Valentine and Orson (Queen's)

Anon. (1595 S.R.)

Historical Records

Book Trade Records

Stationers' Register

23 May 1595 (Arber 2.298)

xxiijo die Maij
Thomas Gosson      Entred for theire Copie an enterlude of VALENTYNE and ORSSON,
Raffe Hancock. plaid by hir maiesties Players. beinge lycenced vnder the handes of
the Wardens vjd

31 March 1600 (Arber 3.159)

vltimo marcij
William white.      Entred for his copie in full Court holden this day A famous
history called VALENTINE and ORSSON played by her maiesties
Players. vjd

Theatrical Provenance

Performed by the 1580s version of the Queen's men.

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. Martin Wiggins summarizes the narrative as follows (3.6):

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.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Fleay, BCED thinks that the Admiral's "Valentine and Orson" was "[p]robably founded on the Queen's play" (2.116 #8).

Greg II suggests that the Admiral's men might have acquired the manuscript of this play, and that their own "Valentine and Orson" might have represented a rewriting of the Queen's play by Hathaway and Chettle (p. 195 #143).

Wiggins, Catalogue observes that the Queen's men may have been encouraged to stage the brazen head episode in the romance narrative given the use of the same prop in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (#842).

Cooper notes that the Queen's men's repertory included other "romance-related texts such as Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes and the King Lear" that ends happily. In contrast to earlier attempts to link the Queen's men's play to the Admiral's men's version of the same story, Cooper speculates that the Queen's men's playbook may have passed into the possession of the Chamberlain's men, and "it is possible that the haul included not only the text but the bearsuit of Valentine, so allowing the bear of the Winter's Tale a more literal association with the romance than intertextuality alone" (p. 164).

For What It's Worth

Information welcome.

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.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, UA-Little Rock, 5 July 2011; and Misha Teramura, University of Toronto, 5 August 2014; updated 30 September 2020.