Royal Widow of England, A

NB. This play, entered by Harbage under this title and listed as lost, has subsequently been identified with Sir Giles Goosecap (Chapman?), printed in 1606 (see Critical Commentary below).

Anon. (1602)

Historical Records

Personal Sources

Diary of Frederic Gerschow

On the 18th of September 1602, Frederic Gerschow, tutor to Philip Julius, Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, recorded the following in his travel diary:

Von dannen sind wir auf die Kindercomœdiam gangen, welche im Argument judiciret eine castam viduam, war eine historia einer königlichen Wittwe Engellandt.
Es hat aber mit dieser Kinder-comœdia Gelegenheit: die Königin hält viel junger Knaben, die der Singekunst mit Ernst befleissigen müssen und auf Instrumenten lernen, auch dabenebenst studieren. Diese Knaben haben ihre besondere praeceptores in allen Künsten, insonderheit sehr gute musicos.
Damit sie nun höfliche Sitten anwenden, ist ihnen aufgelegt, wöchentlich eine comoedia zu agiren, wozu ihnen denn die Königin ein sonderlich theatrum erbauet und köstlichen Kleidern zum Ueberfluss versorget hat. Wer solcher Action zusehen will, muss so gut als unserer Munze acht sundische Schillinge geben, und findet sich doch stets viel Volks auch viele ehrbare Frauens, weil nutze argumenta und viele schöne Lehren, als von andern berichtet, sollen tractiret werden; alle bey Lichte agiret, welches ein gross Ansehen macht. Eine ganze Stunde vorher höret man eine köstliche musicam instrumentalem von Orgeln, Lauten, Pandoren, Mandoren, Geigen und Pfeiffen, wie denn damahlen ein Knabe cum voce tremula in einer Basgeigen so lieblich gesungen, dass wo es die Nonnen zu Mailand ihnen nicht vorgethan, wir seines Gleichen auf der Reise nicht gehöret hatten.

Thence we went to The Children's Comcediam, the argument treated of a castam viduam, and was the story of a royal widow of England.
The origin of this Children's Comcediam is this: the Queen keeps a number of young boys who have to apply themselves zealously to the art of singing and to learn all the various musical instruments, and to pursue their studies at the same time. These boys have special praeceptores in all the different arts, especially very good musicos.
And in order that they may acquire courteous manners, they are required to act a play once a week, for which purpose the Queen has erected for them a special theatrum with an abundance of costly garments. Those who wish to see one of their performances must give as much as eight shillings of our [Stralsund] money,' but there are always a good many people present, many respectable women as well, because useful argumenta, and many good doctrines, as we were told, are brought forward there. They do all their plays by [artificial] light, which produces a great effect. For a whole hour before [the beginning of the play] a delightful performance of musicam instrumentalem is given on organs, lutes, pandores, mandolines, violins, and flutes; and a boy's singing cum voce tremula in a double-bass so tunefully, that we have not heard the like of it on the whole journey, except perhaps the nuns in Milan did it better. (Bülow 26-29)

Theatrical Provenance

Children of the Chapel

Probable Genre(s)

History (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

See Wiggins, Catalogue (#1340 for sources of Sir Giles Goosecap.

References to the Play

Gerschow's account above, and Dekker's apparent reference (in The Wonderful Year, 1603) to Sir Giles Goosecap: "Galen could do no more good, than Sir Giles Goosecap" (sig.D3r).

Critical Commentary

Tricomi, dating the plays of Chapman, notes under his entry for Sir Giles Goosecap that the then generally accepted date of 1601 is "too early, for there is compelling evidence from the journal of the German tutor who accompanied Duke Philip Julius of Settin to England to show that Sir Giles Goosecap was performed on September 18, 1602" (246). Tricomi first proposed that the play referred to by Harbage as "lost" and titled descriptively by him, "A Royal Widow of England", was in fact Sir Giles Goosecap (247). Tricomi notes that the "central figure, the Countess Eugenia, is a widow renowned for her chastity" and that the "staging highlights these features (II. i. 56-57) and could not have been missed by a foreign visitor"; he does, however, concede that Gerschow's adjective königlichen is problematic, since it corresponds not to "kingly" but specifically "royal" in English, and thus is an inaccurate description of Eugenia (247). He accounts for this problem by noting that "[a]s a foreign observer, his impressions may have been strongly influenced (as seems likely elsewhere in his description) by the visual aspects of the play, by Eugenia's costume, and particularly by the entourage that attends her. Also, Chapman portrays Eugenia exaltedly, as in the passage comparing her to Elizabeth, attributing to her the divinity usually reserved for royalty. Royal terms of address pervade the play .. ." (247). He concludes: "In all other respects, Gerschow's explanation fits precisely the Goosecap play" (247).

See Wiggins, Catalogue, #1340 (Sir Giles Goosecap, Knight).

For What It's Worth

Works Cited

Dekker, Thomas. The Wonderful Year. London, 1603. EEBO-TCP (Open Access)
Tricomi, Albert H. "The Dates of the Plays of George Chapman". ELR: English Literary Renaissance 12.2 (1982): 242-66.
von Bülow, Gottfried. "Diary of the Journey of Philip Julius, Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, through England in the Year 1602." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society n.s. 6 (1892): 1-67. (Internet Archive)

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