Thomas Dekker (1598)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 44 Greg, I, 83

lent vnto the company the 15 of Jenewary 1597 }
to bye a boocke of mr dicker called fayeton } iiijli
fower pownde I saye lent

For apparel in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 44 Greg, I, 83

lent vnto Thomas dowton for the company }
to bye a sewte for phayeton & ij Rebates } iijli
& j fardengalle the 26 of Jenewary 1598 the }
some of three pownde I saye lent
lent vnto Thomad dowton the 28 of Janewary }
1598 to bye a whitte satten dublette for } xxxxs
phayeton forty shyllenges I saye lent }

For playing at court

Fol. 70v (Greg, I, 124)

Lent vnto Samwell Rowley the 14 of }
desembʒ 1600 to geue vnto thomas dickers } xs
for his paynes in fayeton some of }
for the corte

Fol. 71 (Greg, I, 125)

Lent vnto Samwell Rowley the 22 of }
decembʒ 1600 to geue vnto Thomas deckers } xxxs
for alterynge of fayton for the corte }


Philip Henslowe's papers in the Dulwich College Library

List of apparel

Greg, Henslowe Papers (APX. I, art. 1, p. 116, l. 52)

The Enventary of all the aparell for my Lord Admiralles men, tacken the 10 of marche 1598. —Leaft above in the tier-house in the cheast.

Item, ij leather anteckes cottes with basses, for Fayeton.

Greg, Henslowe Papers (APX. I, art. 1, p. 120, l. 141)

The Enventorey of all the aparell of the Lord Admeralles men, taken the 13th of Marche 1598, as followeth:

Item, j Faeytone sewte.

List of properties

Greg, Henslowe Papers (APX. I. art. 1, p. 116, l. 58 & l. 60; p. 117, l. 66)

The Enventary tacken of all the properties for my Lord Admeralles men, the 10 of Marche 1598.

Item, viij lances, j payer of stayers for Fayeton. ...
Item, j hecfor for the playe of Faeton, the limes dead. ...
Item, j lyone skin; j beares skyne; & Faetones lymes, & Faeton charete; & Argosse heade.

List of playbooks

Greg, Henslowe Papers (APX. I, art. 1, p. 121, col. 1, l. 197)

A Note of all suche bookes as belong to the Stocke, and such as I have bought since the 3d of March 1598


Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's men had 'Phaeton' ready for the stage at the Rose by late January 1598 when they purchased a suit and doublet for the main character. They prepared it for performance at court two years later, when its playwright (Dekker) was paid to amend the script. Possibly still in performance since its 1598 debut, the play is more likely to have been in revival when Dekker prepared for performance before a royal audience. If it also played publicly in January 1600, its venue would have been the company's new playhouse, the Fortune.

Probable Genre(s)

Harbage tagged "Phaeton" as a classical legend, which the story of Apollo's reckless son undoubtedly was. However, Matthew Steggle argues for a more complex generic design. Linking the Phaeton story to that of Jupiter and Io (which directly precedes Phaeton's in Ovid's Metamorphoses, he suspects a 'mixed-genre' text like Thomas Heywood's Ages plays (72). Steggle describes the effect of such mixture as a combination of tragedy, comedy, and bathos (see Critical Commentary, below).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Theater historians have consistently offered Ovid's Metamorphoses as the narrative source of Dekker's "Phaeton." The Ovid that Dekker knew (and Shakespeare as well) was that translated in fourteeners by Arthur Golding in 1567. The story of Phaëton is introduced at the end of Book I and opens Book 2 (Golding, Internet Archive, Book I, 940-88; Book II, 1-417).

Steggle argues that Dekker was also reading the preceding story, that of Io. (Golding, Internet Archive, Book I, 701-942.). See Possible Genre(s) and Critical Commentary for further discussion of the linked story lines.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Borlik calls attention to spectacular elements of "Phaeton" including the probability "that the 'charete' must have featured in the climactic flight sequence" (p. 357). He suggests further that Phaeton's limbs were properties for a "mourning scene" with an inter-repertorial echo of Faustus's limbs (p. 357). He imagines that audiences of "Phaeton" saw "a striking parallel between the magician [Faustus] and the charioteer, both of whom sought the divine power of flight and were annihilated for their presumption" (p. 358).

Steggle begins a reconsideration of "Phaeton" by explicating an item in Henslowe's inventory, "j hecfor ... the limes dead." He explains that the word does mean "heifer,' as scholars have long believed; and that a search by way of EEBO-TCP turns up "no obvious possible other meanings" (p. 66). Further, he explains that the characterization of the limbs as "dead" indicates that the legs of the prop-cow were stiff and motionless, an OED meaning derived from machinery in which the parts "'do not themselves rotate or move'" (p. 71).

Dismissing suggestions of previous scholars that the property cow was used in an animal sacrifice in the play, or as evidence of the destruction on earth of Phaeton's fiery chariot, or perhaps as a representative of the "sacred cattle of Helios" (67), Steggle offers an alternative: that the hecfor is Io from the story of Jupiter and Io, which directly precedes the story of Phaeton in Ovid's Metamorphoses.(Golding, Internet Archive, Book 1, 740-942). In Steggle's opinion, the combination of Io's story with Phaeton's might account for additional properties in Henslowe's inventory: for example, for Mercury, the wings (l.80); for Argus, "Argosse heade" (l. 66) and the 'ij fanes of feathers" (l. 75); and for Jupiter's correctly suspicious wife, "Junoes cotte" (l.122) (Greg, Papers). The clincher in Steggle's co-joining the narratives of Io and Phaeton is Epaphus, Io's god-conceived child, who grows up with Phaeton. By urging him to confront his father (Apollo) and demand his rights as son, Epaphus sets in motion the actions that will lead Phaeton to destruction.

For What It's Worth

Lumping: Malone did not comment on the likeness of "Phaeton" to extant plays, but Collier did. He suggested that Dekker's (now lost) January 1598 play "may have been the production to which [John] Ford afterwards contributed, to which Ford afterwards contributed," namely The Sun's Darling (1657). Fleay likewise considered "Phaeton" "palpably a refashioning by Ford" (BCED, I, 232]. Greg II followed suit; considering Henslowe's payments to Dekker in 1598, Greg adds to the payments for "Phaeton" an earlier entry dated the 8th of January for which the company paid Dekker 20s "to by a bookes" unnamed (#124, p. 190).

Additional Properties: The Foakes and Rickert edition of Henslowe's Diary (1961) tags "j crown with a sone" in Henslowe's property list dated 10 March 1598 as possibly being an item used in "Phaeton" (2002 ed, 321). Greg, Papers did not similarly tag it, but Gurr did (p. 232, n. 75). Steggle, too, considers it a possibility, expanding the context by referring to "the Ovidian source" and its description of Apollo's head gear as a "'crown of glittering rays'" (p. 66).

Works Cited

Borlik, Todd A., "Hellish Falls: Faustus's Dismemberment, Phaeton's Limbs, and Other Renaissance Aviation Disasters, II." English Studies 97.4 (2016): 254-76.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral’s Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Steggle, Matthew, "Philip Henslowe's Artificial Cow," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 30 (2017):65-75.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 27 March 2018.