Play of Oswald (BL MS Egerton 2623)
- 1 Historical Records
- 2 Theatrical Provenance
- 3 Probable Genre(s)
- 4 Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
- 5 References to the Play
- 6 Critical Commentary
- 7 For What It's Worth
- 8 Works Cited
British Library MS Egerton 2623, ff.37-38
22. Fragment of a play, in which the characters are, Ethelbert, the Duchess (his wife), Oswald (their son, conveyed to Northumberland in his infancy to escape his uncle, and newly discovered), Orina, Count Coell, Sir Ingram, Mouse-trap, etc.: late XVIth cent. The fragment, which is in two different hands, ends "Nay my lord, Ile speak thus much in his praise to his face, tho hee bee as fell a mastiue as euer rann vpon a gentleman: yett the curre is of a good breede, and to one hee knowes will shake his tayl"; but the words in italics, which are intended to convey a covert allusion to Will. Shake-speare, are a modern fabrication. f. 37.
The detailed Contents list unhelpfully describes the fragment only as: "f. 37 William Shakespeare: Forged allusion to him: 19th cent."
The following images are kindly provided with permission from the British Library; the accompanying transcription is based on Greg's transcript in modernised spelling; square brackets represent hiatus or Greg's conjectural restorations.
BL MS Egerton 2623 f.37b, reproduced by
permission of the British Library.
Know not at my return what door to knock at, Nor where my parents dwell, nor whom to ask for ]. Good heart! ]. Pray, tell the duchess this, and that I pant out my last last farewell to her. ]. This I shall do and [with . . . . k], which I'll exercize, find out the [misl of] her change. ]. Will you? y'are my [good] angel and with all [ ause of] not be [ h] the shadow of anything that ever she [ ] pray let her have this cloak and [ ] plummets hanging at my [ ] will as they are let down, keep a [l d ] to tell me how the day goes. ], Give me [ ] thou part'st not hence yet. Wind up all thy [ ] else shall fill thine ears a chime of [ ]. [Exeunt. [ ]oris Enter [GERARD], ETHELBERT, ORINA, SIBERT, ARDEIA, CLERIMOND, ADRIAN, BERTRAND, BRACY, RANULPH LE BEAU.
Ethel. The sun to hear this story has gone slowly As wond'ring and delighting in the change Of this your Oswald's fortune ]. All, I swear By my best hopes, being true that I related. ]er. In her discoursing, on your cheek I noted The battle of a paleness and a red Fighting together often. Ethel. Hum, hum, 'twas nothing But a self-feeling and compassionate sharing Of Oswald's joy or sorrowes.
Enter the Duchess and Oswald hand in hand.
Duch. Before my voice advance itself to height, My lord - dear husband - husband! Ethel. What's the matter? Duch. Look on these jewels, look upon 'em well; Round, turn 'em round - Duke Gerard - noble madam - Sibert, princely Sibert - girl, upon my blessing, Shoot at his face fixed looks - cast all your eyes On this young man, and wonder, wonder at him Osw. What owl am I now made? Duch. Know you these toys? Ethel. I do; and if the god of silence please To lay his finger on each lip but mine I with strange music will fill every ear Whilst I am rapt to tell what you shall hear. er]. Pray, sir, go on - and silence!
BL MS Egerton 2623 f.37a, reproduced by
permission of the British Library.
