Dead Man's Fortune, The

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Anon. (1590?)


Historical Records

British Library Add. MS.10449, f.1

Knowledge of this play and its production is based solely on the manuscript titled "The plotte of the deade mans fortune" now held in the British Library (Ms. Add. 10449, f.1).

Dead Mans Fortune BL MS Add 10449 fol1 thumb.jpg

(British Library Add. MS.10449, f.1, reproduced with permission)

The following transcription is reproduced from Greg, Papers, 133-35.

The plotte of the deade mans fortune/
Enter the prolouge /
Enter laertes Eschines and vrganda
Enter pesscodde to him his father
Enter Tesephon allgeryus laertes wth
atendantes : Darlowe : lee : b samme : to
them alleyane and statyra

Enter validore & asspida at severall dores
to them the panteloun
Enter carynus and prlior to them
statyra and allcyane
Enter vrganda laertes Echines : Exit
Eschines and Enter for Bell veile
Enter panteloun & his man to them his wife
asspida to hir validore
Enter Tesephoun allgerius alcyane & statyra
wth atendantes to them [to th] carynus &
prelyor to them laertes & Bell veile
Enter valydore & asspida cuttynge of
ruffes to them the maide

Enter panteloun whiles he speakes
validore passeth ore the stage disguisde
then Enter pesscode to them asspida to
them the maide wth pesscodds apparell
Enter carynus and prlyor = here the
laydes speakes in prysoun
Enter laertes & Bell veile to them the
Jayler to them the laydes
Enter Tesephon allgerius at severall dores
disguised wth meate to them the Jayler

Enter pateloun & pesscode = enter asspida
to hir validore & his man . b . samme to
them the panteloun & pescode wth spectakles
Enter tesephon allgerius wth attendantes Dar
& others to them Burbage a messenger
to them Euphrodore = Robart lee & b samme

& tyre
Enter carynus & prlyor to them vrganda
wth a lookinge glasse acompaned wth satires
plainge on ther Jnstruments
Enter carynus madde to him prelyor
[d] madde
Enter asspida & [valydore] pescodde to hir
Enters rose
Enter panteloun & pescodde

Enter aspida & validore disguisd like rose wth
a flasket of clothes to them rose wth a
nother flasket of clothes to them the pan
teloun to them [to them] pescodde
x x x x x x x x x x x x x
wt out
Enter kinge Egereon allgeryus tesephon
wth lordes the [x] executioner wth [is] his
sworde & blocke & offycers wth holberds
to them carynus & prlyor then after that
the musicke plaies & ther Enters 3 an
tique faires dancynge on after a nother
the first takes the sworde from the ex
ecutioner and sends him a waye the other
caryes a waie the blocke & the third sends
a waie[s] the offycers & vnbindes allgeryus
& tesephon & as they entred so they departe
Enter to them vrganda laertes and
Eschines leadinge ther laides hand in hand
Enter the[n] panteloun & pescode
Enter validore [and asspida]
Enter asspida to hir rose
Enter the panteloun & causeth the
cheste or truncke to be broughte forth

Theatrical Provenance

Because the plot is undated, scholars have been unable to agree on a theatrical provenance. Greg's opinion is that it had to belong to Strange's men or the Admiral's men before 1594 (Papers, 133), perhaps even as early as 1590 (Dramatic Documents, 19). Gurr (71) and Bradley (232) echo Greg. Wiggins (#873) offers 1591 as his best guess, thinking thereby to accommodate assignments either to the Admiral's men or Pembroke's men (3.61)
McMillin offered a contrarian argument that "Dead Man's Fortune" belonged to Pembroke's men in 1592-3. Knutson agrees with McMillin. The most stable fact in any of these arguments is that the plot must belong to a time when the players named in it belonged to the same company. Those players are [Richard] Burbage, [Richard] Darloe, Robert Lee, and "b samme." A tire-man is also called for in the plot, but as McMillin observes, "Darlowe, Lee and 'samme' are silent on the matter [of company affiliation], and the tire-man is no help at all" (243).

