Cutting Dick

Thomas Heywood (additions by) (1602)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 116 (Greg, I.181)

pd vnto Thomas hewode the 20 of septmbʒ }
for the new a dicyons of cuttyngdicke some of } xxs

Theatrical Provenance

Heywood was writing both for the Admiral's men and Worcester's men in the fall of 1602. The additions to "Cutting Dick" were done for Worcester's men, who were currently at the Rose. Herbert Berry located Worcester's men at the Boar's Head playhouse "late in the summer or early in the autumn of 1601" (51). He called the company "a strong one formed by the union of the earl of Worcester's and the ear of Oxford's men" and suggested that the repertory contained "among other things, the melodramatic work of Heywood" (51). If news of the capture and execution of Cutting Dick prompted a playwright to dramatize his criminal career (see Carleton's letter to Chamberlain, below, for news of the capture), the script was probably under construction by the spring of 1602, some months before Worcester's men leased the Rose. Both Fleay (BCED, I. Heywood, #19) and Greg (HD, II.#266) thought that "Cutting Dick" was a play Worcester's players brought with them to the Rose.

Probable Genre(s)

Harbage labeled "Cutting Dick" a "Topical play" (71); obviously, it was also a crime drama. Just how topical Cutting Dick was in 1602 is evident in a letter from Dudley Carleton to John Chamberlain dated 29 December 1601. In that letter (CSP, Domestic, document reference SP 12/283 f.140, pp. 134-6), Carlton tells Chamberlain that "Evans, known as Cutting Dick, a notable robber in Wiltshire, is taken, and like to be hanged" (CCLXXXIII, 136).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The story of "Cutting Dick" must have relied to a large extent on the career of the criminal who carried that nickname, but sources identified to date only hint at his escapades.

References to the Play

There are no known references to the play specifically, but a number of references to the criminal, Cutting Dick. In addition to Carleton's report to Chamberlain (above), an item in the Acts of the Privy Council for 16 November 1601 addresses "A band of notorious thieves" in regard to numerous robberies reported by a Mr. Bridges in a letter to Sir John Poines and William Chester. The council authorizes the pursuit of these criminals, one of whom is listed as "Cutting Dicke alias Richard Cooke or Dicke Cooke" (Entry No.: Vol. XVII, [254]. Document Ref.: PC 2/26 f.463, p. 365). The apparent alias here ("Cooke") instead of Carleton's "Evans," is a salutary reminder that the historical record on Cutting Dick may be as slipperywh are guesses about the dramatized episodes of his career.

Other references to Cutting Dick are literary. The cluster in this section, which is roughly contemporary with the play, includes a couple of allusions in later plays by Heywood:

  • William Kempe, Kemps nine daies wonder, 1600. (Dyce, 14)
On the eighth day of Kempe's nine-day dance from London to Norwich, the entertainer arrives at Rockland (from Thetford) and rests at an inn. Greeted enthusiastically by the host, Kempe resumes his journey toward Hingham, accompanied by the host, who tires after dancing through a couple of fields; ever good-humored, Kempe then recites a poem to celebrate the host's positive attitude despite a litany of worldly troubles.
" ... And now a man is but a pricke;
A boy, arm'd with a poating stick,
Will dare to challenge Cutting Dicke.
O 'tis a world the world to see!
But twill not mend for thee nor mee."
(sig. C2v)
  • Samuel Rowlands, Humors Antique Faces, 1605.
In the poem, "Proteus," Rowlands mocks a Protean fellow who belongs to upper society but prefers "the rascal sorte" (l. 8); when slumming, he affects "a right grand Captaine of the damned crewes" whose manner is "Mad, melancholy, drunke and variable" (ll. 14, 16). Some of that manner invites the allusion to a real rogue, Cutting Dick:

