Old Joiner of Aldgate, The
Star Chamber proceedings
Deposition of theatrical speculator, Thomas Woodford (1603)
(qtd. in Sisson 70-71):
[Edward Pearce (Peers)] did buy a Stage Play of George Chapman . . . & paied for the same twentie marks which Play was called the Old Joyner of Algate & was plaied at some severall tymes the last Hillary terme by the Children of Powles by this defendants meanes & appointment but before the plaieng therof the same was licensed to be plaied by the Master of the Revells And further . . . he hath the booke itself without alteringe of it to this defendants knowledge since the last of ffebruary last.
(Woodford and Peers bought the play from Chapman, and was thus proceeded against for aiding and abetting Flaskett in his conspiracy against Agnes).
(qtd. in Sisson 58):
According to the Attorney-General’s Bill, it was alleged that Flaskett arranged that during the trial,
a stage play should be made & was made by one George Chapman vpon a plot given vnto him concerning . . . Agnes Howe . . . (her cause & sutes then depending) & the same vnder coulorable & fayned names personated, so made & contrived was sold to Thomas Woodford & Edward Pearce for xx marks to be played vpon the open stages in diuers play houses within the citie of London to resemble and publish the dealing of her father towards her concerning his practise with seuerall sutors to bestow her in marriage with one that might forgoe her portion & that therbie she might shutt vp & conclude a match with . . . fflaskett rather then to suffer her name to be so traduced in euery play house as it was lyke to be.
. . .
And the . . . confederates after the . . . false oaths & depositions made as aforesaid & before the sentence given caused the stage play . . . to be made and played for that purpose aboue specified during all the last Hillarie terme vntill the very daie wherein sentence should be giuen in that . . . cause & vpon the very same daie also.
Chapman’s Answer to the Bill, 19 May 1603
(qtd. in Sisson 60):
touchinge any Combinacions or Confederacyes vpon a plot to him giuen by any of the . . . defendants or any other person or persons what soeuer to make any suche stage playe to be played vpon the open stages in diuerse Play Howses within the Citye of London to resemble and publishe the dealinge of . . . John How towards . . . Anne Howe . . . concerninge . . . John Howes practise with seuerall Suters to bestowe her in Marriadge . . . he . . . saeith that he is not therof nor any parte therof guilty.
Chapman continues to add that:
. . .he hath heard it reported that a Doctor of Powles did entreate or speake to haue the Play forborne to be plaied for 4 or 5 daies but otherwise . . . doth not know tha the same was forbidden to be plaied.
On the characters of the play, Chapman declares:
that in the . . . stage Play there was a Barber & others personated or plaied viz The barber called Snapper, his daughter called Lady Daughter by the name of Vrsula & others by names mencioned in the Play. (qtd. in Sisson 66)
A 1602 date of composition is evident from Chapman’s testimony (in 1603) that “he did make a stage Play called the old Joyner of Algate & that he finished the same presently after christmas last” (qtd. in Sisson 62). Sisson stresses the importance of this date: “it means that the actual history available to serve as a basis for Chapman’s play included Milward’s successful first appeal to the Court of Delegates, but ended before Flaskett’s reversal of that judgment in the later sentence of the Court in February 1603” (63).
The play was acted in January and February 1603 (Hilary Term) (Sisson 72), and more specifically, on 28 Feb 1603 and on the day of sentencing, 20 Feb 1603 (Sisson 77).
Chapman sold the play to Woodford for twenty marks (£13. 6s. 8.d.) (Sisson 63), which Sisson notes “is a good deal higher than the ordinary market rate for a play in 1603” (69).
Unusually for Chapman, the play was performed by the Children of Pauls, at the Paul’s house, which was “in close proximity to the dwellings of the characters of the play (Sisson 69). Chapman testified that he “never sawe the same acted & plaied publiquely vpon a stage” (qtd. in Sisson 63) but as Sisson observes, “[t]he publicity of the insult was the onus of the accusation and the words ‘publiquely vpon a stage’ may well be Chapman’s saving clause here. Woodford, it may be observed, is careful to insist that the play was acted ‘in a private house’ and not in a public theatre. The distinction between the two classes of theatres, indicated by these adjectives, was very misleading, for public and private theatres were at this time at least equally open to spectators on payment. But evidently it could still be urged in a court of law that the distinction was valid” (63-64).
Analysing Chapman’s admission that a “Doctor of Powles” had caused a 4 or 5 day suppression of the play, Sisson observes that “[i]t is clear from this that Dr Milward heard enough about the play to known that it was a close reflection of the events in which he was concerned, that he was able to bring influence to bear to have the play suspended for a time for enquiry, that he failed to have it prohibited altogether, and that the play was resumed after a short interval” (64-65). Sisson continues: “We may well ask why a Doctor of Paul’s was called in and had the power to inhibit the play or to influence the company. It is clear that the Cathedral clergy retained a greater measure of control over the Children of Paul’s than one is apt to realize at this stage in the career of the company” (65).