Probable Genre(s)

Romantic Comedy (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

No source for the story has been identified, but a reasonably comprehensive account of the action of the play may be inferred from the skeleton version of scenes and character entries it records. Greg so inferred, offering a description of the romance plot, featuring lovers and jealous fathers, and a course of true love somewhat smoothed by magical intervention. In summarizing the narrative of the main plot (below), he stressed that "the details of the action and motives suggested are of course conjectural" (Dramatic Documents, 95):

"Laertes and Eschines, befriended by the magician Urganda, are suitors to Allcyane and Statyra, whom, however, their fathers, Tesephon and Allgerius, destine for the wicked rivals Carynus and Prelior. Laertes first makes the acquaintance of the fathers (I. iii), while on Urganda's advice Eschines takes a disguise as Bellveile (II. ii). The rival pairs of suitors appear before the ladies and their fathers to prefer their suits, and renouncing their chosen lovers they [the ladies] are committed to prison (II. iv). Here they overhear a plot by the wicked suitors (III. i), and with the help of the Jailor are able to summon their lovers (III. ii), thus defeating their fathers' plan of marrying them off under the influence of a drug administered in their meat (III. iii). While, however, Tesephon and Allgerius are congratulating themselves on the success of their plot, news is brought by a messenger that their daughters have died, and Urganda … then accuses them of poisoning the meat, and has them arrested by an officer named Euphrodore (IV. i). Next Urganda visits Carynus and Prelior and by means of a magic mirror (IV. ii) drives them mad (IV. iii). The last act opens with a scene (added later to the Plot) in which Urganda restores the ladies to their true lovers (V. i). There follows a spectacular entry, in which, before King Egereon, the condemned fathers are brought out to execution. Carynus and Prelior follow, but the catastrophe is interrupted by another magic show, in which three antic fairies dismiss the executioner and free the victims (V. ii), whereupon Urganda enters with the united couples (V. iii) and the play ends in mutual reconciliation."

A chief interest of the play is its interwoven secondary plot, which owes something to the Italian commedia dell' arte: it includes a leading figure called Pantaloun, around whom a domestic intrigue unfolds. His wife, Aspida, has a lover, Validore, and the household servants, the maid Rose and Pantaloun's man Peascod, are involved in the dynamics of jealousy and deceit. Attempts to link this action with the scenarios of Flaminio Scala ("The Jealous Old Man," for example) are not entirely compelling, although the analogies are of interest.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Much of the critical commentary on the plot has focused on three issues: provenance, casting, and the plot as one of seven in their apparent roles as aids to performance. Greg's Dramatic Documents is the foundational commentary, but McMillin and Bradley have modified and expanded Greg's comments substantially.


Stern addresses the pitfalls in conjecturing a provenance for those plots such as that for "Dead Man's Fortune," which does not have a clear sign from the players named of date and company. She points out that George Steevens, the 18th-century contemporary of Edmond Malone, failed to record how he acquired various plots including the one for "Dead Man's Fortune," leaving open the door for later scholars to assume Steevens acquired them all from Dulwich College. Similarly, Dulwich College has "no early catalogue" that makes clear which of its plots came from the papers of Edward Alleyn or from those of William Cartwright, an actor and bookseller in the Restoration whose father had been a player in the Alleyn era (203). Because of these obscured trails, Stern emphasizes that "companies and theatres that used the plots, and the periods of time from which the plots date, are all open to debate" (203).

