Florentine Ladies, The

Anon. (Before 1665 - unknown date)

Historical Records

Thomas Jordan, "A Prologue to a Play call'd The Florentine Ladies, played in the Night by Gentlemen."

You're welcome to our Ladies, and I know
Most courteous Gallants, Ladies will please you;
Though at this hour, or midnight, else I'le swear
Most of our Knights are lost with the last year:
These creatures are of Florence , and not scorn
To let you know they are Italians born;
Your Ladies, worthy Gentlemen, 'tis thought
Love things that are far fetch't and dearly bought:
Why should not they who of this opinion are
Let you love Ladies that are come so far;
It is a question, and they may mistake
Our Ladies to be Ladies of the Lake;
Which in our English broadness is a Whore,
Then what are we, nay they that keep the door;
What are you too, my Masters? something 'tis
That make your Wives thus follow you to this.
A shrew'd suspicion when our wandring Knights
Arrest strange Ladies, and so late at nights;
But there's no hurt, for if they please but you,
We doubt not they'l content your Ladies too.
Pray take't as 'tis, the best we can afford,
If we do please, why so. Hab nab's the word.

"The Epilogue, on New-Years-Day at Night".

With the New Year these Marriages begin,
Which will be broke e're the next year come in,
Unless your hands do give us, all our pains
In Love is lost, if you forbid the banes:
But if you grant us Licence, and appear
Each day to see us thorow the whole year;
Come to our Wedding, to requite your loves,
Shew us your hands we'l fit you all with Gloves.

Thomas Jordan, A Nursery of Novelties (1665) 16-17.

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown beyond what Jordan says.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy ending in multiple marriages.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The Prologue shows that the ensuing play features at least two noblewomen from the city of Florence, who, despite their high birth, are also potentially prostitutes, a prospect on which Jordan puns relentlessly by means of the word ‘ladies’. In addition, the ladies have ‘come so far’ to Britain, which could be merely metaphorical, but might suggest a British setting for the play. Finally, the Epilogue demonstrates that the play was a comedy which ended in at least two marriages.

Edward Sharpham's comedy The Fleire, in which two Florentine gentlewoman have come to Britain and set themselves up as prostitutes, has been proposed as a possible source.

References to the Play

None known

Critical Commentary

These poems occur in Jordan's collection of mainly occasional writings A Royal Arbor of Loyal Poesie, reissued in 1665 under the title A Nursery of Novelties. As early as Halliwell (99), they were being taken as evidence for a lost play entitled The Florentine Ladies.

Not listed as a separate piece in Sibley.
Harbage (158) includes it with conjectural date range c.1659-1660.
Listed as a separate entry by Bentley (5.1333), who observes, "These titles would suggest an occasional piece by amateurs, but lines 4-8 of the epilogue seem to be more appropriate for professional players… There seems to be no reason to identify The Florentine Ladies with The Florentine Friend".

For What It's Worth

Richard Brome's lost The Florentine Friend is discussed here.

Jordan's date of birth is disputed, but it is clear that he appears in theatrical records from 1635 onwards: so the performance for which these verses were written can hardly have taken place much earlier than around that date. Indeed, it isn't certain that this describes a pre-1642 play, especially since he seems to have been associated with the Red Bull Theatre even during the interregnum period (see Hulse, "Thomas Jordan").

In research arising from the LPD, Matthew Steggle argues that the lost play "seems to have had some sort of connection to Edward Sharpham’s The Fleire." In addition to apparent plot similarities noted above, The Fleire twice describes its heroines using the phrase ‘Florentine ladies’, a phrase which EEBO-TCP finds to be uncommon: of the five occurrences in EEBO, one in Robert Burton, one is in a later anthology reproducing Burton, two are in The Fleire and one in Jordan’s Prologue.

Steggle adds that The Fleire enjoyed a considerable afterlife into the 1630s and 1640s, being used as a source by Jordan's colleague Robert Chamberlain, and being referred to by Jordan himself. Further evidence of the play's early reception can be found in the chance survival of an annotated early edition:

Moreover, there survives a copy of the 1607 quarto (British Library 11773 c.8) which is marked up, in a seventeenth-century hand, with extensive cuts and revisions. This copy has long been of considerable importance to scholars of theatre, because the annotations appear to offer a rare window into the actual practices of revision in early modern drama, but it is also interesting here for what it says about uses of The Fleire in particular... The revised version bears no title. It could hardly be called The Fleire, since Antifront is no longer called ‘the fleer’, and indeed no longer so clearly the central character. Instead, the daughters are more prominent, and the opening lines of the play become the following exchange, set at the entrance to their establishment:
ANTIFRONT This is the streete, and as I remember this is the doore. Ile aske this ancient Gentlewoman: health and beautie dwell with you Lady.
FROMAGA I thanke you sir, a has a courtly phrase yfaith.
ANTIFRONT Doe the Florentine Ladyes dwell heere?
FROMAGA Yes forsooth sir …
(cited from Steggle, 405)

‘The Florentine Ladies’ would be a good title for such a fleer-less version of The Fleire.

Thus, concludes Steggle, "at some point in his career Thomas Jordan wrote a Prologue and Epilogue for a play which sounds like an adaptation of Sharpham’s The Fleire".

Works Cited

Halliwell, James O. A Dictionary of Old English Plays. London: John Russell Smith, 1860.
Hulse, Lynn. ‘Jordan, Thomas (c.1614–1685)’, Oxford DNB, 2004, online edn, Jan 2008.
Sharpham, Edward. The fleire. London: F. B[urton], 1607.
Steggle, Matthew. "Jordan and Sharpham: A Lost Play and an Annotated Playbook". Notes and Queries 64 (2017): 403–406.

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University: updated November 26 2017.