Fortune's Tennis, Part 2

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Anon. (1602?)


Historical Records

British Library Add. MS.10449, f.4

"The [plot of the sec]ond part of fortun[e's tenn]is" is one of the six surviving backstage plots (the others being "The Dead Man's Fortune", "Frederick and Basilea", "Troilus and Cressida", The Battle of Alcazar and "The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins". (Another plot, for the first part of the lost "Tamar Cham" play was transcribed by George Steevens and published in 1803, but has since disappeared).

BL Add MS 10449 2 Fortunes Tennis thumb.jpg

(British Library Add. MS.10449, f.4, reproduced with permission)


2 Fortune's Tennis plot transcription.jpg
(Transcription based on Greg's in Henslowe Papers 143 with additional corrections suggested by Greg in Dramatic Documents, 134-83)

Theatrical Provenance

Admiral's, probably at the Fortune.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage); occasional piece (Chambers); tragedy (McInnis).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The strongest lead for establishing the likely subject matter of this play is the character names featured in the plot. These include some generic types:

mute ladies
wine presssers

There are also the following named characters:


These distinctive names lend credibility to two distinct possibilities for subject matter.

Possibility 1: The Fourth Crusade (AD 1202-04)

In the late twelfth century, Pope Innocent III began recruiting support for his plan to reclaim the Holy Land. One of his first tasks was to persuade King Philip Augustus of France and King Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) to make peace, lest their continued conflict prevent Innocent from recruiting sufficient crusaders for his cause. A five-year truce was agreed upon in early 1199, but in April of that year Richard was killed whilst besieging the viscount of Limoges’ castle at Chalus-Chabrol. [...] Pope Innocent’s plans for the crusade suffered a significant setback with the sudden death of the English king, and it was not until November 1199 that a crusading army was truly established – at a tournament in Ecry-sur-Aisne where the host, Count Theobald (or Thibaut) of Champagne, and his cousin, Count Louis of Blois laid aside their weapons and committed themselves and their followers to the cause.52 By AD 1200, they had amassed an army of ca. 10,000 men, who were to travel to Jerusalem by sea via Italy, and Venice in particular. While the French army negotiated with the Venetian fleet for transportation and support, Theobald of Champagne died, and the crusaders lost their leader. It was decided that his replacement should be determined by election, and the successful nominee was marquis Boniface of Montferrat (ad 1192–1207).
Boniface of Montferrat might be the Boniface of the plot, whilst Theobald of Champagne and Lois of Blois might be the plot’s “[Cha]mpaine” and “Lewes” respectively. (McInnis 115)

Possibility 2: The Emperor Phocas

Mauritius (or Maurice) reigned over the Byzantine Empire from ad 582–602, and was the only emperor of that name [...] His achievements as Emperor of Constantinople include establishing peace with the Persians during the time of Cosroe II. Cosroe’s dependence on Constantinople was a significant outcome for Mauritius, but Richard Rainolde explains in his Chronicle of all the noble emperours (1571) how “Mauritius by pride puffed vp, forgatte God Almightye” and made war against the Lombards and the Hungarians. The Hungarians, led by Caganus, took many Christian captives, but “Mauritius being a cruell Prince” did not pay ransoms, infuriating Caganus and causing him to slaughter the Christian prisoners. At about this time, Mauritius reportedly experienced a number of quasi-supernatural phenomena. In a busy marketplace, a man dressed as a monk supposedly appeared before Mauritius brandishing a small sword, warning that the emperor would die by that weapon, then vanishing suddenly amongst the crowd. As Mauritius’s reign progressed, he met with opposition from Gregory I whose papacy (590–604) grew increasingly independent of the emperor; some writers attribute the report of the monk’s ominous prophecy to Pope Gregory. This event was followed by a prophetic dream, in which Mauritius saw a soldier (whose name was Phocas) murder Mauritius’s wife and children, before murdering Mauritius himself. Although Mauritius’s son prudently advised his father to win the love of his soldiers in a bid to procure safety, Mauritius did no such thing; rather, he subjected his men to intolerable winter conditions in Slovenia, resulting in their mutiny. They were led by the centurion Phocas, who was chosen as emperor by the people; and so the prophecy came to pass. Mauritius came to be known for the suffering he endured. ... After witnessing his entire family’s execution, Mauritius himself was beheaded.

Phocas (ad 602–10) was a notoriously cruel emperor [...] . A notable occurrence during his reign was Phocas’s declaration of Pope Boniface III (19 February–November 12, ad 607) as universal bishop. Phocas thus provides a link between the two distinctive names in the plot, Mauritius and Boniface. (McInnis 117-19)

McInnis suggests that the account of these events offered in Book 2 of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments (1583) may be of particular interest here because:

it is followed immediately by an account of King Edwin (or Eadwine) of Northumberland (ad c. 586–633), including the relation of an attempt on Edwin’s life that was foiled by Edwin’s trusty servant Lilla, who interposed himself between the king and the assassin’s blade. “Edwin” appears at the end of the “2 Fortune’s Tennis” plot, with Bertram, Lewis and possibly Mauritius (the name is mutilated) in lines 24 and 26. At line 20 there is the direction “lla like a Pilgrim”, which remains ambiguous. The unidentified “lla” could theoretically be “Lilla”... (McInnis 119)

References to the Play

None known; information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Collier associated this play's title with the Fortunatus plays in the Admiral's repertory (173).

