Oxford Tragedy

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Anon. (1608)

Historical Records

Inner Temple Treasurers', Stewards', and Butlers' Accounts

         Item paid for 2 staffe torches for the revells on     
Candlemas Even ij s.
Item paid for a play on Candlemas Day called
Oxford Tragedye v li.

(Inner Temple Archives, FIN/1/1, f. 23v; qtd. REED: Inns, 141)

Theatrical Provenance

Performed on Candlemas (2 February) 1608 at the Inner Temple.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues


References to the Play

None known. (Information welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Inderwick, the editor of the Inner Temple records, notes that the "Oxford Tragedy" is the "only play [performed at the Inner Temple] to which a name is given during the reigns of James and Charles I" (liv). He adds:

I have not found any play of this name, but it may possibly be the second title of some drama otherwise familiar to us. I am disposed, however, to think that it was "The Yorkshire Tragedy" wrongly described by the butler, who kept the accounts of the treasurer, as "Oxford Tragedy." This play was printed in May, 1608, having been performed before that date at the Globe and other theatres, and at one time wrongly attributed to Shakespeare. […] An Oxford college-master is one of the characters in the drama, and his intervention brings about the catastrophe.

Ramsey: "This is probably an error for Yorkshire Tragedy, though it might be another one of the "Four Plaies in One" of which the Yorkshire play is the only known part" (226n).

Nelson and Elliott describe Inderwick's attempt to associate the play with The Yorkshire Tragedy as "a misidentification" and "misguided" (REED: Inns, 749, 751).

For What It's Worth

One of the Four Plays?

In support of Ramsey's conjecture that the play was part of the original "Four Plays in One" from which The Yorkshire Tragedy was taken ("One of the foure Plaies in one, called a York-shire Tragedy: as it was plaid by the Kings Maiesties Plaiers" [Yorkshire, sig. A2r]), it might be observed that the Four Plays in One of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon (attributed by Cyrus Hoy to Fletcher and Nathan Field) all have parallel titles: The Triumph of Honor, The Triumph of Love, The Triumph of Death, and The Triumph of Time. The 1608 quarto attributes The Yorkshire Tragedy, and thus presumably all of the "foure Plaies in one," to the King's Men at the Globe, although there are some grounds for disputing this (Wiggins 247); the Oxford Middleton dates the play's original composition to 1605, "no earlier than the publication of the source pamphlet (STC 18288) which was entered on 12 June 1605" and, based on the presence of oaths in the play, "before the Act to Restrain Abuses of May 1606" (Taylor and Lavagnino 355-56).

Against Ramsey's conjecture, however, it may be objected that £5 would have been a steep price for merely a quarter of a full play. (Records from the following years indicate that £5 was a standard fee for plays paid by the Inner Temple.)

Lewd and Lascivious?

An entry (dated 10 February 1611) in the Inner Temple Parliament Book ordering the prohibition of plays on festival days seems to give us some insight into the kind of entertainment that might have been expected:

And for that great disorder & scurrilytie is brought into this howse by lewde & lasciuious playes. It is likewise ordered in this parliament that from henceforth there shalbe no more playes in this howse either vpon the ffeast of all Sainctes or Candlemas day, but the same from henceforth to bee vtterly taken awaie and abolyshed
(Inner Temple Archives, PAR/1/2, f. 99; qtd. REED: Inns 145)

One wonders whether "lewde & lasciuious" would have been accurate descriptors of the "Oxford Tragedy." In any event, the prohibition was overturned before the end of the year, on 24 November:

Where[of] of late yeares vpon the two festivall dayes of All Saintes and Candlemasse playes haue beene vsed after dinner for recreacion which haue lately beene layd downe by order in Parliament It is now ordered that the same order shall henceforth stand repealed.
(Inner Temple Archives, PAR/1/2, f. 105v; qtd. REED: Inns 146-47)

Works Cited

Inderwick, F.A., ed. A Calendar of the Inner Temple Records. Volume II. London, 1898.
Ramsey, Jarold W. "The Provenance of Troilus and Cressida." Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (1970): 223–40.
[REED: Inns] Nelson, Alan H., and John R. Elliott. Inns of Court. Records of Early English Drama. 3 vols. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2010.
Taylor, Gary, and John Lavagnino, eds. Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.
[Yorkshire] A Yorkshire Tragedy. Not so New as Lamentable and true. Acted by his Maiesties Players at the Globe. Written by W. Shakspeare. London, 1608. STC 22340.

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