Four Plays in One

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Anon. (1592)

Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 7 (Greg, I.13)

Res at iiij playes in one the 6 of marche 1591 ………. xxxjs vjd

Theatrical Provenance

Four Plays in One makes its only recorded appearance at the Rose playhouse on 6 March 1592 in the repertory of Lord Strange's players. The absence of Henslowe's enigmatic "ne" with the entry implies that the play was not new.

Probable Genre(s)

Moral (Harbage) NB: Harbage was so persuaded that Four Plays in One was a revival of Three Plays in One and therefore also of The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins that he omitted Four Plays in One from the annals of 1592. His guess at the genre of the play ("Moral") is therefore undermined, unless (of course) he was right.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known, though F. G. Fleay and W. W. Greg posited a line of narrative and dramatic descent for Four Plays in One by way of Richard Tarlton's lost play, The Seven Deadly Sins. See Critical Commentary, below, for a digest of the scholarly argument.

References to the Play

None is known outside the network of argument that connects Four Plays in One to Tarlton and The Seven Deadly Sins.

Critical Commentary

Fleay connected The Seven Deadly Sins to two lost plays called Five Plays in One and Three Plays in One, which were performed by the Queen's players at court in January and February 1585, respectively. With the Plot of The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins in mind, Fleay counted the Induction of that Plot as a fourth unit to accompany the playlets on Envy, Sloth, and Lechery, by which math he had reason to consider Four Plays in One an alternate title for The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins. He was looking in Henslowe's playlists for such a play because he already believed that the players' names in the Plot were in the company of Lord Strange. He declared Four Plays in One to be "the only play in the Lord Strange's list in Henslow which" could be identified with the play behind the Plot of The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins (83).

Greg' initially agreed (II, Item 13, p. 153). But, after considering arguments made by E. K. Chambers in "The Elizabethan Stage" (II.125, II.307), he changed his mind. He now agreed with Chambers that the Plot was drawn up earlier than 1592, and he talked himself out of considering the Induction either detachable (to Five Plays in One) or of sufficient length to be considered one of the four plays of Four Plays in One:

It is at once obvious that the historical framework was not confined to the induction, but that it formed a setting to the whole performance. ... Also, if the induction could be treated as a 'play' by itself, we should expect to find it in structure comparable to one of the shorter Sin plays, say four to six scenes, and to find it reflecting the evils of Henry's reign as a pointed introduction to the Sins, and likewise the tragedy of Henry's earlier life. Instead the Plot opens with Henry already in the Tower. Surely, then, it is evident that we have in the Plot nothing but what it purports to be, namely the Second Part of The Seven Deadly Sins, that is presumably the original Three Plays in One. It would hardly have occurred to any one to question this had it not been for the red herring of the Four Plays in One that Fleay drew across the trail" (112)

Unwilling quite to relinquish the connection with Five Plays in One and Three Plays in One, Greg concludes by observing that it is "abstractly possible" that Four Plays in One "represented some shuffling" of the Queen's plays' bits, but he no longer put any metal behind such an argument (112-13).

See also Wiggins serial number 879.

For What It's Worth

Documentation for a lost play called The Seven Deadly Sins by Richard Tarlton comes from an insult-slinging match between Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nashe in 1592. Harvey, in the third of Four Letters, mocks Nashe for having given a "botched-vp" treatment of "Sins" subject matter in Pierce Penniless inferior to Tarlton's "famous play of the seaven Deadly sinnes" (EEBO, 29). Nashe retaliated with a tirade claiming that he had not "so vtterly abolished with Tarltons play of the seuen deadly sins, that ther could be nothing said supra of that argument" (McKerrow, I, 304-5). For a fuller treatment of the Harvey-Nashe exchange, see entries for Five Plays in One, Three Plays in One, or The Seven Deadly Sins.

Works Cited

Fleay, Frederick G. A Chronicle History of the London Stage. London, 1890.
Greg, W. W. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouse. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931.
Harvey, Gabriel. Fovre Letters, and certain Sonnets .... London, 1592. (EEBO)
Nashe, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Nashe. ed. Ronald B. McKerrow. 5 vols. London: A. H. Bullen, 1905 (Vol. I).

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita; updated 26 March 2012.