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
Agnes Howe and her suitors
NB.The following synopsis is entirely a summary of Sisson's scholarship
Agnes Howe, daughter of Barber-Surgeon John Howe and Mrs Agnes Howe, had a wealthy, heirless aunt in her mother’s sister, Mrs Margaret Sharles. Part of the widow Sharles’s considerable estate was the Harrow, her residence and shop in Christ Church, Newgate Market. When Mrs Sharles died on 11 Sept 1600, she left her principal house and residuary estate to Agnes (c.£2000-3000). Agnes was 17 at the time of her aunt’s passing, and despite Mrs Sharles’s stipulation (in her will) that Agnes not marry before she turned 20, the first of many suitors had apparently begun wooing Agnes almost 3 months before Sharles’s death — and Agnes may even have been betrothed in the weeks before Sharles died. Agnes’s parents benefited from Sharles’s will (they received a house), but their inheritance was hardly on a par with what their daughter received. As Agnes’s guardians, they (John in particular) saw the potential to rectify what they must have regarded as the disproportionate distribution of wealth. By one estimation, Agnes’s inheritance diminished by some £800 in her father’s care. But Howe’s plans extended to Agnes’s marriage negotiations: “Here he proceeded to involve himself in a series of negotiations of surprising complexity, through which runs only one clear thread to guide Howe, his desire to free this one maiden from the oppression of her own wealth, as far might be, and to transfer the burden to himself. The suitors were many and eager” (Sisson 21). The first suitor was the bookbinder, John Flaskett. In July 1600 (months before Sharles died), Flaskett’s friend Oswald (and his wife) proposed an excursion to Lambeth, to which Agnes Howe and her mother agreed. Flaskett joined them along the way, and on the return journey they stopped at the King’s Tavern in Old Fish street. There, as Oswald reports it, after procuring wine for the Howes, Flaskett obtained an oral contract for marriage with Agnes. At this point, Agnes had not yet inherited her fortune and her father John had had no opportunity to avail himself of it as her guardian --- and nor would he, it seemed, when Sharles died and he only then heard of Flaskett’s wooing for the first time. Yet Howe apparently approved the impending marriage on condition that he and his wife remain living at the Harrow house/shop where Mrs Howe sold her glassware.
Thomas Field and Henry Jones competed with Flaskett for Agnes’s favour. Howe supposedly ‘sold’ Agnes to Jones, whilst Field was favoured by Peter Howe (John’s brother), and on 7 October 1600 Agnes had apparently become betrothed to Field: this after her betrothal to Flaskett. On 3 October 1600 it appears that whilst the Howes dined at the Harrow with Field and other guests, Howe threatened Agnes that if she did not marry Field, Pursuivants who lay in wait for her would take her away and marry her off to a vagrant. A maid (Elizabeth Abbott) sent by Howe to fetch ale returned with the news that two men at the Alehouse (Jones and ‘Humphrey of the Court’) were plotting to abduct Agnes; further ‘proof’ that Agnes would not be safe unless she agreed to marry Field. Agnes was locked in a room with Field in a bid to procure the contract desired by Howe (Agnes reportedly preferred a violent death to marriage with Field). Ultimately Howe used Jones’s watchdog to assist in procuring (by intimidation) a contract between Agnes and Field (Jones’s rival).
But negotiations also took place between Howe and the father of another suitor, Henry Jones, and these candidates appear to have offered the highest ‘bid’ for Agnes’s hand, but the generous offer stood to benefit Agnes more than her scheming father. At least 5 other suitors were entertained by Howe, including ‘Humphrey of the Court’ whom Chapman would later identify as Humphrey Rogers (probably the same Rogers who was Keeper of the Council Chamber). Humphrey must have been considerably older than Agnes, for he held his office since c.1582, which was before Agnes had been born. The three primary contenders (Flaskett, Field and Jones) all took their betrothal claims to court. Jones aired his grievances at Agnes’s parish church, where Dr Milward was the preacher.
With a triple betrothal alleged against Agnes, and Howe’s recognition of the problems his administration of Agnes’s inheritance could pose in court, Howe turned to Dr Milward for advice. Milward himself sought advice on whether a woman so contracted could indeed marry anyone --- then promptly married her himself! The union occurred without Howe’s consent, but in addition to receiving aid from Mr and Mrs Lyde (who carried letters between Dr Milward and Agnes), the Doctor did also include Mrs Howe in his project, and she saw her daughter married at church. The scandalous wedding (technically illegitimate, as it occurred without licence or banns) was the impetus for numerous law suits lodged by the disappointed suitor.
