James Shirley’s Poems &c. (1646) includes a section of “Prologues and Epilogues Written to severall Playes Presented in this Kingdom, and else-where,” which includes prologues that Shirley wrote for his own plays and plays by others. Included in these prologues is “To a Play there, called the Generall” (sig. 2Dr-v):
There are some souldiers then, though but a few
Will see the Generall before they goe;
Y’are welcome: Play’rs have sufferd since you came,
And wounded too in fortunes and in fame.
Your Drums and Trumpets carried all the Town
Into the fields, and left them here to mone
Their own sad Tragedy, for want of men
Enough to kill’em. Strange! The benches then
Were all the grave spectators, but that here
Some cruell Gentlemen in your hangings were.
O dreadfull word Vacation! But they mean
To be reveng’d upon’t, and change their Scene
A while to th’Countrey, leave the Town to blush,
Not in ten dayes to see one cloak of plush.
I do but think how some like ghosts will walk
For money surely hidden, while the talk
O’th’Citie will be, Would the Term were come,
Though Law came with it, we would make it room.
And our own faces in the shop agen,
And for a time hope to converse with men,
To trust, and thank ’em too: This is a curse
For their not seeing playes, or something worse.
But to you Gentlemen, whom we have no art
To multiply, welcome, with all my heart.
The Generall should have a guard; but we
Conceive no danger in this company.
But if you fear a plot from us, alas,
Here are so few, I think the Play may passe.
Performed at Werburgh Street Theatre (Dublin) by Ogilby's Men between 1636-1640.
In the prologue, Shirley suggests that the actors are suffering their own tragedy (lack of audience for plays), possibly comparing it to the play’s tragedy. Possibly tragedy or tragicomedy.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
References to the Play
For What It's Worth
From 1636-1640, Shirley lived in Ireland and wrote plays for Ogilby’s Men at the Werburgh Theatre; Shirley also wrote prologues and epilogues to plays by other playwrights and for revivals. For more on Shirley’s time in Ireland, see Stevenson, Slowey, Lublin, Nason, and I. Clark.
The 3rd edition of the Annals of English Drama (Harbage, Wagonheim, and Schoenbaum) notes that the lost play might have been an earlier edition of the later play with the same title by Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery. Orrery’s play was first performed in Dublin in 1662 under the title Altemera and in London in 1664 as The Generall (Bode). W. S. Clark and Ray Armstrong refute this conjecture. As Clark notes, this unsubstantiated misattribution was from James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps discovering a manuscript of Orrery’s play and assuming it related to this prologue.
Fleay suggests that this lost play might be the same as Henry Shirley’s The Martyred Soldier and dates the performance to c. 1639. There is no further evidence to support this claim.
This prologue is also published in Gifford and Dyce, Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley (vol. 6); Armstrong’s The Poems of James Shirley; and Fletcher’s Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland.
Armstrong, Ray Livingstone, ed. The Poems of James Shirley. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1941.
Bode, Robert F. “Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery.” Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, ed. Paula R. Backscheider. Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 80. Detroit: Gale, 1989, pp. 29-36.
Clark, Ira. “Shirley, James (bap. 1596, d. 1666).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Date of access 6 Oct. 2020.
Clark, William S. “The Relation of Shirley’s Prologue to Orrery’s The Generall.” Review of English Studies. vol 6, no. 22 (1930): 191-93.
Fleay, F. G. “Annals of the Careers of James and Henry Shirley.” Anglia 8 (1885): 405-14.
Fletcher, Alan J. Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c. 1642. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001.
Gifford, William, and Alexander Dyce. The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley. Vol. VI. London: John Murray, 1833.
Harbage, Alfred, Sylvia S. Wagonheim, and Samuel Schoenbaum. Annals of English Drama, 975-1700. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 1989.
Lublin, Robert I. “Shirley’s Dublin Days: A Nervous Première of St Patrick for Ireland.” James Shirley and Early Modern Theatre: New Critical Perspectives ed. Barbara Ravelhofer. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. 108-23.
Shirley, James. Poems &c. London: Humphrey Moseley, 1646.
Stevenson, Allan H. “Shirley’s Years in Ireland.” The Review of English Studies 20.77 (1944): 19-28.
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