Queen始sMen Editions

About this text

  • Title: Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay: Textual Essay
  • Author: Christopher Matusiak

  • Copyright Queen's Men Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Christopher Matusiak
    Peer Reviewed

    Textual Essay

    1. Textual Essay

    On May 14, 1594, the London Stationers始 company registered a playbook “entituledthe Historye of ffryer BACON and ffryer BOUNGAYE” on behalf of the printer Adam Islip. Islip始s name was subsequently struck from the Hall Book and the entrance transferred to Edward White—an agreed upon substitution, it seems, for the two stationers soon collaborated to issue The 莯 HONORABLE HISTORIE 莯 of frier Bacon and frier Bongay (ESTC 12267). A fleur-de-lis on the title page of this quarto identifies Islip as its printer; he had recently purchased the device along with his type from the senior stationer John Wolfe (Arber 2: 649, 3: 700; Hoppe 267). Copies of Q1 were sold at White始s shop under “the signe of the Gun” in St Paul始s churchyard, advertised as having been “plaid by her Maiesties seruants” and “[m]ade by Robert Greene Maister of Arts.” Greene始s name appears again on the book始s final leaf along with his Horatian motto, “Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci” (‘he who mingles profit with pleasure wins every point始), leaving no question about his authorship. Four impressions of Q1 survive, none wholly intact. Those held by the British Library (C.34.c.37), Houghton Library (HOLLIS number 005653520), and the Huntington Library (HEH 30167) are cropped and missing leaves. The best-preserved copy is in the rare book collection at Corpus Christi College, Oxford (shelf-mark Phi.B.1.3.4) and serves as the basis for this Queen始s Men edition.

    Islip始s quarto shows few obvious signs of error. It collates signatures A to I continuously and running titles are printed without interruption from A3vto I2r. Speech is represented in roman type, with speech prefixes, stage directions, and Latin expressions in italic. Catchwords are occasionally inconsistent (e.g. seedes / seeds [Dr-v], Well / Warren [D4r-v], If / Is [Er-v]), a few letters have been turned or elided (e.g. TLN 850, 1203, 1739, 1821, 1866, 2059), and Islip appears to have been working with a damaged ffligature (TLN 953, 1602, 1853). Omitted space resulted in several crowded lines (e.g. TLN 154, 977, 1581) and one line has inadvertently been set twice (TLN 1781-82). Skeltonic verse spoken by the clown Miles is rendered as prose (e.g TLN 887-892), either crushed for the sake of economy or simply typeset as the compositor found it in the manuscript. Variants unique to the Huntington Library copy indicate at least one stoppage in presswork; these corrections were minimal however, amounting to the righting of an inverted letter, a redistribution of space across congested lines, and the excision of a single word, is (TLN 610). Only rarely is substantive misreading apparent, as in Hellens cape for “Helen始s scape” (TLN 666), Scocon for “Saxon” (TLN 830), and Essex for “Sussex” (TLN 931). The relative absence of corruption suggests Islip had access to an orderly and legible manuscript.

    On the nature of this underlying copy, however, there is little agreement. The discernments of past editors have tended to hinge, in particular, on the interpretation of a unique stage direction printed in the left margin of signature G2v—“Sit down and knocke your head”—a signal to the actor playing Miles to fall asleep during his nocturnal watch over the brazen head in scene 10 (TLN 1611). W.W. Greg始s early edition for the Malone Society (1926) regards this notation as “an addition actually made in the playhouse” and concludes on this basis that Q1 was typeset from a prompting manuscript that a theatrical bookkeeper used to regulate performance (vi). Daniel Seltzer would later cautiously agree in his Regents edition (1963) that Q1 was “very likely printed from theatrical copy,” adding the caveat that the marginal text is “not the sort of instruction which would have been any use to the prompter” (xi). Bookkeepers始 inscriptions in surviving play manuscripts tend, by contrast, to be anticipatory, serving to remind players of impending entrances or that stage properties or music were to be made ready. Seltzer始s “overall impression,” nevertheless, is that “the printer did have at his disposal a copy which had been used by actors,” and he proposes that “Sit down and knocke your head” may be “an example of direction in rehearsal.” (xi) If this is correct, and Q1 enshrines action improvised while Friar Bacon was being prepared by the actors, then Miles始s accompanying cry—“passion a God I haue almost broke my pate!” (TLN 1612)—would seem to preserve an interlinear addition as well.

