Chinon of England

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Anon. (1596)


Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F.14 / Greg 1.27:
ye 3 of Jenewary 1595 ne . . R[d] at chinone of Jngland . . . . . . . . . . ls
ye 12 of Jenewary 1595 ________ ________ R[d] at chynon of Jngland . . . . . . . . . . ls
. . . . . . .
F.14v / Greg 1.28:
ye 21 of Jenewary 1595 R[d] at chinon of Jngland . . . . . . . . . . xxxiijs
ye 27 of Jenewary 1595 R[d] at chinon . . . . . . . . . . xxjs
ye 11 of febreary 1595 R[d] at chinon of Jngland . . . . . . . . . . xxs
ye 24 of febreary 1595 R[d] at chinone . . . . . . . . . . lvjs
. . . . . . .
F.15v / Greg 1.30:
ye 23 of aprell 1596 R[d] at chinon . . . . . . . . . . . xxs
ye 2 of maye 1596 ________ ________ R[d] at chinon . . . . . . . . . . xxs
ye 16 of maye 1596 ________ ________ R[d] at chynone . . . . . . . . . . xxxiijs
ye 27 of maye 1596 R[d] at chinone . . . . . . . . . . ixs
. . . . . . .
Fol.21v / Greg 1.42:
ye 1 of June 1596 R[d] at chinone of Jngland . . . . . . . . . . iiijs
. . . . . . .
F.25 / Greg 1.49:
ye 27 of octob[er] 1596 R[d] at chynon . . . . . . . . . . lijs
ye 2 of novmb[er] 1596 |R[d]| at chinone of Jngland . . . . xvijs
ye 10 of novmb[er] 1596 |R[d]| at chinon . . . . . . . . . . xs

Rogers and Ley's List (1656)

In Rogers and Ley's list, "An exact and perfect Catologue of all Playes that are Printed", appended to Thomas Goffe's The Careless Shepherdess is:

Committy man, Currie.
Cunning Lovers.
Chinon of England.
Goffe L3v thumb.jpg
Photograph by Brett D. Hirsch, reproduced by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Theatrical Provenance

Performed as a new play by the Admiral's men on 3 Jan 1595/6, and 14 times in total.

Probable Genre(s)

Heroical romance (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Entered in the Stationers' Register by Thomas Gosson and John Danter, 20 Jan 1595/96 (Clio, S.R.I, 3.57):

Entred for their Copie vnder th[e h]andes of bothe the wardens a
booke intituled. The ffirste parte of the famous historye of CHINAN of
England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vjd

The text in question is Christopher Middleton's The famous historie of Chinon of England with his strange aduentures for the loue of Celestina daughter to Lewis King of Fraunce. VVith the worthy atchiuement of Sir Lancelot du Lake, and Sir Tristram du Lions for fair Laura, daughter to Cador Earle of Cornewall, beeing all knights of King Arthurs round table (1597).

Greg (2.178) and others have suggested that the lost play may have been based on Middleton's romance whilst still in MS form.

Chinon is a heroical romance set in King Arthur's time. Cador, the Earl of Cornwall, has two children: a beautiful daughter Laura, and a son, Chinon, who is a "born fool" (Ch1). When Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram visit the Earl's court, Lancelot falls in love with Laura and offers to undertake hardy adventure to win her favour (Ch2). They set off to France where Lancelot wins King Louis's tournament by killing the Sultan of Babylon's son. Instead of marrying Louis's daughter Celestina, he sets her up with another knight, Sir Triamore, and sends the spoils of the tournament back to Laura. When Lancelot's squire relates the knight's adventures, it inspires Chinon to seek adventure of his own. The Sultan of Babylon, enraged at his son's death, arrives in England with an army and kidnaps Celestina, whose hand he had hoped his son to win until Lancelot came along (Ch3).

Chinon arrives in France, “gréedy of glorie, but vnfit to finde it”. He encounters a serpent in a cave, and rescues Lancelot, Tristram, and Triamore, and is thus transformed into a valiant knight. Oberon, King of the Fairies, commends Chinon for his bravery. Chinon pulls a sword out of a rock, Excalibur-style (Ch4). Triamore disguises himself as an enchantress arrived to further the love of the Sultan to Celestina. He lures the Sultan into the woods into an ambush where Lancelot, Chinon and Tristram recover the damsel, capture the sultan, and kill his men (Ch5). Chinon returns to England (Ch6).

Middleton's romance then pursues a second narrative arc. Chinon is shown a vision of a beautiful woman, Cassiopea, who is imprisoned in a wilderness. A witch called Europa transports Chinon to the Nile (Ch7). In what may have furnished a comic sub-plot, Cassiopea's father Bessarian is turned into a bear but retains his faculty of reason. To hasten his demise, the witch hangs a scroll about his neck offering to grant the wishes of whoever kills the bear. Meanwhile, Cassiopea's three brothers, Micander, Terpander, and Theonas, find the witch disguised as their sister, enclosed within a rock. She sends them off on perilous tasks, ostensibly to fetch objects to save her, but actually in the hope of bringing about their downfall (Ch8). Unfortunately for the witch, Chinon then arrives unexpectedly, and confident in his new knightly abilities, boasts of undertaking exploits in her name. The witch worries he'll ruin her plans to destroy the brothers, and sends him on a combination of daunting tasks (Ch9).

