Telomo

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Anon. (1583)


Historical Records

Court Records

Accounts of the Office of the Revels

Christmas Twelftide & Shrouetide and makeing choise of plaies. Anno Regni Regine Elizabethe: xxvo 1582

A historie of Telomo shewed before her maiestie at Richmond on Shrovesondaie at night Enacted by the Earle of Leicesters servauntes, for which was prepared and Imployed, one Citty, one Battlement of canvas iij. Ells of sarcenet and viij. paire of gloves. And furnished with sondrey other garmentes of the store of the office &c.

(Feuillerat 350)

Theatrical Provenance

Performed for the court by Leicester's Men at Richmond on Shrove Sunday (10 February) 1583.


Probable Genre(s)

None known.


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.


References to the Play

None known.


Critical Commentary

MacLean remarks that for the members of Leicester's Men who had obtained the royal patent in 1574 the performance of "Telomo" must have been one of the last before joining the newly-formed Queen's Men in March 1583 (261-262).

Probably following Collier (22), Harbage suggests this play might be the same as "Ptolemy", performed at the Bull Inn in the late 1570s.

Wiggins points out that Harbage's identification is quite problematic, especially because by 1583 the play would have been too old to be staged before the Queen (#736). He also hypothesises that there may be a connection between "Telomo" and the romance Palmerin d'Oliva, where Ptolome is the name of one of the main character's friends.
If a connection exists, however, it would be to the original Spanish (1511) or the French translation (1546) rather than to Anthony Munday's English translation, which was only published in 1588. Wiggins indicates 1581 as the date of publication of Palmerin d'Oliva, which is in fact the year when one of the other romances in the Palmerin cycle, namely Palmerin of England, was entered into the Stationers' Register. However, Palmerin of England does not feature Ptolome as a character. Interestingly enough, the character's Spanish name in Palmerin de Oliva is Tolomé, which is indeed even closer to Telomo.

As a result of "a series of 'brute force' searches in EEBO-TCP" (11) seeking to verify whether 'Telomo' might have been an alternative or corrupted form of the name 'Ptolemy', Lovascio concludes that 'Since the proposed identification of Telomo and Ptolome was exclusively predicated on the supposed similarity between the spellings of the two titles, the search results [...] make it appear quite unlikely that Telomo was a play about someone called Ptolemy, thereby adding another, possibly stronger, argument to the one Wiggins already advanced about Telomo and Ptolemy being not one and the same play" (12).

Then, Lovascio suggests that, since "the name 'Telamon' could—albeit quite uncommonly—be written as 'Telomon' [...] it is not impossible that Telomo could have been a play about Ajax Telamonius" (12). However, a number of problems are attached to this hypothesis. First, "it appears extremely difficult to find a plausible reason why the play would have been titled 'Telamon' rather than 'Ajax'"; second, "Ajax and Ulysses had been performed at court in 1572 and [...] it does not seem particularly likely that Leicester’s Men would have brought to court a play on a subject that had already been staged in front of the queen ten years earlier"; finally, "while we know little about Leicester’s Men’s repertory, a play about Ajax would not sit very comfortably among the other play titles we know, which seem to point to a repertory mostly featuring romance, pastoral themes, and morally instructive contents" (13-14).

Lovascio also notes that "if Telomo was a play about someone named Telamon, it could also theoretically have been about Ajax’s father, Telamon of Salamis" (14), himself a well-known mythological figure. Yet, this possibility does not seem particularly likely, "insofar as in most adventures in which he takes part Telamon is usually a background character; moreover, there is no evidence available in the surviving play-texts suggesting that [...] he raised any significant interest in early modern English playwrights, nor does there seem to be any particular contextual reason why Leicester’s Men should have chosen him as a subject for a play to be performed at court" (14).

If 'Telomo' was indeed a misspelling of 'Telamon', there is perhaps a more plausible candidate as the title character of this lost play, namely one of the characters in Brian Melbancke's early euphuistic, Italianate romance Philotimus. The Warre betwixt Nature and Fortune, published in 1583. Interestingly, the name Telamon is here once spelled "Telamō".

