Burton, Robert (1605)

Historical Records

Cambridge University Library MS. Add. 34

(Narratives by Cambridge Men)

Under the heading---

"The preparacion at Oxford in August 1605, against the comminge
thither of king Iames with the quene and Younge Prince, together with
the thinges then and there done, and the maner thereof./"

---is an account of the play by Philip Stringer, visiting from Cambridge:

f 35* (27 August)

The Comedie began between 9. and 10., and ended at one, the name of
yt was Alba, whereof I never saw reason, it was a passtorall much like one
which I have seene in Kinges Colledg in Cambridge, but acted farr worse,
in the actinge thereof they brought in 5. or 6. men almost naked which
were much disliked by the Queene and Ladyes, and alsoe manye rusticall
songes and daunces, which made it seeme verye tedious in soe much that
if the Chauncelors of both the Vniuersityes had not intreated his Maiestie
earnestlye, he would have bene gone before half the Comedie had bene


Quoted by Elliott and Nelson, REED Oxford 1.298

Staffordshire Record Office ms. D649/1/1

This manuscript is a letter of Burton to his brother, William Burton. The first part of Burton's letter has been known for some time through second-hand accounts. Nichols, for example, quoted it in his The Progresses, Processions, and Magnificent Festivities of King James the First (1828), iv.1067, and it is also cited recently by Elliot and Nelson REED Oxford 1.294. Nochimson (327) provided a fuller extract from the manuscript once its whereabouts at the Staffordshire Record Office had been discovered:

Heare is no newes but praeparation for

the Kinges cominge, who will be heare on Teusday come forthe
nighte. playes ^Verses etc, that parte of ye play which I made is very
well liked, especially those scenes of the Magus, and I haue
had greate thanckes for my paynes of .D. Kinge our newe Deane.
i wolde knowe nowe howe longe you meane to tarry in London.
after the kinge is gone from hence or a little after I wolde
not care to make an odde voyage to London if yourre
chamberfellowe be not their. etc lette me knowe your <minde>
I pray you that if you chance to walke vppe into London
amongest the brokers, you wolde see if you can meete with
Seneca the philosophers workes at seconde hande, and sende me
the loest price etc. or if you cannenot meete withe them so, tell me
howe they be solde newe theire in one volume .8uo./ And so
for this time fare you well. the xjth. of August./1605

Ille ego qui quandam.
Robertus Burton./

Theatrical Provenance

Performed by Thomas Goodwin and other Christ Church men at Oxford on 27 August 1605 for a royal visitation (Chambers I.130). The plays performed were Alba, Ajax Flagellifer, Vertumnus (Matthew Gwinne), and The Queen's Arcadia (Samuel Daniel).

Probable Genre(s)

Latin Pastoral (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Boas and Greg have provided a transcript of property lists from the University archives. From what is known about the two extant plays (Vertumnus and The Queen's Arcadia), and what is conjectured about Ajax Flagellifer, Boas and Greg deduce that most of the property list refers to Alba:

the subject of Alba was evidently drawn in part at least from classical mythology, for it introduced Neptune, Apollo, Pan, and 'old Nestor' among its characters. There is also figured in it eight or ten kings, twenty nymphs, four 'Heremites', ten satyrs, three 'sylvanes', six morris-dancers, a magician, and an old woman... (249-50).

Nochimson draws further inferences from the properties list:

With regard to Robert Burton's 'magus', we should note the item calling for 'I. longe black beard and hayre vncurled for a magitian'. One list includes '10. goates beardes and pols of short hayre of goates color for Satyres./3 suites of greene close to the bodye for sylvanes'. Boas and Greg speculate that the sylvanes' costumes may have suggested nudity and thus caused the displeasure of the Queen. They suggest also that the " 'many rusticall songes and dances', which proved so tedious..., were doubtless contributed by the satyrs and nymphs, and by the morris-dancers decked in suits 'all lyke with garters of bels, 2 for every on' " (329).

References to the Play

See the historical records above.

Critical Commentary

(Information needed)

For What It's Worth

(Information needed)

Works Cited

Boas, F. S. and W. W. Greg. "James I at Oxford in 1605. Property Lists from the University Archives." Malone Society Collections, vol. i, part III. Oxford, 1909. Print.

Nochimson, R. L. “Robert Burton’s Authorship of Alba: A Lost Letter Recovered.” Review of English Studies 21 (1970): 325-31. Print. JSTOR

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