Chaos of the World, The

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Anon. (1611?)


Historical Records

Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert

A license to William Sands Ric.d Luke, & John
[Sands with nine]
assistants for a yeare Tis calld the Caos
[Caos of the world, they]
have given 1.l & have given bond for mor
[more 1. 10. 0]
(Folger Shakespeare Library, MS W.b.196, p. 53; qtd. Bawcutt, "Craven Ord," 91. Cf. Bawcutt, Herbert, 139.)

The entry survives in Craven Ord's transcripts from Sir Henry Herbert's Office Book. Square brackets "indicate words written in by Halliwell-Phillipps to replace those lost during the process of cutting up the slips" (87). The item is undated, but its placement suggests a date from late 1623 (93n).

Thomas Crosfield's Diary

16 July 1628

In 1628, Thomas Crosfield (a fellow of Queen's College, Oxford) recorded in his diary "an 100 verses of ye sight at Oxon. in ye Act" (that is, the Oxford graduation ceremony, which took place on 14 July 1628). The one-hundred-line poem narrates a series of biblical episodes starting with the Creation ("We read in sacred writ of ye beginning / of all ye world, & of Adams sinninge"), which the final two couplets reveal to have been the content of the puppet show called "Chaos":

All this ye sight call'd Chaos did present
Express'd by puppets, which one did inuent
In 17 yeares. & this as 'tis well knowne
In Oxford City hath bene often showne./
(Oxford, Queen's College Library, MS 390, ff. 35v-36; qtd. REED: Oxford, 474-77. Cf. Boas 29.)

For the episodes described in the poem, see "Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues" below.

11 July 1631

Things to be seene for money in ye City. 1. Playes: 2. dancing vpon ye Rope & vaulting vpon ye Sadle. 3. virginalls & organs playing by themselves. 4. a dutch-wench all hairy & rough vpon her body. 5. The history of some parts of ye bible, as of ye creation of ye world, Abrahams Sacrificing his Sonne, ⸢Nineveh beseiged & taken⸣ Dives & Lazarus. 6. The dancing of ye horse at ye Starre./
(f. 57v; qtd. REED: Oxford, 490. Cf. Boas 54.)

Half brackets indicate interlineated text.

Dorset Quarter Sessions Order and Minute Books

An order of October 1630 by the Dorset Quarter Sessions banished Sands, his two sons, their company, and their "blasphemous" puppet show (presumably "The Chaos of the World") from the county on the grounds of their unlawful wandering and implication in some episodes of unruliness.

[in margin:] Ordo versus poppett Players
fforasmuch as complaint was made vnto this Court that William Sands the elder Iohn Sands and William Sands the yonger doe wander vp and downe the Countrey and about nine others of their Company with certaine blasphemous shewes and sights which they exercise by way of poppett playinge contrary to the Statute. made against such vnlawfull wanderers. And whereas the Constable of Beamister in this County and other inhabitants there haue now alsoe informed this Court that the said William Sands thelder and his Company are come to Beamister aforesaid and there haue sett vp their shewes of poppett playinge, and there doe exercise their feats not only in the day tyme but alsoe late in the night to the great disturbance of the Townsmen there, and the greivance of diuers of the Inhabitants who cannot keepe their Children and servants in their houses by reason that they frequent the said shewes and sights late in the night in a disorderly manner. […] It is therefore by this Court ordered that the said William Sands thelder Iohn. Sands and William Sands the yonger shall remove themselues and their shewes on Munday next [11 October] and shall then forthwith departe out of this County and that neither they nor any of them or any of their Company shall henceforth vse or exercise their said feats or shew | their said sights in this County but shall forthwith depart out of the County toward the place of their dwellinge.
(Dorchester, Dorset History Centre, QSM/1/1, ff. 272v-73; qtd. REED: Dorset, 121-22.)

Will of William Sands

In Sands's will, dated 11 September 1638, he bequeathed the "Chaos" show and its accoutrements to his son.

In the name of God Amen I William Sandes of Preston in Amoundernes in the County of Lancaster Ioyner being sicke in body but of good memory doe make my last will & testament in forme following […] Item I giue & bequeath my Shewe called the Chaos, the Wagon, the Stage, & all the Ioyners tooles & other ymplementes & appurtenances to the said Shewe belonging to my sonne Iohn Sandes
(Preston, Lancashire Record Office, WCW 1638; qtd. REED: Lancashire, 87.)

