(Redirected from Jepthah)

Anthony Munday, Thomas Dekker (1602)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

Fol. 105v (Greg I.168)

Lent vnto the companye the 5 of maye 1602
to geue vnto antoney monday & thomas deckers
J earnest of a Bocke called Jeffae
as may apeare the some of . . . . vll

Payments, Miscellaneous (Henslowe's Diary)

Fol. 105v (Greg I.168)

Layd owt for the companye when they
Read the playe of Jeffa for wine at
the tavern dd vnto thomas downton . . . . .ijs

N.B. This entry appears in the Diary between entries dated 16 May and 18 May.

Payments for Properties and Apparel (Henslowe's Diary)

Fol. 106v (Greg I.170)

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 8 of
maye 1602 to bye cottes for the
playe of Jeffa the some of . . . . vjll

Lent vnto thomas downton the 12
of June 1602 to by Rebatous & other
thinges for the playe of Jeffa the some
of . . . . iiijll

pd at the apoynt of thomas downton
vnto the tayller for mackynge of sewtes
for Jeffa the 25 of June 1602 some of . . . . xxxs

Lent vnto the company 1602 the 27 of
June to paye vnto hime wch made ther
propertyes for Jeffa the some of . . . . xxvs

Lent vnto thomas downton the
5 of July 1602 to paye the cvter
for the play of Jeffa the some of . . . . xxijs

N.B. The date of the first entry (8 May) is apparently Henslowe's mistake for 8 June given its position in the Diary following entries for late May and early June.

Acquittance from William Playstowe (Henslowe Papers)

Receved of mr Henslowe the iiijth of Agust 1602
for one monthes pay due vnto my mr mr Edmund
Tylney vppon the xxxjth day of July last past
the som of iijll J say R[eceived] . . . . iijll
per mei Will Playstowe
bookes owinge for /5/
baxsters tragedy
Tobias Comedy
Jepha Judg of Jsrael & the Cardinall
loue parts frendshipp

(Dulwich College, MSS I, article 37; qtd. Greg, Henslowe Papers, 58-59)

Theatrical Provenance

Performed by the Admiral's Men at the Fortune, perhaps in July.

Probable Genre(s)

Biblical History (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The story of Jephthah is told in Judges 11-12. Born an illegitimate son to a Gileadite named Gilead, Jephthah is cast out by his legitimate half-brothers. However, when Israel is attacked by the Ammonites, the Gileadite elders solicit Jephthah's leadership in battle; he agrees on the condition that he will be their head. They agree, and Jephthah begins negotiations with the Ammonites, whose grievance concerns land ownership. An impasse is reached, and Jephthah prepares for battle. Upon reaching the Ammonites, "Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering" (11:30-31). After conquering the Ammonites, Jephthah returns to his home, where he is greeted, "with timbrels and with dances," by his daughter. Jephthah laments the unpreventable catastrophe, "for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back" (11:35). His daughter submits to her fate, requesting only permission to bewail her virginity for the space of two months (11:37). Upon her return, Jephthah "did with her according to his vow which he had vowed" (11:39). While the story of his daughter's death is the key narrative event with which Jephthah is associated, he is described as serving as a judge of Israel for six years (12:7): in particular, his war with the Ephraimites is remembered for the Gileadites' strategy of discerning their enemy by asking them to pronounce the word shibboleth (12:6).

John Christopherson dramatized the story of Jephthah in his Greek tragedy Iephte (c. 1544) as did George Buchanan in his Latin Iephthes sive votum (Paris, 1554). The story also enjoyed circulation in ballad form. In 1567-68, the Stationers' Register records the entrance of "a ballett intituled the songe of JESPHAS Dowgther at his [i.e. her] death" (Arber I.355). An allusion to one such ballad appears in Hamlet: after taunting Polonius as "Jephthah, judge of Israel," Hamlet recites the tetrameter lines, "One fair daughter and no more, / The which he loved passing well" (Jenkins, ed., 2.2.399, 403-4). These lines are found in the ballad "Jepha Judge of Israel," which is preserved in the Shirburn manuscript, c. 1603-1625 (British Library, Add MS 82932, f. 183v; qtd. Clark 174-76), and in a surviving broadside printed c. 1658–64 (Roxburghe Collection 3.201; Roxburghe Ballads 6.685-66; Jenkins, ed., 475-77).

Perhaps the closest analogue to the Admiral's play might have been Munday's own treatment of the story in his The Mirror of Mutabilitie (London, 1579), in which Jephthah, a "right and rare example for all men to take heed of vaine othes" (sig. G3v), delivers a 66-line complaint, including a reminiscence of his exchange with his daughter. The concluding moral is: "Stil vow no more then well perfourme you may: / And so be sure you cannot goe astray" (sig. H1r).

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Collier identifies the subject of Henslowe's "Jeffa" as the biblical Jephthah and draws the connection to the ballad in Hamlet (220). He also adds: "Who or what was 'the cuter for the play of Jeffa' it is not easy to conjecture: the sum is too considerable, or we might suppose it to be payment to the man who played the executioner. A cutter was a well-known character, and Heywood was paid for writing the part of cutting Dick; but if introduced into the tragedy of Jephthah, the actor would hardly have been paid separately" (223-224n).

Herrlich raises the question of whether this play may have been related to the "Jephthah" ballad in Hamlet and to Philip Massinger's lost play "The Judge" (23).

Sypherd notes that Munday "was familiar with the subject of Jephthah, as already in 1579 he had told the story of Jephthah to illustrate the quality of Rashness" (145).

Astington argues that Edward Alleyn would have played the title role and that his "performance of anguish must have been especially impressive" (133). It may even be that the allusions to Jephthah in Hamlet were occasioned by Alleyn's role: "Across the river, about the same time, talk of 'the best actors in the world' triggered the mocking reply 'O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!,' in the mouth of Richard Burbage."

Marino observes that the allusions to Jephthah in Shakespeare's Hamlet occur near references to several other characters who served as subjects of Admiral's Men plays, such as "Marshal Osric" and "Caesar's Fall" (97–100). Since all three of these Admiral's plays were acquired by the company in 1602, Marino proposes that the combination is less likely coincidental than it is evidence that Q2 Hamlet (1604-5) represents a state of the play revised shortly before its publication, perhaps even after James Roberts's S.R. entrance for the play on 26 July 1602 (103–4).

Pollard notes that Dekker and Munday's play, like Buchanan's on the same subject, may have evoked Greek tragedy, specifically the sacrificed daughter of Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis (1086).

For critical commentary on the Admiral's biblical plays, see the entry for "Samson."

For What It's Worth

(Content welcome.)

Works Cited

Astington, John H. "Playing the Man: Acting at the Red Bull and the Fortune." Early Theatre 9.2 (2006): 130–43.
Collier, J. Payne, ed. The Diary of Philip Henslowe. London, 1845.
Herrlich, Joseph. Das englische Bibeldrama zur Zeit der Renaissance und Reformation mit besonderer Berücksichtigung von Udall's Komödie Jacob and Esau. München: F. Haack, 1907.
Marino, James J. Owning William Shakespeare: The King's Men and Their Intellectual Property. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2011.
Pollard, Tanya. "What's Hecuba to Shakespeare?" Renaissance Quarterly 65 (2012): 1060–93.
Sypherd, Wilbur Owen. Jephthah and His Daughter: A Study in Comparative Literature. Newark: U of Delaware, 1948.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 09 June 2016.