Ethel. Oh, you fates How subtle are your windings! When my father, Taking his last leave of me, left a dukedom I was both young and sickly, [s ] in body, That it shiver'd even my mind and [w ] that too; I had then an uncle in plots for [ ] cunning And too strong for me or any to wrastle with; The opinion of his valour, wisdom, worth Aw'd all my dukedom; 'twas he ruled, not I. Duch. He had our glory, we [ ] misery Ethel. My wife had a first son, but my lewd [uncle], Should I die heirless, thinking mine his own, Poison'd that child; a second blest her womb; That too was marked for death ere it knew life; He meeting with the world was in one night Secretly in the swathing clathes conveyed Into Northumberland out of Mercia; To mock the tyrant she gave out it died, The nurse that kept it likewise lived not long, But how nurse jugled, how my boy was lost, I'm sure this cock and crucifix I tied To a small chain of gold about his neck With my own fingers Osw. Mother - madam - duchess! How came you by these tokens? Ori. Have I not told thee? This Oswald, howsoe'er at first you named him, Is that lost son, got, as you heard, my lord, For money from his nurse just when she died. Duch. Oh, my dear Eldred, for that name I gave thee. Osw. I care not how you name me so I have A mother - but a piece of a mother! Ethel. If he be mine there's on on his neck the print Of a ripe mulberry Osw. Mulberry ripe! look, madam; Look, I'm your own boy, I warrant you, else chop My neck off Duch. Yes 'tis here; oh, let me kiss this jewel! Osw. Kiss for kiss then, mother - new mother now - Let me kiss you, for hansel sake. Ethel. He has besides The talon of an eagle on this arm Osw. A whole eiry of eagles! So, so, sire; 'tis here, Thi ethoei aquila, both he and she! Duch. Never on me till now shone beams so clear. [Osw.] Nor on me neither : farewell, father; adieu, mother; blessing, father; blessing mother; brother I am glad you cozen'd me of a wife; sister I am glad you call'd me not husband. I knew there was noble blood in me,
BL MS Egerton 2623 f.38b, reproduced by
permission of the British Library.
for I am in debt, and full of other such noble qualities, can drink hard, spend bravely, and love a sweet girl.
Enter Sir Ingram, Toogood, Count Coell, Genissa, Malfrida, Mouse-trap, and Thum.
Sir Bar. I come, my lords, for justice. Ing. I come for no justice, but a wench; and should be sorry to find any Justice in her. [Ger]. Lay by distracted looks and moody language : speak one at once and mildly Sir Bar. Mildly, she's my daughter. Ing. And this daughter and I are all one. Sir Bar. I ha' promis'd her to this knight- mongrel Ing. And I ha' promis'd her a ladyship Ger. Give way to one another: say what hinders the marriage twixt these two Thu. This, and please your grace; she will not have my master. Sir Bar. This beggarly Mercian, Count Coell, says she's his wife. Ger. How say you, lady? Gen. Yes, my lord, I am. Ing. Art thou? What mortal tailor's yard can measure the mockado hart of a woman? Give me a wench that's pure perpetuani for thy sake; all thy gum- taffety sex shall be to me no more than that base stuff called stand-farder-off. Ethel. That beggarly poor Mercian, meaning him - that beggarly poor Mercian is my kinsman. Your banishment from Mercia, noble Coell, count and my honour'd cousin, the king our master calls in, and you shall home to th' court with me, and hold your place and offices. Ing. How’s this? how's this? ‘Count’ and 'cousin count'! I am cozen'd too! Ethel. Nor need you scorn to call him son-in-law. Sir Bar. How shall I know that? Ing. Search him. Cler. I, sir, was at his wedding. Bra. And I. [Ger]. Yes, and I, and many other, both Mercians and Northumbrians. Ing. How came Troy burnt? by a woman; how are men drunk? to the healths of women; how men killed T about brittle glassy woman : I would draw if I durst.
BL MS Egerton 2623 f.38a, reproduced by
permission of the British Library.
