Soldan and the Duke of —

Anon. (1580)

Historical Records

In the Revels accounts a 1579-80 entry reads as follows:

The history of the Soldan and the Duke of [blank space] shewen at Whitehall
on Shrovesondaye at nighte enacted by the Earle of Derby his seruanuntes
wholly furnyshed in this offyce whereon was ymployed for two Robes of
blacke sarcenets, head Attyers and scarfes [blank space] ells of Sarcenett
a greate City a wood, A wood A Castell and vj payre of gloves (Feuillerat 321, 18-22).

After this entry there are charges listed in the Revels accounts for Edmund Tilney for the costs of the rehearsal of

'dyuers plaies and Choise makinge
of x of them to be shown before her Maiestie at
Christmas twelfetide Candelmas and Shrovetide and
their sondry rehearsals afterwardes till to be presented
before her Maiestie (Feuillerat 325-26).

The reference to Shrovetide, 1580, indicates that this play was rehearsed at the Revel's Office and was one of the ten chosen to be performed. These rehearsals probably took place in the Great Chamber of St John's Priory in Clerkenwell (see For What It's Worth, below).

Payments to Derby's Men recorded in the Declared Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber offer more confirmation that Derby's Men were paid by the crown for their Shrovetide performance in 1579.

To the Players of the Erle of Derbye vpon the Councells
warr' dated at whitehall xxiij° febr' 1579 for presenting
a playe before her Matie vpon sondaye the xiijth of this
present moneth the som̄e of vjli iiijd and more by waye
of her Maties rewarde lxvjs viijd in all (Collections, VI, 17-18)

Payment for the building of sets and 'other necessities' for plays and bearbaiting at Whitehall during Shrovetide 1579 are recorded in the Declared Accounts of the Office of Works. An entry for the period 1 April 15780-31 reads as follows:

for Repacōns and worcke don̄ in dyvers places of the saide House againste the
coming of Cassymerne, Also for makinge of pticōns Skaffoldes and other
nec̄c̄ies for playes, Tragidies and Bearebaytinge at Shrovetyde (Collections, X, 9)

In the same season Office of Works recorded charges for 'revels' at Whitehall during Shrovetide:

Chardges of the Reuelle & playes at xp̄enmas 1ii iijs xjd. . . and for the Revelles
at Shrouested xxxii and diu's other neccr̄ie chardges incident vnto the same (Collections, X, 9)

Theatrical Provenance

Whitehall Palace.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Stories of conflicts between Islam and Christianity, and specifically between the Ottoman empire and various Christian states, ran through histories published during the early Elizabethan period. It is doubtful that any of these sometimes convoluted narratives would have been dramatized for a Shrovetide entertainment, but the stories of heroic battles (and attendant truces) with powerful Islamic sultans would have been a backdrop for any play featuring a sultan.

Wiggins (sn 681) suggests that one possible direct source for this play is the history of Thorello and Saladin in The Second Tome of Painter's Palace of Pleasure. The possible use of Painter's narrative (drawn from Boccaccio's Decameron) is strengthened by the fact that Painter's translated histories were certainly or very possibly used for several other plays in this timeframe and beyond. As Wiggins points out, however, Thorello is not the duke of anything in Painter's story.

Wiggins describes Thorello as a 'commoner' who would have needed a promotion for the play title. Although this is technically true, Thorello is in fact a citizen of some standing in the story and a person who runs a household of some means, who in fact has a manor house outside the city where he lives. Still, he is not a duke.

The story of Thorello and Saladin is an exemplum for the virtues of hospitality. The Egyptian sultan Saladin travels to Italy incognito, posing as a merchant from Cyprus and with only a small entourage. He is on a type of spy mission to find out more about the encroaching Christian armies. He and his small band are in need of lodging when they come across Thorello's household and are invited by Thorello to stay in his manor house and, later, at Thorello's home in the city. Saladin and his men are fed, entertained, and lodged by a magnanimous Thorello. They are given expensive gifts as well.

Later Thorello has to go to war on the Christian side. Before departing he tells his wife that if she does not hear news that he is alive, then after one year, one month, and one day, she should be free to marry again. Thorello is captured and taken to Alexandria. Because of his special skills with birds, he becomes the Sultan's falconer. The Sultan at first does not recognized him, but later discovers that Thorello was the same man who received the Sultan with unqualified hospitality.

The Sultan then receives Thorello graciously, and upon learning that Thorello's wife was now engaged to another man (the term being up), the Sultan employs his necromancer to convey Thorello to Lombardy with a special magic potion. Thorello arrives back home just in time to rescue his wife from a bad marriage. He and his wife lovingly reunite and all ends happily.

Such a feel good story, one that ranks human compassion over religious and cultural differences, would make for fine dramatic entertainment, but there remains the mystery of why, if this story was indeed adapted for this play, Thorello would be listed in the Revels records as a duke.

References to the Play

If this play was a dramatic adaptation of the story of Thorello and Saladine from Painter's Palace of Pleasure, then it is possible that this play fell in with the group of other popular adaptations maligned by Stephen Gosson. In Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582), Gosson lists 'the Palace of pleasure' as one of the books that had been 'ransackt to furnish the Play houses in London' (D6v). The passage reads:

I may boldely say it, because I haue
seene it, that the Palace of pleasure,
the Golden Asse, the AEthiopian hi-
storie, Amadis of Fraunce, the
Rounde table, baudie Comedies in
Latine, French, Italian, and Spanish,
haue beene throughly ransackt, to fur-
nish the Playe houses in London. (D6v).

Critical Commentary

Wiggins records the timeline for the performance of this play. It was performed for the Master of Revels sometime before Saturday the 19th of December in 1579 (sn 681). Edmund Tilney assumed the role of Master of Revels in July, 1579, so presumably he reviewed this play.

Wiggins notes that this performance was 'part of the selection process for the court revels season'. Such a record reminds us of scene in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' when the Duke selects the wedding entertainment of the rude mechanicals against the protest of the Master of Revels in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

For What It's Worth

Wiggins comments that the play was 'presumably performed in Edmund Tilney's lodging' (sn 681). A Revels record indicates that Tilney was in residence near the Revel's headquarters at the St John's precinct during the time of this preview performance. A more in-depth look at the physical environs of St John's points not to a humble lodging but instead to the Great Chamber of the old priory as the site for play rehearsals and previews during this period (Sherman 76).

One may dispute whether or not the Great Chamber was considered part of Tilney's lodging, but holding rehearsals in this space points to larger events. This was certainly a space that was used for formal performances by troups of actors who were in fact auditioning for select placements at royal events. As Sherman notes, the Great Chamber at St John's has been forgotten for a variety of possible reasons, but St John's certainly deserves consideration as a formidable theatre in Elizabethan London.

The records of the Revels Office thin out in the 1590s, so these earlier references to play rehearsals (or auditions) presumably reveal a system that remained in place throughout Tilney's tenure.

Works Cited

Collections, Vol. VI, Malone Society Publications (1961).
Collections, Vol. X, Malone Society Publications (1975).
Gosson, Stephen. Plays Confuted in Five Actions. London: Thomas Gossson, 1582. EEBO-TCP (text only). STC (2nd ed.), 12095.
Painter, William. The Second Tome of the Palace of Pleasure. (London: Nicholas England, 1567). EEBO-TCP (text only). STC (2nd ed.), 19124.
Sherman, Anita Gilman. 'Forms of Oblivion: Losing the Revels Office at St. John's.' Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 75-105. JSTOR.

Site created and maintained by Thomas Dabbs, Aoyama Gakuin University; updated 27 March 2017.