Danish Tragedy

Henry Chettle (1602)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 107 (Greg, I.169)

Lent vnto thomas downton the 7 of July
1602 to [lend] geue vnto harye chettell in
earneste of a tragedye called a danyshe
the some of .................................. } xxs

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's men paid Chettle the 30s in earnest. Wiggins offers "Summer 1602" as a plausible date when the company might have put this show on at the Fortune (#1339).

Probable Genre(s)

Foreign History (Harbage); Tragedy (Henslowe, Wiggins)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Conjectures about the narrative of the play are embedded in guesswork by F. G. Fleay and W. W. Greg, who consider the possible relationship of this work with Chettle's play, Hoffman. See Critical Commentary, below.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Fleay, without explanation, identified the "Danish Tragedy" as a partial payment for Chettle's Hoffman ("A tragedie called Hawghman" Greg, I.173;BCED, I.70). In fact, in Fleay's hands, Hoffman became the magnet that attracted various payments for which Henslowe did not specify a title. These include a payment by the Admiral's men on 14 January 1603 of 40s. to Heywood and Chettle; with this particular assignment of the payment to Hoffman, Fleay turned Heywood into a co-author with Chettle on Hoffman also.

F. 109 (Greg, I.173; the entry leaves the title space blank; Foakes (p. 208) notes that Greg adds an unidentified forger's phrase, "'Like quits Like"')
Layd owt at the apoyntment of thomas
Hewode in earneste of a playe called
vnto mr harey chettell & thomas
Hewode the 14 of January 1602 some of } xxxxs

Turning to accounts Henslowe kept for Worcester's men, 1602-03, Fleay assigned the following to Hoffman also:

F. 115 (Greg, I.179)
Lent vnto John ducke to paye for
the turckes head & ij women's gowns
mackenge & fresh watr for owld castle
& the merger bill & harey chattel in
earneste of a tragedy called … } 3li xs
ye 24 of aguste 1602

F. 116 (Greg, I.181) Foakes (p. 216) notes that Greg copied the forger's changes in bold; these include deleting "tragedy," inserting "playe" and providing some form of the name, Robin Goodfellow.
Lent vnto harey chettell the 7 of septmber 1602
at the apoyntment [to lend] in earnest of a
{tragedie} called Robin hoodfellowe some of } xs

Lent vnto John there the 8 of septmber
to geue vnto harey chettell the some of … } xs

Lent vnto harey chattel the 9 of septmber
1602 in parof payment of a {tragedie} playe
called Robingoodfellowe some of } xs

Greg rejected Fleay's conjecture that Henslowe's payment to Chettle for the "Danish Tragedy" was an early payment for Hoffman because the payments were too far apart (from June to December). Rather, he conjectured that the "Danish Tragedy" was a prequel or "fore-piece dealing with the story of Hoffman's father, such as the extant work through presupposes" (Greg, II. 222-23, Item #238). He also rejected Fleay's assignment of Heywood to the authorship of Hoffman, calling it "chimerical" (Greg, II. 226, Item #253).

Erne repeats Greg's suggestion of "Danish Tragedy" as a prequel (p. 39).

Gurr also recycles Greg's suggestion (by way of Erne); perhaps thinking of Fleay's addition of Heywood to Chettle as playwright of "Danish Tragedy", Gurr mistakenly substitutes Haughton as the collaborator (p. 184).

Wiggins splits off the connections with Hoffman and with subsequent payments for plays unnamed; he treats "Danish Tragedy" as an independent dramatic project by Chettle (#1339).

For What It's Worth

The view of "Danish Tragedy" prevailing heretofore—in which it had a relationship textually with Hoffman (by being an early payment on the project) or serially (by being the prequel of Hoffman)—created a commercial environment for it as well. That environment was the new wave of revenge plays on London stages c. 1600-1602, perhaps kickstarted by William Shakespeare's Danish tragedy (Hamlet) and the pair by John Marston for the children's company at St. Paul's, namely Antonio and Mellida and Antonio's Revenge. In the repertory of the Admiral's men, that wave included a revival of Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, which seems likely to have returned to the stage after the company's paid some part of £10 to Ben Jonson on 22 June 1602 for "new adicyons for Jeronymo" (Greg, I.168). Stripping "Danish Tragedy" from any textual or serial relationship with Hoffman strips away the repertorial context of the revenge play also.

Works Cited

Erne, Lukas. Beyond The Spanish Tragedy: A Study of the Works of Thomas Kyd. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 30 May 2016.