As further addendum to Theatrical Provenance (above), it must be said that Greg's arguments on the date and company affiliation of "'Dead Man's Fortune" are grounded in a belief so deeply embedded in scholarship on theater history as to be unassailable. And yet it has no basis in fact; it is actually contradicted by facts. The belief is that, following an argument between John Alleyn and James Burbage at the Theater in 1590 or 1591, personal and professional relations between the Alleyns and Burbages were so polarized that the families' two star-powered players, Edward and Richard, would not have played together in the same company. As a result of this belief, Burbage is sought elsewhere among companies from 1590 to 1594 whenever Alleyn can be located with Strange's men or the Admiral's men. (The contradiction: Henslowe records the Admiral's men [and presumably Alleyn] playing with the Lord Chamberlain's men [and presumably Burbage] at Newington in June 1594. The players, while perhaps literally in separate companies, at the least shared a venue and alternated playing dates.) The consequences for the plot of "The Dead Man's Fortune," which names Burbage as a player yet appears to have once belonged to Alleyn, is that the date of the manuscript must necessarily precede the alleged family quarrel.


The plot identifies five performers, one by title, a "tyre man" playing an attendant in one scene, and the others by name: [Richard] Burbage, [Richard] Darloe, Robert Lee, and "b samme."

Burbage: Greg, aware of the potency of the name "Burbage" in any theatrical document, laments that "it is very unfortunate that we cannot determine with any certainty which character [Burbage] played" (Dramatic Documents, 100). Burbage's surname appears once in the plot in a late scene (Greg's assigned IV. i); the name is followed immediately by the call for a messenger. This proximity, which in the plots often identifies a player and role, leads to the unpopular deduction that Burbage played the messenger. Greg, after professing an inability to assign a part to Burbage, suggests that he might have played Urganda, the magician (Dramatic Documents, 44; 95). But there are problems with that casting. Urganda's magic certainly has an important place in "The Dead Man's Fortune," but the character, drawn from the Amadis and Palmerin romances, is an enchantress, "Urganda the Unknown," a generally beneficent protrectress of the chivalric heroes. If Greg is right about the casting, then, he is unlikely to be right about the date; Burbage was twenty-one in 1590, and past his days of taking female roles. If indeed he played Urganda, the performance connected with the plot is likely to have taken place in the middle 1580s. Bradley also rejects Greg's suggestion. Adding "Munday's derivative romances" to the sources of Urganda's trickery, he notes that "it would be unusual for a Plotter to name a boy by his surname" (97). He suggests that Burbage might have played Eschines, the successful lover who takes on a disguise. Bradley posits further that Burbage, in the disguise of Bellveile, masquerades briefly as that messenger. McMillin is interested in Burbage's name in the plot as a clue to company affiliation; he believed, as do many scholars, that Burbage was the lead player in the newly formed company of Pembroke's men in late autumn 1592 (Gurr, 270). (For players' biographies, start with Nungezer and Eccles.)
Darloe, Lee, "b samme," and the tire-man: Darloe's name appears twice in the plot proper and once in the margin (twice abbreviated to "Dar"), always as an attendant; Darloe (also, "Darlowe") married in January 1590 (Eccles, "Elizabethan Actors I: A-D," 45) and thus may be assumed to be in his early twenties at the time. Lee, like Darloe, is named three times including the marginal note; once his Christian name is given. He too is an attendant, and possibly that messenger no one wants to assign to Burbage. Born in 1569, Lee would have been 21 in 1590 (Eccles, "Elizabethan Actors III: K-R," 296). The name, "b samme," appears four times in the plot. In three instances the name appears in the same places as the names of Darloe and Lee (in the margin simply as "sam"); once it appears with no other players named. Who "b samme" was is still a mystery. Greg suggested several boys named Sam, as well as Samuel Rowley (Dramatic Documents 48-9). Greg noted further that "samme" might have played Validor's man and Euphrodore, parts that "in no way force us to interpret the 'b' as 'boy'" (48). The tire-man appears once in the margin. McMillin supposes he might have been needed also in the crowded "marginally-added scene toward the end" (238).

Plots as Performance Documents

The opinions on this topic are too many and complex to be summarized here. Suffice it to say that the long-standing idea that plots were hung in the tiring-house to assist players' entrances to the stage and exits has received much scrutiny and tweaking without much progress in a comprehensive explanation of the many differences the plots manifest.