Thu. And I, too, if it would come out. Ger. Restrain their furies. Ing. Furies! I’ll run mad. Ori. How, mad? Ing. Yes, mad; 'tis the only costard my teeth water at, for when I 'm mad I’ll rail upon women, roar at men, I will stamp in verse and stamp in prose, I will jeer at the players, mew at the poets, swagger at the doors, swear they are false gatherers, and kick the women. Gen. You’ll be more wise, Sir Ingram. Ing. No; I scorn it, and scorn thee; farewell Gen. Why, farewell. Ing. I will haunt thee longer yet : a Butter- box loves not bacon and pickle-herring as I hate these Westphalian gammons of thy cheeks : farewell for ever. [Exit. Sir Bar. And farewell for ever. Thu. For ever and an acre of time longer. [Exit. Ger. So, so; 'tis well we are quiet; what's this officer? Coell. My lord, a friend of mine. Malf. Yes, his back friend, my lord. Ger. Oh, Malfrida! Ori. Is this he, Mal, you had my lord's warrant for? Malf. The very same, madam; because I would have such a long-tail'd rat know what and whose cheese he is to gnaw : all the whole ging of gudgeon-eaters, the anthropophagi sergeants, had not the way, the wit, to arrest Count Coell, but this fas et nefas: he goes by the name of mouse-trap, and a curious, snapping, dis- patching, mouse-trap he is. Mous. What I did, I did fairly, though not honestly; I did not cobble it up, nor dangle my work as if I had been a botcher in my trade. Coell. No, in troth, thou didst it well, and I love thee for it. Mous. I handled you softly, tenderly, and gingerly, because you were my patient; my first dressing went, I know, a little to the heart, but I had my glass of balm, which I poured into your wound; your blow on the shoulder is nothing, a cup of Canary in a tavern heals it; besides I call'd not to you nor pull'd out your throat for my hours of mercy as I do to others, my staying with you I mean. Coell. No, indeed, thou didst not. Sir Bar. Nay, my lord, I'll speak thus much in his praise to his face: though he be as fell as a mastiff as ever ran upon a gentleman, yet the cur is of a good breed [& to one he knows Will Shake his tail].
Unknown; information welcome. Wiggins very tentatively assigns a date of 1600 (followed here, for convenience), noting "There is very little in the fragment to justify even an insecure hypothesis as to date, and certainly no basis for defining limits" (#1260).
Comedy / romance? (based on the revelation of Oswald's identity); romance/history? (Wiggins)
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
Unknown. Wiggins (#1260) notes that "the action does not correspond to any known event in Anglo-Saxon history, but takes place during the time of the Heptarchy (seventh to tenth centuries AD)."
Bennett offers a concise summary of one half of the fragment's action:
[The fragment] is occupied with the re-uniting of a long-lost child with his father and mother. The child--or man, as he has become in the years of separation from his parents--is called Oswald. His father, Ethelbert, tells the story of how Oswald came to be separated from his parents. Ethelbert had an uncle who wished to succeed him and who poisoned Ethelbert's first child in order to ensure that the succession would not pass to Ethelbert's children. Oswald, the second child, was smuggled out of Mercia into Northumbria the night he was born, but his nurse soon died, and his whereabouts and fate became unknown. At this stage in Ethelbert's recital, Oswald and his mother, Ethelbert's duchess, enter [Actually, their earlier entrance seemingly prompts Ethelbert's recital]. Ethelbert says that if Oswald is his child, he must have a ripe mulberry print on his neck. Oswald replies that he does not have such a print. [But see the transcription above; surely Bennett is mistaken, and Oswald confirms that he has such a print: "Mulberry ripe! look, madam; / Look, I'm your own boy, I warrant you" and his mother concurs: "Yes 'tis here".] Ethelbert adds a further qualification that Oswald must have the talon of an eagle on his arm, and Oswald triumphantly says he has a whole aerie of eagles. His identity established, Oswald embraces his mother, and the family is happily reunited. (292)
Wiggins summarises the second half of the fragment's action (as well as the first):
Toogood wishes his daughter Genissa to marry Sir Ingram, but she has defied him and married Count Coell instead. Toogood objects: Count Coell has no money and has been arrested at Malfrida's suit [for debt?]. In fact, though, he is Ethelbert's kinsman and has been recalled from banishment by the King, so it is no shame to call him son-in-law. (#1260)
References to the Play
None known; information welcome.
Harbage listed the fragment under "Titleless Plays and Fragments" in Supplementary List I (p.203):
'Fragment of a play.' Chief characters are Ethel-[bert?], the Duch[ess] his wife, Os[wald] their son, Orina, Sir Ingram, Mousetrap, etc.; contains a Collier forgery. Brit. Mus. MS. Egerton 2623, ff. 37-38.
