Seven Wise Masters, The
Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe Diary)
F. 67v (Greg, I. 118)
- Receaved of mr hinchlowe the 1 march to paye to
- harry chettell Thomas decker william hawton & John daye
- for a boocke calld the 7 wise mrs the some of ………. xls
- W birde.
- Lent vnto Samewell Rowly the 8 of march 1599
- to paye vnto harey chettell & John daye in fulle
- payment of a boocke called the vij wisse masters
- the some of ………. ls
- Samuell Rowlye
F. 68 (Greg, I. 119)
- Lent vnto hary chettell the 2 of march 1599
- in earnest of a Boocke called the 7 wisse
- masters the some of ………. xxxs
Payments, Miscellaneous (Henslowe's Diary)
F. 68 (Greg, I. 119)
- Receaued of Mr Henslowe to lay out for the playe of
- the 7 wise Mrs in taffataes & sattyns the some of
- in behalfe of the …….. by me Robt Shaa
- Company ………. xxll
- Receaued more of mr Henshlowe to lay out
- for the play of the 7 wise Maisters in behalf
- of the Company ………. xli
- Receaued more of Mr Henshlowe to lay out
- for the play of the 7 wise maisters in behalf
- of the Company ……….. viijli
- by me Robt Shaa
The Admiral's men acquired "The Seven Wise Masters" in the spring of 1600, their first full year at the new Fortune playhouse. The payments of £38 for materials and other things suggests a relatively sumptuous production.
Tragi-comedy (Harbage); the story material would indicate a series of generically mixed playlets bound by the frame story of the seven masters and their tales, the stepmother's tales, and the son's tale.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
The story cycle known variously as The Seven Wise Masters and The Seven Sages of Rome is as ancient as Sanskrit, Persian, and Hebrew, languages in which analogues existed. One story of its origin attributes it to the Indian philosopher Sindibad/Syntipas in the first century CE (Wikipedia).
Michael L. Hays compiled a list of the manuscripts and printings extant for The Seven Sages [Wise Masters] of Rome, which had been written c. 1300-1333. That by Wynkyn de Worde in 1506 appears to have been the seminal English text (Gomme, iii). Those likely to have been available to Chettle, Day, Dekker, and Haughton are the following:
Gomme summarized the frame story as follows:
A young prince, falsely accused by the wife of the king, his father, of having attempted to offer her violence, is defended by seven sages, who relate a series of stories to show the deceits of women, the queen at the same time urging the death of the accused prince by the example of stories told by herself.
References to the Play
Foakes notes (as Greg does not) that the entry on 1 March 1600 (above) is entirely in Birde's hand; that the signature for the entry of 8 March is Rowley's; and the second entry above for £8 is entirely in Shaa's hand (131, 132).
Knutson notes that "The Seven Wise Masters" shared the spring repertory in 1600 with the two-part "Fair Constance of Rome," which has not one but two wicked mothers (mothers-in-law, in Constance's case). She notes other Admiral's plays in the genre of tragedy with the stepmother motif: Ferrix and Porrex' and The Stepmother's Tragedy (29). Linking the "Masters" play further with its repertory makes, Knutson notes that the two-part "Constance" as well as yet another lost play, "The Golden Ass and Cupid and Psyche," are serial or co-joined plots, the latter probably also mixed in generic design. Taking a name commonly associated with the prince in the source stories, Knutson calls the young man 'Diocletian.'
For What It's Worth
In Gomme's 1885 edition of Wynkyn de Worde's seminal version, the ruler's name is Poncianus and his son is Dyoclesian (1). The masters are named Pantyllas, Lentulus, Craton, Malquydrac, Joseph, and Cleophas (the seventh master is unnamed); the stepmother is called "Empress" (5-6).
Gomme (iv) calls attention to the German woodcuts in de Worde's edition and cites an essay by W. M. Conway on the "history of the woodcuts of the Lubeck edition of the Seven Wise Masters" (Bibliographer, vol. 2, p, 70).
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 30 October 2009.