Unfinished play by Richard Norwood

Richard Norwood (1612)

Historical Records

From the journal of Richard Norwood:

"For at this time (as I say) I did not prosecute my laudable exercise but went often to stage plays wherewith I was as it were bewitched in affection and never satiated, which was a great means to withdraw and take off my mind from anything that was serious, true, or good, and to set it upon frivolous, false, and feigned things. Yea, so far was I affected with these lying vanities that I began to make a play and had written a good part of it. It happened after some time that I fell out with the players at the Fortune (which was the house I frequented) about a seat which they would not admit me to have, whereupon out of anger, and as it were to do them a despite, I came there no more that I remember. It was God’s mercy to give me this rub that I had not run myself over head and ears in these vanities" (42).

Theatrical Provenance

Norwood's unfinished play was likely never performed. Because he was regularly attending the plays of Prince Henry's Men at the Fortune in the spring of 1612 -- when he began to write his play -- it is likely that he intended it for performance by that company.

Probable Genre(s)

The genre of the play is unknown. It is possible that it was in the vein of the comedies or nationalistic histories typically staged by Prince Henry's Men around 1612.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

There are no known sources or analogues for the play. It is possible that Norwood drew upon his own experiences as a sailor for a narrative.

References to the Play

There are no known references to the play.

Critical Commentary

The only published commentary on Norwood's lost play is a footnote provided by Craven and Hayward in their edition of the journal: "At this point, Richard Norwood threw away one of his chances at earthly immortality" (151).

For What It's Worth

In the spring of 1612, suffering debilitating bouts of seasickness, young sailor Richard Norwood had returned to London from the Mediterranean. He found work as a navigation tutor and, to pass the time, he often made his way to the Fortune playhouse where he would be, as he put it in his journal, “bewitched” by the city comedies and pseudo-histories staged by Prince Henry’s Men. The seed was likely planted early in his life. While a grammar school student at Stony Stratford, Norwood took a role in a town play, an experience that proved transformative for the boy: “At Stratford when I was near fifteen years of age being drawn in by other young men of the town, I acted a woman’s part in a stage play. I was so much affected with that practice that had not the Lord prevented it I should have chosen it before any other course of life” (6). His young mind, smitten with the stage, was also ripe with “childish conceits and fancies”, raptures of “a fantastical but strong imagination” engendered in part by acting in a play and in part by the reading of plays (38).

Later in his life, though, Norwood came to repent these fascinations: “I think that acting a part in a play, the reading of playbooks…, and the vain conceits which they begat in me was the principal thing that alienated my heart from the word of God" (17).

Works Cited

Wesley Frank Craven and Walter B. Hayward, eds. The Journal of Richard Norwood, Surveyor of Bermuda (Ann Arbor: Scholars Facsimiles & Reprints, 1945).

Site created and maintained by Matteo Pangallo, University of Massachusetts; updated 11 April 2011.