Short and Sweet

Robert Wilson (1579)

NB. "Short and Sweet" more likely describes the work in question, rather than being its name.

Historical Records

Lodge's response to Gosson (c.1579)

In response to Stephen Gosson's antitheatrical School of Abuse, an anonymous text (subsequently attributed to Thomas Lodge) came to the defence of playing. This text is variously referred to as Honest Excuses or Defence of Plays, and is listed in the ESTC by its first line: Protogenes can know Apelles by his line though he se him not, and wise men can consider by the penn the aucthoritie of the writer thoughe they know him not. ... [London : Printed by H. Singleton?, 1579] (STC (2nd ed.), 16663); EEBO-TCP, open access). It contains the following passage, which has been interpreted as referring to a lost play on Catiline by Robert Wilson:

But after your discrediting of playmaking, you salue vppon the sore somewhat, and among many wise workes there be some that fitte your vaine: the practise of parasites is one, which I meruel it likes you so well since it bites you so sore. but sure in that I like your iudgement, and for the rest to, I approue your wit, but for the pigg of your own sow, (as you terme it) assuredly I must discommend your verdi[c]t, tell me Gosson was all your owne you wrote there: did you borow nothing of your neyghbours? out of what booke patched you out Ciceros oration? whence fet you Catulins inuectiue. Thys is one thing, alienam olet lucerni non tuam, so that your helper may wisely reply vpon you with Virgil.

Hos ego versiculos feci tulit alter bonores.

I made these verses other bear the name.

beleue me I should preferr Wilsons. shorte and sweete if I were iudge, a peece surely worthy prayse, the practise of a good scholler, would the wiser would ouerlooke that, they may perhaps cull some wisedome. out of a players toye. Well, as it is wisedome to commend where the cause requireth, so it is a poynt of folly to praise without deserte... (42-43, EEBO-TCP, open access)

Theatrical Provenance

If this is a lost play -- the evidence for Wilson's "short and sweet" work being dramatic is simply that it appears as an example in Lodge's defence of drama -- its auspices are unknown. It necessarily antedates c.1579 when the response to Gosson was published, and Wilson was a principal actor with Leicester's men from 1572-1583. Gosson's own lost play, "Catiline's Conspiracies", was "usually" performed at the Theater by 1579 when Gosson described it as "a Pig of myne owne Sowe" in The Schoole of Abuse (24) (EEBO-TCP, open access). Were both Cataline plays performed by Leicester's at the Theatre?

Probable Genre(s)

Classical history (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Sallust, De coniuratione Catilinae or Cicero, In Catilinam; on the availability of these texts to a dramatist see the discussion under the 1598 play, "Catiline's Conspiracy".

References to the Play

Only the comment by Lodge above, preferring Wilson's work to Gosson's "Cataline's Conspiracies".

Critical Commentary

Collier saw fit to lump this title with another one known from Henslowe's records in 1598:

it has been stated that Robert Wilson, as early as 1580, was author of a dramatic performance on the subject of the life of Catiline. A history, named by Henslowe Catalin's Conspiracie, is entered by him with the date of August, 1598, and it is there attributed to Wilson and Chettle. The probability is, that at this time, Wilson (who must have been senior to his coadjutor) and Chettle had employed themselves in reviving a play, then nearly twenty years old. (Collier, HEDP 3.93)

Kathman agrees that Lodge's disparagement of Gosson's own work on Catiline means that his preference for Wilson's "short and sweet" text must also imply a Cataline text as the subject of discussion here (ODNB).

Chambers uses "Short and Sweet" as the title of the play, and suggests it "may have been on the same theme" as Gosson's Catiline play (2.349).

For What It's Worth

Robert Wilson and Henry Chettle are known to have received payment for their book of "cattelyne" or "cattelanes consperesey" in 1598; see the entry for "Catiline's Conspiracy" for further information. The small sum paid to the men (25s; well below the rate for an entirely new play) may imply that an older play was being revised, but there is no explicit evidence of such alterations or revisions.

Works Cited

Collier, J. Payne. The History of English Dramatic Poetry to the Time of Shakespeare: and Annals of the Stage to the Restoration. London: John Murray, 1831. Internet Archive
Kathman, David. "Wilson, Robert (d. 1600)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 06 July 2015.