Guy of Warwick, Life and Death of

John Day and Thomas Dekker (1620)

Historical Records

John Taylor, The pennyles pilgrimage (1618)

The Water Poet, John Taylor, reported having seen a play by this name on 14 October 1618 at the Maidenhead Inn, Islington:

And so I stole backe againe to Islington, to the signe of the Mayden-head, staying till Wednesday that my friendes came to meete mee, who knewe no other, but that Wednesday was my first comming: where with all loue I was entertained with much good cheere: and after Supper wee had a play of the life and death of Guy of Warwicke, plaied by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie his men. (The pennyles pilgrimage, sig.G2v)

Stationers' Register

15 January 1619 [i.e. 1620] (S.R.I, 3.662)

John Trundle Entred for his copie vnder the handes of Master TAUERNOR and both
the wardens A Play Called the life and Death of GUY of Warwicke
written by JOHN DAY and THOMAS DECKER . . . Vjd

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown. If the play registered in 1620 is identical to the play seen by John Taylor in 1618, the Earl of Derby's men were performing it. The play printed in 1661 claims that it was acted "‘very frequently and with great applause, by his late Majesties servants", which might, if true, denote either the King's Men or Prince Charles's Men.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Ronald S. Crane provides a neat summary of the Guy of Warwick legend in his discussion of its popularity from the middle ages to the Romantic period: the son of the steward of Warwick, in order to win the hand of Phelis, the daughter of his Earl, had twice gone to seek honor and adventures on the Continent; how, finally successful in his ambition and married to his lady, he had left her almost immediately after and had set out for the Holy Land in the guise of a palmer, to expiate in the service of God the wrongs he had done in the service of Phelis; and how, learning on his return that England was in the power of the Danes and the King besieged in Winchester, he had slain the Danish champion Colbrond, and then, still unknown to Phelis, had retired to spend his last days in a hermit's cave near Warwick. (127)

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Bullen, in his Introduction to The Works of John Day, mentions Halliwell-Phillips's suggestion that this lost play might be identical to the extant Guy Earl of Warwick printed in 1661, and attributed on its title-page to "B.J.", but doubts "whether either of the authors, if they had tried, could have written so execrably" (11).

Chambers (ES, 3.289) implicitly agrees with Bullen's assessment that printed Guy of Warwick play is "too bad to be Day and Dekker's Life and Death of Guy of Warwick".

Harbage ("Sparrow from Stratford"), arguing that “[t]he Guy Earl of Warwick of 1661, is, I believe, a composition of ca. 1592-1593, cut for itinerant performance but otherwise little altered” (144), suggests that Day and Dekker “may well have reworked a piece written by Dekker at the beginning of his career” (149). He concludes that in the 1661 text we have the extant original (from the 1590s) and that the text registered in 1620 was a revision that has now been lost (149). Part of his conjecture about a 1590s Guy of Warwick play involves recognition of how it would relate to the repertories of companies at the Rose, including the "Huon of Bordeaux" play of 1593 and the "Godfrey of Boulogne, Parts 1 and 2" plays of c.1594 (144).

Bentley (JCS, 3.251) argues that "Probably two and perhaps three plays about Guy of Warwick are covered by the above items" - the Taylor reference, the Trundle licensing record, and the 1661 extant play.

Keenan discusses this performance record in the context of other inn performances, noting its anomalous character, both as a rare allusion to a Jacobean inn performance, and because the Earl of Derby's players tended to operate in the provinces, and this is ‘the only known record of his players acting in or on the outskirts of London’ after the year 1604 (438).

Taylor had just returned from his trip to Edinburgh and back, which he had undertaken to complete without spending any money. Capp suggests that Taylor himself selected Guy of Warwick for performance, as a jocular celebration of his own mock-heroic journey.

Steggle notes that Taylor had previously visited the inn on his outward journey on 14 July 1618, being accompanied there, as he seems to say, by the printer John Trundle and by two members of Prince Charles's Men, John Newton and Hugh Attwell. This would seem to chime both with the Trundle connection of the unprinted play, and with the ambiguous company attribution of the 1661 play.

For What It's Worth

One clear-cut example of Dekker and Day working as a writing team is provided by the lost tragedy Bellman of Paris. This was licensed on 30 July 1623, so five years later than the record under discussion here, but nonetheless it is striking that the company involved was Prince Charles's Men. See Bentley, JCS, 3.246.

Works Cited

Bullen, A. H. The Works of John Day. Tooks Court Chancery Lane: Chiswick Press, 1881.
Capp, Bernard. ‘Taylor, John (1578–1653)’, ODNB,
Crane, Ronald S. "The Vogue of Guy of Warwick from the Close of the Middle Ages to the Romantic Revival". PMLA 30.2 (1915): 125-94.
Harbage, Alfred. “Sparrow from Stratford”. Shakespeare Without Words and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1972. 143-52.
Keenan, Siobhan. ‘A Little-Known Allusion to an Inn Performance in the Suburbs of Jacobean London’, N&Q 50 (2003): 437–40.
Steggle, Matthew. "Players at the Maidenhead Inn, Islington, 1618", N&Q 53 (2006): 519–521.
Taylor, John. The pennyles pilgrimage, or The money-lesse perambulation, of Iohn Taylor, alias the Kings Majesties water-poet How he trauailed on foot from London to Edenborough in Scotland, not carrying any money to or fro, neither begging, borrowing, or asking meate, drinke or lodging. With his description of his entertainment in all places of his iourney, and a true report of the vnmatchable hunting in the brea of Marre and Badenoch in Scotland. With other obseruations, some serious and worthy of memory, and some merry and not hurtfull to be remembred. Lastly that (which is rare in a trauailer) all is true. 1618.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 10 March 2016. Additions by Matthew Steggle, University of Bristol, 15 November 2019.