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Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle (1599)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 63 (Greg, I.109)

lent vnto mr dickers & mr chettell the 26 of }
maye 1599 in earneste of a Boocke called [troylles } xxxs
& creseda] ʌ the tragede of Agamemnon the some of }

Lent vnto Robarte shawe the 30 of maye }
1599 in fulle payment of ther Boocke called }
the tragedie of Agamemnone the some of } iijll vs
to mr dickers & hary chettell }

Miscellaneous expenses in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 63 (Greg, I.109)

pd vnto the mr of Revelles man for lycensynge }
of a Boocke called the tragedie of agamemnon } vijs
the 3 of June 1599 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . }

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's men acquired "Agamemnon" when they were playing at the Rose, but plans to build the Fortune were already underway. Depending on when the play was debuted as well as how long a run it enjoyed, it might have remained in the company's repertory into September 1600, by which time the move to the Fortune had been accomplished.

Probable Genre(s)

Harbage calls "Agamemnon" a classical legend; Wiggins tags it a tragedy (""Catalogue" #1186), as does Henslowe.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Nothing is known of specific sources, but any of the classical translations of stories from the Trojan War would have provided the basics of the narratives of Agamemnon and Orestes.

References to the Play

None known specifically to this play, though references to the stories of Agamemnon and his mad son were ubiquitous.

Critical Commentary

Greg II was inclined to lump "Agamemnon" with another lost play in May 1599, "Orestes' Furies" (#173, p. 202), which neither Malone, Collier, nor Fleay, BCED had previously done. He mused that the 5s. paid Chettle for the play about Orestes would more nearly bring payments to Dekker for "Agamemnon" up to the usual £6 fee (#174, p. 202). Chambers, ES claims to agree with Greg but observes contradictorily that the two titles "point to two plays by Chettle and Dekker rather than one" (2.169n).

Gurr uses the titles interchangeably: the index item for "Agamemnon" sends the reader to "Orestes Furies", to which entry he attaches "or the Tragedy of Agamemnon" (314); the appendix similarly lumps the plays (#125, p. 244). However, in one context Gurr calls the play "Agamemnon" (p. 29) and in another, Chettle and Dekker's "Orestes Furies" (p. 105).

Wiggins, Catalogue subsumes "Orestes' Furies" into "Agamemnon," subordinating the plot line of the son's madness to the narrative of the father's return from Troy. Persuaded in part by the timeline of the two stories, Wiggins also opines that Dekker's workload in 1599-1600 was too heavy for yet another full-length play, even if co-authored (#1186).

Teramura picks up on an observation first made by Greg II (#174, p. 202) about a "striking" prevalence of Greek story materials to argue that the play/s on Agamemnon and Orestes in the repertory of the Admiral's men in the 1590s belonged to "a sweeping yet disjointed survey of Britain's deep mythical prehistory and its earliest legendary rulers" in which the stories of Troy and the afterstories of its heroes combined with those in Geoffrey of Monmouth's history of Britain (p. 129). Teramura suggests that Thomas Heywood's Ages plays (specifically 2 Iron Age) "may serve as a dramatic analogue:" (p. 137).

For What It's Worth

As Wiggins thinks out loud about the relationship of the play ("Orestes fvres") anticipated by the payment of 5s to Dekker on 2 May 1599 (Catalogue #1186), he posits a dynamic in which the "company" of the Admiral's men had a role in determining what dramatists who wrote for them routinely chose as subject matter.

Works Cited

Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594–1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Teramura, Misha. "Brute Parts: From Troy to Britain at the Rose, 1595-1600." Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England. Ed. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 127–47.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 17 May 2019.