Four Sons of Aymon, The
Revision as of 23:14, 14 February 2010 by John Astington (Created page with ' The first evidence of an English play with this title is contained in Henslowe's ''Diary''. In late 1602 the actor Robert Shaw signed a memorandum acknowledging a loan of tw…')
The first evidence of an English play with this title is contained in Henslowe's Diary. In late 1602 the actor Robert Shaw signed a memorandum acknowledging a loan of two pounds against a copy of " a booke Called the fower sones of Aymon," offered to the Admiral's men as an option for performance at the Fortune within the following twelve months. There is no subsequent evidence in Henslowe's records that the play was in fact produced, but Shaw died before the term of the agreement was complete, and Henslowe probably retained the manuscript, having in effect bought it. A decade later, in An Apology for Actors, Thomas Heywood wrote about the performance of a play with the same title acted (in English, presumably) in continental Europe: "at Amsterdam in Holland a company of our English Comedians (well known) travelling those Countryes, as they were before the Burgers and other the chiefe inhabitants, acting the last part of the 4 sons of Aymon, towards the last act of the history, where penitent Renaldo, like a common labourer, lived in disguise, vowing as his last pennance, to labour & carry burdens to the structure of a goodly Church there to be erected . . . [His diligence arouses the resentment of the other workers, and they plot to kill him while he sleeps.] Having spy'd their opportunity, they drave a nail into his temples, of which wound immediatly he dyed." The stage scene triggers a confession to a similar murder from a member of the audience, providing one of Heywood's instances of the moral force of theatre. A dozen years after the publication of Heywood's book his former colleague Ellis Worth, acting for Prince Charles's company, brought a text to the Revels Office for licensing, recorded by Sir Henry Herbert as "The Four Sons of Amon, . . . being an olde play tho' never allowed of before, nor of a legible hand." Legible or not, Herbert passed it for performance, and it presumably was shortly thereafter performed at the Red Bull, in the early part of 1624.
It is impossible to say whether these records refer to a single document, passed from Shaw to Henslowe, rented by Henslowe or Alleyn to a touring troupe, and finally licensed for English performance twenty-odd years later, or whether they indicate three distinct treatments of a well-known story deriving from a medieval French chanson de geste,