Orestes' Furies

Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle? (1599)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 62 (Greg I.107)

Lent more the same time vnto mr dickers in }
earnest of a Boocke called orestes fvres….. } vs

This follows an entry for "the 2 of maye 1599" that records Chettle and Dekker borrowing 20s. to discharge Chettle "of his a Reste [i.e. arrest] from Jngrome" (Greg II, p. 253). On scholars' various interpretations of the title as recorded by Henslowe, see Critical Commentary below.

Theatrical Provenance

Presumably performed by the Admiral's Men at the Rose in 1599.

Probable Genre(s)

Classical Legend (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The famous story of Orestes avenging the murder of his father Agamemnon was most readily accessible in the comprehensive Trojan narratives by Lydgate and Caxton, which had earlier served as the basis for John Pickering's Horestes (1567). Information about Orestes could also have been gleaned from many other classical works, such as Virgil's Aeneid. On the possibility that the playwrights may have had access to the now-familiar Oresteian tragedies by Aeschylus and Euripides—or Latin editions thereof—see Critical Commentary below.

References to the Play

None known. (Information welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Two of the main topics in the scholarly discussion of this play are a) how best to interpret the title recorded by Henslowe, and b) whether or not the present title represents the same play as "Agamemnon," for which Dekker and Chettle received payments in May 1599 and which was licensed on 3 June.

Collier interprets the title as "Orestes' Furies" (1.151n). (Followed by Halliwell (186)).

Fleay, BCED interprets "fures" as "furious" (1.124).

Hazlitt interprets the title as "Orestes Furiens" (171).

Greg II interprets the title as "Orestes' Furies" (#173, p. 202). He also notes that the play "does not appear in the regular accounts, which, however, are defective at this point (after [Fol.] 54). It is possible that the sum was really for the play later called Agamemnon." Given the proximity of the payment to Dekker to the loan of 20s. to discharge Chettle from arrest, Greg suggests that the latter was a co-author for this play, which "would put its identity with Agamemnon […] practically beyond doubt" (2.260).

Chambers, ES, following Fleay's interpretation of the title as "Orestes Furious," writes: "I agree with Dr. Greg that the entries point to two plays by Chettle and Dekker rather than one. They are probably incomplete owing to the hiatus in the manuscript" (2.169n). (Chambers misunderstands Greg's position and does not, in fact, "agree with" him.)

Foakes and Rickert interpret the title as "Orestes Furens" (342) and also note that Henslowe appears to have altered the u to a v (199n).

Schleiner, in a discussion of Latin translations of Green tragedies and their influence on English drama, argues that the titles of the two plays—"Agamemnon" and "Orestes' Furies"—"exactly match those of the Turnèbe/Saint-Ravy two-play Oresteia ("Agamemnon" and "Eumenides")" and "must have been based on someone's reading of Greek tragedies" (34-35). Schleiner's reconstruction of the two plays' narratives proposes that the Admiral's "Agamemnon" would have treated the Mycenaean king's return home, Cassandra's visionary description of his murder, Orestes' visit to the grave of his dead father and his oath of revenge, while "Orestes' Furies" would have treated the plot of the Eumenides (36). (The Furies do not appear in the versions of the story by Seneca, Lydgate, or Caxton.) Schleiner's larger argument is that the Admiral's diptych may have influenced Hamlet.

Ewbank qualifies Schleiner's suggestion, arguing not only that the two titles might represent the same play (and thus would lose the diptych structure of Saint-Ravy's version) but that, even if they were different plays, Chettle's involvement in "Orestes" might be doubted, since "one might have expected some kind of Oresteian echo or trace in his unaided play about a son avenging his father's death, The Tragedy of Hoffman (1602)" (41n).

Gurr identifies this play with "Agamemnon" (244).

Teramura, in a survey of the Admiral's Trojan repertory, considers the play alongside "Agamemnon" and "Troy's Revenge, with the Tragedy of Polyphemus," all of which likely dramatized the inglorious fates of the Greek commanders after the Trojan war (136). While he argues that a "self-consciously Latinate title such as 'Orestes Furens' would have been anomalous among the Admiral's offerings," he points to the classical and medieval tradition in which Orestes murders Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, after having been driven mad by the Furies, an episode that may have appeared in the Admiral's play (137, citing Virgil's description "furiis agitates" [Aeneid 3.331]).

Wiggins argues for the identification of "Orestes' Furies" with "Agamemnon" given that the earliest payment recorded by Henslowe is for the purported "sequel" and that the return of Agamemnon from Troy would have been "the natural point of departure" after the earlier Trojan plays in the Admiral's repertory (111). He also suggests that Dekker's heavy workload in summer 1599 argues against his involvement in both a co-authored "Agamemnon" and a separate "Orestes."

For What It's Worth

(Information welcome.)

Works Cited

Ewbank, Inga-Stina. "'Striking too short at Greeks': The Transmission of Agamemnon to the English Renaissance Stage." Agamemnon in Performance 458 BC to AD 2004. Ed. Fiona Macintosh et al. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 36–52.
Foakes, R.A. and R.T. Rickert, eds. Henslowe's Diary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1961.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594–1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Halliwell, James O. A Dictionary of Old English Plays. London, 1860.
Hazlitt, W. Carew. A Manual for the Collector and Amateur of Old English Plays. London, 1892.
Schleiner, Louise. "Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare's Writing of Hamlet." Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 29–48.
Teramura, Misha. "Brute Parts: From Troy to Britain at the Rose, 1595-1600." Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England. Ed. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 127–47.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 29 August 2015.