Paris and Vienna

Anon. (1572)

Historical Records

Accounts of the Office of the Revels record "Paris and vienna showen on Shrovetewsdaie at Nighte by the Children of Westminster." "Hobby horses" were used for a tournament scene "where parris wan the Christall sheelde for vienna." The shield itself was no doubt a property, and armour (the real thing) was also hired for the occasion.

Theatrical Provenance

The schoolboys of Westminster School. Performed in the Hall at Whitehall Palace before the queen and court, 19 February 1572.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The source is the fifteenth-century French prose romance Paris et Vienne, by Pierre de la Cépède, translated by Caxton in 1485 and published as Paris and Vienne; there were subsequent editions, but none is known after 1505. The title refers not to cities, but to the young hero and heroine, whose course of true love follows the usual romance twists and turns before ending happily in marriage and prosperity. Vienne is a beautiful princess, while Paris is of relatively low rank, though an accomplished knight, whose disguised feats of arms in Vienne's honour are a source of wonder, and through which he wins the crystal shield which evidently had a place in the 1572 dramatisation. Vienne discovers his identity, and they declare mutual love, but are opposed by her father, the Dauphin. An attempt at elopement fails; Vienne is imprisoned, consistently refusing marriages proposed by her father, and Paris goes into exile, ending up in the Middle East, disguised as a moor, and favoured by the Sultan. The convenient capture and imprisonment of the Dauphin, on a scouting mission for a crusade, enables Paris, still in disguise, to arrange his escape. In reward he is promised anything in the Dauphin's power, and chooses, of course, marriage to his daughter. The moor's true identity is revealed, the lovers are reunited, and their marriage eventually blessed by Vienne's grateful father.

References to the Play

The 1572 record is the only reference to the play.

Critical Commentary

The court records are collected by Feuillerat (1908), who notes the likely source. Occasion noted by Chambers (1923) and Astington (1999). The source text is briefly listed, and its dramatic adaptation noted, by Helen Cooper (2004).

See also Wiggins serial number 515.

For What It's Worth

The material seems an unusual choice for a school play, and indicates an interesting range in what masters thought either of interest to their pupils, or perhaps more likely, suited to court taste. The school players were placing themselves in competition with the adult troupes, who staged several romance plays at court in the earlier 1570s. The hobby horses may indicate a rather playful approach to themes of honour and renown.

Works Cited

Astington, John H., English Court Theatre 1558-1642 (Cambridge, 1999).

Caxton, William, Paris and Vienne, ed. MacEdward Leach (Oxford, 1957).

Cooper, Helen, The English Romance in Time (Oxford, 2004).

Feuillerat, Albert, ed., Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth (Leuven, 1908).

Wiggins, vol.1

Site created and maintained by John H. Astington, University of Toronto; updated 10 Dec 2010.