George Scanderbeg

Anon. (c.1601)

Historical Records

Book Trade Records

Stationers' Register

3 July 1601

iijo Julij
Edward Alde      Entred for his Copye vnder the hand of
mr whyte warden the true historye of
George Scanderbarge as yt was lately           vjd
playd by the right honorable the Earle
of Oxenford his servantes

(Liber C, f. 72r; cf. S.R.I, 3.187)

Theatrical Provenance

The S.R. entry clearly shows that the play was registered to the Earl of Oxford's players, and the description of it as "lately playd" supports the theory that it was performed in or around 1601. Oxford's Men are known to have been active in 1600 (The Weakest Goeth to the Wall was entered in the S.R. on 23 October), so this attribution appears sound. By early autumn 1601, Oxford's Men had amalgamated with Worcester's and were most likely at the Boar's Head Theater in Whitechapel (Berry 51), which is thus the most likely venue for the Scanderbeg play. The amalgamated company's members included Christopher Beeston, John Duke, Thomas Heywood, Will Kempe, John Lowin, Robert Pallant, and Richard Perkins.

Harbage assigns a date of 1587, presumably on the basis of the now discredited Harvey allusion (see Critical Commentary below).

Probable Genre(s)

Heroical romance (Harbage); Foreign history (Schoenbaum rev. Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Giorgio Castriota (1403-1467) was an Albanian prince who, after leading a revolt against the Turks, received the title "Iskender Beg" or "Scanderbeg" (Prince Alexander).

Franklin B. Williams, Jr., has proposed that the lost play may have been based on the Scanderbeg translation by Zachary Jones, Elizabethan barrister, member of the Spenser circle, and translator of French texts:

The sheer bulk of Scanderbeg discourages the twentieth-century reader unless he has a special interest in military science or Balkan history. On the contrary, Elizabethans, to whom the Turk was still a grave threat, found the legendary hero an attractive figure. Jones's book, one may safely assume, was the source for the lost anonymous play on Scanderbeg... (209)

Williams suggests that Jones was translating either the 1576 original Paris edition or the 1592 La Rochelle reprint (209). The translation in question is:

Jaques de La Vardin, The Historie of George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, trans. "Z. I. Gentleman", 1596.

This text appears to be the origin of an apocryphal tale of "Scanderbeg's sending Mahomet II a sword that no one at the sultan's court could handle" --- B. B. Ashcom explains that "[w]hen accused of bad faith, Scanderbeg replied that he had sent only the sword, not the hand and arm needed to wield it" (23.n39), leading to the saying, "Scanderbeg's sword must have Scanderbeg's arm" (Warde 34-35).

Suggesting that Marlowe may have used Andrew Cambine's Turkish Affaires ("Englished" by John Shute in 1562) as a source for the siege of Damascus incident in Tamburlaine, Bakeless notes that this text "was bound with an account of Scanderbeg, the Albanian hero on whom Marlowe is supposed to have written a play, as Two Notable Commentaries" (1.218). The likelihood of this being the source is contingent upon the now debunked theory that Marlowe was involved with writing the play, so Cambine's prominence as contender should no longer be endorsed.

McInnis includes an appendix of early English texts treating the Scanderbeg legend (84-85).

References to the Play

There are a number of allusions to Scanderbeg in the early modern period, ranging from pejorative allusions characterising Scanderbeg as a braggart / rogue (Stephano: "Whoreson scanderbag rogue!", Jonson, Every Man In, 1598, 1.2.20), to more positive associations with Scanderbeg's bravery and might: Lewis Machin and Gervase Markham's Duke of Epire "sprung from the line, of famous Scanderbag" in The Dumbe Knight (1608) (sig.B1). As McInnis notes, "On account of their military prowess and valor in battle against the Turks, the names Scanderbeg and Tamburlaine are frequently associated in the early modern mind, making Scanderbeg an obvious choice of subject matter for a company hoping to capitalize on the success of Marlowe's plays and the wave of similarly themed dramas of the 1590s" (p. 77).

One allusion to Scanderbeg may plausibly be to the lost play rather than merely the popular legend. It occurs in Dekker's Satiromastix (1601), a highly metatheatrical satire responding to Jonson's Poetaster (1601) in particular:

Tucca says to Sir Adam Prickshaft, "Nay, whir, nimble Prickshaft; whir, away, I goe vpon life and death, away, flie Scanderbag flie," which seems to allude to his [Scanderbeg's] defection from the Turks. Not only is Tucca particularly prone to making allusions to other plays, but Satiromastix is also of an appropriate date to have plausibly incorporated allusions to the stage "Scanderbeg." It would hardly be surprising if religious apostasy and escape from the Turks and Islam were prominent features of the lost play. (McInnis 82-83).

