Freeman's Honour, The

William (sometimes thought to be Wentworth Smith) (1602)

Historical Records

Smith's letter to Swinnerton

In a letter to Sir John Swinnerton prefacing The Hector of Germany, Smith alludes to another play written by himself, for the King's Men:

And I hauing receiued some fauours from you, for priuate things, thought it might be acceptable, to giue you some Honor in Print; So that this Play, intuled The Palsgraue, beeing made for Citizens, who acted it well; I deemde it fitte to bee Patronizde by a Citizen. And not knowing any so worthy thereof as your selfe, I made choyce of your Wor: to be my Mecoenas: The kinde acceptance whereof, will make me proceede farther in your praise. And as I haue begun in a former Play, called the Freemans Honour, acted by the Now-seruants of the Kings Maiestie, to degnifie the worthy Compane of the Marchataylors, wherof you are a principall Ornament, I shall ere long, make choyce of some subiect to equall it. In the meane time, I leaue the Palsgraue in your hand, as a pledge of my good meaning, & will rest

Your Wor: most dutious,
W. Smith. (sig.A2)

Theatrical Provenance

Apparently performed by the Lord Chamberlain's/King's Men, according to Smith's letter. As Wiggins notes, Smith's reference to the company as the "now" servants of the King implies that the play was produced whilst the company was still the Lord Chamberlain's Men (Wiggins 1361). This in turn makes a date of c.1602 likely, and therefore the Globe as a probable venue; Wiggins suggests that a "production in October 1602 would have tied in with the accession of a Merchant taylor Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Lee".

Probable Genre(s)

Bourgeois Romance (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Information welcome.

References to the Play

Langbaine evidently recalled Smith's letter, and assumed the author is "William Smith" rather than Wentworth:

William SMITH.

An Author that lived in the Reign of King James the First, who publish'd a Play, call'd

Hector of Germany, or The Palsgrave Prime Elector; an Honourable History, publickly acted at the Red-bull, and at the Curtain, by a Company of Young Men of this City; printed 4o. Lond. 1615. and dedicated to the Right Worshipful Sir John Swinnerton, Lord Mayor of London, in the Year 1611. This Play is not divided into Acts: I am not certain where this Story is to be found; tho' possibly Albertus Argentinensis, or Henry Monk of Rebdorf, may make some Mention of this Palatin.

Our Author writ another Play, called The Freeman's Honour, to dignify the Worthy Company of Taylors; but whether ever it was printed or no, I know not. (Account of the Dramatic Poets, 488-89)

Critical Commentary

Knutson suggests, on the basis of a conjectured parallel with another guild or citizen's play, The Shoemaker's Holiday, that "The Freeman's Honour" may have had "a romantic plot also, although perhaps with the cross-wooing of merchant taylors instead of dukes" (88). Noting that the play was meant to "dignify" Swinnerton's company, she sugests that "the hero was a freeman of the merchant taylors who defends his honor. Even if that honor were challenged only in a professional sense, I would guess that some of the plot contained romantic tangles" (88).

Kathman provides "a variety of fairly strong circumstantial evidence" in favour of William Smith, not Wentworth Smith, as the author of this play

For What It's Worth

Information welcome.

Works Cited

Kathman, David. "William Smith, “The Freeman’s Honour,” and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men," in Loss and the Literary Culture of Shakespeare's Time. Roslyn L. Knutson, David McInnis and Matthew Steggle, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. 161-71.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare’s Company, 1594-1613. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
Langbaine, Gerard. An account of the English dramatick poets, or, Some observations and remarks on the lives and writings of all those that have publish'd either comedies, tragedies, tragi-comedies, pastorals, masques, interludes, farces or opera's in the English tongue by Gerard Langbaine. Oxford : Printed by L.L. for George West and Henry Clements, 1691.
Smith, Wentworth. The Hector of Germany. Or The Palsgraue, prime Elector A new play, an honourable history. As it hath beene publickly acted at the Red-Bull, and at the Curtayne, by a company of young-men of this citie. Made by W. Smith: with new additions. Printed at London : By Thomas Creede, for Iosias Harrison, and are to be solde in Pater-Noster-Row, at the signe of the Golden Anker, 1615.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 10 March 2016.