Play of Poore

Anon. (1616?)

Historical Records

The Part of Poore (Houghton Library, MS Thr 10.1)

The actor's part for the role of Poore, the main character of a lost play known to scholars as the "Play of Poore," survives in Houghton Library, MS Thr 10.1. The manuscript contains actors' parts from four different plays, all of which were performed at Christ Church, Oxford, in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The part of Poore (ff. 21–46v) contains 1580 lines, including Poore's speeches, brief cue lines spoken by other characters, minimal stage directions, and occasional act and scene designations. Also in the manuscript are parts for Antoninus (ff. 8v-19v) from the anonymous Antoninus Bassianus Caracalla (a play mostly preserved in Bodleian MS Rawlinson C.590); Polypragmaticus (ff. 48-56) from Robert Burton's Philosophaster (preserved in an autograph manuscript, Houghton Library, MS Thr 10, and a copy, Folger MS V.a.315); and Amurath (ff. 57-71) from Thomas Goffe's The Couragious Turke (published 1632).

Full Digitisation

"The 'part' of Poore", Houghton Library, MS Thr 10.1, f. 21r, reproduced by permission. The LPD has sponsored the digitisation of the entire part.

Full Transcription

The part of Poore has been edited by David Carnegie and published by the Malone Society ("Part"); the entire transcription can be read and searched here, courtesy of Professor Carnegie and the Malone Society:

Part of Poore (transcription)

The following is Professor Carnegie's transcription of the first page (f. 21r), which is representative of the nature of the part.

Actus Imus Scӕna Ia. [FOL.21a]
Welcome thou instrument of liberty      offreth to stab himselfe
Sly       Hold hold
Poore: It is a most vnthankfull office;
To save a man vnwilling is to murder.
What hath this world of myne that I should covet
Longer to stay wth it? nor have you reason
Thus to detaine mee, I must greiving say it
Through mee you want what might have well sustaind you 10
And your last store scarce panteth nourishment
Vnto your selfe and sister.
Sly                                             How truely rich
Though having nothing, for contemning all?
Poore. True very wise, nay rich, if hee could gett
Even wth his best indeauour nourishment:
But that now wants whose rich hees only wise
T'is the receaved opinion, and what arts
Are meanly shrouded in a thred bare coate
Want theire due forme, thats a privation of it. 20
The worst of ills that is in misery
Is that it gives a man contemptible
Makes him a scoffe to every painted asse
Wch beares a golden image, every slave
Wch came into this Cytty wth bare feete
And since hath heap'd vp by mechanicke basenes
Abundant riches will contem the state
That nature brought him to and no more pitty it,
Then wisedome will a snake pin'd wth much cold
Sly:                                             you much erre 30
Poore. No it is sacred truth, there is not one
Who hath not circled wth a triple brasse


Theatrical Provenance

Performed at Christ Church, Oxford, perhaps around 1616.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Carnegie). Moral (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The part of Poore, which provides the entirety of lines spoken by the play's main character, reveals much about the play's narrative, yet our knowledge is obviously limited by the relative paucity of other characters' speeches, which appear exclusively in brief cue lines and occasional false-starts cancelled by the copyist. David Carnegie offered a detailed conjectural plot synopsis, summarizing the evidence with further speculations based on clues within the part ("Play," 21–24). Broadly speaking, the "Play of Poore" was an academic comedy of subterfuge, disguise, and mischief. In the play's first scene, Poore enlists his fellow scholar Sly and the wench Gill to gull unwitting victims out of their money. One of the main plots has Gill, disguised as "Madam Change," presented as a marriage prospect for the foolish Trugull; Poore, disguised as the Yorkshireman "Change," objects that she is already betrothed to him, but agrees to withdraw his claim in exchange for payment; Sly, disguised as the corpulent uncle of "Madam Change," accepts her dowry. A subplot involves the cuckold Snaile, whose wife is coveted by two men, Medle and Quicke, whom Poore sets at odds until a duel leaves each convinced that the other is dead. Complications and confusions ensue, as Poore's mercenary opportunism results in the proliferation of overlapping cons. In the final scene, his machinations exposed, Poore feigns illness, but after making financial restitution to his victims, he reveals that he is well and everyone is reconciled.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

The vast majority of scholarship on the play of Poore and its manuscript has been written by David Carnegie. The following summary draws heavily on his findings.


The manuscript seems originally to have been a blank book into which the actors' parts were successively copied; Carnegie therefore proposed that the order of their appearance indicates a rough chronology of performance. Since Burton's Philosophaster was performed on 17 February 1617/8 and Goffe's Couragious Turk on 24 February 1618/9, Carnegie conjectured a date range of 1615–17 for the performance of Poore for which the actor's part was prepared ("Play," 6n).

