Tanner of Denmark, The

Anon. (1592)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 7v (Greg I.14):

ne . . . Rd at the taner of denmarke the [14] 23 of maye 1592
. . . . iijll xiijs vjd

Theatrical Provenance

Performed as a new play by Strange’s Men at the Rose on 23 May 1592. Despite the high takings, no further performances are recorded.

Probable Genre(s)

History (?) (Harbage), “a craft play” (Knutson, “Playing Companies” 185); “gild or citizen’s play” (Knutson, Repertory 43); foreign history or romance (McInnis 96-101).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources and Analogues


References to the Play

Dollerup suggested that given the Danish context, when a reference is made in Hamlet (Act 5, scene 1) to a tanner’s corpse lasting nine years in the grave before it began to rot, “Shakespeare’s lines refer to this old play [The Tanner of Denmark]” (157). The Arden 3 editors do not engage Dollerup, but Harold Jenkins did note, in his Arden 2 edition, that “[i]t is difficult (as desired by N&Q, CCXXI, 156) to see more than coincidence in a nine-year-old play, The Tanner of Denmark” (5.1.162n). Indeed, it seems that tanners proverbially had thick skins. In Holyday’s Technogamia, for example, Poeta’s skin is described as “inchanted” and “farre tougher than a Tanners” (Act 4, scene 4).

Critical Commentary

Malone did not venture a guess as to the identity of the tanner or his narrative (p. 292). Collier, who restored the manuscript spelling of "taner," was silent on the character and story of the play, but he did opine on its value as a commercial offering by noting that the play was apparently "a failure" because it was not given subsequent performances despite its substantial receipts of 73s 6d (p. 27). Fleay, BCED made no comment on the play (2.298 #116).

Greg II adjusts the date to 26 May, and states that “[t]he only tanner known to dramatic history is, I believe, the tanner of Tamworth in Edward IV.” (p. 156, #22)

Harbage, following Greg II, lists the play as “The Tanner of Denmark (i.e. Tamworth?) (Part basis of Edward IV, 1599?)”.

Although there is no reason, beyond the coincidence of the word “tanner”, to conflate these plays, there is a common tendency to assume that Henslowe meant the tanner of Tamworth (from Heywood’s 1 & 2 Edward IV). Thus Ethel Seaton speculated that “[t]he unknown ‘Tanner of Denmark’ (1592) may be no alien, but a homeborn tanner of Tamworth” (322) and G. K. Hunter entertains an early date of 1592 for Heywood’s plays (instead of their printing date of 1599) on account of “some perceived relation with The Tanner of Denmark” --- though he concedes that he “cannot see anything more than an adventitious connection, and so would prefer to put the play at the later end of the range” (253).

Manley and MacLean explore the possibility that a handwriting error has confused scholars: that Henslowe meant to write the letter 'm', not 'n', and that the play should properly be known as 'the tamer of Denmark', which they propose could be an alternative name for the extant manuscript play, Edmund Ironside (151).

See also Wiggins, Catalogue #929.

For What It's Worth

In Act 2, scene 1 of Edward Sharpham’s 1607 play, Cupid’s Whirligig, Nan perceives the knight’s heart beating so rapidly that she likens him to “the Denmarke Drummer.” The allusion passes without explanation, which implies it was in currency at the time. Could Henslowe have confused or mistakenly written “tanner” for “drummer”?

Works Cited

Cavanaugh, Sister M. Jean Carmel, ed. Technogamia By Barten Holyday: A Critical Edition. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic U of America P, 1942.
Dollerup, Cay. “A Shakespeare Allusion to a Lost Play (“Hamlet”, V.i.162)?” Notes & Queries 23.4 (1976): 156-57.
Hunter, G. K. English Drama 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare. Vol.6. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. The Oxford History of English Literature.
Jenkins, Harold, ed. Shakespeare. Hamlet. London: Routledge, 1995 rpt. Arden 2 edition.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare’s Company, 1594-1613.Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
— — —. “Playing Companies and Repertory.” A Companion to Renaissance Drama. ed. Arthur F. Kinney. Malden: Blackwell, 2002. 180-92.
McInnis, David. Shakespeare and Lost Plays: Reimagining Drama in Early Modern England. Cambridge: CUP, 2021.
Seaton, Ethel. Literary Relations of England and Scandinavia in the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935.
Sharpham, Edward. Cupid’s Whirligig. 1607. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1996. English Prose Drama Full-Text Database.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated, 03 August 2021.