Titus and Vespasian

Anon. (1592)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 7v (Greg I.14:)
ne . . .
Rd at tittus & vespacia the 11 of aprell 1591 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iiijll iiijs

Rd at tittus & vespacia the 20 of aprell 1591 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rd at titus & vespacia the 3 of maye 159[1]2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
lvijs vjd

Rd at tittus & vespacia the 8 of maye 1592 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rd at tittus & vespacia the 15 of maye 1592 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rd at titus & vespacia the [16] 24 of maye 1592 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Fol. 8 (Greg I.15):

Rd at tittus & vespacia the 6 of June 1592 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rd at titvs the 6 of Jenewary 1592 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rd at tittus the 15 of Jenewary 1593 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rd at titus the 25 of Jenewary 1593 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[NB. Against the objection that “titvs”, “tittus” and “titus” (the final 3 entries) might refer to Shakespeare’s Titus, it should be noted that Titus Andronicus appears as a new play (i.e. marked “ne”) only after these entries: “Rd at titus & ondronicus the 23 of Jenewarye . . . . . . iijll viijs” (Henslowe's Diary F.8v; Greg I.16). Furthermore, when Henslowe does abbreviate Titus Andronicus, he dubs it “ondronicus”, not “Titus”; see F.9 / Greg I.17, entries for 5 and 12 June 1594. This entry is assigned to 1592 because the 1591 designation in Henslowe is a product of his using the old style dating]

Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X.

Marcham p14.jpeg
Excerpt from p14 of Marcham (out of copyright)

In 1925 Frank Marcham transcribed and published the contents of the then British Museum manuscript, Cotton MS. Tiberius E. X. It contains the History of Richard III by the Master of the Revels, Sir George Buc, written on what appears to be “Revels Office waste,” sometime after 1617 (Chambers, RES 479). Amongst the papers are “four lists of plays, bare lists without any indication of their objects,” which may or may not be all in Buc’s hand (Chambers, RES 479). Chambers believes it “most likely that the lists represent plays which the Revels Office had at some time or times under consideration for performance at court” (RES 484). One of the plays listed at this surprisingly late date is “Titus, and Vespatian” (Chambers, RES 483).

Theatrical Provenance

10 known performances by Strange’s Men, beginning 11 April 1592 as a new play. Later, the title appears in a Revels Office document concerned chiefly with plays belonging to the repertory, c.1619, of Prince Charles's men; they were performing at the Cockpit but the Revels document seems related to Court performances.

Probable Genre(s)

Classical or British History (Harbage), Classical or Biblical History (Greg II, Clark), Romance (Waith).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources and Analogues

Cohn declared that “[i]n Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ there is no Vespasian; no one therefore could ever imagine that the piece alluded to by Henslowe was the original form of the Shakespearian piece. A far more probable supposition is, that the subject must have been the destruction of Jerusalem, during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, by his son Titus” (cxii). Clark cites J. A. Herbert’s summary of the Titus and Vespasian story in his introduction to the fifteenth century poem on this topic:

The poem which is printed here for the first time begins with the introductory passage treating of the ministry, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent events, actual or legendary, in Jerusalem. It then proceeds to tell how Nathan was sent by Pilate to deprecate the Emperor’s wrath; how a contrary wind took him instead to Bordeaux in Gascony, where Vespasian was then King under the Emperor Nero; how his report of the miracles of Christ led to the mission of Vespasian’s steward Velosian to Jerusalem, from whence he returned with Veronica; how Vespasian was cured of leprosy, and of a plague of wasps in his nose, by gazing on Veronica’s miraculous portrait of the Saviour; and how in gratitude he vowed revenge on the murderers of Christ. The second half of the poem narrates the fulfilment of this vow by the seven years’ siege and capture of Jerusalem, and by the merciless treatment dealt out to its defenders. (Herbert qtd. in Clark 525)

Clark explains (it is not evident from the quoted text) that “Titus, the son of Vespasian, figures largely in this second part as the leader during this long siege” (525). She concludes that Titus and Vespasian “offered a very likely subject for a play of the early nineties, since it abounded in matter of cruelty and slaughter such as that which went to make up the machinery of the tragedy-of-blood type so popular at this very date” (Clark 525).

Jonathan Bate arrives at a similar conclusion in his Arden 3 edition of Shakespeare’s play: “Titus and Vespasian almost certainly concerned the two Roman emperors and the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70; the Roman historians record that when Titus returned to Rome after capturing Jerusalem he was welcomed by the senate and made joint emperor with his father, Vespasian” (73). The Oxford editor, Eugene M. Waith, likewise distinguishes Titus and Vespasian from Shakespeare’s play, claiming “it is much more likely to have been about the two Roman emperors, who were the subject of a romance with that name” (8).