Hat without band like cutting Dicke he go'es,
Renowned for his new iuuented oaths.
(ll. 17-18, sig. D3v)
  • George Wither, Abuses, Stript and Whipt. Or Satirical Essayes, 1613.
In the second of two books in this collection, in the satire entitled "Of Inconstancy," Wither describes the humor of the inconstant man in recreations, religion, politics, defense of country, etc. As the poem continues, Wither focuses on the aspiring gallant's boorish public behavior, including the following:
Amongst the Vulgar let them seeke for gaine
With Ward the Pirat on the boisterous Maine,
Or else well mounted keep themselues on land,
And bid our wealthy trauellers to stand,
Emptying their full cram'd bags; for that's a tricke
Which sootiness wan renoune to cutting Dicke
(sig. P)
  • Thomas Freeman, Rubbe and a Great Cast. Epigrams, 1614.
in Epigram 24, In Swaggerum, Freeman recalls the familiar archetype of the miles glorious, or cowardly braggart. Echoing Prince Hal's mocking of Hotspur, Freeman scoffs that he could praise "good sir Swagger" by recounting "How many thou hast killed in thy days," but he suspects that those supposed dead "are living yet" (ll. 11-12). Freeman's allusion to Cutting Dick is in a Falstaffian context:
If I shall term thee the Innes onely huckster,
The Taverns tyrant, like some cutting Dicke,
To call the Oastler rogue, beknaue the Tapster, ...
Thou wouldst haue bin reuenged, but for feare. ...
Swagger thou maist, and swear as thou art wont,
Thou wilt not fight, I am assured on't.
  • Worke for Cutlers. or, A Merry Dialogue Betweene Sword, Rapier, and Dagger. 1615. In this piece, which was acted at the University of Cambridge (according to its title page), the three buddies engage in testosterone-loaded bandinage. The reference to Cutting Dick occurs in the following bit of trash-talking:
Dagger: Away Sworde, the Time was indeed when you wast a notable Swash-buckler, but now thou art growne olde Sword.
Rapier: I, you doe well, to excuse his Cowardise.
Sword: Why Sir, tis well knowne that Sword has flourisht in his dayes.
Dagger: Flourisht? yfaith Syr I, I haue seene Sword hang with nothing but Scarffes ere now.
Rapier: With Scarffs? with a Halter, if he had beene well seru'de, For his a notable Theefe.
Dagger: A Theefe?
Rapier: I, a Thiefe. Did you nere here of Cutting-Dicke, this is the very same man.
Dagger: Nay Rapier, nere hit Sword ith teeth with that: for you know you were both Indited for treason before now, and were in danger to be hangd, and drawn too, and had escapt well if you had not bene quarterd.
  • Thomas Heywood
  1. The Wise Woman of Hogsdon, c. 1605 (Q1638). (Verity ed.)
In Act 2, scene 1, Luce (in disguise) begins to introduce herself to the Wise Woman when they are interrupted by Haringfield and Young Chartley, who drunkenly hurls insults at the Wise Woman. When the men exit, Luce tries to calm her down, and the wise woman resumes her questioning of Luce. In that context, the Wise Woman refers to Chartley as a "Cutting Dick."
Wise Woman: "Well, what's thy name, boy?"
Luce: "I am even little better than a turn broach, for my name is Jack."
Wise Woman: "Honest Jack, if thou couldst but devise how I might cry quittance with this cutting Dick I will go near to adopt thee my son and heir."
2. The Fair Maid of the West, Part One >1610 (Q1631). (Verity ed.)
In Act 3, scene 1, "Roughman attempts to describe to Fawcett a large and intimidating man he has just seen in a nearby field:
Roughman: Had you but stayed the crossing of one field,/ You had beheld a Hector, the boldest Trojan/ That ever Roughman met with."
Faucett: "Pray, what was he?"
Roughman: "You talk of Little Davy, Cutting Dick,/ And divers such; but tush! This hath no fellow ..."

Critical Commentary

Bates, in a note on the "Cutting Dick" allusion in Heywood's Fair Maid of the West, part one, credits John Payne Collier with having first annotated the reference in terms of "bravos and exploits," which Bates connects with Verity's "Contemporary bravos of note" (268). She elaborates on the cant term, "cutter," as indicating a "swaggerer, a bully, or sharper" and the epithet "Cutting" as associated with "swaggering blade" (268). To illustrate the ubiquity of such language, she cites Thomas Nashe's reference to "Cutting Ball" in Have with you to Saffron-Walden (268-9). She notices also Heywood's reference to Cutting Dick in Wise Woman of Hogsdon, Kempe's reference in Nine Days Wonder, the passage in Worke for Cutlers, and Wither's reference in Abuses (269). Further, she mentions Heywood's additions for the lost play (269).

