Knight in the Burning Rock, The

Anon. (1579)

Historical Records

Our only knowledge of it comes from the Revels accounts, which demonstrate that it was provided not only with "sundry garments and properties" but with an elaborate setting and a number of effects, including a mechanical throne made to operate within the rock, and pyrotechnics to simulate flames. The construction of the scenic rock itself, from timber and canvas, involved several specialist workmen, and it perhaps was made to move, given the romance story on which it was probably based.

John Rose was paid for "Longe sparre poles of ffure" and "peeces of Elme cut compasse", as well as for "Lead for the chaire of the burnyng Knight" (as a counterweight in the machinery), John Davies supplied "Aquavite to burne in the same Rock," "Rosewater to Alay the smell thereof," and glass vessels to contain them. (Feuillerat, 306-308).

Theatrical Provenance

The anonymous "History of the Knight in the Burnyng Rock" was performed for the court by Warwick's men at Whitehall on Shrove Sunday (1 March) 1579.

Probable Genre(s)

Heroical Romance (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The play was evidently based on romance material, featuring chivalric conflict, probably with a theme of enchantment. No evident English source is apparent before the date of the play, but in 1640 a "history" with the same title forms part of The Love and Arms of the Greek Princes (see Chapter 46), a translation of Gilbert Saulnier's Le Romant des Romans, published in 1625. The story told there involves an enchanted rock mysteriously moving into knightly courts for three days at a time, inviting those bold enough to free the imprisoned maiden visible within; as they approach, a fierce knight appears, whose blows are felt like flames. Alcidamant, Knight of the Palms, eventually overcomes him, freeing him from his enchanted identity; his feat leads Alcidamant to take on the title of the Knight of the Burning Rock. It seems likely that a common older romance source lies behind both the play and Saulnier's story.

References to the Play

(Information welcome)

Critical Commentary

The Revels records were expertly edited by Albert Feuillerat more than a hundred years ago. His work formed the basis of E. K. Chambers' discussions of court plays and their staging in The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 1923). More recently, John Astington has discussed the probable staging of the play in "Counterweights in Elizabethan Stage Machinery", as well as in English Court Theatre 1558-1642.

See also Wiggins serial number 659.

For What It's Worth

(Information welcome)

Works Cited

Astington, John. "Counterweights in Elizabethan Stage Machinery," Theatre Notebook 41 (1987), 73-80.
---. English Court Theatre 1558-1642 (Cambridge, 1999)
Feuillerat, Albert. Documents relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth (Leuven, 1908)

Site created and maintained by John H. Astington, University of Toronto; updated 23 August 2010.