Critical Commentary

A poem in Gabriel Harvey's "Foure Sonets" in his New Letter of Notable Contents (1593) was once thought to contain references to the lost play and to associate Marlowe with the title:

The Writer's Postscript: or a frendly Caueat
to the Second Shakerley of Powles.
Slumbring I lay in melancholy bed,
Before the dawning of the sanguin light
When Eccho shrill, or some Familiar Spright,
Buzzed an Epitaph into my hed.
Magnifique Mindes, bred of Gargantuas race,
In grisly weedes His Obsequies waiment,
Whose Corps on Powles, whose mind triumph'd on
Kent Scorning to bate Sir Rodomont an ace.
I mus'd awhile: and hauing mus'd awhile,
Iesu, (quoth I) is that Gargantua minde
Conquerd, and left no Scanderbeg behinde?
Vowed he not to Powles A Second bile? What bile, or kibe?
(quoth that same early Spright) Haue you forgot the Scanderbegging wight?

(Harvey, sig. D3v; cf. Moore 344)

Chambers (4.400) asserted that "There seems no adequate reason for ascribing this to Marlowe (q.v.) or Nashe."

Hale Moore, analysing Gabriel Harvey's ostensible references to Marlowe, cites Harvey's line, "is that Gargantua mind conquered and left no Scanderbeg behind? Vowed he not to Paul's a second bile?" and records Fleay's enthusiastic interpretation of this allusion:

This seems to indicate an affected surprise that Marlowe had not published Scanderbeg as well as Tamberlane, and surely attributes its authorship to Marlowe. The dates would suit very well, for a play performed by the Earl of Oxford's men could not be later than 1588; and Harvey would be likely to know of such plays of Marlowe's as were written at Cambridge and taken with him to London in 1587. This may, then,- have been a play performed before any of Marlowe's extant plays, in 1587; and Marlowe may have 'vowed a second bile' to

Paul's by an intended publication of it. (Fleay 2.65) Moore, however, dismisses the notion of any Scanderbeg connection on the Occam's Razor grounds that "The N.E.D. notes the word as an epithet of abuse, a rascal," observing that "Like Tamberlaine and Ismail, Scanderbeg was regularly used as a synonym for the mighty warrior and conqueror" (353). He thus concludes that "it is possible to understand the words without seeking for a hidden meaning" (353).

Charles Nicholl has convincingly discredited the case for Marlovian authorship by identifying the true subject of Harvey's allusion as Peter Shakerley, "one of those self-publicising Elizabethan oddballs who found their way into the popular imagination" (Nicholl 63).

Marlowe had been dead for seven years by the time the play was registered at Stationers' Hall, and he had no known connection to any incarnation of Oxford's players.

McInnis examines "the issue of Marlovian influence" (75) and the implications of this lost play being staged in the repertorial context of 1600-01, when "Marlowe's own company, the Admiral's, were turning once again to Marlovian-influenced offerings" (83). He observes that:

Scanderbeg was born a year after Tamburlaine's defeat of Bajazeth I, making for convenient dramatic continuity in terms of a new play's offering. His rise from involuntary foot soldier for the Turks to mighty leader of the Albanian resistance may have triggered recollections of Tamburlaine's rise from Scythian shepherd to mighty conqueror. The two leaders' opposition to the Turks united them further in the popular imagination, and as at least one critic has suggested, the Tamburlaine/Bajazeth dynamic may conceivably have been replicated in the form of the Scanderbeg/Mahomet II relationship. (77)

For What It's Worth

(Information welcome)

Works Cited

Ashcom, B. B. "Notes on the Development of the Scanderbeg Theme." Comparative Literature 5.1 (1953): 16-29.
Bakeless, John. The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1942.
Berry, Herbert. THe Boar's Head Playhouse. Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1986).
Dekker, Thomas. Satiromastix; or, The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker. ed. Fredson Bowers. Cambridge: CUP, 1953, rpt.1970.
Fleay, F. G. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642. vol. 2. London, 1891. Internet Archive
Harvey, Gabriel. A Nevv Letter of Notable Contents. London, 1593. STC 12902.
Hopkins, Lisa. Christopher Marlowe, Renaissance Dramatist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2008.
Jonson, Ben. Every Man in His Humour (Q). ed. David Bevington. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, vol. 1. Ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler and Ian Donaldson. Cambridge: CUP, 2012.
Machin, Lewis and Gervase Markham. The Dumbe Knight: A Historicall Comedy. London, 1608.
McInnis, David. “Marlowe’s Influence and 'The True History of George Scanderbeg'.” Marlowe Studies: An Annual 2 (2012): 71-85. Archived here
Moore, Hale. "Gabriel Harvey's References to Marlowe." Studies in Philology 23.3 (1926): 337-57. JSTOR
Nelson, Alan H. Monstrous Adversary: The life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2003.
Warde, R. C. "Sermons by Parliamentary Chaplains." Notes & Queries 1st series, 7.167 (January 8, 1853): 34-35.
Williams, Franklin B., Jr. "Spenser, Shakespeare, and Zachary Jones." Shakespeare Quarterly 19.3 (1968): 205-12. JSTOR

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; 08 Aug 2011, updated 22 July 2020.