Five Plays in One (Queen's)
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.
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.
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)
Fleay is credited with connecting the various Three/Four/Five Plays in One with Tarlton and The Seven Deadly Sins. In A Chronicle History of the London Stage, he focused on the Plot of the second part of The Seven Deadly Sins and reasoned as follows:
As the only play in the Lord Strange's list in Henslow which can be identified with this one [i.e., the plot of the second part of The Seven Deadly Sins] is that of the Four Plays in One, which name suits it admirably (there are three sin plays and an induction in the plot), and as this identification so perfectly agrees with the names of the plays acted at Court under Tarleton himself by the Queen's men in 1585, viz., Five Plays in One for the first part (four sin plays and induction), and Three Plays in One (the three other sin plays), I venture to assume 1592, March 6, as the exact date for this performance [i.e., the performance to which the Plot of the second part of The Seven Deadly Sins pertains].
Greg accepted completely Fleay's connection of the Three/Four/Five Plays with Tarlton, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Plot. He expressed this opinion in his edition of the diary (II, Item 13, p. 153), and in his book on documents such as the Plot, he laid the arguments out more fully. He raised a valuable question about how Strange's players would have gotten Tarlton's play from the Queen's men but answered himself by citing a few other Queen's plays he believed they had acquired (Friar Bacon, Orlando Furioso). He then proceeded to challenge the connection of Strange's Four Plays in One with the Plot (with an assist from Chambers's Elizabethan Stage, II.307). His arguments concern the need to date the Plot before 1592 because of the supposed quarrel between the Alleyns and Burbages, a thread that is not directly relevant to the Queen's court play, Five Plays in One, but does illustrate how tricky it is to fit all these pieces into a satisfactory argument. Greg finally decided that the Queen's Five Plays in One is not the same as the play represented by the Plot, but he retained the identification with Three Plays in One:
Surely then it is evident that we have in the Plot nothing but what it purports to be, namely the Second Part of The Seven Deadly Sins, that is presumably the original Three Plays in One. It would hardly have occurred to any one to question this had it not been for the red herring of the Four Plays in One that Fleay drew across the trail.
McMillin dissects Greg's argument as well as Fleay's. (stay tuned)
MacMillin and MacLean call the identification of Five Plays in One with Tarlton's Seven Deadly Sins "not secure" (49). They specifically warn that Five Plays in One is "[n]ot to be confused with the extant plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins" (92).
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)
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 23 March 2012.