George Puttenham (1580?)

Historical Records

George Puttenham's The Art of English Poesy

Puttenham closes Book 2 of The Arte of English Poesie (1589) by recalling the plot of his own comedy:

In our Comedie intituled Ginecocratia: the king was supposed to be a person very amorous and effeminate, and therefore most ruled his ordinary affaires by the aduise of women either for the loue he bare to their persons or liking he had to their pleasant ready witts and vtterance. Comes me to the Court one Polemon an honest plaine man of the country, but rich: and hauing a suite to the king, met by chaunce with one Philino, a louer of wine and a merry companion in Court, and praied him in that he was a stranger that he would vouchsafe to tell him which way he were best to worke to get his suite, and who were most in credit and fauour about the king, that he might seeke to them to furder his attempt. Philino perceyuing the plainnesse of the man, and that there would be some good done with him, told Polemon that if he would well consider him for his labor he would bring him where he should know the truth of all his demaundes by the sentence of the Oracle. Polemon gaue him twentie crownes, Philino brings him into a place where behind an arras cloth hee himselfe spake in manner of an Oracle in these meeters, for so did all the Sybils and sothsaiers in old times giue their answers.
Your best way to worke – and marke my words well,
Not money: nor many,
Nor any: but any,
Not weemen, but weemen beare the bell.
   Polemon wist not what to make of this doubtfull speach, & not being lawfull to importune the oracle more then once in one matter, conceyued in his head the pleasanter construction, and stacke to it: and hauing at home a fayre yong damsell of eighteene yeares old to his daughter, that could very well behaue her selfe in countenance & also in her language, apparelled her as gay as he could, and brought her to the Court, where Philino harkning daily after the euent of this matter, met him, and recommended his daughter to the Lords, who perceiuing her great beauty and other good parts, brought her to the King, to whom she exhibited her fathers supplication, and found so great fauour in his eye, as without any long delay she obtained her sute at his hands. Polemon by the diligent solliciting of his daughter, wanne his purpose: Philino gat a good reward and vsed the matter so, as howsoeuer the oracle had bene construed, he could not haue receiued blame nor discredit by the successe, for euery waies it would haue proued true, whether Polemons daughter had obtayned the sute, or not obtained it. And the subtiltie lay in the accent and Ortographie of these two wordes [any] and [weemen] for [any] being deuided sounds [a nie or neere person to the king: and [weemen] being diuided soundes wee men, and not [weemen] and so by this meane Philino serued all turnes and shifted himselfe from blame, not vnlike the tale of the Rattlemouse who in the warres proclaimed betweene the foure footed beasts, and the birdes, beyng sent for by the Lyon to be at his musters, excused himselfe for that he was a foule and flew with winges: and beyng sent for by the Eagle to serue him, sayd that he was a foure footed beast, and by that craftie cauill escaped the danger of the warres, and shunned the seruice of both Princes. And euer since sate at home by the fires side, eating vp the poore husbandmans baken, halfe lost for lacke of a good huswifes looking too.
(Puttenham, pp. 111-13)

Puttenham's book was entered in the Stationers' Register on 9 November 1588.

Theatrical Provenance

None known.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Plot described by Puttenham.

References to the Play

(Content welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Wiggins (#674) gives a best-guess date of 1579 "by attraction to Puttenham's other known literary writing, the Partheniades (c. 1579-81)."

For What It's Worth

Wiggins uses the title "Gynaeocratica," apparently as an emendation of "Ginecocratia" as printed in The Arte of English Poesie. However, the original spelling corresponds to the Greek γυναικοκρατία as used by Aristotle (Politics, 1313b), Plutarch (Life of Antony, 10.3; Life of Lycurgus, 14.1; etc.), and others.

Works Cited

Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesie. London, 1589.

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