Two Shapes

Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Thomas Middleton, Anthony Munday and John Webster (1602)

Historical records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 106r, Greg I, 167:

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 29 of maye
1602 to paye Thomas dickers drayton mydellton
& webester & mondaye in fulle paymente for
ther playe called too shapes the some of iijll

MS VII f106r detail.jpg
© David Cooper and reproduced with kind permission of the Governors of Dulwich College. No further reproduction permitted.

Theatrical provenance

The payment to Thomas Downton indicates that the play was written for the Admiral's Men.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

Probable Genre(s)


Critical Commentary

Decipherment of title

W. W. Greg notes that the title is not in Henslowe's hand, and may be Downton's (Greg I, 233). The second word of the title has occasioned some uncertainty. Malone recorded it as "The Two Harpies" and Collier as "too harpes", noting that the second word might also be hapes, or hopes. However, Greg and Foakes read it as "Two Shapes": Greg explained, "There can be no question as to the letters hapes, but there is something before them. This looks at first sight like a c, but I am convinced on examination that it is really an s, of which the tail is almost invisible" (Greg I, 233, Foakes 202).

Identification with Caesar's Fall

Greg identified this play with the lost "Caesar's Fall," recorded in the diary one week earlier. Henslowe had paid out £5 for "Caesar's Fall" and attributed it to Munday, Drayton, Webster and "the Rest", with Middleton's name noted above the words "the Rest". Dekker's name does not appear in the "Caesar's Fall" record, but Greg argued that the close correspondence between the dramatists and the payments make this identification "beyond doubt" (Greg II, 222). Subsequent commentators have followed suit.

In his study of the Admiral's Men, Andrew Gurr drops "Two Shapes" from Appendix I ("The Plays"), adding a note to the entry for "Caesar's Fall" that describes the diary entry for "Two Shapes." In that note he includes the comment that "Chambers and others think" "Two Shapes" must be the same play as "Caesar's Fall" (265).

Martin Wiggins argues that Two Shapes was more likely a separate play from Caesar's Fall, representing two projects undertaken by the same writing team . He notes that the (almost) identical writing team is the only evidence in favour of the identification, whereas contrary evidence includes the title Two Shapes, which "does not relate to anything in the likely narrative of a play about Caesar", and the fact that Henslowe's payments for Two Shapes and Caesar's Fall "add up to the anomalously large sum of £8, a third more than the usual top price for a script", although he acknowledges that Henslowe did sometimes pay unusually high prices (4:381).

Meaning of title

Doris Feldmann and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador (who follow Greg in assuming that "Two Shapes" was about Julius Caesar) argue that the word "shape" probably refers to disguises (OED, 7); they note that Middleton commonly associates the word with duplicity and suggest that it refers to Caesar's legendary ability to dissimulate (329).

Wiggins observes that 'shapes' can also mean 'ghosts' (4:381); see (OED, 6.c.).

References to the Play

None known.

For What It's Worth

If the word 'shapes' did refer to ghosts, it could be applied to a Julius Caesar play if it referred to spectral versions of Caesar and/or other characters, perhaps inspired by the ghost in Shakespeare's play.

If the sums for "Caesar's Fall" and "Two Shapes" are added together as payment for a single script, that script becomes the most expensive item in the repertory for the year (160s., or £8), excepting possibly "Richard Crookback," for which (with additions to The Spanish Tragedy) Jonson was paid 200s. (£10).

Works Cited

Feldmann, Doris and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador. "Lost Plays: A Brief Account." Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. Ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007. 328-333. Print.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University; updated 4 August, 2015.