Valentine and Orson (Admiral's)

Richard Hathaway and Anthony Munday (1598)

Historical Records


Payments to Playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

F. 47v (Greg 1.90)

lent vnto Robart shaw & Jewbey the 19 of July
1598 for a Boocke called vallentyne & orsen
in fulle paymente the some of vll to paye
hathe waye & mondaye . . . . . . vll

Theatrical Provenance

The play was acquired on July 19 1598 by the Admiral’s Men for performance at the Rose.

Probable Genre(s)

Romance (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

A prose version of this medieval romance narrative, translated from French by Henry Watson under the title The Hystory of the two valyaunte brethren Valentyne and Orson, sonnes vnto the Emperour of Grece, was published in 1510 and reprinted in 1555 and 1565. Wiggins, Catalogue summarizes the narrative (with reference to the Queen's Men's play) as follows (#842):

The French princess Bellisant gives birth to twin sons in a wood. One of the children is carried off by a bear, while the other is found by King Pepin. Each child is educated by its foster-parent: Valentine is taught all the courtly graces; Orson does not even learn human language. Eventually Orson becomes a wild man who terrorizes the country. Pepin sends Valentine to deal with the problem, and Orson is brought to court. [¶] Pepin sends Valentine and Orson to do battle with a Green Knight who can reputedly only be defeated by a king's son who was not suckled by a woman. In single combat, Valentine can only achieve a draw, but Orson overcomes the Green Knight, sparing his life at Valentine's request. The Green Knight invites them to his castle, where a speaking brazen head tells them that they are brothers, and that Orson may be given the power of speech by cutting a ligament under his tongue.

After the Admiral's play, it was reprinted c. 1615-1620, in 1637, and again in 1649. (The sole extant copy of the earliest seventeenth-century edition is missing its title page: see ESTC S492786.) See also Thomas Purfoot Sr.'s entrance in the S.R. on 8 August 1586 (Arber 2.453) and his son, Thomas Purfoot's on 6 November 1615 (3.576).

References to the Play

Content welcome.

Critical Commentary

Fleay thought that the Admiral's "Valentine and Orson" was "[p]robably founded on the Queen's play" (BCED, 2.116).

Greg II: "A play called Valentine and Orson was entered S. R. 23 May 1595, and again 31 Mar. 1600, both times as acted by the Queen's men. It is possible that Hathway and Munday re-wrote this old piece. The Queen's play may have been acquired by Alleyn in 1591, but the entry of 1595 and the absence of any trace of the play in Strange's lists, are against this assumption. It is more probable that the Queen's men sold the MS. in 1 594, and that the case is similar to that of Henry V" (2.195).

Cooper, by contrast, proposed that the Queen's Men's playbook may have passed to the Chamberlain's Men (164).

For What It's Worth

The two eponymous characters had made an appearance in a coronation entertainment for Edward VI in 1547: "At the Great Conduit in Cheap, before the entry of the conduit stood two persons resembling Valentine and wild Urson, the one clothed with moss and ivy-leaves, having in his hand a great club of yew; the other armed as a knight; and they pronounced their speeches" (Nichols 45-46).

In the discussion of the dramatic unities in his Defence of Poetry, Sidney alludes to the Valentine and Orson story: "many things may be told which cannot be showed, if they know the difference betwixt reporting and representing. As, for example, I may speak (though I am here) of Peru, and in speech digress from that to the description of Calicut; but in action I cannot represent it without Pacolet's horse" (Sidney 114). In the original romance narrative, the magical wooden horse of Pacolet the dwarf allows its rider to fly instantaneously (for discussion, see Mulready 52ff).

Works Cited

Cooper, Helen. "The Strange History of Valentine and Orson." Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance. Ed. Rosalind Field. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 1999. 153-68.

Mulready, Cyrus. Romance on the Early Modern Stage: English Expansion Before and After Shakespeare. Houndsmill, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Nichols, John Gough. London Pageants. London, 1831.

Sidney, Sir Philip. Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney. Ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan van Dorsten. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 06 Aug 2014.