Anon. (1596)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 25v (Greg 1.50)

ye 19 of desembʒ 1596 ne . . R[es] at nabucadonizer . . . . . . . . . . xxxs
ye 22 of desembʒ 1596 R[es] at nabucadonizer . . . . . . . . . . xxvjs
ye 2[8]7 of desembʒ 1596 R[es] at nabucadonizer . . . . . . . . . . iijll viijs
ye 4 of Jenewary 1597 R[es] at nabucadonizer . . . . . . . . . . xvjs
ye 12 of Janewary 1597 R[es] at nabycadnazer . . . . . . . . . . xiijs
ye 19 of Janewary 1597 R[es] at nabucadonyzer . . . . . . . . . . xs

Fol. 26 (Greg 1.51)

Janewary 1597
|26| tt at Nabucadonizer . . . . . . . . . . |0|09|02 00-03
Begynyng in leant
marche 1597
|21| tt at nabucadnazer . . . . . . . . . . |00|05|00-00-03

Theatrical Provenance

Performed by the Admiral's men at the Rose as a new play 19 December 1596 and then 7 times subsequently, including once on St John's Day (27 December) which traditionally saw large receipts for performances.

Probable Genre(s)

Biblical history (Harbage); Eastern.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon c.605BC–562BC, during which time he attempted to expand the empire, and is sometimes credited with building the hanging gardens of Babylon. He is said to have destroyed the first temple of Solomon after the siege of Jerusalem in 597BC. The biblical source is the Book of Daniel, a Judean prophet who interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dreams.

Here is a 1596 account of the notable features of Nebuchadnezzar's life, taken from Thomas Bell's chapter, "CHAP. II. Of the kings of the Assyrians and Babilonians, after the death of Sardanapalus, and the diuision of the monarchie":

Nabuchodonosor the great, sonne of Nabuchodonosor the first, shortly after his fathers death wanne againe all Syria. He was the mightiest king of all the kings of Babylon, much spoken of in holy Writ. Hee subdued the citie of Ierusalem, and led away the inhabitants thereof captiues to Babylon. This Nabuchodonosor, as he was mightie in power, so was he prowd in heart. He made an image of golde and set it vp in the plaine of Dura, in the prouince of Babylon. Which done, he commaunded all his princes, nobles, dukes, iudges, receiuers, counsellers, officers, and all gouernors of his prouinces, to come to the dedication of the image. Hee appointed an herald to crie aloude, that when they heard the sound of the cornet, trumpet, harpe, sackebut, psalterie, dulcimer, and other instruments of musicke, then they should fall downe and worship the image. And because the three holy Iewes Sidrach, Misach and Abednego, would not adore the image, hee caused them to be cast into a very hote burning ouen: from which fiery furnace, God deliuered them myraculously. In regarde whereof Nabuchodonosor magnified the liuing God, & made a decree, that al people and nations which spake against the God of Sidrach, Misach, and Abednego, shoulde bee drawen in peeces, and their houses made a iakes, Dan. 3.29. After this, the king still swelled in pride; so that he was cast out from his kingdome, driuen from men, ate grasse as oxen, and his bodie was wet with the dew of heauen; till his haires were growen as Eagles feathers, and his nailes like birdes clawes, Dan. 4. verse 30. (80)

Hugh Broughton provides an additional 1596 account of Nebuchadnezzar's narrative in Daniel his Chaldie visions and his Ebrevv. He relates that the idea for building the golden image came to Nebuchadnezzar in a troubling dream which he could not interpret. He called the “Enchanters, Astrologians, and the Sorcerers, and the Caldeans” to explain its portent to him (Broughton, sig.C2), but refused to disclose the contents of his dream to them for interpretation. Only Daniel, in a bid to avoid execution for himself and the others, could (through an answered prayer to God) discover the subject and meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The dream was of an Image of iron, clay, gold, brass and silver, which a tall Stone carving smote and broke into pieces (Broughton, sig.[C5]). Daniel explains that the Image is Nebuchadnezzar’s earthly kingdom and its successors, and the Stone is God’s kingdom, the only everlasting one.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Malone (p. 299), Fleay, BCED (2.305 #187, and Greg II (p. 181 #97 do not comment on this play; Collier supposes that it was somehow "adapted to Christmas" (p. 83, n3).