Micander, sent to the Arabian desert to find a harp and fight a cannibal for it, defeats the cannibal and claims the instrument, plays it to hear its beauty but it instead makes him dumb. Terpander, sent to Asia to find a vial of a virgin’s tears, finds it, but it is actually venomous water, which sends him into a frantic humor. Theonas, sent to a perilous island in search of a golden book guarded by harpies, gets the book, opens it to read its spells, but it emits a dusty fog which blinds him (Ch10). In Ch11 Chinon meets the brothers one by one. He meets Terpander first, relieves him of the vial’s madness but assumes it himself. Then he meets Micander and pulls the instrument from his grasp, freeing Micander but losing use of his own tongue in the process. Chinon takes a boat and finds the island by chance, finds Theonas, snatches the book from him, goes blind but thereby restores Theonas’s sight. The witch, dismayed that the brothers are freed of their torments, encloses Chinon in a rock guarded by a giant. The vial, harp and book vanish and his wits are restored but his liberty is now lost.

Cador, missing his son terribly, implores Arthur to deploy some knights in search of him. Sir Calor, son of Lancelot and Celestina, is chosen. Merlin is consulted for advice (Ch12). (Return to the subplot: Each son in turn encounters their father as a bear and tries to kill him but fortunately fails. Theonas draws blood and thinks he has killed the bear.) Chinon and the knights intercept the witch, she begs for her life. She takes them to the imprisoned Cassiopea where her brothers have found her too. The witch releases them and Cassiopea pardons her! The witch tells Cassiopea of the feats Chinon has undertaken for her love. He offers himself to her. Bessarian is brought in as a bear and the witch restores him. Chinon and Cassiopea wed (Ch13).

References to the Play

In his Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot (1654), Edmund Gayton commented on the shortcomings of the English stage, noting: "nor are the incongruities and absurdities of our owne stage any lesse or more excusable, it being a long time us'd to historicall arguments, which could not be dispatched but by Chorus, or the descending of some god, or a Magitian: As in the playes of Bungy, Bacon, and Vandarmast, the three great Negromancers, Dr Faustus, Chinon of England, and the like" (272).

John Taylor, the Water Poet, twice refers to Chinon in the context of other fantastic adventurers, though it is unclear whether he refers to the play or the romance:

For the progresse of Coriat was but a walke in regard of my Shillings perambulations: and if the Inke and Paper-murdering fictions should be true of Amadis de Gaule, Huon, Sir Egre, Beuis, Guy, the Mirrour of Knighthood, the seuen champions, Chinon, Sir Dagonet, Triamore, Launcelet, Don Spatterlash of Toledo, Monseiur Mallegrindo, Knight of the frozen Ile: If it were possible that all their lyes should be true, of the great Trauels of those imaginarie and neuer seene Worthies, yet must they all come short of the praise that is due to my trauelling Twelue-pence. (A shilling or, The trauailes of twelue-pence, sig.A3v)

IN all Ages and Countries, it hath euer bin knowne, that Famous men haue florished, whose worthy Actions, and Eminency of place, haue euer beene as conspicuous Beacons Burning and blazing to the Spectators view: the sparkes & flames whereof hath sometimes kindled Courage in the most coldest and Effeminate Cowards; as Thersites amongst the Grecians, Amadis de Gaule, and Sir Huon of Burdeaux in France: Sir Beuis, Gogmagog, Chinon, Palmerin, Lancelot, & Sir Tristram amongst vs here in England, Sir Degre, Sir Grime, and Sir Gray Steele in Scotland, Don Quixot with the Spaniards, Gargantua almost no where, Sir Dagonet, and Sir Triamore any where... (The great O Toole, sig.A4)

Critical Commentary

Fleay (2.304) thinks that the S.R. entry for Middleton's romance refers to the lost play, but his assertion has been disputed by subsequent critics including Greg (2.178).

See also Wiggins serial number 1027.

For What It's Worth

Gayton also tells us of Chinon's common alternative title, "Chinon of England, or the Foole transform'd" (3), noting that "by both those names that Knight was ever remembred" (87).

The Middleton romance may have in turn been influenced by the Chinon story in the first novel of the fifth day in Boccaccio's Decameron, "Wherein is approued, that Loue (oftentimes) maketh a man both wise and valiant":

Chynon, by falling in loue, became wise, and by force of Armes, winning his faire Lady Iphigenia on the Seas, was afterward imprisoned at Rhodes. Being deliuered by one named Lysimachus, with him he recouered his Iphigenia againe, and faire Cassandra, euen in the middest of their mariage. They fled with them into Candye, where after they had married them, they were called home to their owne dwelling. (fol.178v)

Boccaccio tells us that the boy's true name by baptism was Galesus, but because he was a fool whom no amount of tutoring could improve, "they gaue him the name of Chynon, which in their natiue Countrey language, and diuers other beside, signifieth a very Sot or Foole, and so was he termed by euery one" (179).

Works Cited

Boccaccio, Giovanni. The decameron containing an hundred pleasant nouels. Wittily discoursed, betweene seauen honourable ladies, and three noble gentlemen. 1620.
Gayton, Edmund. Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot by Edmund Gayton, Esq. 1654.
Middleton, Christopher. The famous historie of Chinon of England with his strange aduentures for the loue of Celestina daughter to Lewis King of Fraunce. VVith the worthy atchiuement of Sir Lancelot du Lake, and Sir Tristram du Lions for fair Laura, daughter to Cador Earle of Cornewall, beeing all knights of King Arthurs round table. By Chr. Middleton. , At London : Printed by Iohn Danter, for Cuthbert Burbie, and are to be sold at his shop by the Royall Exchange, 1597. 1597.
Taylor, John. A shilling or, The trauailes of twelue-pence. 1621.
---. The great O Toole. 1622.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 16 June 2015.

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