Twins' Tragedy

(Richard?) Niccols (1612)

Historical Records

Revels Accounts


      The, names, of the Playes And by what Cumpaney Played
them hearafter ffollowethe: As Allso what Maskes, and Triumphes
att the Tilte waere presented before the kinges Matie in this year. 1612
The Queens players:    St: Iohn: Night A play Called the City Gallant
The princes players: The: Sunday, ffollowinge A Play called the Almanak
The Kings Players: On neweres, Night A Play Called the Twinnes Tragedie
And Ruing [sic] att the Ring.

(National Archives, AO 3/908/14, ff. 1v, 2r; qtd. Streitberger 48.)

The Chamber Accounts for the 1611-12 season do not record a payment to the King's Men for any performance that took place on 1 January, one of several discrepancies between the two accounts (Chambers 4.140). It may be, however, that the Chamber Account's payment for a 5 January performance in fact refers to that on New Year's night (Streitberger 47).

Stationers' Register

15 February 1612

      Edw: Blunte.    Entred for his Copy vnder thandes of Sr
Geo: Buc & Thwardens A tragedye
called, The Twynnes tragedye written      vjd
by   [blank]   Niccolls

(Book C, f. 216v; Records, reel 2; cf. Arber 3.478.)

On the same day, Blount entered Cyril Tourneur's "The Nobleman", which was also part of the King's Men's repertory.

Declared Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber


Item paid to Iohn Heminges vppon the Cowncells warrant dated att Whitehall xxo Die Maij 1613 for presentinge before the Princes Highnes the Lady Elizabeth and the Prince Pallaytne Elector fowerteene severall playes viz one playe called Pilaster, One other called the Knott: of Fooles, One other Much adoe abowte nothinge, The Mayeds Tragedy, The merye Dyvell of Edmonton, The Tempest, A Kinge and no Kinge The Twins Tragedie The Winters Tale, Sr Iohn Falstafe, The Moore of Venice, The Nobleman, Caesars Tragedye And one other called Love Lyes a bleedinge, All wch Playes weare played wthin the tyme of this Accompte, viz pd the some of … iiijxxxiijli vjs viijd

(Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS A 239, f. 47v; qtd. Cook, 55-6.)

The same payment is recorded in another account (TNA, E 351/544, f. 14r), although the titles of the fourteen plays are not specified there (see Cook 55).

Theatrical Provenance

The play was performed before James by the King's Men on the night of 1 January 1612. The day's entertainment also featured "running at the ring." In the same 1611-12 season, the King's Men's performances before the court also included The Tempest (1 November), The Winter's Tale (5 November), Beaumont and Fletcher's A King and No King (26 December), and Tourneur's "The Nobleman" (23 February), as well as an unnamed play on 31 October. Fifteen other performances by the company took place for other members of the royal family between 9 November and 26 April.

The play was performed again in the 1612-13 season before Prince Charles, Princess Elizabeth, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Classical mythology abounds in examples of twins, although dramatic representations thereof tend to be comic rather than tragic. Famously, Plautus's eponymous brothers Menaechmi (and the divine doppelgängers in Amphitryon) served as an important influence on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night. (The Plautine precedent for both plays was noticed immediately by the Gesta Grayorum and John Manningham, respectively; Plautus's Miles Gloriosus and Bacchides also feature twins.) It is of course easy to imagine the confusions generated by twins' similitude as having tragic rather than comic consequences; however, this is not a feature of tragedies like Thomas Hughes's The Misfortunes of Arthur (performed before Elizabeth in 1588), in which the king has an incestuous relationship with his twin sister Anne, or Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, also featuring twinned brother and sister in central roles.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Malone, in a brief list of lost plays that appears in his Shakespearean chronology of 1778, refers to "The Twins, a tragedy, acted in 1613" (331).

Reed's 1782 edition of Biographia Dramatica includes an entry for the play based on the information in the Stationers' Register, with a speculation about its authorship: "The christian name of this writer is not mentioned; but I apprehend he was RICHARD NICCOLS, an esteemed poet of the times" (1:339). (In the Dublin edition of the same book, the name is spelled "RICHARD NICOLS" ([1:339]).

Arber, in his transcription of the Stationers' Register, posits the same identification of the dramatist with the poet by supplying the his first name in square brackets (3.478).

Fleay, in his entry for William Rider's The Twins. A Tragi-Comedy (published in 1655), commented of that play's performance at Salisbury Court, "I suspect that it was only a revival of Niccols' play" (2.170). (A similar claim was made in Reed's 1782 edition of Biographia Dramatica, whose entry on Rider's play said that it "had, however, been acted as early as 1613," although no further details were offered and nor was Rider's play explicitly linked to Niccols's Reed 1.369.)

Hazlitt noted an entry in the Stationers' Register for a "booke called Twoo Twynnes" (15 November 1613) and wondered: "Was this identical with the Twins' Tragedy, suprâ?" (242). [See Greg below.]

Chambers tentatively attributed authorship to Richard Niccols, and found Fleay's identification of the play with Rider's The Twins "arbitrary" (ES, 3.456).

