Give a Man Luck and Throw Him into the Sea

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Anon. (1600)


Historical Records

Stationers' Register

24 July 1600

24 Julij
Richard Oliff      Entred for his copies vnder the
handes of master hartwell &
the wardens Twoo ballades  xijd
.b plaies or thinges thone
called the maides metamorphosis
thother. gyve a man luck & throwe
him into the Sea

(Book C, f. 62v, Records, reel 2; cf. Arber, 3.168)

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown. (See Criticism and For What It's Worth.)

Probable Genre(s)

Jig (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The titular phrase was proverbial (Tilley M146). It is first recorded in Richard Edwards's poem "Of Fortunes power" in The Paradyse of Daynty Deuises (1576), where it is mentioned as already in wide circulation:

No measure hath shee [Fortune] in her gifts, shee doth reward eache sort.
The wise that counsell haue, no more then fooles that maketh sport.
Shee vseth neuer partiall handes for to offend or please,
Geue me good Fortune all men sayes, and throw me in the seas. (sig. D1r)

In dramatic contexts, it appears in Munday's 1584 translation of Pasqualigo's Il Fedele as "Giue me good luck and throw mee into the Seas" (Fedele and Fortunio, sig. D4v), and in Edmund Ironside as "Give a man luck and cast him over the gallous" (75, line 1738). Jonson uses it in A Tale of a Tub ("Give a man fortune, throw him i' the Sea": sig. N1r) as does Fletcher in Wit Without Money ("Give him this lucke, and fling him into the Sea": sig. F3r). In William Rowley's A New Wonder, A Woman Never Vext (1632), the phrase is used after the Widow's lost wedding ring, which had accidentally slipped into the Thames, is serendipitously found again in the belly of a salmon bought at the market:

Now doe I see the old proverbe come to passe;
Give a woman lucke, and cast her into th'sea:
There's many a man would wish his wife good
Lucke, on that condition he might throw her
Away so. (sig. B4v).

It is of course unknown how the titular proverb was reflected in the lost play's narrative. One need not imagine a tale of maritime adventures, but presumably some happy windfall constituted an important event in the narrative of the play (Wiggins 216) and the positive tenor of the proverb suggests a comic rather than a tragic ending.

References to the Play

None known. (Content welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Fleay tentatively attributed the play to Paul's Boys, suggesting that it was a revival of an old play (BCED, 2.310; see also 2.324).

Hazlitt observed that the play "does not appear to have been printed" (96).

Greg noted that the Stationers' Register's reference to "plaies or thinges" (substituted for "ballades") calls into question the title's status as a play: "Since The Maides Metamorphosis [164] is certainly a play, the other may have been a 'thinge', probably more than an ordinary ballad, perhaps a jig. It is not otherwise recorded" (BEPD, 2.970).

Wiggins cites Greg's uncertainty about the S.R. title's status as a play. Like Fleay, he suggests that the play may have been performed by Paul's Boys—that is, if its joint entry with The Maid's Metamorphosis is any indication (216).

For What It's Worth

Theatrical Provenance

As Fleay and Wiggins suggest, Olive's joint entrance of the present play with "the maides metamorphosis" might offer a clue to its performance auspices. The Maid's Metamorphosis was published by Olive in an edition of 1600, "As it hath bene sundrie times Acted by the Children of Powles" (STC 17188). Olive also published The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll later that year (S.R. 7 October 1600), and Marston's Jack Drum's Entertainment in 1601 (S.R. 8 September 1600): the Register entries and printed title pages for both plays feature the same advertisement of performance at Paul's. However, his edition of The Weakest Goeth to the Wall (S.R. 23 October 1600) attributes that play to Oxford's Men (note the similarly proverbial title).

A Ghost Play?

The S.R. entry describes "Twoo […] plaies or thinges," one of which is clearly the playbook The Maid's Metamorphosis. Greg thought this called into question that "Give a Man Luck" was a play, and speculated that it may have been a jig, a suggestion followed by Harbage, although the possibility that it was an entirely non-dramatic text could not be ruled out. Clearly the entering clerk was uncertain as to the genre of the two texts, as the struck-through "ballades" anticipates: the pluralization of both terms ("plaies or thinges") perhaps suggests that the clerk did not have the copies directly at hand and could not confirm the genre of the two texts, adding "or thinges" as a safeguard against inaccuracy? (Correction on this point would be welcome.) It may be relevant that the four other dramatic titles entered in the S.R. by Olive in 1600 were all transferred to other stationers by his widow in 1615 and 1616 (Arber 3.576, 581); "Give a Man Luck" was not.

Works Cited

Anon. Edmund Ironside. Ed. Eleanore Boswell. Malone Society Reprints. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1927.
Anon. The Maydes Metamorphosis. London, 1600.
Edwards, Richard. The Paradyse of Daynty Deuises. London, 1576.
Fletcher, John ["Written by Francis Beaumount, and Iohn Flecher"]. Wit Without Money (London, 1639).
Hazlitt, W. Carew. A Manual for the Collector and Amateur of Old English Plays. London, 1892.
Jonson, Ben. A Tale of a Tub in The Workes of Beniamin Ionson. The second Volume. London, 1640[-41].
Munday, Anthony, trans. Fedele and Fortunio. London, 1585. (S.R. 12 November 1584.)
Records of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, 1554–1920. Ed. Robin Myers. Microfilm. 115 reels. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1985.
Rowley, William. A New Wonder, A Woman Never Vext. London, 1632.
Wiggins, Martin, in association with Catherine Richardson. British Drama, 1533–1642: A Catalogue. Volume IV: 1598–1602. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Reed College; updated 8 January 2015.

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