God Speed the Plough

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Anon. (1593)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 8v (Greg I.16)
Jn the name of god Amen begninge the 27 of
desemʒ 1593 the earle of susex his men
Res at good spede the plowghe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
iijll js
Res at god spead the plowe the 5 of Jenewary 1593 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Theatrical Provenance

Beginning on 27 December 1593, Sussex’s players leased the Rose and performed 12 plays through 6 February 1594. God Speed the Plough" was their first offering of the new run (27 Dec); it is not marked “ne.” It received two performances and returned an average of 36s. to Henslowe. It does not appear in subsequent extant theater documents.

Wiggins, Catalogue (#910) considers the possibility (given the absence of Henslowe's "ne") that "God Speed the Plough" belonged to 1592. In commentary on "William the Conqueror" (another of Sussex's non-ne plays), Wiggins surmises that Sussex's men "played somewhere in London from the autumn of 1591 to the early spring of 1592" (#903). He inclines toward perceiving "God Speed the Plough" as a feature of Sussex's "older, provincial repertory" of 1592-3 (#910).

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy? (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

(Roxburghe ballads)

There is a ballad entitled “God speed the Plow, and bless the corn-mow, A Dialogue between the husband-man and the Serving-man” (Roxburghe ballads). It is basically estate morality, with each man praising the pleasures of his profession. Predictably, the serving man likes the up-scale, busy, urban life, while the ploughman likes the joys of agricultural life and husbandry. It is an exchange not unlike the meeting of Touchstone and Corin in As You Like It (Internet Shakespeare Editions).

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Malone (p.292) and Collier (p. 310) do not comment on this play. Fleay, BCED (2.298, #119) notes without further comment the entry in the Stationers' Register of an item with the same title on 1 March 1601. Greg II notes that registration also, adding that the phrase was proverbial (#27, p. 157).
Knutson, in an argument that challenges the perception of Sussex's players "as the poster child for ... turmoil" in the playhouse world in 1593 (p. 462), points out that seven of the company's twelve old plays (i.e., those without "ne") returned "more than 30 shillings on average to Henslowe" (p. 464). One of those seven was "God Speed the Plough."
Wiggins, Catalogue #910 observes that the title phrase "was a way of saying 'Good luck' or 'May your enterprise thrive'." He notes also that the third of the play's recorded performances occurred on the Saturday before Plough Monday (7 January 1594).

For What It’s Worth

  • An item with the same title was entered in the Stationers' Register on 1 March 1601 (Stationers' Register, Liber C, fol. 68v; cf. Arber 3:180); this may have been the play.
  • The proverbial phrase is not obsolete; David Mamet wrote a play in 1988 called Speed-the-Plow.

Works Cited

Ebsworth, J. Woodfall (ed). The Roxburghe Ballads. vol. 6, part 3. Hertford: Printed for the Ballad Society by Stephen Austin and sons, 1888. pp. 521-25.Internet Archive
Knutson, Roslyn L. "What's So Special About 1594?" Shakespeare Quarterly 61.4 (2010): 449-467.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated, 9 February 2012.