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Richard Farrant(?) (1575?)

N.B. The title and date used here are both conjectural, following Wiggins (#586).

Historical Records

Extant Song

A song from the play is preserved in two manuscripts: the Dow Partbooks (Oxford, Christ Church, MSS Mus. 984-88), a set of five partbooks compiled by Robert Dow, c. 1580-1600, and the seventeenth-century British Library, Additional MSS 17786-91. (MSS Mus. 985-88 of the Dow Partbooks witness the music but not the words of the song.) The text of the song was written in a modified ballad meter; the square brackets below indicate non-metrical repetitions, which, as part of the musical setting, are written in the score.

[Ah. Ah] alas you salt sea Gods
bowe downe youre eares devine
Lend Ladies here warm water springs
to moyst their cristall eyen.
That they maie weep and waile
and wring their handes with me
for Death of Lord & husband myne
Alas [alas alas alas] lo this is he.
You Godds that guide the ghostes
and Sowles of theim that fled
send sobbs, send sighes, send greeuous grones
and strike poore Panthea dedd:
[Abradad. Abradad. ah. ah.] alas poore Abradad.
my spirite with thine shall lie
come death alas o Death most sweet
for nowe: [for nowe, for nowe] I crave to die. [to die. to die. to die. to die.]
(Oxford, Christ Church, MS Mus. 984, nos. 106-7. Cf. Arkwright, "Death Songs" 341.)

While the Dow Partbooks attribute the song to Richard Farrant, the British Library MSS ascribe it to Robert Parsons (Arkwright, "Elizabethan" 129). Several other manuscripts preserve the music (see Mateer 14).

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown. If the Dow Partbooks' attribution of the song to Richard Farrant is true, then the play may have been staged at court by the Children of Windsor or the Children of the Chapel Royal between 1567 and 1580.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Wiggins)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The song—in which the speaker, Panthea, expresses sorrow for the death of her husband Abradad and the desire for her own death—seems to have come from a dramatization of a story found in Xenophon's Cyropaedia. The dramatist may have taken the story directly from Xenophon's work, which was published in an incomplete English translation by William Barker c. 1552 (STC 26066) and in a complete edition in 1567 (STC 26067), or from the version popularized in Painter's Palace of Pleasure (1566).

In Painter's version of the story, Panthea, the wife of the valiant Abradatas, is taken prisoner by Persian forces when her husband is on a diplomatic mission on behalf of the Assyrians. She is put into the custody of Araspas, who commends her beauty to the Persian king Cyrus and encourages him to see her for himself. Cyrus resists, wary that Panthea's beauty may distract him from governance. Araspas and Cyrus debate the relationship of love and volition. Sure enough, Araspas "chaunced to fall in loue with the Ladie, in suche wise as he was forced to breake his mynde to her, that he must needes satisfie his pleasure. Whiche request, like a faithfull and louing woman to her housbande in his absence, she denied" (f. 29v). Panthea at first resists telling Cyrus, but when Araspas threatens her with rape, she send a eunuch to the king, "Whiche when he heard, he laughed a good pace at him, who saied that he was superior to loue" (f. 29v). Araspas is ashamed but Cyrus takes the opportunity to send him to gain intelligence on the Assyrians on the pretext of fleeing from Cyrus' fury. Panthea, happy to learn of Araspas' departure, tells Cyrus that her own husband will be "a farre more assured frende, then Araspas was" (f. 31). Panthea then sends for Abradatas, who soon arrives at the Persian court and pledges his loyalty to Cyrus. To help her husband prepare for battle alongside the Persians against Croesus, Panthea fashions armor ornamented with her own jewelry, and after an emotional parting scene, Abradatas heads into battle. While the Persians are victorious, Abradatas is killed. Panthea blames herself for his death and, with Cyrus, mourns over his corpse. Asking to be left alone, "Panthea with a sworde, whiche she had prepared long tyme for that purpose, killed her self, and laying her heade vpon her husebandes breaste, she yelded from her chaste bodie, her innocente ghoste" (f. 33v). Her three eunuchs, later seeing Panthea dead, follow suit. Cyrus is amazed at her devotion and erects "a noble monument, to the perpetuall praise of chastitie, & honest loue. Whiche (as Xenopho[n] reporteth) remained to his daies, with their names ingrauen in Syrian letters" (f. 33v).

References to the Play

None known. (Content welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Arkwright recognized that the song came from a dramatic source, specifically one treating the narrative of Panthea and Abradatas found in Xenophon, which he proposes was among the unnamed plays presented by Farrant between February 1567 and March 1580 ("Death Songs," 342). He dismisses the possibility that the song could have appeared in the 1575 "King Xerxes" on the grounds of anachronism.

Wiggins notes that Farrant could have found source material for both "Panthea" and "Gismond" in Painter's Palace of Pleasure (Shakespeare, 19). In British Drama, he identifies seven occasions in which plays were performed at court during the period of Farrant's theatrical activity for which titles are unknown; of these, he proposes as most likely 27 December 1575, not least since the Children of Windsor performed "King Xerxes" (similarly on the subject of ancient Persian empire) on 6 January of that year (143-44).

