Two Shapes

Revision as of 09:57, 15 May 2011 by David Nicol (talk | contribs)

Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Thomas Middleton, Anthony Munday and John Webster (1602)

Historical records

File:Two shapes.jpg
See the relevant MS entry in the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project site here.

The play appears in Henslowe's diary as follows:

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 29 of maye
1602 to paye Thomas dickers drayton mydellton
& webester & mondaye in fulle paymente for
ther playe called too shapes the some of iijll (Greg I, 167)

Malone recorded the title as "The Two Harpies" and Collier as "too harpes", noting that the second word might also be hapes, hopes or harpes. However, W.W. Greg read it as "Two Shapes":

There can be no question as to the letters hapes, but there is something before them. This looks at first sight like a c, but I am convinced on examination that it is really an s, of which the tail is almost invisible.
(Greg I, 233; cf. the facsimile at Henslowe-Alleyn)

Greg notes that the record is not in Henslowe's hand, and may be Downton's.(Greg I, 233)

Theatrical provenance

The payment to Thomas Downton indicates that the play was written for the Admiral's Men.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

Probable Genre(s)


Critical Commentary

W.W. Greg identified this play with the lost Caesar's Fall, recorded in the diary one week earlier; he argued that the correspondence between the dramatists and the payments make this identification "beyond doubt" (Greg II, 222). Subsequent commentators have followed suit.

Doris Feldman and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador (who follow Greg in assuming that Two Shapes was about Julius Caesar) argue that the word "shape" probably refers to disguises (OED, 7); they note that Middleton commonly associates the word with duplicity and suggest that it refers to Caesar's legendary ability to dissimulate (329).

References to the Play

None known.

For What It's Worth

While the word "shapes" could certainly refer to disguises, it may be worth noting that it could also refer to ghosts (OED, 6.c.). If the play was about Caesar, the title may thus refer to spectral versions of Caesar and/or other characters, perhaps inspired by the ghost in Shakespeare's play.

Works Cited

Feldmann, Doris and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador. "Lost Plays: A Brief Account." Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. Ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007. 328-333. Print.

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University; updated 14 May, 2011.