University of Virginia Library


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The Plots of The Dead Man's Fortune and 2 Seven Deadly Sins: Inferences for Theatre Historians
Scott McMillin

Two of the extant theatrical "plots" from the Elizabethan playhouses — those of The Dead Man's Fortune and The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins — pose a special problem for theatre historians. On the one hand, we find in these manuscripts our most extensive evidence for the personnel of major acting companies in the obscure years of 1589-1594; on the other, because those years are obscure, we do not know how to interpret the extensive evidence. The plots are related to each other in some way, for they both name "Burbage" as an actor (presumably Richard Burbage) and they both seem to have been in the possession of Edward Alleyn.[1] But Burbage is the only actor named in both plots — the nineteen other names in 2 Seven Deadly Sins do not correspond to the three other names in The Dead Man's Fortune — and we are thus confronted with evidence that the two most famous Elizabethan actors were associated for a time, even as the same evidence fails to prove in which company of players the association occurred. Moreover, some of the actors named in the manuscripts correspond to leading members of the Chamberlain's men in 1594-95, raising hopes that the plots bear upon Shakespeare's early years in the theatre; but Shakespeare is not named in either one. The years of 1589 to 1594 are the hardest period for historians of the Elizabethan theatre, for the constitution of the acting companies, the theatres in which they played, and the playwrights whose works they performed all share in the obscurity which blankets the "lost years" of the Shakespeare biography. From this narrow gap of time come two manuscript plots, offering fuller details than we normally expect from such papers, and refusing to tell us exactly what we want to know.

The answers to all questions are not at hand, but I think the two plots deserve fresh examination. The last full comparison was performed some forty years ago, when Greg and Chambers, conducting their superlative studies of the Elizabethan stage, found that their interpretations of the plots remained in disagreement. In undertaking a new examination of the documents, I wish to accomplish two purposes: 1) to bring that longstanding disagreement to something of a conclusion, if Greg and Chambers


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were right in their shared assumptions about the dates of the plots; 2) on the possibility that they were wrong about the dates, to raise a new speculation about the provenance of The Dead Man's Fortune.

Greg and Chambers agreed that both plots must date from before May of 1591, on the grounds that a professional association between Burbage and Alleyn would have been unlikely after the argument which had occurred by that time between the Burbage family and Alleyn's company of actors.[2] According to this view, Alleyn and others of the Admiral's men were playing at James Burbage's the Theatre prior to the argument. They are supposed to have been cooperating in some way with Strange's men at this time, for the Court records of 1590-91 interchange the names of the two companies. Chambers held that the cooperation was in effect an amalgamation which lasted from approximately 1590 to 1594 and that the two plots come from one company, probably from the amalgamated company, in 1590 or early 1591. Greg argued that the two companies ordinarily acted separately before May of 1591, the joint performances at Court having been an occasional association; thus the plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins represents Strange's men acting alone at the Curtain, while the plot of The Dead Man's Fortune represents the Admiral's men at the Theatre. The appearance of Burbage's name in both plots Greg explained on the assumption that the young actor was attached to his father's playhouse interests rather than to any one company and acted at both the Theatre and the Curtain.

A close study of the manuscripts, I submit, reveals a considerable contrast in the casting of the two plays and renders unlikely the view that the plots originated with one company in the brief span of 1590-91. 2 Seven Deadly Sins represents a large organization, perhaps the largest of which we have record before the turn of the century. The plot records the names, at least in part, of twenty actors and includes two major roles (Henry VI and Lydgate) for which the actors are not named and which could not have been doubled from the specified twenty.[3] Also unnamed are the actors of the seven deadly sins and of Mercury (who appears, for reasons unknown, at the end), but since these roles could to some extent have been doubled by the named actors, we can only say that the company included between twenty-two and twenty-nine performers. At least six of these were boys, for they played female roles; the rest, we assume, were men. Since the action is


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framed as three playlets, treating separately the themes of Envy, Sloth, and Lechery, the number of characters is large. The plot shows thirty-five named roles and twenty-seven unnamed — demands which correspond to the heavier history plays of the early 1590's — but aside from the problem of casting the seven sins in the opening scene, the company was able to handle the succession of roles without excessive doubling. Thomas Pope and Augustine Phillips, for example, who performed leading roles in the second playlet, were not called upon in the first and third, and more than half the company was free from performing in at least one of the segments. Walk-on parts are generously assigned: the "some attendants" of scene iii turns out to be four; six soldiers are named in scenes iv and v, and at least four captains in scenes xiii and xvi.

