- 1 Historical Records
- 2 Theatrical Provenance
- 3 Probable Genre(s)
- 4 Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
- 5 References to the Play
- 6 Critical Commentary
- 7 For What It's Worth
- 8 Works Cited
Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)
F. 9 (Greg I.17) Under the play list for "my lord admeralls men" on 14-16 May 1594: Res at Cvlacke the 16 of maye 1594 xxxxijs
Under the play list "begininge at newington for "my Lord Admeralle men & my Lorde chamberlen men" for 10 performances, June 3-13:
|ye 6 of June 1594||Res at cvtlacke||xjs|
In Henslowe's play lists beginning 15 June 1594, the date on which W. W. Greg decided that the Admiral's players had returned to the Rose after their 10-day run at Newington with the Chamberlain's players:
|ye 17 of June 1594||Res at cutlacke||xxxvs|
|ye 24 of June 1594||Res at cvtlacke||xxvs|
|ye 27 of June 1594||Res at cvttlacke||xxxvjs|
F. 9v (Greg I.18)
|ye 4 of Julye 1594||Res at cvtlacke||xxiiijs|
|ye 15 of Julye 1594||Res at cvtlacke||xxxvs|
|ye 29 of Julye 1594||Res at cvtlacke||xxixs|
|ye 8 of aguste 1594||Res at cvttlacke||xiijs vjd|
|ye 22 of aguste 1594||Res at cvttlacke||xxiijs vjd|
F. 10 (Greg I.19)
|ye 6 of septembʒ 1594||Res at cvtlacke||xjs|
|ye 26 of septmbʒ 1594||Res at cuttlacke||xiiijs|
The newly formed Admiral's men introduced "Cutlack" without the enigmatic sign "ne" on 16 May 1594 when they acquired the lease at the Rose playhouse that they were to maintain until their move to the Fortune in the fall of 1600. They gave the play 12 performances before retiring it, apparently for good, as it does not reappear in records from Henslowe's diary. The absence of a "ne" suggests a prior history with another company before May 1594.
Saint's play (Sharpe, Gurr, Borlik);
Historical tragedy (Rollins, Schelling, Cerasano, Wiggins, Steggle)
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
There are two competing interpretations of the eponymous character of the play.
Saint Guthlac (674–715), the Anglo-Saxon prince who became a hermit, was, in the words of Henry Mayr-Harting, "one of the most famous and influential holy men in the first 120 years of English Christianity". The main source for his life is the vita written by an eighth-century monk, Felix, which states that, after a wild youth spent as a warrior, he made his home at Croyland, then a remote island in the Lincolnshire fenland. There, he was tormented mercilessly by the local demons, until eventually overcoming them. In some versions he achieves this victory through passive suffering, but in others he drives them away with the aid of a whip or scourge given to him by Saint Bartholomew. In time Guthlac grew famous for the sanctity of his life, and Croyland became a place of pilgrimage even for Anglo-Saxon royalty. William Camden writes of St Guthlac:
- If I should exemplifie unto you out of that Monke, the Devils of Crowland, with their blabber lips, fire-spitting mouthes, rough and skaly visages, beetle heads, terrible teeth, sharpe chins, hoarse throats, blacke skinnes, crump-shoulders, side and gor-bellies, burning loines, crooked and hawm'd legges, long tailed buttockes, and ugly mishapes, which heeretofore walked and wandered up and downe in these places, and very much troubled holy Guthlake and the Monkes, you would laugh full merily: and I might bee thought a simple sily-one full worthily. Howbeit, in regard of the admirable situation of this place, so farre different from all others in England, and considering the Abbay was so famous, I am well content to dwell a while in the description of these particulars…
- (Camden, 530)
Robert Boies Sharpe was the first to propose the idea that this was a play about St. Guthlac, noting that "Guthlac's life presented fine opportunities for an Alleyn interpretation". Sharpe further notes the similarities between Guthlac and the demon-fighting Saint Dunstan, whom Guilpin mentions in the epigram about Cutlack discussed below. Quoting the passage above from Camden, Sharpe further suggests that there was the opportunity for a slightly comic treatment of the demon motif:
- Camden uses Felix's Life of Guthlac with a relish for its comic possibilities; indeed, may not some of the graphic touches in this paraphrase by his translator give a glimpse of the Admiral's play itself?
