Hungarian Lion, The

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Richard Gunnell (1623)


Historical Records

Licensing (Herbert 26):

1623, December 4. “For the Palsgrave’s Players; The Hungarian Lion: Written by Gunnel.” (S. A. 216.)

Theatrical Provenance

Licensed for Palsgrave’s Men who were at the new Fortune at this time; Gunnell (as Adams notes) being “a distinguished actor” and their manager (Herbert 26n). They had moved into this theatre only months before, when its construction had been completed.

Probable Genre(s)

Foreign history (?) (Harbage); “obviously a comedy” (Adams 389); Eastern; History.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Unknown, though Barbour and Shields (see "Critical commentary" below) maintain that the play’s subject matter was the life of Captain John Smith. The information provided by Smith himself as a corrective to the stage version of his adventures was published in 1630, which is too late for a source (see "References to the play"), but this information must have been known to Gunnell and others previously, through other means. Gunnell’s personal acquaintance with Smith (see "For what it's worth") may have been the unusually direct avenue of information.

Smith’s epitaph provides some indication of what his contemporaries found most memorable about his life:

Here lyes one conquered that hath conquered Kings.
Subdu’d large Territories, and done things
Which to the World impossible would seem,
But that the Truth is held in more esteem.
Shall I report his former Service done
In honour of his God and Christendom?
How that he did divide from Pagans three
Their Heads and Lives, Types of his Chivalry?
For which great Service in that Climate done,
Brave Sigismundus, King of Hungarion,
Did give him as a Coat of Armes to wear,
These Conquered Heads got by his Sword and Spear.
Or shall I tell of his Adventures since,
Done in Virginia, that large Continent?
How that he subdu’d Kings unto his Yoke,
And made those Heathen flee, as Wind doth Smoke:
And made their land, being of so large a Station,
An Habitation for our Christian Nation,
Where God is glorify’d, their Wants supply’d;
Which else, for Necessaries must have dy’d.
But what avails his Conquests, now he lyes
Interr’d in Earth, a Prey to Worms and Flyes?
O! May his Soul in sweet Elysium sleep,
Until the Keeper that all Souls doth keep,
Return to Judgment; and that after thence,
With Angels he may have his Recompence.

(“Original Epitaph in St. Sepulchre’s Church, London,” in Barbour, Complete Works III.390).

References to the Play

In the dedication to Pembroke, Lindsey and Dover in his 1630 folio The True Travels, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) claimed with mixed feelings that his colourful adventures had been adapted for the stage:

Sir Robert Cotton, that most learned Treasurer of Antiquitie, having by perusall of my Generall Historie, and others, found that I had likewise undergone divers other as hard hazards in the other parts of the world, requested me to fix the whole course of my passages in a booke by it selfe, whose noble desire I could not but in part satisfie; the rather, because they have acted my fatall Tragedies upon the Stage, and racked my Relations at their pleasure. To prevent therefore all future misprisions, I have compiled this true discourse. (A2r-v)

Richard James’s commendation in Smith’s True Travels (A5) also refers to the play, as Barbour (“London Theatre”) was the first to notice:

To my worthy friend, Captaine John Smith.
Deare noble Captaine, who by Sea and Land,
To act the earnest of thy name hast hand
And heart; who canst with skill designe the Fort,
The Leaguer, Harbour, City, Shore, and Port:
Whose sword and pen in bold, ruffe, Martiall wise,
Put forth to try and beare away the prize,
From Caesar and Blaize Monluc: Can it be,
That Men alone in Gonnels fortune see
Thy worth advanc’d? no wonder since our age,
Is now at large a Bedlam or a Stage.

Critical Commentary

Hazlitt notes in the marginal annotations of his personal copy of A manual for the collector and amateur of old English plays that "This play, no longer known, was evidently founded on an episode in the long struggle between Hungary, Transylvania, & Austria" (111n).

Bentley acknowledges that nothing is known of the play (other than Herbert’s licence for it), but speculates as follows:

Since the Thirty Years War was a subject of great interest in England in the 1620’s, it seems possible that Gunnell’s play may have concerned one of the Protestant figures in the war, or an historic predecessor whose career might seem suggestive. Such a subject would have been appropriate for a company whose patron was the Winter King of Boehmia. Bethlen Gabor seems a likely figure, but the Master of the Revels might have considered him too timely. (IV.518)

Burian adds The Hungarian Lion to his appendix of Elizabethan/Jacobean plays dealing (partly or entirely) with Turkish themes (229).

