Stately Tragedy of the Great Cham (Folger MS. X.d.259)

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Anon. (c.1590)

NB. This play is not to be confused with the two part Tamar Cham plays in the repertory of the Strange's men (1592-3) and Admiral's men (1596).

Alternative titles:

“She who doth rule her table books with blood” (from the Prologue)
“Life and death of the great Cham”
“The Great Cham”
“A stately tragedy containing the ambitious life and death of the great Cham”

Historical Records

Folger Shakespeare Library MS fragment

This play exists only as a two-leaf MS fragment (4 pages) (MS. X.d.259, formerly Folger MS 450528):

128537 MS Xd259 verso sml.jpg 128553 MS Xd259 recto sml.jpg
Folger X.d.259, verso.
(CC BY-SA 4.0 licence; click image to view larger version)
Folger X.d.259, recto.
(CC BY-SA 4.0 licence; click image to view larger version)



Finding my Lord displeased with the sportes /
Which most are vsed in this Cytadell /
Sith other courtes are cottages to this /
Mayntained by my Lord the mighty Cham /
And that the change of sundry choice delightes /
Please thee not with theyr fine variety /
But often in apparent actions
You shew disturbed tokens of a minde
As discontented as a mynde may be /
I fayne would be phisition to my Lord
If he would proue a quiet patient
But yet my skill is only to appease
The patient must tell his owne desease
What haue our vassayles the Tartarians
Beseegd or sackt some of our fronter townes
Then with our army far more great then that /
Which Xerxes hauing dronke whole riuers dry
Waste all Tartaria to the Northren seas / 61



A stately Tragedy contayninge the ambitious life and death of the great Cham
The inchantments of Bagous the Brachman wth the straunge fortunes of Roxen the
Captiuity release and death of his brother Manzor the Turchestan king and happy
Fortunes of the Sophy of Persia with the loue of Bargandell his sonne *

She who doth rule hir table-bookes with blud
To write thereon misery dole and death
Because blud is hir patrons liuery .
Commaundes me vse none other inke but red .
Yet Venus puttinge on hir Ceston craues .
That I crosse Incest and recite same loue
Which she with Hymeneus ratefyed .
Then Hecate with frightfull visions .
Coniures me to declare heer in the west /
The workes of her east Indian Ministers
And how euen with Tobacco now well knowne 11

the Brachman /

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown. Former owners of the MS include:

Sir Israel Gollancz, 1864-1930
James Wright, 1643-1713 (possibly)

Probable Genre(s)

“Unusual burlesque masque” (Sotheby brochure, 12 April 1927); Tragedy (Harbage); eastern; conqueror play.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources and Analogues

Subject matter

McInnis (73-74):

In addition to the Great Cham’s history, the fragment’s title reveals that the lost play concerned itself with the 'inchantments of Bagous the Brachman[,] wth the straunge fortunes of Roxen[;] the Captiuity[,] release and death of his brother Manzor the Turchestan King[;] and [the] happy Fortunes of the Sophy of Persia[,] with the loue of Bargandell his sonne.' Here again are the makings of a typical eastern play: a captivity narrative, a Persian Sophy and Turkestan King, and an all-powerful Cham, Velruus, whose wife Drepona declares 'other courtes are cottages to this / Mayntained by my Lord the mighty Cham' (Anon., 'A stately tragedy' 45-6). In her speculation that her husband’s displeasure stems from 'our vassayles the Tartarians' having 'Bessegd or sackt some of our fronter townes' (57-8), Drepona effectively hints at the possibility that the Cham of the lost play had even greater analogy with the all-conquering Tamburlaine of Marlowe’s creation; Drepona’s hyperbolical (and typically Marlovian) solution to the dilemma is for 'our army far more great' to 'Waste all Tartaria to the Northren Seas' (59, 61).

But whereas the title of this lost play would suggest an imitation of Tamburlaine on par with the 'weak sons' and, to a lesser extent, of 'Tamar Cham', an engagement with Faustian magic is evident even from the fragment’s two extant pages. When Bagous the Brachman (an eastern priest figure; possibly a eunuch -- see Elyot, Bibliotheca Eliotae f.i) enters the stage alone, he is joined by Aldeboran, a spirit or “deuill” who the stage direction explains “must rise from vnder the stage in a flash of fier” (17 SD). Aldeboran wastes no time establishing a Faustian pact with Bagous, offering him diabolical temptations:

Fiendes of Auernus shall attend on thee
And tremble at thine incantations
Thou shalt haue power to countermand the fates
And to presage of future accidents
To rise Latonas daughter from her spheare
And blindfold Phœbus with æternall might
To walke about the worlde with a wish
And dart destruction and deserued death
On those who manage enmities with thee
If you plot your ententions with mee. (17-26)

Dramatis Personae

Bagous the Brachman (brother of the Sophy?)
Manzor, his brother and the Turchestan King
The Sophy of Persia
Bargandell, his son
Aldeboran, a spirit
Velruus (or Velraus), the Great Cham
Drepona, his wife
a guard

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Sotheby's thumb nail.JPG
Sotheby's auction catalogue, 12 April 1927
Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

A facsimile of the manuscript was printed by The Malone Society in G. R. Proudfoot, “Five Dramatic Fragments,” Collections, Volume IX (Oxford: OUP, 1971 [1977]), pp.52-75. Pp.64-67 reproduces a transcript of the text.