Genre and Style

As Carnegie observes, the characters' "names alone invite us into a world of comic types: Poore, Trugull, Medle, Quicke, and Dry are self-declared, and the cuckold Snaile scarcely less so" ("Play," 13). The play's plot is based on feats of "deception, gulling, and knavery," but by the conclusion, "no real harm has been done" and the "play ends in high spirits with all the gulls reconciled to their deceivers" (13-14). While Harbage designated it a "Moral" play, Carnegie argued that the play's "aim seems to be more to delight than to instruct" (14).

According to Carnegie, although the "language of the play is for the most part a functional, undistinguished blank verse" (16), certain salient characteristics—an "enthusiasm for classical writers, the purple rhetoric, an extraordinary overblown set-piece lecture for Strange on the subject of the dawn, a student drinking game"—suggest satirical sendups of the academic audience watching the play (15). Many of the play's stock elements are representative of university satire; however, numerous parallels of plot and language with Jonson's The Alchemist suggest some degree of influence if not imitation (18-19).


Costumes and properties for the performance would have included a dagger, a letter, a ring, gold, blue coats, slops, a rapier, a false beard, a country gentleman's attire with padding, a nightgown, and "physicians' gowns" of fustian (Carnegie, "Play," 10, 16). Besides Poore, there are twelve other speaking roles evident in the part, although the fact that one is identified as the Third Officer (f. 23v) implies that First and Second Officers appeared in the play as well ("Play," 20-21). The part was apparently copied out by the actor playing the role of Poore ("Play," 11). (Stern cites William Prynne who laments "how many houres, evenings, halfe-dayes, dayes, and sometimes weekes, are spent by all the Actors (especially in solemne academicall Enterludes) in coppying, in conning, in practising their parts" [Histriomastix, sig. 2R1a; qtd. Stern 239].) Carnegie's study of Houghton Library, MS Thr 10.1 found that the two later parts were evidently written in the hand of Thomas Goffe ("Identification"). While the hand that transcribed the part of "Poore" differs from Goffe's in 1618-19, Carnegie nevertheless left open the possibility that Goffe may have prepared the two earlier parts, including that of "Poore" ("Play," 6n; "Part," 113). (Carnegie's further suggestion that "Poore" may have been acted by the play's author—as suggested by the uncommon lack of mistakes in the transcription—therefore allows for the possibility that Goffe wrote the "Play of Poore" ["Play," 11].)

Comparison with the Orlando Part

The only actor's part to survive from the professional Shakespearean stage is that used by Edward Alleyn performing the title role in Robert Greene's Orlando Furioso (Dulwich College, MSS 1, Article 138; online). Carnegie, comparing this document to the four parts in Houghton Library, MS Thr 10.1 (prepared, as they were, for academic rather than professional performance), observes that the two documents share several basic characteristics, but differ in physical form (Alleyn's part was prepared as a roll, as opposed to the book format used for the university parts) and nature of the cue lines (the university parts not only name the speakers of the cue lines, but provide slightly more text) ("Play," 12). Carnegie, however, notes that, in light of the paucity of surviving evidence, it must remain uncertain "whether the production of the college plays, in entirely different circumstances, in any way signals that professional practices were changing twenty years on," or whether these differences are "simply a by-product of the amateur student actors' simplifying memorization of both lines and action" ("Play," 13).

Palfrey and Stern, by way of an answer to this question, show that the Restoration-era part for Trico (played by Matthew Medbourne) in Ferdinando Parkhurst's translation of Ruggle's Ignoramus (Houghton Library, MS Eng 1258/5), performed at the Cockpit and at Whitehall in 1662, typically has short cues lacking characters' names, thereby resembling the Orlando part more than that of Poore (29-31), although the part of Trico was prepared as a book rather than a roll.

For What It's Worth

Content welcome.

Works Cited

Carnegie, David. "Actors' Parts and the 'Play of Poore'." Harvard Library Bulletin 30 (1982): 5–24. Online.
Carnegie, David, ed. "The Part of 'Poore'." Malone Society Collections XV. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. 111–169.
Carnegie, David. "The Identification of the Hand of Thomas Goffe, Academic Dramatist and Actor." The Library 26 (1971): 161–65.
Goffe, Thomas. The Couragious Turke, or, Amurath the First. London, 1632.
Palfrey, Simon, and Tiffany Stern. Shakespeare in Parts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.
Prynne, William. Histriomastix. London, 1633.
Stern, Tiffany. Documents of Performance in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; transcription added 09 May 2016 by David McInnis.