Robert II, King of Scots (The Scot's Tragedy)

Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, "other Jentellman" (1599)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 64 (Greg I, 111)

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 3 of Septmber }
1599 to lend vnto Thomas deckers Bengemen }
Johnson hary chettell & other Jentellman in earneste } xxxxs
of a playe calle Robart the second Kinge of scottes }
tragedie the some of … }

Lent vnto Samwell Rowley & Robart shawe }
the 15 of septmber 1599 to lend in earneste of a }
Boocke called the scottes tragedi vnto Thomas } xxs
dickers & harey chettell the some of … }

Lent hary chettell the 16 of septmber 1599 }
in earneste of a Boocke called the scottes } xs
tragedie the some of … }

Fol. 64v (Greg I, 112)

Lent into wm Borne the 27 of }
Setmber 1599 to lend vnto Bengemen }
Johnsone in earneste of a Boocke called } xxs
the scottes tragedie the some of … }

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's men made four payments "in earneste" for the play in September 1599 apparently for performance at the Rose playhouse. No payments for apparel or divers things confirms that the play was brought into production.

Probable Genre(s)

History (Harbage); Tragedy Wiggins, Catalogue (#1204)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

In Shapiro's opinion, "Elizabethan dramatists collaborating on the 'tragedy' of Robert II would probably have turned to Holinshed, the most readily available and extended account of the reign" (p. 440). Shapiro adds that behind Holinshed are sources there cited—"Froissart, Hector Boece, and John Major" (p. 440). Shapiro marginalizes "Stow, Camden, and Fabian" as having "little information" (p. 440).

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Who was the "other Jentellman"?

Malone misdirected scholarly opinion about the collaborative team on "Richard II, King of Scots" by reading Henslowe's handwriting as "other jentellmen" (p. 322). Collier, who pointed out the error, otherwise had no candidate to nominate for that "Jentellman" and decided that Henslowe had not known "the name" of the fourth dramatist (p. 156, n. 1). Regarding the entry of a payment on 28 September 1599 (below), Collier noted that the name "mr mastone" was in a different hand, deciding it was inserted "to correct the misspelling of 'Maxton'," a name he identified as another misspelling of "Marston," i.e., John Marston, but he did not connect Marston with the "other Jentellman" as a collaborator in "Robert II, King of Scots" (p. 156, n. 2).
Lent vnto wm Borne the 28 of septmbʒ }
1599 to Lend vnto mr maxton the new }
        mr mastone } xxxxs
poete Λ in earneste of a Boocke called }
        the some of . . . . . . }
In the 1880s, scholars began to make that connection. Fleay, BCED acnowledged the possibility that the unnamed playwright might be John Marston but (without explanation) preferred Anthony Wadeson (1, #24, p. 69); he also repeated Collier's opinion that the dramatist's name was unknown to Henslowe (1, #30, p. 125). By 1899, Roscoe A. Small had developed a full-blown narrative connecting the payment to maxton/mastone/Marston with the "other Jentellman" in the record for "Robert II, King of Scots" (pp. 90-91). Greg II puzzled over the identity of the "other" playwright, but he was unconvinced it might have been Marston; he offered Henry Porter because he was "the only other writer in Henslowe's pay with whom Jonson is known to have collaborated" (#182, p. 206). Greg had, in his edition of the diary, transcribed mr mastone in bold, thus flagging it as a forgery, but Foakes and Rickert say that they "think it was inserted by Henslowe" (p. 124, n. 2). Current Marston biographers are not invested too heavily in identifying the "other Jentellman" as Marston (see, for example, the Marston entry in the Oxford DNB). The positions of Gurr and Wiggins illustrate the generally mixed opinion. Gurr lists Marston as co-author of "The Scots Tragedy" and links the maxton/mastone entry to that play in a note (#132, p. 245, n. 98). Wiggins, Catalogue (#1204) dismisses Ian Donaldson's repetition of the identification of the maxton/mastone entry with the "other Jentellman," observing that "in-earnest payments [for "Robert II"] were already a long way advanced by then"; he assigns the 28 September payment to an unnamed play solely by Marston (#1209).

