Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins, The
A Plot of the second part of The Seven Deadly Sins has survived (Greg, Papers). It surfaced c. 1780 in the collection at Dulwich College. It had many years before been turned into a cover for The Tell-Tale, a manuscript play. The playbook apparently survived with the Plot for some time because the outside cover reads "The Book and Platt, &c." The Plot is undoubtedly the most detailed of those that survive, yet it does not name its company or give its date. As a result, scholars continue to argue its provenance (see below, "Theatrical Provenance" and "Critical Commentary").
Until recently (Kathman 2004), the entire theater history community believed that the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins—and thus the play which the Plot plots—belonged to Lord Strange's men c. 1590-1, playhouse venue uncertain. The reasons for this company assignment are given in some detail below (Critical Commentary). Suffice it here to say that the Plot was preserved at Dulwich College, which Edward Alleyn founded and to which he gave a substantial number of documents from his theatrical career; Alleyn, in May 1593, was a member of Strange's players, even though he retained his identification as a servant of the Lord Admiral. That apparently double connection with Alleyn was sufficient for scholars to assign the play to Alleyn's company. The decision on a date for the Plot is also complicated. Though Alleyn's name is not in the Plot (that is, he is not cast in a part), scholars believed that he was a member of the cast; Richard Burbage's name is in the Plot. Scholars therefore had to find a date when Alleyn and Burbage might have played together. Believing that an argument at the Theater between John Alleyn and James Burbage soon swelled into a family feud (after which Alleyns and Burbages would have been professionally estranged), scholars decided on a date before that dust-up, i.e., sometime in 1590.
In 2004, David Kathman re-examined the evidence provided by the names of players in the Plot, and based on fresh biographical evidence he argued that the Plot had belonged to the Chamberlain's players. He challenged Alleyn as the presumed source of the document, attributing its provenance instead to William Cartwright, junior. Based on the casting assignments in the Plot and the probable ages of the players, Kathman assigned the Plot (and, by inference, its play) to 1597-8, which made its venue one of the Chamberlain's Shoreditch houses, either the Theater or Curtain.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
If the play for which there is a Plot is not Tarlton's play, The Seven Deadly Sins, Tarlton's might well have been a dramatic source, perhaps for the structure of playlets if not also for the use of an illustrative tale for each sin.
References to the Play
If the play for which there is a Plot is Tarlton's play, the references by Gabriel Harvey in Fovre Letters, and certaine Sonnets ... (1592) and Thomas Nashe in Strange Newes, Of the intercepting certain Letters ... (1592) are to this play:
Gabriel Harvey, Fovre Letters, and certaine Sonnets ... (1592)
In the third of four letters (1592), Harvey exhausts his abuse of Robert Greene long enough to turn on Nashe, whom he styles Greene's "sworn brother," and to identify Nashe by way of his proxy character, Pierce Penniless. Thinking of Nashe's moralistic caricatures in Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil, Harvey declares it "botched-vp ... according to the stile, and tenour of Tarletons president, his famous play of the seaven Deadly sinnes: which most-dealy, but most liuely playe, I might haue seen in London: ...." (EEBO, 29).
Thomas Nashe, Strange Newes, Of the intercepting certain Letters ... (1592)
A sample of the lengthy riposte by Nashe in Strange Newes, Of the intercepting certain Letters ... (1592) is excerpted here: "Hang thee, hang thee, thou common coosener of curteous readers, thou grosse shifter for shitten tapsterly iests, haue I imitated Tarltons play of the seauen deadly sinnes in my plot of Pierce Peniless? ... was sinne so vtterly abolished with Tarltons play of the seuen deadly sins, that ther could be nothing said supra of that argument? ... (McKerrow, I, 304-5)
Greg initially labeled as "brilliant" F. G. Fleay's conjecture that the play represented by the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins was the Four Plays in One given at the Rose playhouse by Strange's players on 6 March 1592 (Greg, Papers). By 1931, he was backing away from its identification with the play in Henslowe's Diary. However, he did not back away from an assignment of the play to Strange's players. His argument is complex and merits close examination. Suffice it here to say that Greg, trying to reconcile his belief that Alleyn had owned the Plot with the presence in the Plot of Richard Burbage's name, concluded that The Seven Deadly Sins (which he still believed to be Tarlton's play) "was probably acted about 1590 by Strange's men alone at the Curtain" (Dramatic Documents 19). Greg dated the Plot in 1590 because he believed that the "violent quarrel between James Burbage and the Admiral's men" in the winter of 1590-1 would have ruled out a combination of players that included both Edward Alleyn (whose name is not in the Plot) and Richard Burbage (whose name is in the Plot) (Dramatic Documents 110-11). For a challenge to the assumption that the hot words between John Alleyn and James Burbage recorded in legal documents concerning the Theater had such severe commercial consequences that no Alleyn would thereafter play on the same stage with a Burbage, see Knutson (1-3).
McMillin exposes the network of hypotheses on which Greg (and before him, Fleay) had constructed the assignment of the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins to Strange's men before May 1591. Looking at the evidence of the twenty names of players in the Plot, McMillin is the first to call attention to the number of those players with connections to the Chamberlain's men (54). He acknowledges that a cluster of the players were with Strange's men in 1593 but concludes that the "most obvious company with whom these names come together according to other documentary data is the Chamberlain's men in the later 1590s" (61). As something of an afterthought, McMillin observes the coincidence of subject matter in the "harey the vj" played by Strange's men, 1592-3, and usually ascribed to Shakespeare as his Henry VI.
