Fair Maid of Italy, The

Anon. (1593)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 8v (Greg, I.16)

In a listing headed as follows:
"In the name of god Amen begninge the 27 of
desembʒ 1593 the earle of susex his men
Res at the fayer mayd of ytale the 12 Jenewary 1593 .................................... ixs
Res at the fayer mayd of ytaly the 21 of Jenewary 1593 .................................... xxijs

Fol. 9 (Greg, I.17)

In a listing headed as follows:
Jn the name of God Amen beginning at easter 1593
the Quenes men & my lord of Susexe to geather
Res at the fayer mayd of Jtaley ye 4 of aprell 1594 21 of Jenewary 1593 .................................... xxiijs

Theatrical Provenance

"The Fair Maid of Italy" first appears in the diary in the offerings of Sussex's players at the Rose. It does not carry Henslowe's enigmatic "ne"; apparently, then, it was a play that had been in production for some time. Sussex's players gave performances at the Rose for about seven weeks, 27 Dec 1593 through 6 Feb 1594, during which time they offered "The Fair Maid of Italy" twice for an average return to Henslowe of 15s. 6d. Two months later, the play appeared among the offerings "to geather" of Sussex's men with the Queen's players. It does not appear elsewhere in extant theatrical documents.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Malone (p. 293) and Collier (p. 33) have no comment on the "fair maid" of the title or on the play itself; neither does Fleay, BCED, but he does note its additional appearance in the joint offerings of Sussex's men with the Queen's men on 4 April 1593/4 (2.299, #125). Greg II confirms the absence of previous commentary by observing that "[n]othing is known of this piece" (#35, p. 159).
McMillin asks a crucial question with implications for the performance history of "The Fair Maid of Italy." He asks, "Why should Sussex's men—and the Queen's men, for that matter—have established connections with Henslowe in 1593-94?" (p. 215). His answer is in the form of "what if": "Suppose that Sussex's men appeared at Henslowe's playhouse because at that time, like the other companies in the Diary for the 1590s, they were associated with Edward Alleyn" (p. 218). One inference that could follow from McMillin's supposition is that Sussex's players—by mid-December 1593—were an amalgam of players from companies undergoing transition, one of which companies was Strange's men with whom Alleyn had recently been associated. Some number of Strange's players transitioned to the Chamberlain's players in June 1594 (i.e., Thomas Pope, John Heminges, William Kempe, and Augustine Phillips). The identity of Sussex's players and breadth of their careers are unknown.
Knutson argues that Sussex's men were not as marginal a company in December 1593 as they are often considered (p. 462). In the course of that argument, she observes that its offerings during the run at the Rose brought in respectable receipts to Henslowe, even though most of the plays—now lost—have had no impact on discussions of the theatrical marketplace. Speaking of "Fair Maid" specifically, she notes that for the Rose weeks of performance, "Fair Maid" is the only play in Sussex's repertory that "averages under 20 shillings, yet it is the one play from the January run that is picked up when Sussex's Men play with the Queen's Men in Easter Week" (p. 465).
Wiggins, Catalogue #926 thinks the setting of the play was "probably" Italy.

For What It's Worth

Although no narrative or dramatic analogues are known, some guesses may be warranted. The designations "fair" and "maid" were widespread in early modern English repertory offerings. The most notable relatively contemporary extant play is Fair Em, and it is reasonable to extrapolate from that example that the fair maid of Sussex's play was a commoner, doubtless pursued by various unsuitable suitors but perhaps one desirable one. On the other hand, the nationality of Italy in the title suggests generic connections with lost plays such as "The Love of a Grecian Lady," "Grecian Comedy," and "The Love of an English Lady." Incidentally, the latter set are roughly contemporary with "The Fair Maid of Italy" also; they belong to the repertory of the Admiral's men in 1594-5. Of course, it is always possible—with that "foreign" connection—that the Italian fair maid had an exotic sexuality, as apparently "Hiren the Fair Greek" did in "The Turkish Mahomet and Hiren the Fair Greek."

Works Cited

Knutson, Roslyn L. "What's So Special about 1594." Shakespeare Quarterly 61.4 (2010): 449-67.
McMillin, Scott. "Sussex's Men in 1594: The Evidence of Titus Andronicus and The Jew of Malta." Theatre Survey 32 (1991): 214-23.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 9 February 2012.