What was the theatrical appeal of the title character?

Shapiro, considering the popular appeal of the history of Robert II, asks "what associations 'Robert II' might have had for Elizabethan theatregoers" and decides "not many" (p. 439). Elaborating,he observes that "Robert II does not figure largely in any famous myths, was not celebrated for any great military victories, and ranked low in standing among Scottish monarchs" (p. 439). Nevertheless, he was "the first of the Stuart monarchs, and as such James's lineal ancestor" (p. 439). That word "lineal" is key, both as help and hindrance. It was a help in that Robert II "fathered twenty-one children"; it was a hindrance in that only "'four were indisputably born in wedlock'" (Shapiro [p. 443] here quotes Ranald Nicholson, Scotland: The Later Middle Ages [1974, p. 185]). Characterizing Holinshed's version of Robert's domestic history (Chronicles, p. 245), Shapiro summarizes the result as "a dramatic narrative of adultery, illegitimacy, old love rekindled, fortuitous and timely deaths of unwanted spouses, and fraternal struggle for succession" (p. 444).
Knutson discusses "Robert II, King of Scots" in terms of repertorial competition with the Chamberlain's men, located across the street on Maid Lane at the newly-built Globe. She cites Holinshed for having suggested that ing Robert (1370-90) "was noteworthy only for the transfer of his moniker, "the steward," to the status of surname, thus establishing the House of Stearsrt (Stuart)" (25). She implies that Robert's border wars, which would have been fought against "Henry Percy, or Hotspur, and the Northumberlands," might have resonated among audiences who could catch a performance of 2 Henry IV or Henry V, if either was on stage at the Globe (25). Otherwise she agrees with Shapiro that the Admiral's play appears to offer "more topics to avoid than to dramatize" (25).
Wiggins, Catalogue (#1204) summarizes the reign of Robert II as "characterized by lawlessness and in-fighting among his nobles, and a number of border skirmishes with England," adding the possibility of addressing "the Scottish succession" as well as the "marriage to Elizabeth Mure, which was later found to be incestuous."

What were the politics of dramatizing Scottish history?

On the timing of commissioning "a play about the first Stuart king in the fall of 1599" (p. 429), Shapiro offers the context of growing anxiety in England in 1599 about the succession of James to the English throne. He points to Scotland's dubious role in both the Irish Rebellion (against which the earl of Essex was leading a campaign) and the "threat of a new Spanish Armada," which Scotland was also supporting (pp. 431-2). Broadening the question of subject matter to the role of public theater in such political issues, Shapiro notes that other plays c. 1599 had topical appeal such as "The Overthrow of "The Overthrow of Turnholt", Henry V, and the publication of The Scottish History of James the Fourth (p. 433). He calls attention also to an awareness among the English that the Scots believed their king and nation were treated poorly in plays on the English state (p. 430) as well as to James's contrary support of English players on tour in Scotland (p. 434). On the whole, though, he finds only "slight but provocative clues" on the willingness of playing companies (here, specifically the Admiral's men) to use the stage as venue for querying "England's political fortunes" (p. 449).

For What It's Worth

The fact that the King's men acquired a play called "Gowrie" in 1604, when the politics of the Stuarts were now those of the English, suggests that the theatrical world was not completely risk averse when it came to issues of succession and royal legitimacy. However, that play did encounter controversy.

Works Cited

Gurr, Andrew. ‘’Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625’’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Knutson, Roslyn L. “Toe to Toe Across Maid Lane: Repertorial Competition at the Rose and Globe, 1599-1600.” Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Ed. June Schlueter and Paul Nelsen. Madison & Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005. 21-37.
Shapiro, James. "The Scot's Tragedy and the Politics of Popular Drama." English Literary Renaissance 23 (1993): 428-49.
Small, Roscoe A. The Stage Quarrel Between Ben Jonson and the So-Called Poetasters (1899). New York: AMS Press, 1966.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 29 February 2016.