Look to the Lady

NB. This title may refer to two lost plays; see 'Critical Commentary' below for further information. This entry is primarily concerned with the earlier play.

Anon. (1619); Shirley, James (1640)?

Historical Records

Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X.

Marcham p14 Lady.jpeg
Excerpt from p14 of Marcham (out of copyright)

In 1925 Frank Marcham transcribed and published the contents of the then British Museum manuscript, Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X. It contains the History of Richard III by the Master of the Revels, Sir George Buc, written on what appears to be “Revels Office waste,” sometime after 1617 (Chambers, RES 479). Amongst the papers are “four lists of plays, bare lists without any indication of their objects,” which may or may not be all in Buc’s hand (Chambers, RES 479). Chambers believes it “most likely that the lists represent plays which the Revels Office had at some time or times under consideration for performance at court” (RES 484).

The list designated ‘D’ by Chambers (f.247) contains “Look to the Ladye.”

Stationers' Register

11o. Martij 1639 [i.e. 1640]

John Williams


ffrancis Egglesfeild

Entred for their Copies vnder the hands of doctor WYKES and Master ffetherston warden two Comedies vizt. . . . .  xijd.
The Antiquarie. and
Looke to the Ladie by JAMES SHIRLEY
(S.R.1, 4.501)

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown company at court (Harbage). Chambers (RES 484) suggests that the plays in Buc’s list, written on Revels Office scrap paper, were under consideration for performance at court.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues


References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Chambers notes that "[a] play of this name by James Shirley was entered in the Stationers' Register on 11 March, 1640, but is not extant. The prologue to The School of Compliment makes it clear that no play by Shirley was produced before 1626" (RES 483).

In his entry for the play, Bentley (V.1365-66) states that "[i]t is not clear whether there were two plays of this name, an anonymous one written not later than 1620 and another written by James Shirley, or only the anonymous play which was later misattributed to Shirley." He elaborates in his entry for Shirley:

So long as only the Stationers' Register entry of Look to the Lady was known, the title was easily accepted as that of a lost Shirley play or an alternative title for an extant play, and numerous attempts have been made to attach it to various comedies now known under other titles. Frank Marcham's publication of the Revels list, however, altered the situation, for that list certainly antedates 1622 and probably belongs to 1619 or 1620, several years before Shirley's first acted play, Love Tricks, or The School of Compliment. The Look to the Lady of Marcham's list cannot have been unacted, since the plays were apparently proposed for court performance. we are left with two alternatives: either there were two plays called Look to the Lady, one in existence in 1619-20 and not by Shirley, and a second written by Shirley some time before March 1639/40; or, alternatively, there was only one play with this title and it was misattributed to Shirley by Williams and Egglesfield. Harbage (op. cit.) ["The Authorship of the Dramatic Arcadia," Modern Philology 35 (1938): 235-6)] argues for the second alternative, but it seems to me that no reasonable choice is possible without further evidence. I find nothing to recommend Forsythe's random conjecture (loc. cit.) [The Relations of Shirley's Plays to the Elizabethan Drama (1914), pp.379 & 419-29] that Look to the Lady may be the same as Captain Underwit.

For What It's Worth

(information needed)

Works Cited

Chambers, E. K. (review author). “The King’s Office of the Revels, 1610-1622. Fragments of Documents in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum, transcribed by FRANK MARCHAM, with a Preface by J. P. GILSON. London: Frank Marcham, 53, Chalk Farm Road, N.W.1. Pp. 50, including 19 Collotype Plates. £2. 2s. 1925.” Review of English Studies, 1.4 (1925): 479-84. Print.
Marcham, Frank. The King's Office of the Revels 1610-1622: Fragments of Documents in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum. London: F. Marcham, 1925. Print.

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