    The claim that Q1 was set from an “actual promptbook” failed to persuade the play始s next editor, J.A. Lavin, whose New Mermaids edition (1968) argues that textual irregularities in the quarto point to a source closer to Greene始s own papers. Stage directions, for instance, occasionally fail to indicate that a character has entered. We hear nothing of the rustic Richard before he steps forward from an undifferentiated crowd of “other clownes” to converse with Lacy and Margaret in scene 3 (TLN 355, 414); and the Duke of Saxony is repeatedly addressed as though standing among the European dignitaries at the English court, yet is nowhere described as entering in scenes 4, 8, 11, and 15 (TLNs 444-45, 1113-14, 1695-96, and 2074-79). Lavin supposed that a bookkeeper worth his salt would have resolved such ambiguities in the practical interest of producing a coherent promptbook (xxxiii).

    As further evidence of authorial copy, Lavin adduces writerly references to the status, mood, and motivations of characters in Q1始s stage directions: as the play opens, for instance, Edward enters “malcontented” (TLN 1); Miles is described as Bacon始s “poore scholer with bookes vnder his arme” (TLN 171-72); Margaret is several times introduced by the epithet “the faire mayd of Fressingfield” (TLN 354, 673, 1740, 1767, and 2078); and in the penultimate scene the devil enters explicitly “to seeke Miles” (TLN 2010). Cues for action are frequently so immediate as to be of no obvious value to a prompter: “Heere Bungay coniures and the tree appeares with the dragon shooting fire” (TLN 1197-98); “Heere [Hercules] begins to breake the branches” (TLN 1214); “Heere the Head speakes and a lightning flasheth forth, and a hand appeares that breaketh down the Head with a hammer” (TLN 1635-37). In one instance, a stage direction is printed after the action it calls for; in scene 4, after Joan and Thomas converse for eight lines, we read: “All this while Lacie whispersMargret in the eare” (TLN 391). Elsewhere, directions hint at an author disposed to prose narrative: “Enter Frier Bacon drawing the courtaines with a white sticke, a book in his hand, and a lampe lighted by him, and the brasen head and miles, whith weapons by him” (TLN 1561-63). Cumulatively, Lavin interpreted these textual features as evidence that “the printer始s copy was a transcript (probably of Greene始s fair or foul papers) in which the play had been only partly prepared for acting” (xxxiii, 72 n.49).

    A second look lends some credence to Lavin始s theory, while suggesting further that the transcript he envisions may have been in Greene始s own hand. We can expect a holograph to have born Greene始s signature and motto on its final leaf, as witnessed by Q1. Moreover, the imperative mood of the text始s marginal direction (“Sit down and knocke your head”) is consistent with others attributed to Greene early in his playwriting career. For example, stage directions in Alphonsus King of Aragon (acted c. 1587, printed 1599) regularly address the players using the second-person pronoun: “After you haue sounded thrise, letVenusbe let downe from the top of the Stage” (A3r); “sinke downe where you came vp (E1v); “Make as though you were a going out” (E2v); “Lay hold ofFabius, and make as though you carrie him out” (G1v). It has been suggested the directorial impulse evident in these signals may reflect a certain unease about leaving theatrical business to the players, whom Greene later disparaged in print as mere “Puppets … that spake from [playwrights始] mouths,” and “antics garnished in our colors” (Melnikoff 41-3; Groats-worth of Witte F1v).

    A contemporary remark about Greene始s handwriting yields another clue that support Lavin始s reading. When the writer and scribe Henry Chettle acquired a copy of A Groats-worth of Witte in 1593, he characterized it as “ill written,” adding that because “sometimes Greene始s hand was none of the best” it was necessary to transcribe his papers into more legible copy before they could be licensed and printed (A Kind-Harts Dream A4r). As noted above, there is no indication that Q1始s compositor was ever seriously confused by his copy, from which we may infer the use of a manuscript tidier than Greene始s foul papers. This fairer transcript, if not the work of a theatrical scribe, may well then have been the product of Greene始s own study, copied out with a degree of care to ensure the manuscript submitted to the Queen始s Men was intelligible. Second thoughts and minor revisions on the part of the author during this process could account for the internal evidence noted by Lavin. It would also be an opportune moment for a dramatist inclined to regulate stage business to inscribe an additional injunction in the margin—“Sit down and knocke your head”. Fair copy, as Bowers reminds us, “may be taken as less than absolute” in that “[f]ew authors can resist the opportunity to revise during the course of copying, and a conscientious author after copying might make some number of further revisions involving interlineation, marginal addition, and the like” (19-20). A case in point—and a possible contemporary analogue for Q1始s copy—is the manuscript of John a Kent and John a Cumber, a neat and legible holograph that displays marginal inscriptions, passages marked for deletion, and the autograph of its author and putative scribe, Anthony Munday (Huntington Library HM500).

