Pilades and Horestes (Folger MS X.d.391)

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Anon. (ca.1620?)

Historical Records

Folger Shakespeare Library MS fragment

A single quarto leaf of the manuscript of this lost play exists (Folger MS X.d.391). The following transcription is based on G. R. Proudfoot's Malone Society edition of "Five Dramatic Fragments" (58):

119560 Xd391 recto.jpg
Folger X.d.391 (CC BY-SA 4.0 licence; click image to view larger version).

τ τελοσ y<ea> ust m<e.> S . . .τελοσ . . .he<

σσσσ . . . . . . . . . . . . . Q . . . <H> . . .B

. . . . . . .Pilades. / horestes. / Campo. <I . . .I>

py. . . . .Ho ho sir? I pray yow from what qu<a
. . . . . . the world haue yow travelled toe<
. . . . . . good my frend horestes? / ho. / no no not <
. . . . . . I pray yow old acquaintance from wh<
. . . . . . haue yow landed tell me frend myn<e> p<
py. . . . surly your question smelethe frend an<
ho./ . . .yow haue sayde, your questione indede may b<
. . . . . . in the foles caldron and by the in y<
. . . . . . therofe increase more foles. pi’/ what what ? m<
. . . . . . yow as hot as a tost al[e]redye. I pce<a
. . . . . . pathe wch I walke in liethe hid from <
. . . . . . and yet yt shoewethe the readye<.t>way that I <
. . . . . . to goe. / ho./ harke o pilades <
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . smith<
. . .<E>nd . . .I . . . . . . . . . .Ihon . . . . . .[When as v we
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . R M for]*
. . . . . .Wh
. . . . . . . . . . /12695

(* This text is written upside down in the manuscript)

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown (incomplete/unacted?). Proudfoot notes that "The scribbles of τελοσ suggest that the lines were written on the end flyleaf of a printed or manuscript book by a student or schoolboy---a view which the untidy informal English hand and the tone of the dialogue tend equally to support" (57).

McInnis and Steggle suggest that this ms fragment is not from a play at all; see Critical Commentary below.

Probable Genre(s)

Classical. Harbage merely lists this as "Dramatic fragment in verse, c. 1620." (Supplementary List I). Proudfoot notes that this description "seems to be mistaken in supposing that the lines are metrical" (58).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Horestes (more usually "Orestes") was the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and brother of Electra. After murdering his mother as revenge for her adultery, and murdering Pyrrhus, Orestes is driven mad by the furies and wanders far abroad, ultimately making a sacrifice to Diana in the country of Taurica (Crimea); he is accompanied always by his friend Pilades (more usually "Pylades").

Pilades and Horestes are typically evoked as an example of true friendship; for example, in Thomas Elyot's The boke named the Gouernour, the following anecdote is briefly related in the chapter on "The true description of amitie or frendeshyp":

Horestes and Pilades, beinge wonderful lyke in al features, were taken to geder, and presented vnto a tirant, who deedly hated Horestes. But whan he behelde them bothe, and wolde haue slayne Horestes only, he coulde not decerne the one from the other: And also Pilades, to delyuer his frende, affirmed, that he was Orestes: on the other parte Orestes, to saue Pilades, denyed, and sayd, that he was Orestes (as the trouthe was) Thus a longe tyme they togyther contendynge, the one to dye for the other, at the laste so relented the fierse and cruell harte of the tyraunte, that wondringe at theyr meruaylous frendshyp, he suffred them frely to departe, without doinge to them any damage. (ff.135r-v)

Their story is given as an instantiation of marvellous friendship comparable to that of Damon and Pithias, themselves the subject of a lost Henry Chettle play of 1600 for the Admiral's men. Elyot also compares the friends to Titus and Gisippus, whose story Elyot gives in full (ff.136v-152) and about whom a lost play of 1577 concerned itself.

Lodowick Lloyd (117) refers to Pilades and Horestes in the context of Damon and Pithias (see Admiral's, 1600), Theseus and Perithous, Achilles and Patroclus, Titus and Gisippus (see Paul's, 1577), Palamon and Arcite (see Admiral's men, 1594), and Alexander and Lodowick (see Martin Slater's play for the Admiral's men, 1597).