Connection to The Wars of Cyrus?

Lawrence argued that Panthea's song was written not for a lost play but rather for the extant play The Wars of Cyrus, published in 1594 as having been "Played by the children of her Maiesties Chappell" (STC 6160, sig. A1r). He proposed that Wars was thus written by Farrant and first performed on 27 December 1578.

Chambers was skeptical about Lawrence's argument: "I think that Wars of Cyrus, as it stands, is clearly post-Tamburlaine, and although there are indications of lost songs at ll. 985, 1628, there is none pointing to a lament of Panthea" (ES 3:311). However, he did allow for the possibility that the published play "was based on one by Farrant" (3:311), which he assigns elsewhere to "c. 1578" (4:52).

Brawner fully accepted Lawrence's argument in his edition of the play (10-20, passim). Finding claims about Tamburlaine's influence unconvincing, he argues that the 1594 publication of the play misrepresents the original manuscript and that clues in the text point towards an early date, such as the Prologue's self-consciously novel rejection of dumb shows in order to "reuiue" the practice of the Chorus (14). While Brawner refrained from confidently ascribing authorship of the play to Farrant himself, it is "one of the earliest, if not the very first, of the plays presented at his theatre in the Blackfriars," "our only surviving specimen of the dramaturgy of that pioneering private theatre, and one of the very few extant plays of the formative period from 1570 to 1582" (19-20). Brawner did not, however, interpolate the song in his edition; rather a note proposes that the song "might well have followed" one of two lines in Panthea's speech, either "Malignant of poore Pantheas happinesse" or "That Panthea died for Abradates sake" (142). (For the full text of the speech, see For What It's Worth below.)

Hunter found it a "natural assumption" that Farrant's song was written for The Wars of Cyrus; however, he cautioned that "it does not follow from the MS ascription that Farrant wrote the play" (396n).

Wiggins forcefully argues against the hypothesis that the song was written for The Wars of Cyrus, noting in particular that the form "Abradad" does not appear in the published play, which furthermore does not offer a natural place for the song to have been sung without awkwardness or redundancy ("Marlowe," 535-36). He summarizes: "The song and the play dramatise the same moment, and certainly testify to the popularity in the period of its affective power; but they are not sundered components of a single dramatic text, as Lawrence liked to think" (536).

Duffin states that the song was "a lament sung by Panthea with four viols before she stabs herself at the end of [Farrant's] The Warres of Cyrus" (756).

For What It's Worth

As Wiggins observes, the play is connected by its narrative setting to two other plays associated with Farrant: "King Xerxes," performed by the Children of Windsor on 6 January 1575, similarly treated the ancient Persian empire; and "Gismond," which was, like "Panthea," likely based on Painter's Palace of Pleasures and concluding with the suicide of a bereaved female lover.

Panthea's final speech in The Wars of Cyrus:

Now Euphrates whose sad and hollow bankes,
Haue suckt the summe of Abradates blood:
which from his wounds did issue with his life,
Now cease thy course of thy disdained teares,
And let thy courage turne against the tide,
Of mere remorse of wretched Pantheas plaints.
Is this the hand that plighted faith to me,
The hand, that aye hath managde kingly armes,
And brought whole troops of mightie warriors down,
Now sended from the bodie of my Lord,
Cleane voide of feeling, sense and vitall breath,
So Gods and cruell destnies commaund,
Malignant of poore Pantheas happinesse.
Liue Cyrus. You Lords of Persia,
Command my honour to posteritie,
That ages hence the world report may make,
That Panthea died for Abradates sake.
She stabs her selfe. (sig. G3r)

Works Cited

A[rkwright], G.E.P. "The Death Songs of Pyramus and Thisbe." N&Q, 10th series, 5 (1906): 341–43.
Arkwright, G.E.P. "Elizabethan Choirboy Plays and Their Music." Proceedings of the Musical Association 40 (1913-14): 117-38.
Hunter, G.K. "'The Wars of Cyrus' and 'Tamburlaine'." N&Q 8 (1961): 395-96.
Brawner, James Paul, ed. The Wars of Cyrus. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1942.
Duffin, Ross W. "Music and the Stage in the Time of Shakespeare." The The Oxford Handbook of the Age of Shakespeare. Ed. R. Malcolm Smuts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 748-64.
Painter, William. The Palace of Pleasure. London, 1566. STC 19121.
Lawrence, W.J. "The Earliest Private-Theatre Play." Times Literary Supplement (11 August 1921): 514.
Mateer, David. "Oxford, Christ Church Music MSS 984-8: An Index and Commentary." Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle 20 (1986/1987): 1-18.
Milson, John, ed. The Dow Partbooks. Oxford: DIAMM Publications, 2010.
The Warres of Cyrus King of Persia. London, 1594. STC 6160.
Wiggins, Martin. "When Did Marlowe Write Dido, Queen of Carthage?" Review of English Studies 59 (2008): 521–41.
Wiggins, Martin. Shakespeare and the Drama of His Time. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
Wiggins, Martin, in association with Catherine Richardson. British Drama, 1533–1642: A Catalogue. Volume II, 1567–1589. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 26 December 2016.