Royal Choice, The

Sir Robert Stapylton (c.1626-1642?)

Historical Records

Entered on Marriott's List (1653):

The Royall Choice by Sr Robt Stapleton.

Theatrical Provenance

Closet drama (Harbage); Caroline courtier drama for a professional theatre (Bentley).

Probable Genre(s)

Pastoral (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known

References to the Play

None known

Critical Commentary

"The only evidence for the existence of a play of this name is Marriott's entry in the Stationers' Register" (Bentley, 4.1187).

Sir Robert Stapylton (1607x9?–1669), translator and playwright, was born in Snaith, Yorkshire, to an aristocratic family which was staunchly Catholic. He travelled to Douai, and was educated in the school there, briefly enrolling as a Benedictine monk before returning, in 1626, to England. There he remained, renouncing his vows, and becoming a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Prince Charles. Various texts also attest to Stapleton's interest in drama during the Caroline era: he wrote commendatory verses for Shirley's Grateful Servant (1630), Harding's tragedy Sicily and Naples (1640), the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (1647), and Cartwright's Comedies (1651). Stapleton fought for King Charles in the Civil War, and was knighted by him. When Charles II assumed the throne, Stapleton became again a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to him, dying in London in 1669. (See Kelly; Bentley, 4.1186-7).

As well as the commendatory verse mentioned above, Stapleton wrote several translations, of which the best-known is his translation of Juvenal (1647). He also wrote three extant plays, performed after the Restoration: The Slighted Maid, The Stepmother, and Hero and Leander, respectively comedy, tragicomedy, and tragedy.

As for this, lost, play: it cannot plausibly be earlier than 1626, when Stapylton arrived in London. It could, of course, conceivably be as late as 1653, the date of the Stationers' Register record.

There are two competing interpretations of this record. One is taken by Harbage (153), who (rather boldly) identifies this play as an alternative title for the lost play Pastor Stapilton (q.v.). On that basis he labels The Royal Choice as possibly a pastoral, possibly a closet drama, and possibly as late as 1653.

Bentley, on the other hand, does not attempt to identify The Royal Choice with the enigmatic Pastor Stapilton. Instead, he observes that "It seems a little odd that a man attached to the play-writing court of Charles I and who wrote at least four plays in his life should have waited until he was nearly fifty to begin… the events of his life make it not unlikely that he should have written a play before the closing of the theatres" (4.1186-7). This would give a date range of c.1626-1642. We have, on this interpretation, a possible record here of courtier drama performed at the Caroline professional theatres, of the sort practised by Sir John Suckling and loathed by Richard Brome.

The title of The Royal Choice is unhelpful in determining its likely genre or plot, but perhaps the best epitaph on its likely content is provided by L. G. Kelly's gloomy assessment of Stapylton's three surviving plays: "His plots are sprawling and drawn largely from classical sources suitably dressed up. In deference to contemporary taste, the plays contain musical interludes and dancing reminiscent of the court masque. A more serious defect to modern eyes, they have no psychological sense of development of character, and the connection between incidents is not coherent."

For What It's Worth

For discussion of Marriott's list, follow this link: Marriott's List (1653)

Works Cited

Kelly, L. G. ‘Stapylton , Sir Robert (1607x9?–1669)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [1]

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University; updated 3 February 2010.