Truth's Supplication to Candlelight

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Thomas Dekker (1600)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 67 ((Greg I.117)

Lent vnto Thomas towne the 18 of Janewary 1599 }
to lend thomas dickers in earneste of a playe Boocke } xxs
called trewghtes [c]suplication to candelighte some of }
                                                        as may a pere

ll s d
17- 12- 00 Lent vnto Thomas dickers at the apoyntment }
of the company the 30 of Janewary 1599 in erneste } xxs
of a Boocke called trewth suplication to candelithe }
Rd by wm harton for hime . . . . . . . . }

Fol. 30v (Greg I.58)

Receiued by me william Haughton for the vse }
of Thomas dickers on the 30th. of Januarie }
the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20s
Jn parte of payement for the booke of truths
supplycation to candle light

Diary fragment in the collection of the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle

Foakes (p. 267)

                        18. die Januarij. 1599
<R>eceaved by mee Thomas Dekker at the handes of Mr
<Ph>illip Hynchlow the Somme of twenty Shillinges in ernest
<of> a play Called Truethes supplication to Candle-light
                               By mee Thomas Dekker
thomas towne

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men, at the Rose in January 1600 but looking ahead to their move to the Fortune by the end of the year, paid 40s. to Thomas Dekker toward the playbook of "Truth's Supplication to Candlelight." This sum does not seem sufficient to indicate that the play was completed.

Probable Genre(s)

Allegorical Hist[ory] (Fleay, BCED), Greg II, Harbage)
Nocturnal comedy (Steggle)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Thomas Nashe's Christ's Tears over Jerusalem (1593). In a section of the work devoted to the sin of lust, the narrative voice is meditating on the wickedness of night-time:

If God (as in Esay) should ask our watch-man the deuill, Custos, quid de nocte? Watchman, what seest thou? what seest thou in London by night? he would answer, I see a number of whores making men drunke, to cosen them of theyr money. I see others of them sharing halfe with the Baudes their Hostesses, & laughing at the Punies they haue lurched. Others meeting with their cutpurse Paramours in the darke, to whom they deliuer what they haue been getting all day from a dozen. I see reuelling, dauncing, and banquetting til midnight. I see a number of wiues cockolding their husbands, vnder pretence of going to their next neighbours labour. I see Gentleweomen baking in their painting on their faces by the fire, and burning out many pounds of Candle in pinning their treble rebaters, when they will not bestow the snuffe of a light in looking on anie good Booke. I see theft, murder and conspiracie, following their businesse verie closelie. What would you haue more? Those whom the Sunne sees not in a month together, I now see in their cups and their iolitie.
Well conceited was the Italian, who writ the Supplication to Candle-light, earnestly desiring her by writing to disclose vnto him the rare secretes shee sawe in her Emperie.
One Iudgement-day is scarce enough for GOD to take the confession alone of Candle-light. He had neede of a night of iudgement as well as a day, to endite the sinners of the night.
Prouident Justices, to whom these abuses redresse appertaineth, take a little paines to visite these houses of hospitality by night, and you shall see what Courtes of good fellowship they keepe. Hoyse up bawdes in the Subsidie booke, for the plentie they liue in is princelie. A great office is not so gainefull as the principalship of a Colledge of Curtizans. No Merchant in ritches may compare with those Merchants of maiden--head, if theyr female Inmates were not so fleeting & uncertaine….
(Nashe, Works, 2.150-1)

References to the Play

Critical Commentary

Fleay proposed that "Truth's Supplication to Candlelight" was an earlier version of Dekker's later play The Whore of Babylon. He argues that the original version has left traces in the extant play:

[T]he play as extant was altered from an earlier version produced in Elizabeth's reign. In Sc. 10 a passage beginning how "a jury of bright stars" found the Moon that borrowed light from Elizabeth, i.e., Mary of Scotland, "unworthy to shine again," goes on in allusion to Essex quite beyond the scope of the original play. All the "he's" in this passage have been changed from "she's," but clumsily, and not by Dekker, who wrote the Address without seeing the proof-sheets. Again, Sc. 5, "For let me whisper — it may not be," is a manifest interpolation…
(BCED, 1.133)

Greg II, following Fleay's suggestion, identified the play with Dekker's Whore of Babylon (S. R. 20 Apr. 1607; Q1607). For him, the "mention of a robe for Time" purchased in April 1600 and "the extreme appropriateness" of the 1600 title made "the identification practically certain" (#195, p. 210). He did not resolve the apparent contradiction of purchasing apparel in 1600 for a play in 1607, or those of internal evidence in Whore of Babylon that mix references to events in Elizabeth's reign with those in James's. He seemed skeptical, however, that Dekker in 1600 "should have represented as contemporary events which happened in 1587." He mentioned but provided no reference for a possible allusion to the play "under its later title" in Satiromastix, 1601.

