Richard Crookback

Ben Jonson (1602)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 106v (Greg I.168)

Lent ^ vnto bengemy Johnsone at the a poyntment of E Alleyn }
& wm birde the 22 of June 1602 }
in earneste of a Boocke called Richard } xli
crockbacke & for new adicyons for }
Jeronymo the some of }

Henslowe Papers

Greg, Papers (MS. I. 27, Art. 26, p. 49)

Autograph note, Robert Shaa (Shaw) to Philip Henslowe, 8 November 1599:

mr Henshlowe we haue heard their booke and lyke yt their pryce is eight poundes, wch J pray pay now to mr wilson, according to our promysse, J would haue Come my selfe, but that J ame trobled wth a seytation.
yors Robt Shaa

[on the back of Shaa's note, also in his hand]

1. Sce Wm Wor; & Ansell & to them ye plowghmen

2. Sce: Richard Q. & Eliza: Catesbie, Louell, Rice ap Tho: Blunt, Banester

3. Sce: Ansell Dauye Denys Hen: Oxf: Courtney Bourchier & Grace to them Rice ap Tho: & his Soldiors

4. Sce: Mitton Ban : his wyfe & children

5. Sce: K Rich : Catesb : Louell. Norf. Northumb : Percye

[6. C. and Q. Eliza.     7. Dauye. C. Daugr (in Memoirs, omitted in Papers).   9. C. Milton.]

Theatrical Provenance

Presumably performed by the Admiral's Men at the Fortune, possibly in late summer 1602, although the lack of evidence makes it impossible to ascertain whether the play was indeed ever completed or performed.

Probable Genre(s)

History (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The history of Richard III had remained very popular throughout the Tudor era, which means Jonson had quite a wide range of dramatic and non-dramatic sources he could look at.

As Donaldson (183) usefully summarises, Jonson:

would have been familiar with Shakespeare's Richard III (probably completed by 1593) and the anonymous True Tragedy of Richard the Third, published in 1594 but probably composed a few years earlier [...]. He may also have known the Latin play Ricardus Tertius by Thomas Legge, Master of Caius College, Cambridge, acted c. 1579. He certainly studied with close attention Thomas More's influential but unfinished account of the life of Richard III, as his heavy markings in his personal copy of the 1566 Louvain edition of More's Omnia Latina opera reveal [...]. It was More who had given fullest currency to the traditional portrait of Richard III which Jonson (to judge at least from the title of this lost play) seems to have inherited.

References to the Play

There may be a reference to the play in the memorandum from Shaw to Henslowe quoted above. As Donaldson (183—184) argues, if the memorandum and the note are roughly contemporary, the former "could refer to an earlier play on the subject of Richard III which the Lord Admiral's Men had in their repertoire, which Jonson's play was designed to replace or update. If the memorandum is of a later date, it may conceivably refer to Jonson's own play. The evidence is tantalizingly inconclusive."

On balance, however, the memorandum is more likely to have referred to Robert Wilson's 1599 "Henry Richmond, Part 2", rather than Jonson's lost play: see the entry for Henry Richmond, Part 2.

Anther potential reference to "Richard Crookback" is to be found in a jest-book compiled by the Caroline playwright Robert Chamberlain.

Sundry mistakes spoken publickly upon the Stage.
IN the Play of Richard the third; the Duke of Buckingham being betraid by his servant Banister, a Messenger comming hastily into the presence of the King, to bring him word of the Dukes surprizall, Richard asking him what newes he replyed:
My Liege, the Duke of Banister is tane,
And Buckingham is come for his reward.
Chamberlain, A new booke of mistakes (1637), D1v.

What this excerpt clearly indicates is the existence of an otherwise unknown Richard III play in which Banister features as a character (on Banister, see Henry Richmond, Part 2#For What It's Worth. This could be Jonson's play, although there are also other possible candidates, for instance, Wilson's "Henry Richmond, Part 2", the anonymous and undated "Richard III, or the English Prophet", or even the hypothetical 1 Henry Richmond (see Wiggins, who quotes these lines both in the entry for this play and for "Richard Crookback").

Critical Commentary

Donaldson (183) suggests that the play may have never been completed or performed, possibly because of Jonson's illness in 1602.

For What It's Worth

<Enter any miscellaneous points that may be relevant, but don't fit into the above categories. This is the best place for highly conjectural thoughts.>

Works Cited

Donaldson, Ian. "Richard Crookback (lost play)." The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson. Ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler and Ian Donaldson. 7 vols. Cambridge: CUP, 2012. 2:183-184.
Evans Robert C. "More's Richard III and Jonson's Richard Crookback and Sejanus." Comparative Drama 24 (1990): 97-132.

Site created and maintained by Domenico Lovascio, University of Genoa; updated 14 April 2017.