    Seltzer and Lavin始s theories of copy owe much to Greg始s influential distinction between theatrical and authorial manuscripts (Greg, The Shakespeare First Folio 105, 112-13, 142). Seltzer reads “Sit down and knocke your head” as a notation made during rehearsal and so is inclined to infer Q1始s derivation from a species of promptbook. Lavin, on the other hand, proceeds from the premise that a bookkeeper would have purged Q1始s textual irregularities when preparing a promptbook and so envisions a direct transcript of Greene始s own papers (possibly on its way to becoming a prompting instrument). Recent studies of surviving manuscript playbooks have done much to complicate dualism of this kind: marginal notations, once seen as good evidence of prompt copy, turn up in fact in manuscripts that otherwise appear authorial; and conversely the untidiness and loose ends once taken to be indicative of an author始s papers have been shown to be a feature of manuscripts also bearing prompters始 annotations (Werstine 107-99). Seltzer and Lavin, to their credit, resist reductionism, but their accounts stop short of acknowledging that multiple scenarios of transmission may have produced Q1 (see Bowers 10-12, 111-13).

    Bearing in mind that Friar Bacon was acted by the Queen始s Men, the most accomplished traveling company of the 1580s, Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean have since proposed that Q1 may be based on a script carried by the company on tour. It is noteworthy that a second Queen始s Men play,King Leir, was entered to Islip/White at the same time as Friar Bacon, as were three other playbooks possibly from the same repertory: Peele始s David and Bathsheba and two lost plays, a “famous historye of John of Gaunte” and “a pastorall plesant commedie of Robin Hood and Little John” (Arber 2:649; McMillin and MacLean 101). The publisher Thomas Creede secured the right to print several Queen始s Men plays that spring as well, includingA Looking Glass for London, The Famous Victories of Henry V,and The True Tragedy of Richard III(Arber 2: 645, 648-49, 654, 656; Princiss 322). Records kept by the theatre owner Philip Henslowe give the impression of a company in transition, if not disarray. During the Easter season (April 1-8) of 1594—a month before selling these bundles of plays to the press——the Queen始s Men gave performances of both “friar bacone” and “kinge leare” at Henslowe始s Rose playhouse (Foakes 21). After only a week, however, their engagement was disrupted, possibly by plague. One month later, on May 8, Henslowe loaned £15 to a kinsman to purchase a “share to the Quenes players,” which he says “brocke & went into the contrey to play” (Foakes 7, 21). And less than a week after that, on May 14—the same day Islip and White registered their right to print Friar Bacon—Edward Alleyn and the freshly liveried Admiral始s Men began their celebrated tenure at the Rose (Foakes 21). G.M. Pinciss has speculated that Henslowe and Alleyn may have retained and sold a copy of Friar Baconafter the Queen始s Men始s departure (322-24). Later quartos do advertise the play as having been acted by Prince Palatine始s Servants, a Jacobean company largely made up of former Admiral始s players. However, Henslowe始s records give no indication of Friar Bacon ever being acted again at the Rose, which one might expect given its popularity; so if he or Alleyn did possess a copy of Greene始s play—and not (as is more likely) a different play altogether featuring the same character such as John of Bordeaux (Alnwick Castle MS 507)—it is likely they acquired a copy nearer the Christmas season of 1602 when Henslowe paid Thomas Middleton 5 shillings to write “a prologe & A epiloge for the playe of bacon for the corte” (Foakes 207). Until then, Greene始s play arguably remained the property of the Queen始s Men. Whether the royal actors ever performed again commercially in London is not known, but its continued presence in provincial records until 1603 suggests no waning of its reputation as “the best known and most widely travelled professional company in the kingdom” (McMillin and MacLean 67, 184-88).