The Dead Man's Fortune reveals a different situation. At first glance it seems easier to cast than 2 Seven Deadly Sins, having only about half as many parts. But the action alternates between a main plot of romantic characteristics (apparently a story of young lovers saved by a magician's influence upon their obstructing elders) and a sub-plot derived from the commedia tradition (apparently a story of a cuckolded Pantalone), and when these strands come together at the conclusion, some twenty-one to twenty-three performers being on stage together, there are signs in the manuscript that the company was forced to expedients of casting which the ample personnel of the Sins company did not face. As Greg recognized, the conclusion is arranged to allow actors from the sub-plot to double several of the roles added to the main plot in this scene.[4] What has slipped by unnoticed is the particular playhouse maneuver which allowed this doubling to occur. In the margin of the manuscript are some notes for a scene to be inserted just prior to the large conclusion, and this appears to have been a late addition — a piece of vamping, probably — to allow the necessary doubling by the sub-plot actors.

The marginal addition, of course, did not escape Greg's eye. He explained it as a correction to an error on the part of the scribe, who earlier in his work had been forced to correct just such a mistake. The scribe had begun the plot on what is now the reverse side, but after a few lines, discovering that he had omitted a scene, he abandoned this attempt, turned the board over, and wrote the plot on the other side. Thus the marginal addition toward the end seemed to Greg the second example of an absentminded scribe. But the marginal addition toward the end, as Greg noticed, was written not by the scribe but by a playhouse annotator, who also added calls for music during four intervals in the action. The playhouse annotator was obviously concerned with details of production, and his marginal addition,


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written in haphazard language which does not resemble the usual formulas of the plots, and supplying a scene which Greg admitted (pp. 103-104) was not integral to the action, looks like a late insertion intended to serve a pragmatic theatrical purpose. That purpose seems to have concerned the doubling of roles in the conclusion. Without the insertion, the sub-plot actors would have appeared in the scene preceding the conclusion. With the insertion, which involves five characters from the main plot, the sub-plot actors would have gained time to dress for their doubled roles in the conclusion.[5]

This interpretation is hardly conclusive in itself, but the manuscript gives other evidence that casting was a problem, particularly in the smaller roles. For one thing, the only performers named, aside from one reference to Burbage, are "Darlowe," "Robart lee," and "b samme," these three having slight parts in several places, and the "tyre man," who appears once. For a playhouse functionary like the tire-man (from the tiring-house) to be pressed into service is not a unique occurrence in theatrical documents, but it does indicate that the regular actors fell short of filling out the scene. What happened in The Dead Man's Fortune is clear enough. The tire-man was forced to serve as an attendant to characters named Tesephon and Allgerius in IV, i (Greg's division). Now Tesephon and Allgerius were accompanied by attendants in two earlier scenes, lighter in demands of casting, and in both cases the attendants were played by Darlowe, Lee, and "samme." In IV, i, however, two speaking roles occur which do not figure elsewhere — a messenger and one Euphrodore — and the plot assigns these parts to Lee and "samme," the attendants being left to Darlowe and the tire-man.[6] In terms of casting, IV, i occurs in the most demanding section of the play apart from the large final scene,[7] and it seems reasonable to conclude that the marginally-added scene toward the end was intended to solve the same kind of problem which the tire-man was called upon to solve in IV, i.


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The composition of the company can be determined with reasonable precision from this information. Since the four female roles cannot be doubled, the organization must have included four boys. Darlowe, Lee, and "samme" appear to have formed the entire group of regular supernumeraries, for it is when two of them are assigned brief speaking roles in IV, i that the tire-man is called into play. The rest of the adult actors played important speaking roles — that is, named roles which recur throughout — and they seem to have numbered eleven. Greg estimated their number at ten, but he assumed that King Egereon, who appears only in the long concluding scene, would have been played by a supernumerary. Kings, even late-arriving kings, do not usually walk on in Elizabethan plays, and since this king remains throughout the long conclusion, I assume that his role was important enough to be played by an experienced actor.[8] This company estimated at eighteen — four boys, three supernumeraries, and eleven capable men — cannot easily be identified with the company of between twenty-two and twenty-nine players for whom the plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins was prepared. Darlowe, Lee, and "samme" do not appear among the twenty named actors of the Sins plot, nor does the Sins plot show signs of the kind of casting problems which the company of Dead Man's Fortune maneuvered to solve. The handwritings of the two manuscripts do not correspond. Aside from the appearance of Burbage's name in both plots, and aside from the likelihood that Alleyn possessed both manuscripts, there is nothing to suggest that 2 Seven Deadly Sins and The Dead Man's Fortune had the same provenance.