Gurr mentions "Nebuchadnezzar" as a precursor to the flurry of biblical plays introduced in 1601 in proximity to the return of Edward Alleyn after a few years' retirement. Noting that there were a few biblical plays in Admiral's men's repertory pre-1601 (such as "Nebuchadnezzar"), Gurr supposes that perhaps the company's subsequent acquisitions in that genre "came from Alleyn wishing to assert his Christian credentials" (p. 41).

White comments on "Nebuchadnezzar" in the context of industry-wide attention to plays with biblical subject matter. Specifically he notes the theatrical potential of "a Tamburlainean tyrant; a hero in the prophet Daniel who rises from condemned Jewish exile to governor after correctly interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dreams; a spectacular golden idol; the trial of the fiery furnace; the lions' den; and the king's fall, conversion, and restoration to power" (p. 196). He notes that puppet shows often included Old Testament kings and villains (203). He notes further that "The Play of the Prophet Daniel," which was offered in the 1590s by Robert Browne and his company during tours of European towns, "might be one and the same" with the Admiral's "Nebuchadnezzar" (p. 193).

See also Wiggins, Catalogue #1050.

For What It's Worth

Nebuchadnezzar was also noted for his apparent transmigration into a beast's body, as William Perkins explains:

Againe some others think· that mens soules after this life doe passe from one mans bodie to another: and Herod may seeme to haue beene of this opinion: for when newes was brought him of Christ, he said, that Iohn Baptist beeing beheaded was risen againe, thinking that the soule of Iohn Baptist was put into the bodie of some other man. And for proofe herof, some alledge the example of Nebuchadnezzar, who forsaking the societie of man, liued as a beast, and did eate grasse like a beast: and they imagine that his owne soule went out of him, and that the soule of a beast entred in the roome thereof. But this indeede is a fonde conceit: for euen then he had the soule of a man when he liued as a beast, being only stricke~ by the hand of God with an exceeding madnes, whereby he was bereft of common reason; as doth appeare by that clause in the text, where it is saide, that his vnderstanding or knowledge returned to him againe... (531-32)

Henry Smith, an early modern commentator, notes the emphasis on the value of human reason contained in Nebuchadnezzar's story:

Nabuchadnezzer was banished but till he repented. Nowe the first cure of this kings restitution, was of his mind: Mine vnderstanding, sayth he, was restored vnto me, which he repeateth againe in the 33. verse: Mine vnderstanding was restored vnto mee, to shewe what an inestimable gift our vnderstanding and reason is, wherby we differ from beasts, for which wee cannot be thankfull enough. Therefore he recordes it twise, as though his heart did slowe with gladnesse, and his toong coulde not chuse but speake often of it: as a man thinketh and speaketh of that which hee loueth, Mine vnderstanding was restored vnto mee (sig.B2v)

He emphasises the moral of the story as follows:

Thus you see why Nabuchadnezzer was made like a beast, that he may die like a man: for he could neuer learne from whom his kingdome came, or who gaue him his name, vnlesse he had beene seuen yeares a prentise vnto the crosse. When he perceiued who tooke his kingdome from him, then he gaue his kingdome vnto him, and learned his thankfulnesse in the wilderdernesse. (sig.[C4]v)

Inasmuch as the Nebuchadnezzar story details the suffering of a proud king and his consequent abjection from society, there may even be some analogy with the King Lear story.

Works Cited

Bell, Thomas. The suruey of popery vvherein the reader may cleerely behold, not onely the originall and daily incrementes of papistrie, with an euident confutation of the same; but also a succinct and profitable enarration of the state of Gods Church from Adam vntill Christs ascension, contained in the first and second part thereof: and throughout the third part poperie is turned vp-side downe. 1596.
Broughton, Hugh. Daniel his Chaldie visions and his Ebrevv: both translated after the original: and expounded both, by reduction of heathen most famous stories vnto the exact proprietie of his wordes (which is the surest certaintie what he must meane:) and by ioyning all the Bible, and learned tongues to the frame of his worke. 1596.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Perkins, William. An exposition of the Symbole or Creed of the Apostles according to the tenour of the Scriptures, and the consent of orthodoxe Fathers of the Church. 1595.
Smith, Henry. The restitution of King Nabuchadnezzer Dan. 4. Verses. 31. 32. 33. 34. 1591.
White, Paul Whitfield, "'Histories out of the scriptures': Biblical Drama in the Repertory of the Admiral’s Men, 1594–1603," in Loss and the Literary Culture of Shakespeare's Time. Roslyn L. Knutson, David McInnis, and Matthew Steggle, eds. New York:: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. 191-213.

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