In contrast to the vexed issue of consistency (or lack of it), Tribble argues that it is sufficient to perceive the plot as one of many components in the distributed cognition of putting on a play (145-7).

Regarding the plot of "The Dead Man's Fortune," Greg, Bradley, and McMillin work from the assumption that it was written at some stage of blocking the action for performance at a time when the Plotter did not need to identify the casting in more detail.
1. Greg declared that the plot had a "rather primitive character" (Dramatic Documents, 94), but it is in fact clearly written and laid out. The theatrical annotations in the plot give details of its other properties and some costumes. The title of the play is not clearly explicable from what the plot reveals about its action, but it probably is bound up with a final revelation involving a stage property: "Enter the panteloun & causeth the chest or truncke to be broughte forth." The puzzle of the dead man and his fortune no doubt was resolved when the trunk was opened, in the last moments of the play.
2. Bradley focuses on a few peculiarities of this plot: for example, the "'literary' muddle" the Plotter gets into "when trying to organize the sequential entrance and exit of three fairies" in the final scene (77). He also addresses the marginalia, with particular interest in the call for the tire-man (95-7, 100).
3. McMillin examines the plot to determine the number of players needed to put the play on; his conclusion is that the plot suggests a company of "eighteen—four boys, three supernumeraries, and eleven capable men" (239). This conclusion leads him to propose the company of Pembroke's men, which he presumed had fewer players than Strange's men in 1592-3 (241-2).

See Stern for a discussion of the plots as material documents of the theater (201-31).

See Wiggins # 873 for suggestions on the identification of characters, speaking parts, and doubling.

For What It's Worth

Knutson's interest in "The Dead Man's Fortune" is as a second possible comedy in the repertory of Pembroke's men, otherwise heavy in tragedy and tragical histories (the other comedy was The Taming of A Shrew). Seeking an answer as many scholars before her have to the apparent collapse of Pembroke's tour in the late summer of 1593, she claims that the repertory cannot take the blame. She discusses details of the narrative of "The Dead Man's Fortune" to argue for a lively and audience-pleasing entertainment.

McMillin disagrees with Greg's assignment of the role of King Egereon to a supernumerary. He points out that "Kings, even late-arriving kings, do not usually walk on in Elizabethan plays," and he assigns the role to "an experienced actor" (239). In a note he adds that "in an Elizabethan repertory company the royal costumes, expensive and used in various plays, would have been fitted to leading actors" (239.n8).

Works Cited

Bradley, David. From Text to Performance in the Elizabethan Theatre. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Eccles, Mark. "Elizabethan Actors I: A-D." Notes & Queries 236.1 (1991): 38-48.
— — — "Elizabethan Actors II: E-J." Notes and Queries 236.4 (1991): 454-61.
— — — "Elizabethan Actors III: K-R." Notes & Queries 237.3 (1992): 293-303.
— — — "Elizabethan Actors IV: S to End." Notes and Queries 238.2 (1993): 165-76.
Greg, W. W. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931.
Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearian Playing Companies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Pembroke's Men in 1592-3, Their Repertory and Touring Schedule." Early Theatre 4.1 (2001): 129-38.
McMillin, Scott. "The Plots of The Dead Man's Fortune and 2 Seven Deadly Sins: Inferences for Theatre Historians." Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973): 235-43.
Nungezer, Edwin. A Dictionary of Actors. New York: Greenwood Press, 1929.
Scala, Flaminio. trans. H. F. Salerno, Scenarios of the Commedia dell' Arte. New York, 1967.
Tribble, Evelyn. "Distributing Cognition in the Globe." Shakespeare Quarterly 56.2 (2005): 135-55.

Site created by John H. Astington, University of Toronto; updated by Roslyn L. Knutson 28 January 2012; updated by David McInnis 28 October 2015.

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