Two Shapes

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.

Henslowe's Diary

F. 106r HADP, Greg I, 167:

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

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 notes that the title is not in Henslowe's hand, and may be Downton's (Greg I, 233). The second word of the title has occasioned some uncertainty. Malone recorded it as "The Two Harpies" and Collier as "too harpes", noting that the second word might also be hapes, or hopes. However, Greg and Foakes read it as "Two Shapes": Greg explained, "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, Foakes 202).

Greg identified this play with the lost Caesar's Fall, recorded in the diary one week earlier. Henslowe had paid out £5 for Caesar's Fall and attributed it to Munday, Drayton, Webster and "the Rest", with Middleton's name noted above the words "the Rest". Dekker's name does not appear in the Caesar's Fall record, but Greg argued that the close 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).

Andrew Gurr drops Two Shapes from Appendix I ("The Plays"), adding a note to the entry for "Caesar's Fall" that describes the diary entry for Two Shapes. In that note he includes the comment that "Chambers and others think" Two Shapes must be the same play as Caesar's Fall (265).

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 Julius Caesar, the title may thus refer to spectral versions of Caesar and/or other characters, perhaps inspired by the ghost in Shakespeare's play.

If the sums for Caesar's Fall and Two Shapes are added together as payment for a single script, that script becomes the most expensive item in the repertory for the year (160s., or £8), excepting possibly Richard Crookback, for which (with additions to The Spanish Tragedy) Jonson was paid 200s. (£10).

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.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University; updated 15 May, 2011.