Cupid and Psyche (The Golden Ass)

Henry Chettle, John Day, Thomas Dekker (1600)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 68v (Greg, I.120)

Receaued of mr Henshlowe in behalfe of the Company }
to geue Tho: Deckers & John Day in earnest of a } xxxs
booke Called The golden Ass & Cupid & Psiches . . . . . }
                by me Robt Shaa

Fol. 69 (Greg, I.121)

Lent at the apoyntment of Robart shawe to }
Thomas deckers & John daye & harye chetell the } iijll
10 of maye 1600 in þte of payment of a Booke called }
the gowlden asse cupid & siches some of . . . . . . . . }
                by John daye to the vse of Th Dekker Harry
                Chettle and himselfe

pd at the apoyntment of Robart shawe the 14 }
daye of maye 1600 in fulle payment of a Boocke } xxx/s
called the gowlden asse cuped & siches to thomas }
deckers & hary chettell John daye some of . . . . . }

For apparel in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 69v (Greg, I.122)

Lent vnto Thomas dowton the 5 of June }
1[59]600 to bye a sewt for his boye in the } xxxxs
playe of cvped & siches the some of }

Theatrical Provenance

In late spring of 1600, the Admiral's men purchased "Cupid and Psyche (The Golden Ass)" from a consortium of playwrights: Thomas Dekker, John Day, and Henry Chettle. By June they were costuming the play. Initial performances fall during the transition period from staging at the Rose in Southwark and opening the Fortune in Middlesex.

Probable Genre(s)

Classical legend (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The likely source is the 1596 edition of The Eleven Books of the Golden Asse by Apulieus and translated by William Adlington. The story of Cupid and Psyche is covered in books four, five, and six. Adlington's translation of Apulieus was first published in 1566 and also in 1571 and 1582. In Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582), Stephen Gosson mentions an earlier production of the Cupid and Psyche story that was “plaid at Paules” (D5v).

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Collier commented only on the availability of Apuleius's narrative in print in England by 1566 (p. 169, n.2). Fleay, BCED commented in the Dekker section that "the subject" of "Golden Ass" was "the same" as Love's Mistress by Thomas Heywood (2.#36, p. 126), a detail he did not repeat in entries for Chettle and Day.

Greg II, who had previously expressed sympathy for Fleay's idea that one or more plays in "Five Plays in One" dramatized classical stories (later expanded in some way by Heywood) did not follow Fleay in a Heywood connection for "Cupid and Psyche (The Golden Ass)," asserting that "there is nothing to suggest any connection with the piece by Chettle and the rest" (#202, p. 212).

Knutson suggests a repertorial link with the Admiral's play, "Damon and Pithias," which had been purchased a few months earlier. It dramatized male friendship, whereas "Cupid and Psyche (The Golden Ass)" treated "sororal envy and female curiosity" (p. 29). She connects it also with a cluster of "lost comedies ... with multipart or serial designs" including "The Seven Wise Masters" and the two-part "Fair Constance of Rome" (pp. 29-30).

Wiggins, Catalogue repeats the narrative connection with Heywood's Love's Mistress, suggesting in addition three passages in England's Parnassus that are attributed to Dekker but not to one of his works: an "apostrophe to silence," "the inability of true sorrow to weep," and "the seduction of Daphne" (#1247).

For What It's Worth

See "The Ass Motif in The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Deborah Baker Wyrick for deep background on "ass" as "a word rich in thematic associations and in dramatic applications" (Shakespeare Quarterly 33:4 (1982): 432-48.

Works Cited

Apuleius, The Eleven Books of the Golden Asse. trans. William Adlinton. London: Valentine Symmes, 1596. Gosson, Stephen, Plays Confuted in Five Actions. London: Thomas Gosson, 1582.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 30 October 2009.