- (Sharpe, 36)
Sharpe's suggestion is followed by Andrew Gurr, who identifies Cutlack as Guthlac, "the warrior turned hermit who fought with devils" (Gurr, 1987, 189-200). Most recently, the identification has been proposed again by Todd A. Borlik, in the course of an argument about the possible relationship between The Tempest and stories of Lincolnshire fen devils.
Guichlac is a mythical Danish king supposed to have lived in the time of Belinus and Brennius, sons of Mulmutius Dunwallow ("Mulmutius Dunwallow"). His story is given in Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain. Early modern sources, all deriving from Geoffrey, give his name in a bewildering variety of spellings, including Ginchtalacus; Guilthdacus; Gurthlac; Guitlacke; Guthlach; Gutlake; Cuthelake; Cutlake; and Cutlax . Geoffrey's account can be summarized as follows:
- • Brennius was returning to Britain with a force of Norwegian warriors to defend his holdings against the military take-over of his brother, Belinus, when Guichlac followed and attacked him.
- • In the course of the battle, Guichlac saw and desired the woman Brennius had married. (Although Geoffrey does not name her, many later redactions of the story call her Samye). Boarding Brennius's ship, Guichlac kidnapped the wife.
- • A storm arose suddenly, scattering the ships of both factions. In a curious turn of fate, Guichlac's ship beached in Northumbria where Belinus was encamped (on Brennius's territory). Belinus took Guichlac and Brennius's bride as prisoners to use as pawns of his revenge against Brennius.
- • Meanwhile Brennius landed with his Norwegians in Scotland; Belinus sought him out and defeated him.
- • At a council at York, Belinus released Guichlac, who offered yearly tribute in return for allowing him to go home to Denmark with Brennius's stolen bride.
- • There Guichlac remained until Belinus's son, Gurguint Barbtruc, invaded his home, killed him, and subjugated his people, all because Guichlac refused to pay to the son the tribute he had paid the father, Belinus.
The story of Cutlack is repeated in a large number of early modern chronicles and historical sources derived from them (see Steggle). Furthermore, Guichlac is named in at least four early modern verse texts, each of the four having some indirect link to early modern drama:
- King Gurgunt I am hight, King Belins eldest sonne,
- Whose syre Dunwallo first, the Brittish crowne did weare.
- Whom truthlesse Gutlack forste to passe the surging seas,
- His falshode to reuenge, and Denmarke land to spoile.
- My Brothers Kingdome seemes, forsooth, an Ouer-match to myne,
- My Kingdome, Cutlake, therefore is an Under-match to thyne?
- Nay, giue (and so I hope ye will) the Prize to me, and than,
- Let Cutlake with his Crowne of Danske vn-crowne me, if he can.
- (p. 63)
John Higgins, The Mirror for Magistrates (1587) is an anthology of stories of misfortune frequently mined by Elizabethan playwrights. One tale in it tells the story of the fall of Brennius, narrated, as is customary in the Mirror, by his own ghost. Brennius begins by summarizing his early career, including his loss of his first wife in an ambush at sea:
- And Guthlake that was King of Denmarke then,
- Prouided with a nauie mee forlead.
- His eie on Samyes beautie had so fed,
- That for her sake he must perforce my ships forlay,
- By force of armes to beare the Lady faire away.
- (Higgins, 87)
Brennius adds that his new wife seemed not unwilling to be captured. He goes on to tell the rest of the story of his life more or less along the lines described by Geoffrey.
Saint George's Commendations
This is a broadside ballad, known from a printing in 1612, which lists a collection of warlike heroes who are inferior to Saint George. The sixth stanza runs as follows:
- Many knights have fought with proud Tamberlaine;
- Cutlax the Dane, great warres he did maintaine;
- Rowland of Beame, and good Sir Olivere
- In the forest of Acon slew both woolfe and beare,
- Besides that noble Hollander, Sir Goward with the bill.
- But St. George, St. George the dragon's blood did spill.
- St. George he was for England; St. Dennis was for France;
- Sing, Honi soit qui mal y pense.
