Untitled degree play

Martin Lluelyn (1640)

Historical Records

Men-miracles. With other poems (1646)

Two contiguous poems by the Christ Church student, Martin Lluelyn, published in his Men-miracles (1646), refer to his composition of a play in 1640:

To my Lord B. of Ch. when
I presented him a Play.

My Lord,
WHo single Leafes before, now heaps hath reard,
And from one Beast hath ventur'd at a Herd:
Hoping that Altar which indulg'd a Roome
To the foule Oxe, will toth' foule Hecatombe.
And that his Gyant need not acceptance feare,
Cause 'tis ill shapt, for so his Pigmies were.
For though the staine be greater now, and proud,
And the small vapour swell'd into a Cloud,
Yet still as was the droppe so is the shower,
And all th' ill sent oth' Garland was ith' Flower.
Since then small Parcels shew the greater, and
We guesse th' whole Monster by its face or hand.
Since by lesse papers, Sir, your judgement may
Collect what Prodigie will be the Play:
Let like his doubts your candour be allow'd,
And that cleare Beame melt or expell his cloud.
There are who poize our Lumpe with their least dramme,
And shut up comedy in Epigram.
There are in whose each line a volume growes,
And can thrust all our Garden in their Rose.
Sir, I could name you many wits so bigge,
THey could present you Groves for this dry-Twigge.
There you might walke in shades, and every Bough,
Would crowne the pious Dew which made it grow.
When here the Plant hath hardly bulke for fire,
And set here foure yeares since is scarce a Brier.
Yet let it still grow on, you let thornes stand,
Which growth enables but to offend your hand.
Nature lets Serpents live, although they bring
Nought but more poison, and enlarge their sting.

Your skilfull hand may file the Rude stone pure,

And from that poison may create a cure.

(77-80 [NB. the volume skips 78-79 but the catchword indicates the poem is complete])

To Dr. F. Deane of Ch. Ch.
now Vicechancellour of Oxford,
upon the Same occasion.

NOt that I begge degree, as undesrtood,
To bring a Trifle and receive a Hood.
I nere expect a Harvest from one seed,
Or a faire Sheafe where I but plant a Weede.
Yet sure I might begge titles onely lent
To obey in state, submit in Ornament.
The ambition's lawfull here, since 'tis your praise,
If all your flowers are Roses, all Trees Bayes.
Thus you may seat him high in his faign'ed Queens view,
High as her selfe, and yet both kneele to you.
But then your honour onely to have found,
How to make Princes Subjects, and bow crown'd.


Theatrical Provenance

The play in question was "presented" (not to say "performed") to Brian Duppa, the "Lord B[ishop] of Ch[ichester]" and Samuel Fell, "Deane of Ch[rist]. Ch[urch]." sometime prior to 7 July 1640, when Lluelyn took his B.A. It is possible that some "single Leafes" of the same play had been presented "foure yeares since", in 1636, when Lluelyn matriculated as a student of Christ Church, Oxford.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

It is impossible to deduce the subject matter from the brief references to this play. Elliott cautiously suggests that a "hint" comes from the second poem's reference to "seat him high in his faign'ed Queens view"; he infers that "the central character in the play seems to have been a Queen" (342).

References to the Play

In a letter dated 04 July 1661, Timothy Halton of Queen's College wrote to Joseph Williamson to apprise him of plans for a royal reception to greet the new King Charles II: "The play is made by Dr. Llewellyn, but they are so in want of actors, that they fear being obliged to make use of the Red Bull players, now in Oxford" (National Archives, SP 29/39 f.24). It is just possible that Lluelyn contemplated presenting his degree play as an entertainment to receive Charles II to Oxford in 1661, though it would be more likely that he penned a new play altogether (Halton's phrase, "is made by", might suggest a more recent composition); see the entry for Lluelyn's untitled play for Royal reception.

Critical Commentary

Although Rosenfeld makes passing reference to Lluelyn's play in a footnote in her article about the Red Bull players' visit to Oxford (366n), Elliott is the only critic to write about this play. He observes that there seems to have been "an informal tradition at Oxford of undergraduates presenting original dramatic compositions as part of the ritual of supplicating for their B.A.s", a claim he supports with the present example and with an earlier instance in which Edward Watson was required to write "100 songs in praise of the University, and also a comedy, in order to receive his B.A." in 1512 (341). He notes specifically that the second of Lluelyn's poems "calls the play 'a Trifle' offered to the dean in order to 'begge degree' and 'receive a Hood', adding that this is not a form of supplication 'as understood'" -- i.e. this was an informal or irregular procedure (341).

Elliot identifies the dedicatees of the poems as Brian Duppa, Bishop of Chichester, "who had been Dean of Christ Church for the first two years of Lluellyn's residency there" and Samuel Fell, "who succeeded Duppa as Dean of Christ Church from 1638-47, and who was also Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1645-8, i.e. at the time the poem addressed to him was finally published" (341). He adds:

These poems, then, record a rite of passage enacted by an undergraduate about to receive his B.A. before two men who had been heads of is house since he arrived in Oxford. What the nature was of the 'single leafes' that he had given Dean Duppa in 1636 we cannot tell, but he evidently felt in 1640 that a more substantial composition was now called for, and that it should be a play. There is no indication of what language it was written in, and no suggestion that it was meant to be performed. (341)

For What It's Worth

Lluellyn subsequently became M.A. in 1643 and practised as a physician after his taking his D.Med in 1653.

Works Cited

Elliot, John R., Jr. "Degree Plays". Oxoniensia 53 (1988): 341-42.
Lluelyn, Martin. Men-miracles. With other poemes. / By M. Ll. St: of Ch. Ch. in Oxon. Printed in the yeare 1646. (Wing (2nd ed.) / L2625).
Rosenfeld, Sybil. "Some Notes on the Players in Oxford, 1661–1713". Review of English Studies 19 (1943): 366–75.

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