According to the Folger’s catalogue, it was “[d]escribed in the Sotheby April 12 1927 brochure as ‘the fragment of an unusual burlesque masque, entitled ‘The life & death of the Great Cham,’ containing an interesting reference to the growth of Tobacco-Smoking’ (85).” Bentley disagreed with this classification: “The Great Cham is certainly not a masque. As for burlesque, the style is inflated and the tone of the prologue ambiguous, but there is not enough in these sixty-one lines to demonstrate that the attitude of the author was mocking rather than naively solemn” (V.1345).

The c.1590 date comes from the Folger’s own catalogue. The Sotheby catalogue lists it as a Jacobean drama. Bentley notes that “the tobacco reference is the only reason for calling The Great Cham Jacobean, for it could be earlier or later than the time of James I” (V.1345). Wagonheim’s revision of Harbage merely lists the fragment as “17th Cent.” (Supp. List I.). Proudfoot, in his Malone Society edition of the fragment, allows that “[a]n earlier limit is suggested by the style and allusions, which imply knowledge of the tragic writing of the later 1580s and early 1590s” (64-65) but concludes that “a date within the first two decades of the [17th] century may seem likely enough” (65).

For What It's Worth

Bagous the Brachman, an eastern priest figure, is also possibly a eunuch: “Bagôus, in the Persian tunge signifieth a geldynge, or a man geldyd” (Elyot sig. f.i). Proudfoot, however, thinks “the name ‘Bagous’ recalls the ‘Bagoa’ of Lyly’s Endimion” (64-65).

The name Aldeboran, here a spirit or “deuill”, is also associated with a star.
cf. Tamburlaine: “Raise me to match the faire Aldebaran, / Above the threefold astracism of heaven” (2 Tam, 4.3.61-62)
cf. Agrippa: “The third is the star Aldeboran” (p64).

The name Velruus (or Velraus), for the Great Cham, may simply be related to / derived from the ostensibly authentic Tartarian word for “mighty king” (“Vlu-Chan”). In his discussion of “The ruine of the Turks first Empire in Persia: with the successe of their second kingdome in the lesser Asia vnder the Aladin Kings,” Knolles writes:

the Tartars or rather Tattars . . . stirred vp by their owne wants, and the persuasion of one Zingis (or as some call him, Cangis) holden amongst them for a great prophet, and now by them made their leader, and honoured with the name of Vlu-Chan, that is to say, the Mightie king (commonly called the great Cham)…. (75)

An EEBO-TCP search indicates that the name "Bargandel" occurs uniquely in The Mirror of Knighthood (English trans. 1583 and 1599 by "R.P." --- Robert Parry or Robert Parke?), where it belongs to a Bohemian prince who wanders through the kingdom of Lusitania accompanied by two other princes, Lyriamandro and a Tartarian called Zoylo.

Works Cited

Agrippa, Henry Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. London, 1650. Print. (EEBO)
A stately tragedy containing the ambitious life and death of the great Cham... ca. 1590. MS. X.d.259. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Elyot, Thomas. Bibliotheca Eliotae. 1542. Print.
Harbage, Alfred, Sylvia S. Wagonheim and Samuel Schoenbaum. Annals of English Drama, 975-1700. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.
Knolles, Richard. The generall historie of the Turkes. 1603. Print. (EEBO)
Marlowe, Christopher. Tamburlaine: Parts One and Two. Ed. Anthony B. Dawson. 2nd ed. London: A & C Black, 1997. Print. New Mermaids.
McInnis, David. “Mind-Travelling and Voyage Drama in Early Modern England.” Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.
Proudfoot, G. R. “Five Dramatic Fragments,” Collections, Volume IX. The Malone Society. Oxford: OUP, 1971 (1977). pp.52-75. Print.
R.P., trans. The second part of the Myrror of knighthood Containing two seuerall bookes, wherein is intreated the valiant deedes of armes of sundrie worthie knightes, verie delightfull to be read, and nothing hurtfull to bee regarded. Now newly translated out of Spanish into our vulgar tongue by R.P. 1583. Print.
---. The second part of the first booke of the Myrrour of knighthood in which is prosecuted the illustrious deedes of the knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, sonnes vnto the Emperour Trebatio of Greece: with the valiant deedes of armes of sundry worthie knights, very delightfull to bee read, and nothing hurtfull to bee regarded. Now newly translated out of Spanish into our vulgar tongue by R.P. 1599. Print.

Site created by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated by Matthew Steggle, 04 Feb 2011; last updated 20 June 2016.