In this ballad, Cutlax appears alongside Tamburlaine as extreme examples of manliness and valour.
Each of these scattered references has, at one time or another, been linked back to the lost play "Cutlack". See Rollins, 1.40; Schelling, 294; Cerasano; Wiggins serial number 858; and most recently Steggle, who reprints and discusses all four.
References to the Play
In Epigram #43, "Of Clodius," Everard Guilpin mocks a braggart who copies moves from characters in plays, one of which is Cutlack (Google Books):
- Clodus me thinks lookes passing big of late,
- With Dunstons browes, and Allens Cutlacks gate :
- What humours haue possest him so, I wonder,
- His eyes are lightning, and his words are thunder:
- What meanes the Bragart by his alteration?
- He knows he's known too wel, for this fond fashion :
- To cause him to be feared : what meanes he than ?
- Belike, because he cannot play the man.
- Yet would be awde, he keepes this filthy reuell,
- Stalking and roaring like to Job's great deuill.
"Allens Cutlacks gate" is taken, unanimously, to refer to the play recorded in Henslowe; and to indicate that Edward Alleyn played the part of Cutlack, and moved in an appropriately heroic, stalking manner as he did so. Less clear is what is meant by "Dunstons browes". Some, notably R. B. Sharpe, have taken it as an allusion to the early English saint Saint Dunstan, who is certainly a character in some early modern plays including A Knack to Know a Knave. If it is so, then that would seem to be a point in favour of Cutlack being Saint Guthlac, since both named characters would be notable fighters against devils. However, it is possible that "Dunston" refers not to a fictional character but an actor, Alleyn's colleague Thomas Downton.
Collier (Diary, p. 34), Fleay (BCED, 2.301), and Greg (II. Item 40, p. 163) identified the reference to the play in Guilpin's epigram. Ever since, the Guilpin epigram is frequently cited as evidence of the celebrity status of actors, and Alleyn in particular, in the early modern period. As noted above, discussion of this play tends to bifurcate according to whether it thinks the eponymous character was St Guthlac (Sharpe, Gurr, Borlik); or Guichlac (Rollins, Schelling, Cerasano, Wiggins, Steggle).
If the play were about St Guthlac, it would speak, as Gurr (189-200) notes, to the Admiral's Men's ongoing fascination with devils. It would also be an example of an Elizabethan saint play.
Guichlac: Galfridian History
If the play were about Guichlac, it would speak to the Admiral's Men's interest in prehistory, and in particular in prehistory derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth. Theatrical interest in the historical time of Cutlack continued, as for instance when the Admiral's men purchased "Mulmutius Dunwallow" from William Rankins on 3 October 1598. Misha Teramura has argued that the very numerous plays on Trojan and British material acted at the Rose between 1595 and 1600 constituted "a sweeping yet disjointed survey of Britain's deep mythical prehistory" (Teramura, 129). The 1594 Cutlack, if it were about Guichlac, would be an early member of that loose cycle.
Guichlac: Plays about Danes
Cutlack would also have been one of a wave of late-Elizabethan plays dealing with English relationships with Denmark. Others include Edmund Ironside; Fair Em; the lost play "Hardicanute"; the elusive ur-"Hamlet"; and of course, most famously and troublingly, Shakespeare's Hamlet itself. Recently, Steggle has made the claim that "Cutlack" it is particularly interesting in the light of its relationship to Shakespeare's Hamlet:
- Hamlet, for all its differences from the hypothetical Cutlack, draws on a well of motifs about Britain and Denmark, fathers and sons, treacherous uncles and stolen queens, which would recall, to a keen Renaissance playgoer, many other plays and Cutlack in particular… What is more, Edward Alleyn's Cutlack, a stage Danish king of the 1590s who stalked and roared, and who seems from Guilpin's epigram to have represented a version of extreme manliness, surely helped to condition the horizon of expectations for many early viewers of Hamlet's stage Danish kings… It has become almost a critical commonplace that Hamlet, deriving from multiple sources, fascinated by processes of memory and reproduction, and even itself existing in multiple versions, is par excellence a play haunted by ghosts, doubles, and memories. In the lost Cutlack, we have yet another such ghost. (75-6)
For What It's Worth