God Speed the Plough
F. 8v (Greg I.16)
- Jn the name of god Amen begninge the 27 of
- desem[r] 1593 the earle of susex his men
Res at good spede the plowghe . . . . . . . . .
Res at god spead the plowe the 5 of Jenewary 1593 . . . .
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 theater documents.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
S.R.1, III.68b/180 (CLIO)
primo marcij  John harrison Junior filius Johannis Senior
- Entred for his Copye vnder the handes of master PASFEILD and the wardens A
- booke called GOD spede the ploughe ... vjd
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).
The play (1593-4), the book registered by the Harrisons, father and son (1 March 1601), and the ballad (c. 1665) may have no tighter connection than a title, but the ubiquity of that title suggests that the subject matter of the three would be similar in the treatment of city and country life.
References to the Play
Greg notes the registration of the book, “God Speed the Plough,” on 1 March 1601, adding that the phrase was proverbial (II.157, Item 27).
Knutson, in an argument that challenges the perception of Sussex's players "as the poster child for ... turmoil' in the playhouse world in 1593, points out that seven plays of the company's twelve old plays (i.e., those without "ne") returned "more than 30 shillings on average to Henslowe" (462, 464). One of those seven plays was "God Speed the Plough."
See also Wiggins serial number 910.
For What It’s Worth
The proverbial phrase is not obsolete; David Mamet wrote a play in 1988 called Speed-the-Plow.
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated, 9 February 2012.