There remains the possibility that Titus and Vespasian may be connected with the two Destruction of Jerusalem plays (by Thomas Legge and by John Smythe, both 1584) or even with the anonymous Jerusalem of Harbage’s 1590 addenda.

References to the Play

Drawing on the two notes by Bennett on the topic, Jonathan Bate rehearses the case for an allusion to Titus and Vespasian in a Strange’s play, A Knack to Know a Knave, printed in 1594 (but belonging to the same repertory as Titus and Vespasian): “one line refers to Vespasian having his son’s hand cut off as punishment for beating a swain” (73). Bate also suggests that another allusion, ostensibly to the Titus Andronicus story, might actually have been a corrupted allusion to Titus and Vespasian. He refers to the following passage from Knack:

My gratious Lord, as welcome shall you be,
To me, my Daughter, and my sonne in Law,
As Titus was unto the Roman Senators,
When he had made a conquest on the Goths:
That in requital of his service done,
Did offer him the imperiall Diademe:
As they in Titus, we in your Grace still fynd,
The perfect figure of a Princelie mind.
(Knack, sig.F2v, lines 1488-95, qtd. in Bate 72)

Noting that the Knack text is almost certainly the product of memorial reconstruction by actors who were, at the time of printing in 1594, also performing Shakespeare’s Titus play, Bate argues that “contamination from one to the other is eminently plausible” and that “[i]f this incident was dramatized in the lost play, the possibility for confusion is immediately apparent: replace ‘Goths’ with ‘Jews’ and you have an allusion to Titus and Vespasian as precise as that in the received text appears to be to Titus Andronicus — perhaps more precise, since in Shakespeare’s play the offer comes not from the senate but form the people via their tribunes” (73). See also Baker, who almost a century earlier had observed of this passage, “Naturally, this play [Knack] should refer to ‘tittus and Vespacia,’ for it was produced side by side with it, was not given after January 13, 1593, and was entered for printing January 7, 1594” (74), but who believes the reference is to an earlier version of the “titus and Ondronicus” play. (NB. Baker’s article appeared before the discovery of the single extant copy of the 1594 Q1 of Titus Andronicus, which rendered many of his conjectures invalid).

Critical Commentary

Malone does not comment on the source or narrative of Titus and Vespasian (p. 292); Collier points out that Malone had changed the name of one title character, printing it "Vespasian," not "Vespacia" (as Greg and Foakes also see it), but he makes no further comment about the altered name (p. 24). Fleay, BCED has nothing to say about "Titus and Vespasian" in its specific entry (2.298 #114), but he produces a theory about it in the context of Titus Andronicus. Mulling over the means by which Titus Andronicus "came to be produced by Sussex' men," Fleay confesses his puzzlement that it was "so close a reproduction of the "Titus and Vespasian" of 1592 in plot and treatment" (2.299 #128).

Greg II denies the common equation of Titus and Vespasian with Titus Andronicus (“the identification is open to doubt”), observing that “[i]t is difficult to believe that the title could have been given to any play not connected with the siege of Jerusalem” (p. 155, #20). Also taking issue with the commonly held critical assumption that Titus and Vespasian probably = Titus Andronicus (or an early version of), Clark demonstrates that it is “clear that the story of Titus and Vespasian has nothing whatsoever in common with Titus Andronicus except the name Titus occuring [sic] in both titles” (p. 525).

The thornier critical issue seems to be whether there had been an earlier version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (possibly by another playwright) and what relation (if any) it had to the lost Titus and Vespasian play. Fuller (esp. pp. 10-12) and Baker (passim) address this issue through consideration of two continental adaptations/analogues, in German and Dutch. Baker thought that Titus Andronicus was a source for the Dutch play (66), whilst Titus and Vespasian was the source for the German version, “Eine sehr klägliche Tragodedia von Tito Andronico and der hoffertigen Kayserin, darinnen denckwürdige actiones zubefinden” (1620), which contains a character identified as “Vespasian, Son to Titus” (Clark p. 526; Greg II, p. 155, #20). Greg urged caution over the “Vespasian” link though: “It should, however, be remarked that the German play is never called Titus and Vespasian, that the part of Vespasianus (Lucius) is quite subordinate, and that the first speech which gives the name prominence should almost certainly be assigned to Victoriades (Titus’ brother, Marcus)” (II. p. 155, #20). He attributes the existence of “Titus” and “Vespasian” in the same (German) play to a fault of memory, “for if a Titus Andronicus and a Titus and Vespasian were both current pieces, a popular reporter, writing from memory, might easily confuse, or even deliberately combine, the character names of both” (II. p. 155, #20). Clark offered the almost identical explanation that continental versions, being “the productions of inferior actors,” were “very miserable adaptations of current English plays,” and that the Germans could easily have recalled the name “Vespasian” from “a popular play that they had seen at the Rose” when trying to remember the correct name for the son of Titus Andronicus (p. 526). Cohn, failing to consider the possibility of misremembering, interprets the existence of a “Vespasian” character in the German (but not the Shakespearean) text as evidence that (contra his own earlier argument) “we should have to acknowledge that Titus and Vespasian as the original on which Shakspere’s play was founded” (p. cxiii). None of these critics comments on the reversal of filial relation (Vespasian has become the son, not the father, in the German play), which accords better with Clark’s and Greg’s theory of the German redaction being a poorly reconstructed version of the Shakespeare play.