Bentley (5.1452) offers a slightly better account of the manuscript's condition:
The two pages in Egerton 2623 disfigured by damp may be part of the same play; though the ink differs, the hands are similar and may be identical. 'Duch[ess]', 'Ethel:', and 'Osw[ald]' are characters on fol. 37. Oswald sems to be the lost son of the Duchess, discovered by a crucifix and the print of a ripe mulberry on his neck. Oswald's real name appears to be Eldred. Characters on the second folio are Ingram, Toogood, Count Coell, Malfreda, and Mousetrap, among others.
Greg ("A Dramatic Fragment") offered the first and most sustained account of the fragment, reprinting it and transcribing it. Quoting Collier's description ("Dramatic Manuscripts. Fragments of two old Plays, apparently of about the time of Shakespeare. They are in a very bad state from damp, and must have been used as fly-leaves. Portions in each are illegible") Greg drew attention to Collier's errors:
Collier was, of course, wrong in supposing the fragments to belong to different plays. The oversight is all the more curious since one would suppose that he must have read the MS., so far as he could at least, with some care before venturing upon the insertion of an original addition. Such attention, however, as he may have bestowed upon the curious relic, the history of which he has not recorded, did not prevent his sticking the leaves into his scrap-book the wrong way round, so that in each case the text begins on the verso. (148)
Greg provided additional detail about the writing:
With regard to the statement in the catalogue that the MS. is written in two hands I must, with all deference to authority, express my belief that, except for the forgery, there is only one. There are, however, three different inks and two pens. As far as F. 37a, 1. 31, the MS. is in a dark-brown ink which has suffered very much where the damp has attacked it; then to F. 38b, 1. 8, it is in a rather lighter coloured ink, but the difference is not very noticeable. From here to the end a dead black ink has been used and also a finer pen, which gives a rather different character to the hand. This ink has been absolutely unaltered by the damp, even where this has almost destroyed the paper itself. Finally, there is the forgery, which is similar to this last portion in ink and style, except that it is cramped up in a corner. It is cleverly executed, and I must admit that I doubt whether I should have detected it if I had not already known of its existence. (153)
Chambers (William Shakespeare, 2.386) also thought that those final lines had been forged by Collier, but not all scholars agree. Arthur Freeman and Janet Ing Freeman see no cause to believe the lines are in a different hand at all, let alone Collier's, and do not include it as an example of Collier's interventions (2.1038).
Greg also hazarded the following conjecture about plot:
So far as I have been able to discover, the fragment does not belong to any known play. The main plot is evidently the same as that of A Knack to know a Knave, printed in 1594, but the actual scene does not belong to that play. There are many plays of a later date on the same story, but the earliest of these is Ravencroft's King Edward and Alfreda, printed in 1667 (see Ward II. 6102), which is, of course, more than half a century later than the MS. (153)
Stockholm was the first to refute Greg's suggestion about an analogy between the "Oswald fragment" and Knack to Know a Knave; she notes that of the fragment that "[n]ot one of the characters named therein corresponds to any in the [Knack] story, and I am unable to see that any connection has been established" (qtd. in Bennett 292).
