Play of a Maiden's Suitors

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Anon. (1599)

N.B. The title used here is taken from Wiggins.

Historical Records

Thomas Platter's Travel Journal

The play is described in Thomas Platter's account (composed in 1605) of his travels from Basel to France, Spain, England, and the Netherlands, which he undertook from 1595 to 1600 ("Beschreibung Thomae Platters reyßen, die er von Basell auß in Frankreich, Spangien, Engellandt undt Niderlandt gethan hatt vom anno 1595 biß 1600" [Keiser 9]). In his description of England, Platter records seeing a performance of Julius Caesar on 11 September 1599 (21 September, Gregorian). This passage is immediately followed by Platter's memories of another play:

Auf ein andere zeitt hab ich nicht weit von unserem wirdtshaus in der vorstadt, meines behaltens an der Bischofsgeet, auch nach eßens, ein comoedien gesehen; da presentierten sie allerhandt nationen, mitt welchen yederzeit ein Engellender umb ein tochter kempfete, unndt überwandt er sie alle, außgenommen den Teütschen; der gewan die tochter mitt kempfen, satzet sich neben sie, tranck ihme deßwegen mit seinem diener ein starken rausch, also daß sie beyde beweinet wurden, undt warfe der diener seinem herren den schu an kopf, unndt entschliefen beyde; hiezwischen stige der Engellender in die zelten unndt entfuhret dem Teütschen sein gewin, also überlistet er der Teütschen auch; zu endt dantzeten sie auch auf englisch unndt irlendisch gar zierlich.
(Basle University Library, A λ V 8, f. 683r; qtd. Keiser, 791-92)

Two English translations of this passage have been published:

On another occasion not far from our inn, in the suburb at Bishopsgate, if I remember, also after lunch, I beheld a play in which they presented diverse nations and an Englishman struggling together for a maiden; he overcame them all except the German who won the girl in a tussle, and then sat down by her side, when he and his servant drank themselves tipsy, so that they were both fuddled and the servant proceeded to hurl his shoe at his master's head, whereupon they both fell asleep; meanwhile the Englishman stole into the tent and absconded with the German's prize, thus in his turn outwitting the German; in conclusion they danced very charmingly in English and Irish fashion.
(Williams 166)
On another occasion, also after dinner, I saw a play not far from our inn, in the suburb, at Bishopsgate, as far as I remember. There they presented various nations with whom each time an Englishman fought for a maiden, and overcame them all, except the German, who won the maiden in fights, sits down beside her, and hence got himself and his servant very fuddled, so that they both became drunk, and the servant threw his shoe at his master's head, and they both fell asleep. Meanwhile the Englishman went [or, possibly, "climbed"] into the tents and carries off the German's prize, and so he outwits the German too. At the end they danced, too, very gracefully, in the English and the Irish mode.
(Schanzer 466)

Theatrical Provenance

Performed in London at some point during Platter's stay in England, from 6 September until 14 October 1599, possibly at the Curtain or the Boar's Head. (See Critical Commentary below.)

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (?)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Unknown. (Content welcome.)

References to the Play

None known. (See Critical Commentary below for possible allusion in Every Man Out of His Humour.)

Critical Commentary

Chambers: "The Curtain did not go entirely out of use when the Chamberlain's left it. It must have been the theatre near Bishopsgate at which Thomas Platter saw a play in September or October 1599" (ES 2.403).

Wiles suggests that the play is alluded to in Jonson's Every Man Out of His Humour, when Carlo says to Puntarvolo, "would I had one of Kemp's shoes to throw after you" (4.5.118). Wiles proposes that this is alludes to the drunken shoe-throwing servant of the 1599 play and that this role was performed by Kemp, who would have also danced the English and Irish dances enjoyed by Platter (36).

Egan argues that Platter saw this performance not at the Curtain but at the Boar's Head playhouse. One piece of evidence in favor of the Boar's Head is that Platter specifically mentioned the circular shape of the theatre at which he saw Julius Caesar; Egan reasons that "if he also visited the Curtain we might expect him to note that it too was 'circular'" and suggests that his silence might imply that he saw the present play in a rectangular playhouse (54). Egan also draws the comparison with the use of tents on stage as spaces of sleep in Richard III and "The Second Part of The Seven Deadly Sins" (55). If the play was performed at the Boar's Head, the standalone tent would have been an important prop for concealing actors given the absence of "discovery spaces" in that playhouse before the summer of 1599 (56).

Wiggins limits the possible dates on which Platter could have seen the play to 12-14, 22-25, 27-30 September or 1-6, 8-9 October (4.141).

For What It's Worth

Regarding Egan's suggestion that Platter may not have seen the performance in a circular playhouse (such as the Globe), recent excavations at the site of the Curtain have revealed rectangular rather than circular foundations.

Works Cited

Egan, Gabriel. "Thomas Platter's Account of an Unknown Play at the Curtain or the Boar's Head." N&Q 47 (2000): 53–56.
Keiser, Rut, ed. Beschreibung der Reisen durch Frankreich, Spanien, England und die Niederlande 1595–1600. By Thomas Platter. 2 vols. Basler Chroniken 9. Basel and Stuttgart: Schwabe, 1968.
Schanzer, Ernest. "Thomas Platter's Observations on the Elizabethan Stage." N&Q 3 (1956): 465–67.
Wiles, David. Shakespeare's Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
Williams, Clare. Thomas Platter's Travels in England, 1599. London: J. Cape, 1937.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Reed College; updated 10 July 2016.