Salisbury Plain

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Anon. (>1653)

Historical Records

Marriott's List (1653)

In late 1653, the printer Richard Marriott entered a group of twenty-one plays on the Stationers' Register. Among the titles is

Salisbury Plaine a Comedy

Theatrical Provenance

St. John's College, Oxford?

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Stonehenge/The Converted Robber (see below).

Possible references to the Play

Prologue to Thomas Goffe's pastoral comedy The Careles Shepherdess (Salisbury Court, 1638):

there may be
Some wit in Shepherds plain simplicity:
The pictures of a Beggar and a King
Do equall praises to a Painter bring;
Meadows and Groves in Landskips please the eye
As much as all the City bravery:
May your ears too accept this rurall sport,
And think your selves in Salisbury Plain, not Court.

(Thomas Goffe,The Careles Shepherdess (1656), 10. Discussed under "For what it's worth", below).

Critical Commentary

"The only certain evidence of a play of this name is Marriott's entry in the Stationers' Register" (Bentley, 5.1405).

There is a possibility of a connection with a play known as Stonehenge/The Converted Robber. This is a short pastoral comedy set around Salisbury Plain, which survives in a manuscript associated with St. John's College, Oxford. The Converted Robber is sometimes ascribed to George Wild, author of other plays in the same collection, but W. W. Greg proposed, and his proposal has generally been accepted, that this play is in fact John Speed's Stonehenge (Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama, 382-3; Bentley, 5.1182-4). (For further discussion, click here: Stonehenge). Bentley (4.1505) further suggests that "it is possible" that Marriott's Salisbury Plain might be identical with Stonehenge/The Converted Robber.

Stonehenge/The Converted Robber has been published recently (Werth and Szymanski). Greg offers the following summary of its action:

The story is simple enough. A band of robbers and a company of shepherds and shepherdesses keep on Salisbury Plain in the neighbourhood of Stonehenge--'stoynage ye wonder yt is vpon that Playne of Sarum'--which forms the background of the scene. It chanced that the shepherdess Clarinda, falling into the hands of the robbers, was saved from dishonour by their chief Alcinous, an action which won for him her love, and having escaped, she returned dressed as a boy in order to serve him. Meanwhile the robbers have decided to make a raid upon the shepherd folk, and Alcinous, disguising himself as a stranger shepherd, mixes among them, while his companions Autolicus and Conto lie in wait hard by. During a festival Alcinous seeks the love of Castina, Clarinda's sister, and finding her unmoved by entreaty threatens force. At this she attempts to stab herself, and the robber chief is so struck that he vows to reform and is converted to the pastoral life. His companions, left in the lurch, fall upon the shepherds of their own accord, but are soon brought to see reason by the hand and tongue of their chief, and are content to follow him in his conversion. Clarinda now discovers herself and marries Alcinous, while Castina and her fellow shepherdess Avonia consent to reward their faithful swains, Palaemon and Dorus.
(Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama, 383).

Even if Stonehenge/The Converted Robber is not the same as Salisbury Plain, it is certainly a valuable index to the likely associations of a play set on Salisbury Plain.

For What It's Worth

The major problem with equating this lost play with Speed's Stonehenge is that those other plays on Marriott's List which are at all known all seem to have provenances from the Renaissance professional theatre, not from the universities. For fuller discussion of Marriott's List click here: Marriott's List (1653).

E. H. Sugden, although not mentioning Stonehenge or this particular lost play, offers a valuable survey of other references to Salisbury Plain in Renaissance drama, which suggest that the place was indeed well known: and that its primary associations were with remoteness, thieves, and robbery (Sugden, 447-8).

The Prologue to Thomas Goffe's The Careless Shepherdess (reproduced above) strikingly alludes to the possibility of having a pastoral play set on Salisbury Plain. Regrettably, this text itself requires an essay's worth of discussion. The general consensus - represented in Bentley (4.501-505), is that Goffe's play, concerning the adventures of shepherds in Arcadia, was written possibly as an Oxford University play in the 1620s; that it made its way into the hands of the Salisbury Court Theatre; and that there, around 1638, it acquired its prologue and other prefatory material, consisting mainly of a short dramatic sketch in which estates-type characters debate the nature of good drama, referring as they do so to current Salisbury Court plays including Richard Brome's The English Moor. Two things are interesting about the Salisbury Court Careless Shepherdess, in the current context. Firstly, it provides an example of slippage between pastoral comedy for the university stage and pastoral comedy for the professional stage. Secondly, it puts us at the Salisbury Court Theatre in the year 1638, which is the date and place of provenance of at least one other item on Marriott's mysterious list, The Florentine Friend.

All sorts of tangled conjectures could be made from the Prologue of The Careless Shepherdess - is it alluding to an existing play called specifically Salisbury Plain? Was The Careless Shepherdess itself, in some version, set in England not Greece? But perhaps the best deduction is the simplest one: the Prologue is useful evidence that Salisbury Plain was seen, in London in 1638, as a possible location for a pastoral play.

Salisbury Plain, in short, is associated in the Renaissance theatrical imagination both with pastoral and with groups of thieves and robbers - a combination which also informs Stonehenge. Julie Sanders has discussed a group of plays from this period including Fletcher's Beggar's Bush, Suckling's The Goblins, and Brome's A Jovial Crew, all of which explore alternative societies of rural outlaws. Stonehenge certainly belongs in this category: and it seems likely that Salisbury Plain - assuming it was a different play again - would have belonged in the category too.

Works Cited

Goffe, Thomas. The careles shepherdess a tragi-comedy acted before the King & Queen, and at Salisbury-Court, with great applause. London: Richard Rogers and William Ley, 1656.
Greg, W. W. Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama. London: Bullen, 1906. Project Gutenberg
Sanders, Julie. 'Beggars' Commonwealths and the Pre-Civil War Stage: Suckling's "The Goblins," Brome's "A Jovial Crew," and Shirley's "The Sisters"'. The Modern Language Review, 97 (2002): 1-14.
Sugden, Edward H., A Topographical Dictionary to the Works of Shakespeare and his Fellow Dramatists. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1925. Internet Archive
Werth, Tiffany Jo, and Nathan Szymanski. "The Converted Robber, or Stonehenge, a Pastoral." ELR 48 (2018): 191–255.

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle: updated 3 June 2018.