Bradley repeats the narrative constructed by Fleay and Greg for the Plot as having belonged to Strange's men c. 1590-2, but he revises the story by picking up the same coincidence of subject matter with the "harey the vj" that caught McMillin's eye. Bradley, brushing aside Shakespeare's play as the likely identification "for reasons of casting" with "harey the vj," says that "it appears more probable that this Plot passed under the name of Henry VI in Henslowe's records than that it was the Four Plays in One (101).
McMillin and MacLean contest the identification of Tarlton's play, Seven Deadly Sins, with the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins. They point out that the "'plot' does not mention Tarlton or any other Queen's Men, and lists actors connected with Strange's Men in the 1590s" (93). They observe further that Fleay's argument connecting the Plot with the two lost Queen's plays, Five Plays in One and Three Plays in One, "depends on arithmetic that does not add up" (93).
Kathman dropped the equivalent of a nuclear bomb in 2004 for theater historians of the early 1590s by assembling fresh evidence that undermined the provenance of the Plot and the identification of players named in the Plot. His first target is the assumption that the Plot was "a remnant of [Edward] Alleyn's playing career" due to its location now "among the Henslowe-Alleyn papers at Dulwich College" (14). Kathman challenges this venerable claim by presenting an alternative narrative, namely that the Plot came to Dulwich by way of William Cartwright (the Younger), a London bookseller in the 1650s and son of the player, William Cartwright (the Elder). Kathman follows the diaspora of Cartwright's theatrical papers, first to Dulwich and later into thin air, for no catalogue of the Cartwright-Dulwich material survives (16-18). Having weakened the link to Alleyn and his companies, Kathman addresses the players named in the Plot. He picks up McMillin's suggestion of the Chamberlain's men and takes it further with fresh biographical material, most pertinently the identification of "T. Belt" with a youth who was apprenticed to John Heminges in his yeoman status as a member of the Company of Grocers (28). His conclusion is that the Plot represents the sharers and players of the Chamberlain's men, 1597-8. He ends by noting that the casting patterns in the Plot have implications for the casting of Shakespeare's plays in the mid-1590s; that the presence of players' names raises fresh questions about the company affiliations of Sir Thomas More and John of Bordeaux; and finally, that "the redating of the Plot" has repertorial implications for the diversity of plays offered in a given period by the Chamberlain's men: for example, Shakespeare's as well as an "old-fashioned morality-style play such as The Seven Deadly Sins" (34). He does not say—but one may deduce from his argument— that the farther away from Tarlton and 1588 the Plot is located, the more tenuous the identification of the Plot is with Tarlton's play.
Tribble, in her discussion of plots as cognitive artifacts that "facilitate shared attention" (53), notes that as a result of Kathman's work we may now assume that "the use of plots was not confined to one company, but was apparently a widespread practice, at least in the 1590s" (45). In the context of a playing system that aims to "reduce cognitive demands upon individual agents" (19), she observes that the economy of information widely noted by scholars is perfectly intelligible: "Tacit knowledge of the casting is enough here; because there are no calculations to be performed [i.e. the major parts are not doubled], there is no need to display the information" (500).
Stern emphasizes the difficulty of making generalizations about the "shared theatrical origin" of the surviving Plots (203). She uses the now-acknowledged presence of William Cartwright the Younger's holdings at Dulwich with Edward Alleyn's as an illustration of the murky provenance of Dulwich properties, and she embraces the ambiguities inherent in working with Plots as playhouse documents: "the companies and theatres that used the plots, and the periods of time from which the plots date, are all open to debate" (203).
Gurr-Kathman debate in Early Theatre, 2007 & 2011: Andrew Gurr uses the surviving plots generally, and that of 2 Seven Deadly Sins specifically, to explore the roles of plotter and scribe in these early documents. His focus of relevance here is on Hand C, who wrote the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins and who annotated the manuscript of John a Kent and John a Cumber. Gurr's certainty that John a Kent was the play Henslowe called The Wise Man of West Chester is one factor in rejecting Kathman's thesis about the redating of the Plot to 1597-98 and its reassignment to the Chamberlain's players: "This thesis requires us to believe that Hand C switched his loyalty from one company led by Alleyn [Admiral's], for whom he was working in 1595 [on Wise Man] and 1600, and perhaps previously with Alleyn in the Strange's of 1590-93 [on Sir Thomas More], across to the Shakespeare company in 1597-98 [Plot, as redated by Kathman] and then back to the Admiral's again for Fortune's Tennis in 1600 or 1602 and probably the revision of Sir Thomas More (76). Kathman's rebuttal (2011) deconstructs Gurr's argument on several issues of theater history including theatrical apprenticeship; on issues related to the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins, Kathman reviews his arguments of 2004 with particular correction of Gurr's position on Thomas Belte, Heminges-the-grocer's apprentice regarding the age of apprentices and their suitability for female roles (129-34).
For What It's Worth
For the fullest picture of the argumentative network concerning The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins, consult also the entries for The Seven Deadly Sins, Three Plays in One, Four Plays in One, Five Plays in One (Queen's, 1585), and Five Plays in One (Admiral's, 1597).
Those interested in the provenance of the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins should keep an eye out for the history of Lord Strange's players, forthcoming by Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean.
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita; updated 20 September 2012.