Clark has a lengthy note in which he lists the allusions in Kempe, Wither, Work for Cutlers, and the two Heywood plays (see References to the Play, above) (29). He also includes the phrases from The London Prodigal (see For what It's Worth, below). In addition, he mentions several ballads, which seem a bit far afield: Desperate Dycke, S. R. 1568-9; Cuttinge George, and his hosts being a Jigge,S, R, 17 February 1595; and Roaring Dick of Dover, S. R. 24 May 1632 (printed in Pepys's Ballads, i.434. Clark rejects F. G. Fleay's identification of "Cutting Dick"with The Trial of Chivalry (337).

Wiggins mulls over the options that a payment for additions offer and leans toward either the simple matter of final touches to the script or alterations to suit Worcester's men's new playhouse, the Rose {#1352)

For What It's Worth

References to Cutting Dick contemporary with the play

In the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic—Elizabeth for 29 December 1601 (vol. 282), in a gossipy letter from Dudley Carlton to John Chamberlain, Carlton made the following comment: "Evans, known as Cutting Dick, a notable robber in Wiltshire, is taken, and like to be hanged" (p. 136).

The London Prodigal

The London Prodigal was published in 1605. The play belonged to the King's players, according to its title-page advertisement, which also claims authorship "By VVilliam Shakespeare." Clark includes The London Prodigal among the references to Cutting Dick, but the reference is not as clear-cut as are those in Heywood's plays.

A foreshadowing of the reference occurs in a conversation by Sir Lancelot Spurcock, who discusses the suitors of his daughter, Luce, with Master Weathercock (Bv). Spurcock itemizes the knight, Sir Arthur Greenshield; the Devonshire lad, Oliver; and young Flowerdale, who is "all aire,/ Light as a feather, changing as the wind" (Bv). Weathercock, himself a suitor, replies that Flowerdale is "a desperate dick indeed" (Bate and Rasmussen, 2.48).

Flowerdale, of course, is Luce's favorite. He is associated more explicitly with the notorious highwayman in a subsequent conversation in which Weathercock warns Spurcock again:

I thank you, sir. I thank you, friendly knight,
I'll come and visit you, by the mouse-foot I will:
In the meantime, take heed of cutting Flowerdale, (Bate and Rasmussen, 4.21-3)

The London Prodigal, Q1605, sig. C

Weathercock's next line repeats his previous assessment: "He is a desperate Dick, I warrant you" (Bate and Rasmussen, 4.24)

The London Prodigal, Q1605, sig. cv

References to Cutting Dick post-1642

  • Richard Hannam, d. 1656; an anonymous tract entitled "The speech and Confession of Mr. Richard Hannam on Tuesday last in the Rounds of Smithfield [being the 17. of this instant June] immediately before his great and fatal leap from off the ladder together with a true and perfect description of his life and death; ..." 1650.
The author, to convey the importance of Hannam as a criminal, opens the news of the execution by comparing Hannam to other notorious villains: "In the days of William the Conquerour, we read of one Simon Lupus, a notable Carver, so called by the Saxons, who in one half year, had purchased above 3000 l. as the Canters term it; but not long after, lost both that, and life and all; for being sentenced at Chester to be hanged, he vowed that no man should never do it; and accordingly being upon the Ladder, he desperately leaped off: In like manner, Mr. Hannam, [the subject of this Discourse] far exceeding cutting Dick, bold Peacock, valiant Cheyny, and famous Hind, hath desperately acted the like Theatre; ... " (sig. A2-4 [sic]).

The association of Hannam with Hind and Cutting Dick continued throughout the century, as illustrated by a reference in Confidence Corrected, error detected, and truth defended ... by Philalethes Pasiphilus (1692), where the author observes that "Hind, Hannam, Cutting Dick, and the Golden Farmer were all Villains." Gregory Durston identifies the "Golden Farmer" as William Davis, a "celebrated highwayman … [who] avoided the slightest suspicion during a criminal career that spanned 42 years prior to his execution in 1689. Other than the slightly unusual habit of paying all his bills in gold, there was, apparently, nothing to distinguish him from other Wiltshire tenant farmers" (111).

