Mr Robinson and Henry Chettle (1602)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 107v (Greg I.170)

Lent vnto vmfrey Jeaffes the 9 of septmbʒ }
1602 in pt of payment vnto mr Roben }
sone for a tragedie called felmelanco } iijli
    the some of . . . . . . . . }

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 15 of septmbʒ }
1602 to paye vnto harey chettell in pte }
of payment for his tragedie of felmelanco } xs
    the some of . . . . . . . . }

pd at the a poyntment of thomas downton }
to harey chettell in fulle payment of }
his tragedie called felmelanco some of } ls

NB. fol.108r of Henslowe's diary includes a payment on 21 October for a play Henslowe initially entered as "felmelanco" before crossing out the title and correcting to "Chester" (Greg I.171).

Theatrical Provenance

Purchased for the Admiral's men at the Fortune.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The enigmatic title has spawned some desperate conjecture from critics, but none have proved particularly satisfactory.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Fleay misread the title as "Femelanco". He doubts the existence of Henslowe's "Mr Robinson" as co-author: "Robinson was, I think, to Chettle what Mrs. Harris was to Mrs. Gamp" (Harris being a product of Gamp's imagination in Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit) (BCED 1.70).

Hazlitt followed Fleay's misreading of the title and interpreted it as "The Female Anchoress" and entered the play under that name (Manual 84)

Greg (2.224) thought the title should perhaps be "Fell Melanco" but decline to explain what he thought that meant. He thinks it is unlikely that Robinson "had any hand in the play" but denies that he is a "fictitious character" (as Fleay thought); Greg preferred to think Chettle had again pawned a play (see Greg #258) and Robinson was involved in the financial transaction.

Wiggins (#1354) surveys the various suggestions for interpreting the title (noting the "especial desperation" of The Female Anchoress, with its "redundant adjective"). With "equal lack of conviction", he raises the possibility of "a deaf or confused Henslowe mangling the word calamanco (meaning a type of fine chequered cloth)" or the possibility of "the title as the worn-down remnants of Philip the Melancholy" (but dismisses this possibility on the grounds that Henslowe "would then have bought the play twice over" within the space of about a month). The "nearest long-shot" he offers is Philomela, which he notes "fails to account for the last three letters". Wiggins concludes that "'Felmelanco' might just as well be an invented proper name, and therefore unlikely to be traceable".

For What It's Worth

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Works Cited

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