Henry Herbert’s Office Book
"The Chevallers, allowed to Cockpit Company, 1641" (Bawcutt, 209)
Licensed for the King and Queen's Young Company (Beeston's Boys) at the Cockpit in Drury Lane.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
References to the Play
For What It's Worth
J.H. Burn’s surviving transcription of Herbert’s license fails to specify whether the Revels Office allowed “The Chevallers” to be acted before or after May 1641, though this detail is important for any inference about the nature of the lost play.
William Beeston, whose family owned the Cockpit in Drury Lane, had personally offended the king the previous year by brazenly performing an unlicensed play (see the entry for The Challenge). In May 1640, he was arrested and committed for a time to Marshalsea prison (Bawcutt 207-208). The court favourite William Davenant was promptly installed in Beeston’s former office of Governor of the King and Queen’s Young Company. Beeston must have acutely felt the sting of this displacement as Davenant seems to have been his primary rival for theatrical patronage (Freehafer, passim).
Davenant oversaw operations at the Cockpit for the next twelve months, but in May 1641, only days before Parliament executed the Earl of Strafford on the charge of treason, he was compelled to flee London (with Sir John Suckling and others) amid accusations of complicity in the so-called Army Plot, an alleged conspiracy to bring a northern force to London to protect the king. Soon after Davenant’s desertion of the Cockpit, Beeston received warrant to take up his post again as Governor of its actors.
In this context, if “The Chevallers” was commissioned by Davenant between January and May 1641, one might infer, by its title, a play with a decidedly royalist agenda, likely addressing the highly charged Strafford trial which had preoccupied London’s political sphere for months.
On the other hand, if commissioned by Beeston, the nature and tone of the play probably differed. Under Beeston’s management, “The Chevallers” may have represented an earnest attempt at reconciliation with king and court, the source of stable theatrical patronage. It is also possible that the play encoded Beeston's rivalry with his theatrical competitors, Davenant and Suckling, siezing the opportunity to satirize their political troubles, as Beeston had previously done with Richard Brome in their staging of the caricatures Court-Wit and Sir Fernandino in The Court Beggar in early 1640 (Kaufmann, passim).
Site created and maintained by Christopher Matusiak, Ithaca College; updated 11 August 2011.