Chambers' theory that the plots originated with one company in a brief period of its career appears to be incorrect. Yet we cannot simply affirm Greg's opinion and bring matters to a comfortable conclusion. The difficulty is that while Greg was probably right to argue that the plots imply separate companies, his identification of those companies as Strange's men and the Admiral's men involves some troublesome elements. To suppose that Burbage's name appears in both plots because he shuttled between the two companies rather falters in the absence of any example of an Elizabethan player similarly related to different organizations. Moreover, of the two organizations to which Greg assigned Burbage in 1590-91, we cannot be certain that one, the Admiral's men, existed at that time as a distinct company in London. The company's existence is always assumed, but the assumption lacks solid grounding in fact. Edward Alleyn and his brother John retained their personal designations as servants to the Lord Admiral in the early 1590's, but when we search for their fellow "Admiral's men" in


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London we come to the name of James Tunstall and no more.[9] Some "Admiral's men" were touring the provinces in the early 1590's, and some left for the continent in 1592,[10] but records for an Admiral's company acting in London between 3 March 1590 (when they certainly appeared at Court) and 14 May 1594 (when they reorganized under Alleyn's leadership and opened at Henslowe's playhouse) are curiously uncertain. In fact there are only two such records, and they occur in the Court documents for 1590-91 which interchange the company's name with Strange's men. It appears unlikely that there was a London company of Admiral's men in the early 1590's — a point that needs to be stressed because a good deal of the theatre history written for this period fails to notice it — and rather more likely that the Alleyn brothers, retaining their personal standing as servants to the Lord Admiral and accompanied by Tunstall, were performing with Strange's men at the Theatre in 1590-91.

In the face of uncertainties such as these, while allowing that Greg's argument for the separate origins of the plots seems accurate, we cannot easily accept his specific conclusion that The Dead Man's Fortune represents the Admiral's men and a free-lancing Burbage. A new working hypothesis would be encouraging, and the best way to locate a new hypothesis is to consider further the most specific evidence at hand, the evidence in the plot itself. If it seems likely that the playhouse annotator of The Dead Man's Fortune inserted the marginal scene in order to solve a problem of doubling, our best inference is that the company had undergone a reduction in personnel which necessitated a late adjustment of this sort. The small number of supernumeraries indicated in the plot and the use of the tire-man to fill out a scene strengthen this impression. Moreover, it is a


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peculiarity of this plot (compared to the other known examples) that it includes no systematic naming of actors. Apart from Burbage (whose name, as Greg noticed, must have been accidentally substituted for the name of his role), only the supernumeraries are mentioned. The plot rather appears to have been prepared for a company already familiar with the play but forced by a reduction in personnel to adjust the casting; the adjustments made the assignments of the supernumeraries important enough to record, called a theatre functionary into costume, and required an additional scene prior to the final large grouping of characters.

Now the London companies often had to tour the provinces in the early 1590's, and (as Chambers noticed) a touring company would ordinarily have sought economy by reducing their number of lesser actors or "hired men."[11] The characteristics of The Dead Man's Fortune fit well with the situation we should imagine for a company on tour, while the characteristics of 2 Seven Deadly Sins seem appropriate to the greater stability and larger numbers of a company acting in London. Since the usual interpretation assigns 2 Seven Deadly Sins to Strange's men in 1590-91, when they were a prominent London company and Burbage was almost certainly acting with them (this element is common to the theories of Greg and Chambers), we have no reason to seek a new explanation for that plot. For The Dead Man's Fortune, however, we should ask if there is evidence of a touring company in which Burbage may have acted (not to mention Darlowe, Lee, "samme," and the tire-man), and which can be connected to Alleyn in such a way as to explain how the manuscript came into his possession.