References to the Play

(Information welcome)

Critical Commentary

On the dating of the manuscript, Harbage speculates "c.1620," but Proudfoot thinks Harbage "may offer rather too late a date" (58). He argues instead for a turn-of-the-century date based on the handwriting: "The words 'y<ea t>rust m<e.' in line 1 are in a hand other than that of the author but which, like his, probably dates from the last years of the sixteenth century or the very beginning of the seventeenth" (57). Proudfoot's dating would place this play in proximity of the lost Chettle play on those other famous friends, Damon and Pithias, in 1600.

McInnis and Steggle suggest that this text is a translation of the opening of a fifteenth-century Latin dialogue: pseudo-Petrarch, De Miseria Curiae Romanae:

De Miseria Curiae Romanae appears in at least six manuscripts and one printed book from the fifteenth century, all with continental provenances, and in those places it is often, although falsely, associated with Petrarch. It is a periocundus libellus, according to one of its early texts: a satire upon Papal bureaucracy. At the start of the dialogue—the portion translated here—Pilades and Horestes meet on the outskirts of Rome, and insult one another, before Pilades explains that he has come to Rome to pursue a request to the papal administration, the Roman Curia. Later in the dialogue, a sadder and wiser Pilades relates his experiences: the corrupt officials there have preyed upon him like wolves and taken all his money. (McInnis and Steggle)

They conclude that

This fragment is not from an original play connected to the Oresteia, but is instead a translation of a satirical Latin dialogue about the Vatican. On the other hand, it is interesting in that very little seems to be known about any English circulation of this particular pseudo-Petrarchan text. In Folger MS X.d.391, we see that in England, perhaps as late as the turn of the seventeenth century, it was being read, translated, and reimagined. (McInnis and Steggle)

For What It's Worth

It has been speculated that the MS may be a Collier forgery: "Doubts of its genuineness might be raised by the fact that it was among several loose papers discovered in a copy of John Payne Collier's The History of English dramatic poetry, 3 vols. (1879), annotated by the author [now in the Folger Library: shelfmark W.a. 189]. ... This leaf was found at vol.ii, p.413 (a location of no apparent significance): it was removed for separate cataloguing at the Folger Library on 27 August 1945" (Proudfoot 57).

Robert Greene reports that "The Scithians for this cause canonized Pilades & Orestes, erecting temples vnto the~, & calling the~ the Gods of amitie" (74).

In what might be evidence that the characters had often appeared on stage, Jonson, in Every Man Out, has Carlo Buffone describe Sogliardo and Shift's adoption of the names "Pylades" and "Orestes" as "an old stale Enterlude deuise" (sig.Miiiv).

McInnis and Steggle note that "[t]here is also a small speaking part later in the dialogue for a Caupo, or innkeeper, and with this as a guide it can be seen that the first line of Folger MS X.d.391 in fact reads Caupo not Campo."

Works Cited

Anon. Fragment from a play [manuscript], ca. 1620. MS. X.d.391. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Elyot, Thomas. The boke named the Gouernour, deuysed by syr Thomas Elyot knight. 1537. Print.
Greene, Robert. Gvvydonius The carde of fancie wherein the folly of those carpet knights is decyphered, which guyding their course by the compasse of Cupid, either dash their ship against most daungerous rocks, or els attaine the hauen with paine and perill. Wherein also is described in the person of Gwydonius, a cruell combat betvveene nature and necessitie. By Robert Greene Master of Arte, in Cambridge. 1584. Print.
Jonson, Ben. The comicall satyre of euery man out of his humor. As it was first composed by the author B.I. Containing more than hath been publickely spoken or acted. VVith the seuerall character of euery person. 1600. Print.
Lloyd, Lodowick. The pilgrimage of princes, penned out of sundry Greeke and Latine aucthours, by Lodovvicke Lloid Gent. 1573. Print.
McInnis, David and Matthew Steggle. “Folger MS X.d.390 (1-2), and Folger MS X.d.391,” Notes & Queries 58.3 (Sept 2011): 374-76. Print.
Proudfoot, G. R. “Five Dramatic Fragments,” Collections, Volume IX. The Malone Society. Oxford: OUP, 1971 (1977). pp.52-75. Print.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 20 June 2016.