Timoclea at the Siege of Thebes

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Anon. (1574)


Historical Records

The Revels accounts record payments for preparation for a play of "Timoclia at the sege of Thebes. by Alexander", and for the supply of "Apparell propertyes and Necessaries" for its production at Hampton Court Palace at Candlemas 1574. A masque of ladies "with lightes being vj vertues" was planned to follow it, "but not showen for the Tediusnesse of the playe that nighte." Most of the payments to workers and artificers have more to do with the masque, but some items give some indication of the staging of the play: two dozen pairs of gloves (a traditional etiquette of court practice) made "for children" indicates a large cast, while players' houses were used for a setting, and a number of property weapons were prepared. (Feuillerat, 206-12).


Theatrical Provenance

The play was prepared and presented by the boys of Merchant Taylors School, London, under the direction of their master Richard Mulcaster. The venue was perhaps the Hall at Hampton Court, and the date 2 February 1574.


Probable Genre(s)

Classical romance.


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The story of Timoclea, identified by Feuillerat, is told in Plutarch's Lives (Life of Alexander), and is that of a feminist heroine (included by Thomas Heywood in his Gynaikaion of 1624), and thus throws an interesting light on Richard Mulcaster's educational purposes in promoting school drama with his boys, one of whom would have played the title role before the queen and her court. Sister of the Greek hero Theagenes, killed fighting alongside Philip of Macedon at the battle of Chaeronea, she is raped following the sack of Thebes by the forces of Alexander the Great. The man responsible, a captain, is lured by her to a well with the promise of concealed loot, then thrown in and stoned to death by Timoclea. Arrested and brought before Alexander, she proudly reveals her identity and her story, and is pardoned and freed.

Timoclea also appears in the first scene of John Lyly's Campaspe, of ten years later, as a fellow captive with the title character following Alexander's capture of Thebes. Lyly drops any reference to the Plutarchan legend of rape, revenge, and pardon as distracting from his central focus.


References to the Play

(Information welcome)


Critical Commentary

Feuillerat briefly identifies the source of the play, and Chambers follows him. Richard Mulcaster has received considerable attention in the last few decades; his pedagogical theory in connection with drama and playing is examined by John Astington in Actors and Acting in Shakespeare's Time.

See also Wiggins serial number 556.


For What It's Worth

Plutarch's story seems fairly simple in its essential structure, so what led to "tediousness" in the play itself can only have been rhetorical overkill, with perhaps some spectacular elaboration of military scenes, given the size of the cast (24).


Works Cited

Astington, John H., Actors and Acting in Shakespeare's Time. The Art of Stage Playing (Cambridge, 2010).
Feuillerat, Albert, Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth (Leuven, 1908).



Site created and maintained by John H. Astington, University of Toronto; updated 23 Aug 2010.