November Blogroll: Dekker on Playing Companies

The delight and the distraction of the research process are the sidetracks. Working on book chapter revisions today lent me to revisit Renaissance playwright Thomas Dekker’s non-dramatic works—nearly splitting a gut at his apparent hate of sharers alongside a satirical attitude toward the profession playing.

Dekker his Dreame, 1620.

  • “For you (that are Readers) are the most desperate and foulest players in the world, you will strike when a mans back is towards you, and kill him (if you could for shame) when he lies under your feet” (3).
  • “What outcries pull us from our make bed? Who calls? &c. as the Players can tell you. O Candle-light, how hast thou stunk then, when they have post thee out of their company: how hast thou taken it in snuff when thou hast been smelt out, especially the master of the house exclaiming, that by day that deed of darkness had not been” (44).
  • “Mary the question is, in which of the Play-houses he [Satan] would have performed his Prize, if it had grown to blows, and whether the money seeing gathered, he would have cozened the Fencers, or the Fencers him, because Hell being under every one of their Stages, the Players (if they had owed him a spite) might with a false Trap door have slipped him down, and there kept him, as a laughing stock to all their yawning Spectators” (92).
  • In Hell, “Merry players swarm there as they do here, whose occupation being smelt out, but the Cacodaemon, or head office of the Countries, to be lucrative, he purposes to make up a company, and to be chief sharer himself, de quibus suo loco” (99).
  • “Item when a Cobbler of Poetry called a play-patcher, was condemned with his cat to be ducked three times in the Cocking-Stole of Pyriphlegeton (being one of the scalding rivers) til they both drops again, because he scolded against his betters, and those whom he lived upon, laid out at that time for straw, to have carried Puss away if she had kittened, to avoid any caterwauling in Hell, 1 penny” (146).
  • To Chiron, on the costs of travelling to Hell: “Item lent to a company of country players, being nine in number, one sharer, & the rest journeymen, that with strolling were brought to deaths door xiiij. d. ob. upon their stock of apparel to pay for their boat hire, because they would try if they could be suffered to play in the devil’s name, which stock afterwards came into your hands, & you dealt upon it: xiii. d. ob.” (146).
  • “Now sir, if the writer be a fellow that hath either epigrammed you, or hath had a flirt at your mistress, or hath brought wither your feather or your red beard, or your little legs &c. on the stage, you shall disgrace him worse then by tossing him in a blanket or giving him the bastinado in a Tavern, if, in the middle of his play (bee it Pastoral or Comedy, Moral or Tragedy) you rise with a screwed and discounted face from your stool to be gone: no matter whether the Scenes be good or no; the better they are the worse do you distaste them: and, being on your feet, sneak not away like a coward, but salute all your gentle acquaintance, that are speed either on the rushes, or on stools about you, and draw what too you can from the stage after you: the Mimics are beholden to you, for allowing them elbow / room: their Poet cries, perhaps, a pox go with you, but care not for that, there’s no music without frets” (243–44).
  • “Mary, let this observation go hand in hand with the rest: or rather, like a country-serving-man, some five years before them. Present not your self on the Stage (especially at a new play) until the quaking prologue hath (by rubbing_ got color into his cheeks, and is ready to give the trumpets their Cue, that he’s upon point to enter: for then it is time, as though you were one of the properties, or that you drop out of ye Hangings, or creep from behind the Arras, with your Tripos or three-footed stool in one hand, and a teston mounted between a forefinger and a thumb in the other: for it your should bestow your person upon the vulgar, when the belly of the house is but half full, your apparel is quite eaten up, the fashion lost, and the proportion of your body in more danger to be devoured then if it were served up / in the Counter amongst the Poultry: avoid that as you would the Bastom. It shall crown you with rich commendation, to laugh aloud in the maddest of the most series and saddest scene of the terrible tragedy: and to let that clapper (your tongue) to test so high, that all the house may ring of it: your Lords use it; your Knights are Apes to the Lords, and do so too: your Inn-a-Court-man is Zany to the Knights, and (mary very scurvily) comes likewise limping after it: bee thou a beagle to them all, and never lin snuffing, till you have scented them: for by talking and laughing (like a Plough-Man in a Morris) you heap Pelion upon Offa, glory upon glory: As First all the eyes in the galleries will leave walking after the Players, and only follow you: the simplest dolt in the house snatches up your name, and when he meets you in the streets, or that you fall into his hands in the middle of a Watch, his word shall be taken for you: heel cry He’s such a gallant, and you pass. Secondly, you publish your temperance to the world, in that you seem not to resort thither to taste vain pleasures with a hungry appetite: but only as a Gentleman to spend a foolish hour or two, because you can do nothing else: Thirdly, you mightily disrelish the Audience, and disgrace the Author: marry, you take up (though it be at the worst hand (a strong / opinion of your one judgment, and enforce the Poet to take pity of your weakness, and, by some dedicated sonnet, to bring into a better paradise, only to stop your mouth” (250–52).