Henry Jones let his case against Agnes (in the Consistory Court of London) drop. Judgment was given against Field in the Court of Arches. Flaskett began attacking Milward’s character in public and a spate of slanders by and against Milward followed. Flaskett took his case to the Court of High Commission, with the result that Milward was arrested and imprisoned. Milward then appealed to the Court of Delegates, and on 20 Feb 1602 judgment was passed in favour of Milward, including costs.
Sisson (72) maintains that these events were the last which could have informed the play, and that “the last notable event in the story had been Milward’s successful appeal in the Court of Delegates against the decision of the Court of Arches.”
Outcome (Sisson 57):
So in the end the story leaves Dr John Milward, the ultimate winner of Agnes Howe’s hand and estate, in his grave after a fatal visit to Scotland, Agnes safe at Enfield with her three children, mistress of the Vicarage of that pleasant country town, within easy reach of Mathias and his wife at Barnet, Jones lost to view but probably back in Gloucester, Flaskett a busy stationer, Field in the throes of bankruptcy, and John Howe still clutching at him in his ruin in 1617.
(Possible) Dramatis Personae
Sisson (67) constructs the following list:
- Snipper Snapper. A Barber (John Howe)
- Ursula or Lady Daughter. Daughter to Snipper Snapper (Agnes Howe)
- Mrs Glasbie. Aunt to Ursula (Mrs Margaret Sharles)
- Tresacres. Suitor to Ursula (Field)
- Touchbox. Suitor to Ursula (Flaskett)
- Umphrevile. Suitor to Ursula (Humphrey Rogers, Humphrey of the Court)
- A French Doctor. Suitor to Ursula (Dr Milward)
- Spitter Spatter (John Oswald?)
- Other Suitors (Jones, Wright, Cox, Leer, etc.?)
Sisson’s Reconstruction of the Play
The following is a summary of Sisson’s speculative Act by Act reconstruction (72-75), which by his own admission “depends mainly on a merely individual notion of how the story as we have it could lend itself to the form of a five-act comedy” (76).
Act 1: Play opens at the Harrow, Mrs Sharles in her shop. She announces to the three Howes her intention of making Agnes her heir. Elizabeth Abbott (Margaret’s house-servant) also possibly present. Subsequently a tavern scene where Agnes’s fortune is discussed (Jones, Field and John Howe). Next scene: Flaskett talks with Mrs Howe and Agnes at the Howes’s house in St Gregory’s whilst John Howe is at the tavern.
Act 2: Mrs Sharles’s sudden death accelerates the action. Howe bargains with Jones, Field and other suitors (esp. Humphrey of the Court), probably raising his price with each interview. Tavern scene(s). The trip to Lambeth, shown in the Boar’s Head Tavern in Old Fish Street on the party’s return.
Act 3: Betrothal scene of Agnes and Flaskett at the Oswalds’ house. Pursuivants scene at the Harrow with Elizabeth Abbott; unwilling betrothal of Agnes to Field. A scene in which Howe assures Humphrey that he shall have Agnes, for a fee.
Act 4: Snipper Snapper, overwhelmed by suitors, turns to the French Doctor for counsel. Mrs Howe, in support of Flaskett, similarly approaches the Doctor. Suitors complain that Snipper Snapper has fobbed them off, Snipper Snapper having to placate one suitor after another. French Doctor plots with Mrs Howe and his servant Brampton.
Act 5: Suitors reveal to each other that Snipper Snapper has made promises to each of them. Tresacres and Touchbox seek to enforce their rights via the law. French Doctor and Agnes enter and announce their marriage, dashing all hopes of betrothals and profits.
References to the Play
It was Flaskett’s scheme to intimidate Agnes into marrying him, in order to avoid scandal. To this end he went to a dramatist of his acquaintance, Chapman. Chapman was in the first flight of dramatists, and any play by him would find its market with one or other of the companies of actors, and would attract attention when produced on the stage. Flaskett prepared for Chapman the requisite material in the shape of a plot, giving a summary of the situation and of the story of Howe’s negotiations with the various suitors. Chapman agreed to his proposals and got to work on the play. Flaskett then returned to Agnes and threatened her with the prospect of her public shame in the pillory of a public stage, as well as with the case he had bolstered up with the evidence of the Oswalds. Agnes stood firm, nevertheless, and Flaskett went on to fulfil his threats. (58-59)
For What It's Worth
“The Old Joiner of Aldgate is not a carpenter; he is a barber. He is a joiner only in the way of matrimony. And he is ‘old’ only in the sense of being practised or inveterate or excellent in his quality” (Sisson 73).
Sisson, Charles J. Lost Plays of Shakespeare’s Age. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1936; rpt by Frank Cass & Co. Ltd, 1970. pp.12-79. Print.
Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated, 23 October 2009.