Five Plays in One (Queen's)

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Anon., presumed to be Richard Tarlton (1595)

Historical Records

Revels Office

Chrystmas, Twelftyde & Shrouetyde and making choyse 5 of plaies Anno Regni Regine Elizabethe: xxvijo 1584

The Charges of those tymes viz. betwene the laste daie of October 1584. Anno xxvjto Regni Regine Elizabethe and the —— of ffebruary .1584. Annoque Regni Regine Elizabethe predicte xxvijo did rise aswell by meanes of attending making choyse, reforminge and altering of suche plaies Comodies maskes and inventions as ere prepared sett furth and presented before her maiestie at the tymes aforesaid. ...

An Inuention called ffiue playes in one presented and enacted before her maiestie on Twelfe daie at nighte in the hall at Grenewich by her highnes servauntes wheron was ymployed a greate cloth and a battlement of canvas and canvas for a well and a mounte .xv ells of sarcenet .ix yardes of sullen cloth of gold purple.

Theatrical Provenance

The Queen's players, formed in March 1583, began immediately to dominate the performance calendar at court in terms of adult companies. In 1583-4 they gave four performances (plays unnamed); in 1584-5 they gave five. Unusually detailed, the accounts of the Revels Office indicate not only the titles of the plays given but also the date and venue of performance. Five Plays in One was given on 6 January 1585 (Twelfth Night), in the evening, at Greenwich.

Probable Genre(s)

Moral (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known; however, much has been conjectured. See Critical Commentary, below.

References to the Play

None known, but a popular conjecture among scholars is that an exchange between Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nashe refers to the play (or, more literally, its putative ur-version, The Seven Deadly Sins). For the argumentative network that created the identification of Five Plays in One with Tarlton and The Seven Deadly Sins, see Critical Commentary, below.

In the third of four letters (1592), Harvey exhausts his abuse of Robert Greene long enough to turn on Nashe, whom he styles Greene's "sworne brother" and identifying Nashe by way of his proxy character, Pierce Penniless. Thinking of Nashe's moralistic caricatures in Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil, Harvey declares it "botched-vp ... according to the stile, and tenour of Tarletons president, his famous play of the seaven Deadly sinnes: which most-dealy, but most liuely playe, I might haue seen in London ..." (EEBO, 29).

The lengthy riposte by 'Nashe in Strange Newes, Of the intercepting certain Letters ... (1592) is excerpted here: "Hang thee, hang thee, thou common coosener of curteous readers, though grosse shifter for shitten tapsterly iests, haue I imitated Tarltons play of the seauen deadly sinnes in my plot of Pierce Peniless? ... was sinne so utterly abolished with Tarltons play of the seuen deadly sins, that ther could be nothing said supra of that argument? ... Is there any further distribution of sins, not shadowed vnder these 7. large spreading branches of iniquity, on which a man may worke, and not tread on Tarletons heeles? If not, what blemish is it to Pierce Pennilesse to bgin where the Stage doth ends, to build vertue a Church on that foundation that the Deuill built his Chappell? (McKerrow, I, 304-5)

Critical Commentary

Fleay, Chronicle History, 83. Greg,

For What It's Worth

For slightly variant treatments of the identity of Five Plays in One, see also entries for Three Plays in One, The Seven Deadly Sins, The Plot of part two of The Seven Deadly Sins, and Five Plays in One (Strange's)

Works Cited

Feuillerat, Albert. Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth. Louvain: A. Uystpruyst, 1908.
Fleay, Frederick G. A Chronicle History of the London Stage. London, 1890.
Greg, W. W. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouse. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931.
Harvey, Gabriel. Fovre Letters, and certain Sonnets .... London, 1592. (EEBO)
McMillin, Scott. "Building Stories: Greg, Fleay, and the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 4 (1989): 53-62.
McMillin, Scott and Sally-Beth MacLean. The Queen's Men and their Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Nashe, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Nashe. ed. Ronald B. McKerrow. 5 vols. London: A. H. Bullen, 1905 (Vol. I).

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 23 March 2012.