Bennett more thoroughly refuted Greg's claims about any parallel between the "Oswald fragment" and Knack to Know a Knave, observing that such claims are "not borne out by comparison of the two, whatever substitution of names may be made":
Turning from the fragment to A Knack to Know a Knave, one finds the well-known King Eadgar-Aelfthryth-Aethelweald story, Aelfthryth being called Alfrida, and Aethelweald, Ethenwald. King Edgar sends Ethenwald to court Alfrida for him; Ethenwald courts and marries her himself; and although incensed at first, Edgar forgives Ethenwald through the good offices of St. Dunstan, who has some supernatural assistance from the Devil. No children are born to anybody in the play, and although Ethenwald is said to be Dunstan's nephew, the only avuncular relationship mentioned in the play, so far is Dunstan from being Ethenwald's enemy that he enlists the aid of the Devil to procure Edgar's blessing for Ethenwald's marriage. In any case, whatever connection Dr. Greg surmised existed between the fragment and A Knack to Know a Knave must have centred around Oswald-Osric. Now in Knack Osric is the father of Alfrida and, Fleay to the contrary notwithstanding, is a quite negligible character. Of the play's 1,897 lines (counting stage directions which occupy a line to themselves), Osric speaks forty-one lines, or 2.2 per cent of the whole, in the course of which he greets Ethenwald on his first arrival, consents to the marriage of his daughter, discusses an impending visit from King Edgar, and greets Edgar, when he does arrive, in his longest speech in the play, of eight lines. Even if Osric in A Knack to Know a Knave were the Oswald of Dr. Greg's fragment—and there is not the slightest evidence in either the fragment or the play to indicate any such relationship—it would have no bearing on the main plot of Knack. (292-93)
Wiggins (#1260) notes that "[a]t the head of sc.B [the first marked entrance in the fragment] to the left of the entrance direction, appears the word '<.>oris'. (The left margin is worn away.) Greg omits it from his modernized version; I take it to be a music cue for a flourish to accompany the characters' entrance." The flourish has accordingly been added to the above transcript.
For What It's Worth
The characters named in the fragment offer tantalising clues to the play's subject matter and possible relationship to other drama, though clearly the dramatist has taken historical liberties with his subject matter.
- As Foxe relates in Book 2, p.143 of his Actes and monuments (1583), Ethelbert was king of Kent, a convert to Christianity, and uncle to "Sigebert kyng of Essex" (cf. "Sibert" below), with whom he began the foundations of St Paul's cathedral in London. After he was killed in battle, his daughter married Edwin, the first Christian king of Northumberland. Curiously, this portion of Foxe also contains possible source material for the Edwin and Lilla plot (if that's what it is) of "Fortune's Tennis, Part 2" -- a play whose plot also includes a "Bertram", cf. "Bertrand" below.
- Foxe relates that Sigebert was King of Essex and nephew to Ethelbert (See "Ethelbert" above)
- Spelled with a "d", Clerimond only yields hits in 3 texts in EEBO, scoring a single passing reference in two of these, and appearing everywhere in Henry Watson's account of the Valentine and Orson story: The hystory of the two valyaunte brethren Valentyne and Orson, sonnes vnto the Emperour of Grece (1555). A variant spelling, "Cleremond", occurs as a character name in Massinger's MS play, The Parliament of Love (licensed 1624) and as "Cleremont" in Fletcher and Massinger's dramatisation of the same subject matter, The Little French Lawyer (c.1619).
- Spelled with a "t", "Clerimont" appears as a character name in a number of plays from the Renaissance and Restoration, including as a friend of Morose in Jonson's Epicene (1609-10) (where Bevington notes that the clair in Clerimont suggests "the clarity of plain speech", CWBJ 3.389), as a courtier in Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster (1609), in Thomas May's The Heir (1620), and as a gull in Fletcher's The Noble Gentleman (licensed 1626).
Ranulph le Beau
- Possibly a variant of "Ranulph the Good"? If so, based on Ranulf (III) (Ranulf de Blundeville), sixth earl of Chester and first earl of Lincoln (1170–1232) (ODNB), whom later tradition at least associated with the "Good" monkier, "did not accompany Richard I on crusade, despite later legends to this effect" (ODNB), but was nevertheless close to the king until Richard's death in 1199. (See Fortune's Tennis, Part 2 for details of crusades- and Richard I-related plays). He subsequently supported King John and William Marshal in his role as regent for Prince Henry, fought in the fifth crusade in Egypt, and. (For further information on this Ranulph, see Randall, Earl of Chester (Chester's Tragedy), though NB Wiggins #1368 suggests it is more likely that the 3rd earl of Chester was the Ranulph/Randolph/Randall of that play). There may be a further connection to the Admiral's repertory if we accept Martin Wiggins' supposition that Robert, earl of Gloucester (b. before 1100, d. 1147) is the eponymous hero of "The Humorous Earl of Gloucester, with His Conquest of Portugal" (Wiggins 1294): Robert was Ranulph's great grandfather.
