Queen's Men - The Plays
The Queen’s Men's repertory features a variety of comedies, histories, and tragedies. It is widely believed that they were the first company to stage a history play with The Famous Victories of Henry V, and also the first romantic comedy with Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Before Scott McMillin and Sally Beth MacLean’s work on the company, many critics discounted the company’s repertory as simply earlier sources for Shakespeare’s work. It is true that several of the plays, like King Leir and Famous Victories, are sources for Shakespeare’s plays, but the plays are uniquely characteristic of the Queen’s Men and deserve consideration independent of discussions of Shakespeare.
I have only included plays which would have definitely been in the company's repertory during the years that they visited the Stanley household. The plays identified below as part of the repertory all have either Queen's Men identified on the title page of the playbooks, or strong external evidence to support their inclusion.
In the table below, for each of the company’s play I have provided bibliographic information, plot summaries, pictures of title pages, and a brief overview of critical opinion. I have used the DEEP database for all textual information on the plays (see provided DEEP reference no's), and all frontispieces are taken from EEBO (see provided STC numbers)
Full Title: The historie of the two valiant Knights, Syr Clyomon Knight of the Golden Sheeld, sonne to the King of Denmarke: And Clamydes the white Knight, sonne to the King of Suauia.
Dates of first production: 1570 [c.1570-1583]
Date of first publication: 1599
Brief plot summary:The plot concerns two knights, Clyomon and Clamydes, and their adventures to find honour and love.
There has been little critical consideration of Clyomon and Clamydes. When the play has been considered, it is often dismissed as a primitive example of Tudor drama. For example, G. R. Hibbard calls the play "a piece of romantic absurdity" (64.) This is a typical viewpoint of the play, and unfairly dismisses the skill it would have taken to perform the play.
STC reel position: 348:11
DEEP reference no.: 276
Full Title: The honorable historie of frier Bacon, and frier Bongay.
Playwright: Made by Robert Greene Maister of Arts.
Dates of first production: 1589 [1586-1590]
Date of first publication: 1594
Brief plot summary: The play revolves around Friar Bacon’s magical powers and culminates in a conjuring competition between Bacon and a German scholar, where Bacon triumphs for England’s honour. Concurrently to this, Prince Edward courts Margaret, a country maid, and is rivalled by his courtier Lacy.
Critical view: There has been much critical attention paid to this play, partly, because the play is considered to be the "first romantic comedy." Frank Ardolino argues that “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is a tour de force of topicality” with its allusions to Queen Elizabeth, Anglo-Spanish relations after the Armada, medieval and renaissance historical characters, and the English countryside and Universities (20). There has also been much interest in the magic of the play, and the portrayal of Roger Bacon.
STC reel position: 344:14
DEEP reference no.: 186
Full title: The famovs victories of Henry the fifth: Containing the Honourable Battell of Agin-court: Containing the Honourable Battell of Agin-Court
Dates of first production: 1586 [1583-1588]
Date of first publication: 1598
Brief plot summary:This play was very popular and was revived for performances years after it was first performed. It follows Henry V’s early life as a rebellious prince, then his coronation, and finishes with his triumph in war over France.
Critical view: Much criticism on the play has focused on the fact that it is the earliest known extant example of an English history play, and also that it was a source for William Shakespeare's trilogy on Henry IV and Henry V. Critics tend to argue over how much Shakespeare used the play as a source.
STC reel position: 47:02.
DEEP reference no.: 253
Full title: The True Chronicle History of King Leir, and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella.
Dates of first production: 1590 [c.1588-1594]
Date of first publication: 1605
Brief plot summary: The play follows King Leir’s disastrous decision to split his kingdom between his daughters Gonorill and Ragan, and his other daughter Cordella’s actions after Leir outcasts her.
Critical view: Like Famous Victories of Henry V, this play has mostly been discussed as a source for Shakespeare’s King Lear. Often the play has been treated harshly in light of this, and it has been argued that the versification is rudimentary and the characters are one dimensional. The comparison to Shakespeare is unfair as it discounts treating the play in its own performance context and historical period.
STC reel position: 405:05
DEEP reference no.: 390
Full title: The Old Wiues Tale. A pleasant conceited Comedie
Playwright: Written by G. P. (consensus believes this refers to George Peele)
Dates of first production: 1590 [c.1588-1594]
Date of first publication: 1595
Brief plot summary: This wonderfully bizarre play has plays-within-plays and stories buried within stories. Briefly, the play is framed by an old woman, Madge, telling "a story" to two servants. This story is the main part of the play, and concerns a magician, Sacrapant, who has stolen Delia, a princess, from her kingdom and hidden her in the countryside of England. Delia's two brothers, and a knight, Eumenides, have come to England to rescue Delia.
Critical view: There has been some limited interest in this play for its complex narration, meta-drama, and portrayal of religion.
STC reel position: 348:14
DEEP reference no.: 212
Full title: The pleasant and Stately Morall, of the three Lordes and three Ladies of London. With the great Ioy and Pompe, Solempnized at their Mariages: Commically interlaced with much honest Mirth, for pleasure and recreation, among many Morall obseruations and other important matters of due Regard.
Playwright: by R. W. (consensus agrees this refers to Robert Wilson)
Dates of first production: 1588 [1588-1590]
Date of first publication: 1590
Brief plot summary: This play is the sequel to The Three Ladies of London. Here the three Ladies of London are now courted by the three Lords of London. The lengthy concluding act concerns the three Lords battling three Spanish Lords, who have come to steal away for three Ladies for themselves.
Critical view: The play has received some interest for a scene discussing Tarlton, where the character Simplicity is selling a portrait of the famous Queen’s Men clown. The majority of the criticism on the play focuses on proving/discounting Wilson’s authorship.
STC reel position: 402:09
DEEP reference no.: 128
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