Siege of Dunkirk, with Alleyn the Pirate

Charles Massey (1603)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 109v (Greg I.174)

Lent vnto Edward Jube the 7 of marche 1602 }
to geue vnto Charles masseye in earneste of }
a playe called the sedge of doncerke wth }     xxxxs
alleyn the pyrete the some of … } xxxxs }

Theatrical Provenance

Henslowe purchased this play for the Admiral's men at the Fortune shortly before playing was suspended in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth's death; the period of suspension would be extended into 1604 due to outbreaks of plague.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage); "Contemporary" (Wiggins, Catalogue #1401)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Information Welcome.

References to the Play

Wiggins, Catalogue mentions two plays, If it Be Not Good, the Devil is In It and Northwest Ho!, that allude to Dunkirk and/or imperiled English shipping (#1401).

Critical Commentary

Greg II questioned whether Massey was the author or perhaps the author's agent; he was equally skeptical of the idea (apparently Hazlitt's) that the tag phrase, "with Alleyn the Pirate," indicated a leading role for Edward Alleyn (p.228 #257)

Wiggins, Catalogue ascribes the play to Massey (#1401). He puzzles over the curiosity that there was a relatively contemporary siege at Ostend c. 1603 but not one at Dunkirk (#1401). He notes a Dunkirk siege in 1600, during which "the Dutch besiegers were assisted by an English regiment under Sir Francis Vere" (#1401). Speaking more generally, Wiggins observes that Dunkirk, a Spanish bastion, "was a base for piracy" and that in 1603 "the Privy Council was levying money to equip a naval force to protect English merchant shipping: (#1401). He considers the name Alleyn to indicate a pirate-character who "may have been a traitor or a defector," not Alleyn the player (#1401). Considering the performance history of the play, Wiggins opines that the play was completed (despite this one payment of 40s. for it) but suggests that it would not have been a welcome a repertory addition in 1604 due to a changing political climate in which its apparent "anti-Spanish tack … would have been less apropos" (#1401).

For What It's Worth

Scholars assume that Edward Alleyn had returned to retirement by March 1603, but he had been performing recently in revivals of the Admiral's old favorites. In fact, the terminus of his stage revival cannot now be dated, and it is not unreasonable to consider that the company anticipated his continuing (here in the role of pirate), however much that was wishful thinking.

Works Cited

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita; updated 15 April 2016.