Theatrical Provenance

The puppet show was performed on several occasions by William Sands and a team of 11 others. The first documented evidence of the "motion" likely dates from 1623, although Thomas Crosfield's 1628 reference to "17 yeares" implies that 1611 is "the latest possible date" for its earliest performance, and his poem also suggests frequent performances ("hath bene often showne") at Oxford since then (Wiggins 141). Later evidence indicates performances at Oxford in July 1628 and July 1631, and in Dorset in 1630.

Probable Genre(s)

Puppet show (Wiggins).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The most extensive evidence of the narrative content of "The Chaos of the World" appears in Thomas Crosfield's diary. In the 100-line poem of 1628, Crosfield mentions several episodes from the Old and New Testaments: the Creation and man's first disobedience; Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise and the trials of fallen life; Cain's murder of Abel; Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac; the protection of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3); the nativity of Christ; the flight into Egypt; and, the fates of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16). If Crosfield's 1631 entry refers to the same show, it also (by then, at least) included the destruction of Nineveh (Nahum 1-3).

References to the Play

See "Critical Commentary" below.

Critical Commentary

References to "The Beginning of the World"

There was another puppet show, apparently performed around the same time, known as "The Creation of the World." In a license dated 16 July 1619, Sir George Buc authorized William Jones, William Selby, and Thomas Wrench "to sett forthe and to shew certayne rare motions, viz. the Creation of the World, the Conspiracy of Gunpowder Treason under the Parliament House, the Destruction of Sodome and Gomorha, and the Storie of Dives & Lazarus" (transcribed by Joseph Hunter in BL, Additional MS 24497, ff. 64v-65; qtd. Bawcutt, "New Revels Documents," 327-28). Apparently this is the same show referred to Sir Henry Herbert's 1624 "license to Henry Sands, Alexander Baker & Robert Smedlyy to shew a motion called the Creation of the World for a yr. 18 Sept. 3li" (Edinburgh University Library, H-P Coll. 315, f. 57; qtd. Bawcutt, Herbert, 156). Since the content of this "motion" presumably overlapped with "The Chaos of the World," the existence of these two shows complicates our understanding of some other potentially relevant evidence.

  1. Thomas Crosfield's 1631 diary entry (quoted in "Historical Records") mentions a show whose narrative moves from "ye creation of ye world" to the story of Dives and Lazarus: this would seem to rule out the "Creation of the World," of which Wiggins notes: "Presumably the narrative stopped before Abraham, because the puppeteers' repertory also included The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" (5:494). However, in 1635, Crosfield records a list of entertainments "to be seene for money" at the Act (13 July 1635), including "The beginning of ye world besides Carfax" (f. 71v; qtd. REED: Oxford, 518). The title might suggest that this is the Jones/Selby/Wrench show, although Wiggins believes that this is "more probably" the "Chaos of the World," which Crosfield had twice before mentioned (5:494).
  2. In Thomas Randolph's Hey for Honesty, Down with Knavery (a translation of Aristophanes' Plutus, publ. 1651), Carion recalls someone who "had not wit enough to be a Knave; every one laught at him for being out of Fashion. Had he lived till now, J would h' showed him at Fleet-bridge for a Monster. J should have begger'd the Beginnning [sic] 'oth' World; The strange Birds from America, and the Poppets too" (sig. B2v). If the "Beginning of the World" referred to here is a puppet show, it may be either the "Chaos" or the "Creation" (Wiggins 5:494, 6:142).


Butterworth comments on the description of materials in Henry Sands's will: "The wagon mentioned here appears to be the means of transporting the equipment of the production rather than the means of staging the show. The 'Stage' is recorded as a separate item presumably needing to be 'fitted up' using 'the Ioyners tooles & other ymplementes'" (135).

For What It's Worth

(Content welcome.)

Works Cited

Bawcutt, N.W., ed. The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: The Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels 1623-73. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.
Bawcutt, N.W. "Craven Ord Transcripts of Sir Henry Herbert's Office-Book in the Folger Shakespeare Library." ELR 14 (1984): 83–94.
Bawcutt, N.W. "New Revels Documents of Sir George Buc and Sir Henry Herbert, 1619–1662." RES 35 (1984): 316–31.
Boas, Frederick S. The Diary of Thomas Crosfield. London, Oxford UP, 1935.
Butterworth, Philip. Magic on the Early English Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
Randolph, Thomas. A Pleasant Comedie, Entituled Hey For Honesty, Down With Knavery. Translated out of Aristophanes his Plutus. London, 1651.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Reed College; updated 2 February 2016.

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