Oswald (also known as Eldred)
- After relating details of Ethelbert, his nephew Sigebert, and daughter's husband Edwin, Foxe (Book 2, p144) notes that
After the decease of Edwyne and his sonne Offrike, both slayne in battell, reigned Osricus and Eufridus the one in Deyra, the other in Bernicia. Osricus was the sonne of Elfricus which was brother to Ethelfride. Eaufridus, was the eldest sonne of Ethelfride (for Ethelfride had three sonnes to wit, Eaufridus, Oswaldus, & Osricus. These two kinges of Desyra and Bernicia, Osricus, and Eaufride, beyng fyrst Christened in Scotlande: after being kinges returned to their old idolatry, & so in the yeares following were slaine one after the other, by the foresaide Cedwalla, and wycked Penda...
- Oswald succeeded in Northumberland and reigned for 22 years, his son becoming the "last king of the Britanes" according to Foxe.
- Anthony Brewer's The Love-sick King (1607-17? [Harbage]; printed 1655) has a character (Alured, brother to King Etheldred) who is disguised under the name "Eldred"; it also has a Duke of Mercia (Osbert the Rebel), and a character named Randolph (a coal-merchant).
- As a surname (Towgood), it yields returns in EEBO-TCP only from the Restoration, but it is more probably a whimsical name (Too Good) anyway.
Greg may have been mistaken about the analogy with Knack to Know a Knave, but there may be overlap in subject matter with later plays. Lisa Hopkins suggests (personal correspondence) that there may be some analogy with Brome’s The Queen’s Exchange: "the tension between Northumbria and somewhere else (Mercia here, West Saxony in QE), the mistaken identity (Oswald here, Osric there)".
Thi etheioi Aquila
The only published transcription of this fragment is that of W. W. Greg. As transcribed by Greg, Oswald's penultimate speech on fol. 37a runs:
- a whole a[interlined i]rry of eagles. soe soe sire. 'tis here
- Thi ethoei Aquila, both hee & shee
In other words, Oswald says that he does indeed have a birthmark in the shape of an eagle's talon on his arm. But what is meant by the apparently Greek, apparently meaningless phrase?
The key here is that Renaissance Latin grammars often use “aquila” (eagle) as the type example of nouns that are epicene or gender-ambiguous. For instance, William Lily's Latin grammar, used throughout Renaissance grammar schools and widely quoted in drama of the period, states:
- The Epicene Gender is declined with one article, and vnder that one article both kinds be signified: as Hic passer, a sparrow. Haec aquila, an Eagle, both he and shee.
- (William Lily, A Short Introduction of Grammar , A7r).
With this as a clue, one can revisit the manuscript. It can be seen that the manuscript at this point actually reads
- [illegible] et haec Aquila, both hee & shee
The initial word of the line is stubbornly illegible. One might expect it to read "Hic", but the letters remain uncertain. At any rate, the joke is clear - Oswald lapses into Latin, and then spoils the effect by observing that "Haec aquila" could denote a male or a female eagle. It is a bathetic scrap of schoolboy learning, puncturing the seriousness of this recognition-scene. In a text not short of difficulties, it is helpful to be able to clear one of them up.
Cock and Crucifix
When an awareness of Oswald's true identity gradually dawns on Ethelbert, he recalls the "cock and crucifix I tied / To a small chain of gold about his neck" when Eldred/Oswald was a boy. Crosses surmounted by roosters/cocks are relatively common iconographical devices since the middle ages at least, and are typically found as weather vanes etc. on rooftops of churches. The cock likely refers to Peter's triple denial and betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane, whilst the crucifix alludes to consequent events. That it is a crucifix rather than a cross suggests Catholicism; an association reinforced, even if the bare cross were used, by (e.g.) William Smith's The reign of the whore discovered... (1659): "these popish Dens (builded with observation East and West, with a picture of a Cock and a Cross upon it, as the Papists devised and appointed)" (11).