William Longsword (William Longbeard)
Revision as of 17:55, 15 February 2010 by John Astington (Created page with ' In January 1599 Michael Drayton promised to deliver to the Admiral's men within two or three days his play of "Willm longsword," having been advanced two pounds by Henslowe …')
In January 1599 Michael Drayton promised to deliver to the Admiral's men within two or three days his play of "Willm longsword," having been advanced two pounds by Henslowe against an agreed total fee of six pounds. The Diary offers no further proof that Drayton delivered on this promise, and there are no corresponding signs of production expenses for a play by his title. The project may have been a response to a success by another company, possibly the Chamberlain's men. Among the papers Sir Henry Herbert preserved into the Restoration period were records of Elizabethan licences by his predecessor Edmund Tilney, including the entry "Sir William Longsword allowed to be Acted the. 24. May. 1598." If Herbert and Tilney had their dates right there was at least one (anonymous) Longsword play performed in the late sixteenth century, and if Drayton's project was indeed completed there were two.
A third play was certainly completed by Philip Massinger for Prince Charles's men playing at the Red Bull in 1639, its licence recorded by Herbert: "Massinger, History of Will: Longesword, son to Rosamund, lic. to the bull 1639." Massinger may have revised or adapted earlier dramatic material; it seems that Ellis Worth, an actor then with Prince Charles's troupe, had some access to older manuscripts. Herbert's entry identifies the likely subject of all the Longsword dramas: William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury (1167-1226), soldier and diplomat. Early modern romantic legend identified him as the son of Henry II (which he was) and Rosamund Clifford, "the fair Rosamund" (which he was not: see The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Dramatic treatments of his career are likely to have made much of his military successes against the French, and his political involvement in the difficult reign of King John. Some contemporaries of Drayton and Massinger might have known that William's funeral effigy stood, as it still stands, in Salisbury cathedral, showing him as an armoured knight with a large shield displaying his arms of six rampant lions.
N. W. Bawcutt, The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama (Oxford, 1996).
R. A. Foakes, ed., Henslowe's Diary, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2002).