Greg wrote: "Bibliographers have assumed that the author was Richard Niccols, the poet and latest editor and continuator of The Mirror for Masitrates (1610, &c.), and the play is duly assigned to him in the D.N.B.; but there is no evidence that he ever wrote for the stage" (BEPD, 2.792). He agreed with Chambers that Fleay's identification of the play with Rider's The Twins was "arbitrary." Answering Hazlitt's proposal, Greg identified the "Twoo Twynnes" in the 1613 S.R. entry as an extant religious publication (STC 1964.).

Bentley was similarly skeptical about the identification with Rider's play: "Actually the suggestion is an unlikely one, not only because of the different authors named, but because the early play in each of the three known references is called a tragedy, whereas Rider's play is a tragi-comedy, and because, furthermore, a play belonging to the powerful King's company is not likely to have got into the repertory at Salisbury Court" (5.1008).

Kirschbaum described the Stationers' Register entries for The Nobleman and "The Twins' Tragedy" as "blocking entries" by Blount at the behest of the King's Men (224–25).

Clark classified the play as a domestic tragedy "solely on the strength of its title" (38).

Knutson notes that the King's Men's repertory of the same period included The Maid's Tragedy and The Second Maid's Tragedy, plays that share not only echoing titles but also similar character types, the latter of which they both in turn share with a third play, Valentinian. "Without the text of The Twins Tragedy, I cannot say whether it was similar in style to the three extant texts, but its very title implies patterns of duplication within the structures of the play" (153).

Pursglove, in his edition of Richard Niccols's poetry, says that "it seems very improbable that Niccols, given his evident antipathy for the court of James I, would have been writing for the court" (43, n18).

For What It's Worth

Casting Twins

Jonson told Drummond that "he had ane jntention to have made a play like Plaut[us'] Amphitrio but left it of, for that he could never find two so like others that he could persuade the spectators they were one" (Herford and Simpson 1.144). Is it significant that the King's Men performed The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1613), another play featuring twins, not long after "The Twins' Tragedy"? Perhaps—although with an important qualification. The cast list for Webster's play that appears in the first quarto (sig. A2v) names Richard Burbage as the first Ferdinand; Burbage would have been in his mid-forties when the play premiered, significantly older than any actor playing the role of the Duchess. (The only actor assigned to the Duchess in the cast list is Richard Sharpe, who did not join the company until 1616, after the first performances of the play [Kathman 9-10].) Even if these roles were cast with a similarity of appearance in mind, it seems implausible that the same two actors could pass as fraternal twins.

Niccols's Death

Sidney Lee reported that "Niccols is said to have died in 1616" (412), repeated by Andrew Hadfield. Pursglove was more skeptical: "No evidence is offered for this assertion, and it is, I suspect, no more than a less careful restatement of a suggestion made by Thomas Corser" that "no acknowledged production of his is known after 1616. The time and place of his death are not known, but it is generally supposed that he died young, soon after the year 1616" (4). For what it's worth, the parish register of St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey in Southwark records the burial of one "Richard Nicholls" on 14 March 1616/17 (London Metropolitan Archives, P71/MMG/003, f. 89v). (Pursglove, however, notes that the name was not uncommon in the period, and its appearances in parish registers often do not refer to the poet [5].)

Works Cited

Clark, Andrew. "An Annotated List of Lost Domestic Plays, 1578–1624." Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 18 (1975): 29–44.
Cook, David and F. P. Wilson, eds. "Dramatic Records in the Declared Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber 1558-1642". In Malone Society Collections VI. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1961.
Hadfield, Andrew. "Niccols, Richard (1583/4–1616)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. DOI:10.1093/ref:odnb/20082
Hazlitt, W. Carew. A Manual for the Collector and Amateur of Old English Plays. London, 1892.
Herford, C. H., and Percy Simpson, eds. Ben Jonson. 11 vols. Oxford, Clarendon, 1925–63.
Kathman, David. "Grocers, Goldsmiths, and Drapers: Freemen and Apprentices in the Elizabethan Theater." Shakespeare Quarterly 55 (2004): 1–49.
Kirschbaum, Leo. Shakespeare and the Stationers. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1955.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1991.
Lee, Sidney. "Niccols, Richard (1584–1616)." Dictionary of National Biography. 66 vols. London, 1885–1901. 40.411–12.
Malone, Edmond. "An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which the Plays attributed to Shakspeare were Written." In The Plays of William Shakspeare. 10 vols. Ed. Samuel Johnson and George Steevens. 2nd ed. London, 1778. 1:269–346.
Pursglove, Glyn, ed. Richard Niccols: Selected Poems. Salzburg Studies in English Literature. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1992.
Records of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, 1554–1920. Ed. Robin Myers. Microfilm. 115 reels. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1985.
Reed, Isaac, ed. Biographia Dramatica by David Erskine Baker. 2 vols. London and Dublin, 1782. London edition: Internet Archive. Dublin edition: HathiTrust.
Streitberger, W.R. Jacobean and Caroline Revels Accounts, 1603–1642. Malone Society Collections XIII. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.
Webster, John. The Tragedy of the Dutchesse of Malfy. London, 1623.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 15 May 2015.