So long as May of 1591 is taken as the later limit of The Dead Man's Fortune, as Greg and Chambers assumed, little can be said about provincial tours. The Admiral's men toured often in 1590-May, 1591, but they are unlikely, as I have indicated above, to have been related to the plots. Strange's men, who have a closer bearing on one of the plots, do not appear in the provincial records during this period; indeed, they seem to have taken special pains to continue acting in London.[12] Although many theatrical events which could have involved Burbage, Alleyn, and The Dead Man's Fortune have disappeared from view, on the surface of information for 1590-May, 1591, we cannot observe specific occurrences which relate to the manuscript's indications of revision for a reduced company.

We have reason to think, however, that May of 1591 should not be taken as the later limit for The Dead Man's Fortune, for it is entirely possible that Burbage and Alleyn were associated at a later time. As Greg proved in his edition of Henslowe's Diary, for ten days in June of 1594 the


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reorganized Admiral's men and the new Chamberlain's men collaborated at Newington Butts.[13] Alleyn certainly led the Admiral's men at that time, and there is no reason to doubt that Burbage, named as a payee for the Chamberlain's men in the Court records of 1594-95, belonged to that company from its inception. Until now, this has been regarded as an isolated sign of cooperation between the two companies and a slender basis for imagining a "professional association" between the two leading actors. After the ten days in June, the companies certainly went their separate ways, Alleyn and Burbage becoming popular rivals to one another. Isolated signs of cooperation are in themselves a little odd, however, and there is a possibility that earlier in 1594 the actors who would collaborate in June, presumably including Alleyn and Burbage, entered upon a first stage of their association at Henslowe's Rose. A company known as Sussex's men played two brief seasons for Henslowe early in 1594, and their repertory included Titus Andronicus and The Jew of Malta, two plays not otherwise known in relation to the Sussex company. Since both plays were also performed during the ten days at Newington Butts, the possibility arises that the Sussex's seasons at the Rose and the Admiral's-Chamberlain's cooperation at Newington Butts belonged to a single process in the reorganization of the London companies. This is not the place to present the argument about Sussex's men in detail. I mention it only to give additional edge to the possibility, and nothing more than the possibility, of an association between Burbage and Alleyn not only for the ten days in June, but also for five or six months before. There is no reason to assume that May of 1591 is the last time when a manuscript plot involving Burbage could have come into Alleyn's possession.

And that raises a new possibility for the provenance of The Dead Man's Fortune. For more than two years after May of 1591, Alleyn and Strange's men, separating from the Burbage interests at the Theatre, moved to Henslowe's Rose for their London seasons and traveled in the country when the plague ran high in the City. One wonders what Richard Burbage was doing at that time. One wonders a little more poignantly what Shakespeare was doing too, and whether he was with Burbage. Neither can be located in Strange's men, and according to current estimates we should look to a company of brief existence called Pembroke's men, who apparently formed as an offshoot of Strange's men, perhaps in May of 1591, became prominent enough to play at Court in the Christmas season of 1592-93, spent much of their short time in the provinces, performed at least three Shakespearean plays, and foundered in the summer of 1593.[14] Soon thereafter, three of their plays were published in what we have learned to call "bad quartos" — reported versions of plays probably cut down for provincial


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touring. These are The Taming of A Shrew and the quarto versions of 2 and 3 Henry VI. A thorough study of the constitution of this company as it can be inferred from these reduced texts remains to be made,[15] but at the moment I see nothing to rule out the possibility that the plot of The Dead Man's Fortune, with its record of Burbage's name, with a possible date after May of 1591, with signs of revision for a reduced company, and with indications of the small number of hired men we would expect for a provincial tour, originated with Pembroke's men in 1592-93 and came into Alleyn's possession during the first half of 1594.

With that as a working hypothesis, matters come to a pause. The constitution of Pembroke's men is a difficult subject which cannot be encompassed here. For the moment, we can only notice that the manuscript evidence raises the possibility of a connection between The Dead Man's Fortune and Pembroke's men without affording proof. Once again, the plots refuse to tell us exactly what we want to know. Darlowe, Lee, and "samme" are silent on the matter, and the tire-man is no help at all.



See W. W. Greg, Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses: Commentary (1931), pp. 6-11. The companion volume of reproductions and transcripts provides the best text of the plots.


E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (1930), I, 48-52; Greg, Documents: Commentary, pp. 16-19. The argument was related to the Burbage-Brayne controversy, documented by C. W. Wallace, The First London Theatre: Materials for a History, Nebraska Univ. Studies, Vol. 13 (1913), and summarized in E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (1923), II, 387-395.