Bowers repeats the suggested connection of "Truth's Supplication to Candlelight" with The Whore of Babylon, adding that E. K. Chambers was skeptical that a play on Mary, Queen of Scots, would be acceptable subject matter in 1600 (ES, 2:493).

Hoy essentially dismisses the connection between the 1600 and 1607 plays, declaring the proposed evidence to be "very slight grounds" (2:304). He finds many more reasons to declare The Whore of Babylon a discrete project belonging to 1606. In a note on Fleay's identification, Hoy points out distinct flaws in the argument, including the wrenched logic of an allusion in a 1602 play to one not yet written (303n); Hoy does identify the perceived allusion in Satiromastix: "whore a Babilon" (IV.i.147-148).

Foakes identifies the autograph signatures of Dekker and Towne in the receipt that survives in a diary fragment now in the collection of the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle (p. 267).

In work undertaken in connection with the LPD, Steggle invokes EEBO-TCP.

[A]n EEBO-TCP search for supplication to candlelight OR supplication to candle-light... detects no occurrences of the phrase that support the idea that the play might have been an allegorical history. On the contrary, it detects results from seven works, which, taken together, show that the motif of a "supplication to candlelight" has a consistent and distinctive flavour.
(Steggle, Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England, 91)

These results comprise the Nashe passage cited above, and numerous imitations of it in later satirical and devotional writing. "For Nashe, Brathwaite, Adams, Rogers, Swinnock, and N. H., the hypothetical 'Supplication to Candlelight' is part of a discourse about the wicked secrets of night-time, and specifically about the wickedness of the city at night" (93).

Steggle explores Dekker's numerous borrowings from Nashe in his extant work, including some from this section of Christ's Tears. Additionally, much later Dekker writing personifies Candle-light as part of an exploration of nocturnal urban sin, as for instance in this passage:

O Candle-light, Candle-light! to howe manie costly Sacke-possets and reare Banquets hast thou beene musted by Prentices and Kitchen-maidens? When the Bell-man for anger to spie (such a Purloyner of Cittizens goods) so many, hath bounced at the doore like a madde man, At which (as if Robin Good-fellow had beene coniur'd vp amongst them, the Wenches haue, falne into the handes of the Greene-sicknesse, and the yong fellowes into colde Agues, with verie feare least their maister (like olde Ieronimo and Isabella his wife after him) starting out of his naked bed should came downe (with a Weapon in his hande) and this in his mouth: What outcryes pull vs from our naked bedde? Who calles? &c. as the Players can tell you. O Candle-light, howe hast thou stuncke then…
(Dekker, The Seven Deadly Sinnes of London, 22-3)

Steggle, therefore, argues that "Truth's Supplication to Candlelight" was a nocturnal comedy.

See also Wiggins, Catalogue (#1243), who adds: "I have considered the possibility of a link with Peter Pett's poem, Time's Journey to Seek his Daughter Truth (1599), but have found no compelling evidence".

For What It's Worth

Greg connected the purchase of a robe for Time in Henslowe's Diary on 2 April 1600 with "Truth's Supplication to Candlelight," persuaded apparently of its connection to Dekker's Whore of Babylon in which the character of Time appears (II. 210, Item # 195). The diary entry is as follows:

Fol. 68v (Greg I.120)

Lent vnto Robart shaw the 2 of aprell 1600 for }
to by a Robe for tyme some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . } xxxxs

In spite of the abandonment of the Whore of Babylon hypothesis, Wiggins thinks that the robe may still be for Truth's Supplication, since the date is about right.

Works Cited

Bowers, Fredson. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker. 4 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1953-61.
Dekker, Thomas. The Seven Deadly Sinnes of London. London: Nathaniel Butter, 1606.
Hoy, Cyrus. Introductions, Notes, and commentaries to Texts in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, Edited by Fredson Bowers. 4 vols. New York: Cambridge UP. 1980.
Nashe, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, rev. F. P. Wilson, 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958.
Steggle, Matthew. Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England: Ten Case Studies. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; additions by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University. Updated 9 March 2017.