Engaging directly with Bentley, Barbour (“London Theatre”) notes that

Gábor Bethlen has been postulated as a likely central figure. But John Smith’s quasi-hero Sigismundus (Zsigmond) Báthory was also a Hungarian (Transylvanian) leader in the earlier “Long War” against the Turks, and the Habsburgs, off and on. Within the framework of sheer guessing, Báthory was as good a candidate for the “Lion” as Bethlen. (278-79).

Barbour appears to be the first to notice the allusion in Richard James’s verse (above) to the stage play, and comments on it as follows:

In these lines, then, we have a clear, independent statement that some scene or scenes from Smith’s life had been presented ‘upon the stage’ at the Fortune Theatre, where Gunnell is known to have been manager. Whether “The Hungarian Lion” was the play, or Bethlen or Báthory the central figure, is of little importance. The statement in the Dedication of Smith’s True Travels is here borne out. (279)

Following Barbour, David S. Shields discusses the lost play at length:

Smith was the rare Elizabethan who saw his own life celebrated on the stage. Richard Gunnell’s Hungarian Lion (1623) celebrated Smith’s service on behalf of the prince of Hungary in the war against the Ottoman Turks. If some filmmaker of the future wished to break the thrall of Pocahontas on the popular imagining of Smith’s life and present a new film narrative, the opening scene would be Smith in the audience of the New Fortune playhouse witnessing with profound discomfort his representation as a miles gloriosus, inventing signal systems and beheading Turks. From the remarks of one of the poets prefacing a New England tract, we know Smith had mixed feelings about the play. His pride as a martial man was gratified, yet he knew that he had ceased to be that man. He struggled toward another identity, that of a man of learning. (492-93).

Shields also confidently asserts that “[i]n 1623, Richard Gunnell, master of the New Fortune playhouse, staged The Hungarian Lion, banking on the enduring popular interest in the contest of the Ottoman Turks with Christendom. A caricature of Smith appeared conspicuously in the action.

For What It's Worth

Gunnell also wrote a commendatory verse for Smith’s Description of New England (London, 1616) (A2v), which suggests the two men’s friendship began at least 7 years earlier than the performance of The Hungarian Lion:

To that worthy and generous Gentleman, my very good friend, Captaine Smith.
May Fate thy Proiect prosper, that thy name
May be eternised with liuing fame:
Though foule Detraction Honour would peruert,
And Enuie euer waits vpon desert:
In spight of Pelias, when his hate lies colde,
Returne as Iason with a fleece of Golde.
Then after-ages shall record thy praise,
That a New England to this Ile didst raise:
And when thou dy’st (as all that liue must die)
Thy fame liue heere, thou, with Eternitie.

Barbour provides biographical information on the two candidates for the “Hungarian Lion”:

Gábor Bethlen (1580-1629) was Prince of Transylvania from 1613 until well into the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Zsigmond Báthory (1572-1613) … had been hereditary ruler 1580-1601, but had abdicated. It was he from whom John Smith received the right to wear “Three Turks’ Heads” on his shield. (“London Theatre” 278n)

Works Cited

Adams, Joseph Quincy. Shakespearean Playhouses. A History of English Theatres from the Beginnings to the Restoration. London: Constable, 1917. Print. Internet archive
Barbour, Philip L. “Captain John Smith and the London Theatre.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 83.3 (1975): 277-79. Print. JSTOR.
Barbour, Philip L., ed. The Complete Works of Captain John Smith. 3 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986. Print.
Burian, Orhan. “Interest of the English in Turkey as Reflected in English Literature of the Renaissance.” Oriens 5.2 (1952): 209-229. Print.
Hazlitt, W. Carew. A manual for the collector and amateur of old English plays. Ed. from the material formed by Kirkman, Langbaine, Downes, Oldys, and Halliwell-Phillipps, with extensive additions and corrections, by W. Carew Hazlitt. London, 1892. Folger Shakespeare Library W.a.501.
Shields, David S. “The Genius of Ancient Britain.” The Atlantic World and Virginia, 1550-1624. ed. Peter C. Mancall. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. 489-509. Print.
Smith, John. A description of New England: or The obseruations, and discoueries, of Captain Iohn Smith (admirall of that country) in the north of America, in the year of our Lord 1614. London, 1616. Print. (EEBO)
Smith, John. The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine Iohn Smith, In Europe, Asia, Affrica, and America, from Anno Domini 1593. to 1629. London, 1630. Print. (EEBO)

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated, 02 September 2009.

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