"Vincent" appears only once, as a musician in scene xiii, and he may have been more a playhouse musician than a regular actor. But the distinction between "musician" and "actor" cannot be sharply drawn for Elizabethan performers, who usually knew several crafts. The manuscript shows that originally two actor-musicians (Cowly and Sincler) were cast in this scene, the "2" being changed to "3" when Vincent became available.


Documents: Commentary, pp. 99-101. I follow Greg's interpretation that the concluding episodes form one continuous scene. It may be added that for the three "antique faires" who dance into the conclusion, the plot specifies serial entrances and exits. Since similar serial entrances follow for Validore, Asspida, and Rose from the sub-plot, these groups of three roles apiece were probably doubled.


Some of the revisions in The Book of Sir Thomas More probably served a similar purpose, as I have explained in "The Book of Sir Thomas More: A Theatrical View," MP, 68 (1970), 10-24. Greg might have assumed that the "Musique" signaled before the start of the concluding scene provided an interval for the doubling, but we cannot assume that this was more than a momentary pause. A similar call for music before IV, i did not meet the casting problem that the tire-man had to solve. Wilfred T. Jewkes, Act Division in Elizabethan and Jacobean Plays: 1583-1616 (Hamdon, Conn., 1958), pp. 96-103, concludes that act intervals of the kind Greg seems to have had in mind were not a practice in the public theatres before 1607.


At first glance it appears that Burbage played the messenger, but Greg's interpretation, the only one to account for every detail in this scene, must be correct: Burbage's name was entered in mistake for the name of his major role, and the messenger was a separate part played by Lee. (Documents: Commentary, pp. 102-103.)


By a "section" of the play I mean a group of three successive scenes. The most demanding sections are: IV, vi-V, ii, twenty-one to twenty-three roles; III, iv-IV, ii, nineteen roles; several sections between II, ii and II, vi, sixteen roles.


The supernumeraries would have been busy with the "Officers" and "Lords" who enter with Egereon; one fears that the tireman might have been summoned again at this point. It should occur to students of such details that in an Elizabethan repertory company the royal costumes, expensive and used in various plays, would have been fitted to leading actors.


As Greg noticed in Documents: Commentary, p. 16n. What has confused the matter is John Alleyn's testimony in the Burbage-Brayne case (Wallace, First London Theatre, p. 101), where he refers to the Lord Admiral's patronage. This has always been taken as proving that "the Admiral's men" were playing at the Theatre in 1590-May, 1591, but it is equally possible that Alleyn was referring to his and his brother's standing as personal servants to the Lord Admiral. That Edward Alleyn retained this standing is well-known from the Privy Council warrant of 6 May 1593 in behalf of Strange's men (Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, II, 123). John Alleyn was afforded special attention as the Admiral's servant in Privy Council business of 14 July 1589; that he used to dwell with the Lord Admiral is mentioned in a letter of 22 September 1612. See G. F. Warner, Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Muniments at Dulwich College (1881), p. 85 and p. 98.


The provincial visits are recorded in Chambers, William Shakespeare, II, 306-307, and Giles E. Dawson, Records of Plays and Players in Kent: 1450-1642, Malone Society Collections, Vol. 7 (1965), p. 175. The continental trip of 1592 has been misunderstood. Chambers supposed that in issuing a passport to certain performers the Lord Admiral was acting in his official capacity, not as the players' patron (Elizabethan Stage, II, 274). Unfortunately, the important phrase estants mes joueurs et serviteurs does not appear in Chambers' transcription. For a complete transcription and the correct interpretation that the actors were from the Admiral's men, see Erik Wikland, Elizabethan Players in Sweden: 1591-92, trans. Patrick Hort (Stockholm, 1962), p. 99.


Elizabethan Stage, I, 331-332.


I refer to the petitions from Strange's men and Henslowe to the Privy Council, as interpreted in Chambers, William Shakespeare, I, 43. As for provincial tours, all references to Strange's men in this period, including the records recently published by Dawson (see note 10), must be dated in September, 1591 or later.


Henslowe's Diary, ed. Greg (1904-08), II, 84-85.


See J. Dover Wilson (ed.), 2 Henry VI (1952), pp. vii-xiv, along with Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, II, 128-134 and William Shakespeare, I, 46-50.


I have attempted a preliminary study in "Casting for Pembroke's Men," SQ, 23 (1972).