  • Montelion, 1661. Or the Prophetical Almanack, 1661. In this satirical almanac, the author, who bills himself as "Montelion, Knight of the Oracle, a well-wisher to the Mathematicks", creates festival days for various real and fanciful characters. Ovid is an example of the former; "Country Tom" and "Cambury Bess" illustrate the latter. He assigns selected days to notable criminals: "Hanam" (presumable Richard Hannam) is given 19 January; "Hinde" is given 17 January, and Cutting Dick is given 11 January (sig. B1v</sup)>). In the original Montelion in 1660, Cutting Dick is not mentioned, and he disappears from a subsequent edition in 1662. According to Frank Palmeri, the almanac used "a wide range of parodic store to express jubilantly its royalist sympathies" (382)".

  • F. B., Gent. Vercingetorixa: or, The Germane Princess Reduc'd to an English Habit., 1663. In this mock-heroic, gently bawdy romantic poem, a young lad (a scrivener's boy) walks abroad in London; Vulva, a German princess in disguise, spies him and is so smitten that she faints (it had been foretold that " ... she should Wed/ With English Youth, and with him Bed" [sig. B3v]). The vintner's wife brings the boy to the princess, and the match is made. However, another suitor appears, a rough customer. The scrivener's boy, puffed up with his recent good fortune, is counseled by his friend to take care. In this context, the following reference to the notorious criminal occurs:
... when Friend saw Youth as fully bent
As Cutting Dick when's money's spent
That stands at corner of Hide-Park,
Robbing both Poor and Rich i' th' dark, ...
(sig. D)

  • Poor Robin. 1664. An Almanack after a New Fashion. ... In a vein similar to Montelion, the Poor Robin Almanac assigns feast days to notorious characters, as well as fanciful ones (Charon) and folk figures (Robin Goodfellow).
Cutting Dick is given the feast day of October 8th (sig. B6r). He is shifted to October 9th in the 1665 edition, where he is joined by Haman (presumably Richard, on October 1st). Cutting Dick reclaims October 8th in the 1667 edition. In the 1664 edition only, Cutting Dick's name in the calendar of October days is paired with a paragraph entitled "How to Cure a Traitor":

Take a new Rope, or Hempen Cord, and the the one end to the top of the three corner'd Tree, icleaped Tyborn, or some other convenient Gallows; then fasten the other end with a riding knot an inch below the patients ear, but be sure you make it so that it do not unity; this being done, then turn the Ladder, and it will perfect the Cure suddenly.

Works Cited

Acts of the Privy Council of England: 1601-1604. 32 vols. Edited by J. R. Dasent. London: HSMO, 1890-1907.
Bate, Jonathan and Eric Rasmussen, eds. William Shakespeare and Others; Collaborative Plays. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Bates, Katherine Lee, ed. A Woman Killed With Kindness and The Fair Maid of the West by Thomas Heywood. Boston, New York, Chicago: D. C Heath & Co, 1931.
Berry, Herbert. The Boar's Head Playhouse. Illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1986.
Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, 1601-1603. Edited by Mary Anne Everett Green. Vol. 6. London: HMSO, 1870.
Clark, Arthur Melville. Thomas Heywood, Playwright and Miscellanist. 1931. rpt. New York, Russell and Russell, 1958, 1967.
F. B., Gent. Vercingetorixa: or, The Germane Princess Reduc'd to an English Habit. 1663.
Freeman, Thomas, Rubbe and a Great Cast. 1614.
Kempe, William. Kemps Nine Daies Wonder. 1600.
The London Prodigal. 1605.
Montelion, 1661. Or the Prophetical Almanack, 1661.
"The speech and confession of Mr. Richard Hannam on Tuesday last in the rounds of Smithfield, being the 17. of this instant June immediately before his great and fatal leap from off the ladder together with a true and perfect description of his life and death; ..." 1650.
Palmeri, Frank. "History, Nation, and the Satiric Almanac,1660-1760," English Articles and Papers. Paper 5.1998.
Poor Robin. 1664. An Almanac after a New Fashion .... 1664.
Rowlands, Samuel. Humors Antique Faces, 1605.
Verity, A. Wilson, ed. Thomas Heywood. Mermaid Series, vol. 4. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1890.
Wither, George. Abuses, Stript and Whipt. 1613.
Worke for Cutlers. Or, A Merry Dialogue Betweene Sword, Rapier, and Dagger. 1615.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 25 March 2015.