In response to the Cotton MS reference to “Titus, and Vespatian” (see 'Historical Records' above), Chambers wrote:

A very unexpected entry. The Titus and Vespasian played by Strange’s men at the Rose in 1592-3 is often conjectured to have been revised as Titus Andronicus for Sussex’s men in 1594. Can it have had an independent existence to the middle of the seventeenth century? Or is this a distinct play, hitherto unknown? The name can hardly have clung to Titus Andronicus itself. (RES 483)

Wiggins, Catalogue #923 suggests that a fragment of the play may survive in Shirley's Hyde Park (1632), 4.3: "Lo, from the conquest of Jerusalem / Returns Vespasian". Following scholarly tradition, he modernizes Henslowe's "Vespasia" to "Vespasian."

Manley and MacLean explore a relationship between "Titus and Vespasian" andChrist's Tears Over Jerusalem by Thomas Nashe (1593), which they say "appears to choose many of the same episodes from Josephus's larger history as Legge's trilogy, and it presents them in nearly the same order," an order also followed by Heminges (p. 129). They offer several plot-pieces that Titus and Vespasian might have dramatized in some fashion including the "proclamation by which the villain Schimeon summons every kind of criminal to his faction" (129) and "the same grotesque Thyestean feast that ends" Heminges's Jewes Tragedy (p. 133).

For What It's Worth

William Heminges (“Son of John Hemmings a Comedian or Actor of playes with Will. Shakespear”) wrote a play on this topic, described by Wood as “The Jewes Tragedy: or, their fatal and final overthrow by Vespasian, and Titus his Son. Lond. 1662. qu. written agreeable to the authentick History of Josephus” (Wood II.73). The play is usually supposed to have been written considerably earlier, in 1628 (Harbage); but this is still too late to be the subject of the reference in the Cotton MS (see Historical Records, above).

Works Cited

Baker, George P. “ ‘Titus and Vespasia’ and ‘Titus ondronicus’ in Henslowe’s Diary.” PMLA (1901): 66-76. Print. JSTOR
Bate, Jonathan (ed). Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. London: Routledge, rpt. 1995. Print. Arden 3.
Bennett, Paul E. "The word 'goths' in 'A Knack to Know a Knave'." Notes & Queries 200 (1955): 462-63. Print.
Bennett, Paul E. "An Apparent Allusion to 'Titus Andronicus'." Notes & Queries 200 (1955): 422-24. Print.
Chambers, E. K. (review author). “The King’s Office of the Revels, 1610-1622. Fragments of Documents in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum, transcribed by FRANK MARCHAM, with a Preface by J. P. GILSON. London: Frank Marcham, 53, Chalk Farm Road, N.W.1. Pp. 50, including 19 Collotype Plates. £2. 2s. 1925.” Review of English Studies 1.4 (1925): 479-84. Print.
Clark, Eleanor Grace. “Titus and Vespasian.” Modern Language Notes 41.8 (Dec. 1926): 523-27. Print. JSTOR
Cohn, Albert. Shakespeare in Germany. London: 1865. Print.
Fuller, Harold DeW. “The Sources of Titus Andronicus.” PMLA (1901): 1-65. Print. JSTOR
Marcham, Frank. The King's Office of the Revels 1610-1622: Fragments of Documents in the Department of Manuscripts, British Museum. London: F. Marcham, 1925. Print.
Waith, Eugene M. (ed). Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. Oxford: OUP, 2002. Print. The Oxford Shakespeare.
Wood, Anthony à. Athenae Oxonienses. 1691-92. 2 vols. Print. (EEBO)

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated, 04 March 2015.