  • “Before the Play begins, fall to cards: you may win to lose (as Fencers do in a prize) and / beat one another by confederacy, yet share the money when you meet a supper: notwithstanding, to guy the Ragga-muffins that stand aloof, gaping at you, throw the cards (having first torn four or five of them) round about the Stage, just upon the third found, as though you had lost: it skills not if the four knaves lie on their backs, outface the Audience; there’s none such fools as dare take exceptions at them, because ere the play go off, better knaves that they will fall into the company” (252–53).
  • “Hoard up the finest play-scraps you can get, upon which your leave with may most favorably feed, for want of other stuff, when the Arcadian and Euphuizd gentlewomen have their tongues sharpened to set upon you: that qualities (next to your shuttlecock) is the only furniture to a Courtier that’s but a new beginner, and is but in his A B A of complement. The next places that are filed, after the Playhouses be emptied, are (or ought to be) Taverns” (254).
  • “Mary, if either the company, or indisposition of the weather bind you to sit it out, my counsel is then that you turn plain Ape, take up a rush, and tickle the earnest cares of your fellow gallants to make other fools fall a alighting: mew at passionate species, blare at merry, find fault with the music, whew at the children Action, whistle at the songs: and above all, curse the sharers, that whereas the same day you had bestowed forty shilling on an embroidered Felt and Feather, (scotch-fashion) for your mistress in the Court, or your punk in the city, within tow hours after, you encounter with the very same block on the stage, when the haberdasher swore to you the press new was extant but that morning” (254).
  • “Let any hook draw you either to a Fencers supper, or to a Players that acts such a part for a wager; for by this means you shall get experience, by being guilty to their abominable shaving” (261).
  • Jest No. 16: “A Player riding with his fellows (in a year of Peregrinations) up and down the countries, resolved to be merry, though they got little money; and being to pass through a Town, he gets a good way before the rest, crying (with his drawn Rapier in his hand) which is the Constables house, where is the Constable? The dogs of the parish at the noise, fell to barking, the Threshers came running out with their flails, the Clowns with rakes and pitch-forks, asking without what the matter was: [he cried] still, and you be men bring me to the Constable. At last the wise Gentleman appeared in his likeness: are you the Constable says the player: yes that I am for fault of a better, quoth he: why then blurt Master Constable says the other, and clapping spurs to his horse, galloped away amain: some of the companions laughing, others railing, the Constable swearing, and the rest of the players that came behind, post through the thickest of them, and laughing the whole Town to scorn / as if it hav been the fool in a Comedy, which made he bod-nail-wearers stamp ten times worse then they did before” (279–80).
  • Jest No. 22: “A Pair of Players, growing into an emulous contention of one another worth, refused to put themselves to a day of hearing (as any Players would have done) but stood only upon their good parts. Why says the one, since thou wouldn’t faine be taken for so rare a piece, report before all these  (for they had a small audience about them you must note) what excellent parts thou hast discharged? May says the other, I have so naturally paled the Puritan, that many took me to be one. True says the first again, thou playedst the Purtain so naturally, that thou couldst never play the honest man afterwards: but I (quoth he) have played the Sophy: the Sophy, replied the second: what a murrain was he? What was he says the other: why he was a Turk, right quoth his adversary, get to play as many Turks parts as thou canst, for I’ll be hanged if ever thou played a good Christian” (282).
  • “At which the thunder-bolt brake, that kept before such a rumbling, rash Phaeton, that set all on fire, was thrown headline into a lodging, the fury of the multitude was punched, and every one went to his pillow. Only the good Demon, whose nature it was to sit out the very last scene of such Tragi-Comedies, followed the chief Actor (that played This) even up into his bed-chamber, where he was fast enough locked all night, to rehearsed his parts by himself” (345).
  • Players have now got the upper hand, by making fools of the poor country people, in driving them like flocks of Geese to sit cackling in an old barn: and to swallow down those plays / for new which here every punk and her squire (the like Interpreter and his poppet) can out by heart they are so stale, and therefore so stinking” (352–53).
  • “Nay you mercenary soldiers, or you that are as the Switzers to players (I mean the hired men) by all the prognostications that I have seen this year, you make but a hard and a hungry living of it by strutting up and down after the Wagon: leave therefore O leave the company of such as like the fat from your beards (if you have any) and come hither, for here I know you shall be Sharers” (353).

Source: Dekker, Thomas. The Non-Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker. Vol. 2. 5 vols. The Huth Library, or Elizabethan-Jacobean Unique or Very Rare Books in Verse and Prose Largely from the Library of Henry Huth. London, UK: Hazell, Watson, & Viney, 1885. GoogleBooks.

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