The plot of Philotimus is not particularly interesting in relation to Leicester's Men's lost "Telomo", but the episode of "The Vnkindly Loue of Telamon to Castibula His Frends Wife" might be. Colby, the only editor of the romance to date, sums up the storyline of this inset narration as follows:

Telamon [...] has conceived an illicit passion for Castibula [...]. He pursues her, but she vigorously rejects him, and eventually Telamon agrees to say no more to her of the matter. But he hires two cutthroats to murder Cleocritus. Suspecting the truth, Castibula first bewails her husband’s death then swears to avenge his murder. She agrees to marry Telamon, but at the marriage feast they both drink from a poisoned cup she has prepared. Telamon retires to die; Castibula commends [her daughter] Fulvia to Philotimus’ care, Philotimus to [his tutor] Mondaldo’s care, and after praying for forgiveness of her double sin of murder and suicide, she dies. (lv)

This story, argues Lovascio, displays significant dramatic potentialities, "with the added bonus of the story’s focus on an unshakeable model of chastity and its evident potential for being framed as a cautionary tale against the sinfulness of illicit passions that usurp the sovereignty of reason and ultimately threaten the disruption of the social fabric and the disgregation of its pillar concordia" (15-16)

The circumstances of the publication of the romance seem to lend plausibility to its being a source for the lost play, since Philotimus was possibly printed by the end of December 1582, as Maud persuasively contends (118-120). Hence, Lovascio suggests that "Leicester’s Men or, more probably, one or more playwrights collaborating with them at the time may well have consulted a manuscript draft of Philotimus in advance of publication — or even the actual volume just hot off the press — and then decided to draw upon it for Telomo" (17). This seems even more likely by dint of Melbancke's having been a student in Gray's Inn, as he declares on the title page of Philotimus. As Lovascio points out, "Close relationships between the people at the Inns of Court and the world of the professional theatre were by no means uncommon. In the specific situation under scrutiny here, the scenario becomes even more credible in the light of the fact that the family of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, had been associated with the Inns of Court for two generations" (17) and that Robert himself "had been often involved directly in the production of diverse forms of entertainment" (18).

If Leicester’s Men had indeed chosen to dramatize the episode of Telamon and Castibula in Melbancke's Philotimus,

they might have framed the plot so as to underscore the smarmy duplicity and lewd immorality of Telamon’s coveting his friend’s wife, on the one hand, while at the same time glorifying Castibula’s adamantine, unassailable chastity, on the other. Such a choice would have possibly been a way to pander to the cult of chastity favoured by the queen [...]. If Melbancke intended the role of Castibula as some sort of homage to the queen, arguably that depiction would have been at some remove from Dudley’s previous insistent attempts at convincing Elizabeth to marry him, possibly in the light of his recent marriage with Lettice Knollys, Lady Essex, a union which the queen never approved of and which seems to have put quite a strain on their relationship. In other words, the play might have been part of an attempt on Dudley’s part somehow to appease the queen’s hostility to his new wife and him. (19)

Lovascio finally argues that

accepting the identification of the Telamon-Castibula storyline as the subject of Telomo may on the one hand lead to a slightly more nuanced understanding of Leicester’s Men’s repertory as also including plots drawing upon novelle with an Italianate setting featuring violent elements with a view to providing the audience with edifying moral lessons or cautionary tales; on the other hand, this identification may also contribute to strengthening current notions regarding the main theatrical trends affecting the choice of subjects for court performances ca 1580, among which plays with an Italianate setting seem to have been quite a regular presence. (22)


For What It's Worth

Information welcome.


Works Cited

Colby, Arthur Leroy. "Brian Melbancke’s Philotimus (1583): A Critical Edition." PhD Thesis. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1969.
Collier, John Payne. "History of the English Drama and Stage to the Time of Shakespeare." Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, Tragedies, and Poems. 6 vols. London: Whittaker, 1858. 1:1–38. Google Books, open access
Lovascio, Domenico. "Leicester's Men and the Lost Telomo of 1583." Early Theatre 20.1 (2017): 9–26.
MacLean, Sally-Beth. "Tracking Leicester's Men: The Patronage of a Performance Troupe." Paul Whitfield White, Suzanne R. Westfall (eds). Shakespeare and Theatrical Patronage in Early Modern England. Cambridge: CUP, 2006. 246–271.
Maud, Ralph. "The Date of Brian Melbancke’s Philotimus." The Library s5–11 (1956): 118–120




Site created and maintained by Domenico Lovascio, University of Genoa; updated 04 October 2018.