    The question remains: why would the Queen始s Men sell their playbooks in 1594? Was it to generate capital for their tour that spring? To publicize offerings they meant to bring with them? Whatever the explanation, we may safely assume they wished to protect their “allowed” books, which bore licenses granted by the Master of the Revels, and therefore probably sold secondary copies. McMillin and MacLean argue that these were scripts tailored to the company as it existed during an earlier tour, and that theatrical cuts account for textual irregularities observed in Q1. Onstage traffic is often heavy in the play as we have it, they point out, with large groups of characters entering and exiting in juxtaposition. At the same time, there is a vestigial quality to certain characters—the ghostly Duke of Saxony mentioned above, for example, and the unnamed “friend” of Margaret始s father who utters only a single line in a single scene (TLN 1896, 1924-25). Taking these to be truncated roles, McMillan and Maclean posit a play initially grander in design but abbreviated to meet the requirements of a reduced touring cast. They demonstrate that the play始s 32 speaking roles can be performed by 14 actors doubling or tripling their parts (100-106, 190), which may in turn explain why even significant characters sometimes disappear whenever the stage becomes too populated. Warren and Ermsby, for instance, attend the Prince Edward throughout much of the action, yet neither appears onstage in the crowded eleventh scene, presumably because those actors were needed to double as Bungay and one of the dueling country gentleman in scene 12. Rafe and Bungay始s unusual absence from the play始s final procession (scene 15) is likewise clarified if the Rafe-actor has just roared offstage in the role of the devil in scene 14, and if the Bungay-actor was needed to double as either Warren or Ermsby. McMillin and MacLean reinforce their claim by showing that four other Queen始s Men plays sold to publishers in 1594 reveal a similar pattern of ‘disappearances始. The Queen始s Men were, as they point out, “an unusually large company” which “divided into branches as a way of spreading their influence (and increasing profits). They must have had different versions of their plays for these different circumstances” (107-8, 112). The reorganization of personnel in 1594 likely made it necessary to prepare fresh touring scripts that could be played by the men and boys now available. Theoretically, this would have rendered any older abbreviated scripts in their possession suitable for sale. In the case of Friar Bacon, this may then have been copy upon which a unique marginal stage direction (such as we find in Q1) was inscribed as the production evolved, literally somewhere along the road.

    If the provenance of Q1始s manuscript source remains speculative, we may at least be certain of the acumen shown by the publishers who acquired it. Edward White was a thirty-year veteran of the London bookselling business, whose specialization in ballads, religious tracts, and crime and witchcraft pamphlets shows that he catered shrewdly to popular tastes (Kirschbaum 314-18). He was also well acquainted with Greene by 1594. According to Thomas Nashe, when Greene始s prose writing began to garner the attention of the reading public in the 1580s, “glad was that printer that might be so blessed to pay him dear for the very dregs of his wit” (E4v). White purchased more of Greene始s work than any other publisher, bringing to press Morando, the Tritameron of Love(1584, reprinted by John Wolfe in 1587), Euphues his Censure to Philautus(printed by Wolfe in 1587),Perimedes the Blacke-smith(also printed by Wolfe 1588),Philomela, The Lady Fitzwater始s Nightingale(1592), and Greene始s Orpharion (1599). In addition to his knowledge of Greene始s literary reputation, White was attuned to the emerging market for printed drama, and he appears to have networked with professional players. Several very popular plays appeared for the first time in print in White始s bookshop, including Kyd始s The Spanish Tragedy (1592, followed by seven impressions over the next two decades), Arden of Faversham (1592), Shakespeare始s Titus Andronicus (1594), and Marlowe始s The Massacre at Paris (1594). There is reason to think, then, that White would have considered a comedy of magic and romance by Greene a desirable commodity, and if the substitution of his name for Islip始s in the register of the Stationers始 company was not merely a mundane error, it probably reflects the more experienced publisher始s deliberate pursuit of the copyright.

    Two other early editions of Friar Bacon were produced in the seventeenth century, both reprints. When White died c. 1612, the play passed to an erstwhile partner Edward Allde, and in 1630 Allde始s widow Elizabeth issued a second quarto based on Q1 (McKerrow 5-6). The title page of Q2 replaces Islip始s fleur-de-lis with the well-known woodcut depicting the brazen head perched on a shelf of books uttering its cryptic wisdom in speech ribbons, while below Miles plays a pipe and tabor and Bacon and Bungay fend off sleep. Allde had previously used the block for this image when printing a prose rendition of the same story,The Famous History of Friar Bacon (1629). Q2 describes Greene始s work as having been “lately plaid by the Prince Palatine his Seruants,” but it remains unclear whether the decision to reprint the text was motivated by Jacobean and Caroline revivals onstage, or whether Allde始s recent edition of the prose Famous History stirred fresh interest in the legendary character. By 1640, the copyright had passed to Allde始s son-in-law Richard Oulton, who then sold it to Moses Bell, a printer in Christchurch Newgate Street (Arber 3:700-701, 4:507; McKerrow 6; Plomer 20). In 1655, Bell始s wife Jean (or Jane) printed a third quarto based on Q2. Q3 replicates Allde始s corrections and errors and introduces new incidental variants. Like Q2, it features the Famous History woodcut on its title page and ascribes the play to Palsgrave始s Men, an advertisement long out of date in the wake of the breakdown of Stuart theatrical patronage during the English civil wars.