Chambers suggested the title might bear some relation to Munday's "The Set at Tennis" (180).

Greg believed that "[v]ery little can be gleaned from this, the most fragmentary of all the plots. Several readings are doubtful and the inferences that can be drawn have not much weight as evidence" (HP 150). He did not believe the character names in the plot provided much assistance in identifying it:

The characters do not help much towards an identification. The direction “Enter Orleans melancholike” occurs in Old Fortunatus (ed. Scherer, l.1315), a play which also recalls the title, but the other characters show no correspondence. (HP 144)

He noted, though, that Henslowe’s use of the definite article (“the fortewn tenes”) is “curious”, and wondered if Henslowe had rather meant “the Fortune of Tennis” (Greg II, 215). He later revised this supposition, arguing that “If, as is not unlikely, the manuscript was inscribed, ‘The Booke of the Whole of Fortunes Tennis’, it would account for the anomalous use of the article in Henslowe’s entry. When, a few months earlier, Dekker recast the old two-part play of Fortunatus into a single piece, this is called by Henslowe, ‘the vvholle history of fortewnatus’” ("Evidence", 271n).

Beckerman agreed with Greg about the limited value of attending to the plot, noting that it “exists only in the most fragmentary form,” and not offering any substantial commentary on it (109).

McInnis offered the most substantial examination of the plot. He attempted to infer the likely subject matter of the play from the characters named in the plot, producing the two alternatives described above. Emphasising the need for caution when conjecturing on the basis of slender evidence, he does not advocate either possibility over the other, but instead demonstrates how either could relate to the Admiral's repertory, and in particular, plays "purchased by Henslowe for performance or potential revival in 1598–99" (105). The Fourth Crusade possibility can be related to The Funeral of Richard Coeur de Lion (1598), a number of extant Robin Hood plays from 1597-1601 including two by Anthony Munday (1598), and Drayton's "William Longsword" (1598). The Emperor Phocas possibility can be related to the lost Phocas play of 1596. Henslowe lent the company £7 towards the purchase of playbooks from Martin Slater on 16 May 1598; one of these was the book of "focas". He concludes that whichever possibility was dramatised, the Admiral's were building on and reinforcing existing subject matter from their repertory, rather than simply concocting something whose title would help advertise the name of their new playhouse, the Fortune.

For What It's Worth


Reconstruction of title of this plot depends on external evidence; on 6 September 1600, Henslowe lent Robert Shaw 20s to pay Thomas Dekker for “his boocke called the fortewn tenes” (Greg 124; f.70v). This in turn helps date the plot, because the fact that Dekker's play was not specified as either "part 1" or "part 2" encourages the belief that it was the first part, and that a second part had not yet been written. "The plot of the second part of Fortune's Tennis" should therefore postdate the payment to Dekker in 1600. Following a conjectural reading first offered by Greg (Dramatic Documents 135), McInnis observes that Dick Juby's probable inclusion in the plot implies a 1600-1602 date range for the plot, since these are the years when Juby was associated with the Admiral's (McInnis 112).


Although Greg thought that "[o]nly seven actors are named" in the plot, the following ten names or partial names are visible:

Tho[mas] (Parsons? Towne? Hunt? Downton?)
somerton (George Somerset? Or possibly a character name?)
dic[k Juby] (Dick Juby)
mr. singer (John Singer, the renowned clown)
Pau[y] (William Pavy)
Geo[rge] (If not George Somerset, this George remains untraced)
R. Tail[o]r (Robert Tailor)
w. Cartwright (William Cartwright)
Sam (Samuel Rowley)
Ch[ar]l[es] (Charles Massey)

(Further information about each can be found via David Kathman's Biographical Index of English Drama Before 1660 or in Nungezer's Dictionary of Actors).

Works Cited

Beckerman, Bernard. “Theatrical Plots and Elizabethan Stage Practice.” Shakespeare and Dramatic Tradition. ed. W. R. Elton and William B. Long. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989.
Chambers, E. K. William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.
Collier, John Payne. The Diary of Philip Henslowe. London: Printed for the Shakespeare Society, 1845.
Greg, W. W. “The Evidence of Theatrical Plots for the History of the Elizabethan Stage.” RES 1.3 (1925): 257-74.
---. Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931, rpt. 1969.
McInnis, David. " '2 Fortune's Tennis' and the Admiral's Men." Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England. ed. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 105-126.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 07 October 2015.

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