 30 Aug 1598] (which was co-authored by Drayton)" (#1142).

For What It's Worth

An EEBO-TCP search of the phrase "chance medley" in the period 1580-1620 currently returns 43 hits, of which substantially more (at least 35) refer to the manslaughter interpretation rather than to other meanings.

Works Cited

Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: CUP, 2009.
Hunt, Mary Leland. Thomas Dekker: A Study. NY: Columbia UP, 1911.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613. Fayettevile: U of Arkansas P, 1991.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 24 Feb 2015.