King Ebrauk with All His Sons

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Anon. (1589)


Historical Records

Chester Mayors List

The Chester Mayors List 5 (British Library Harley MS 2125, f. 43r) records the following for 11-10 October, 1589:

henrye earl of darbye came to this Cittye and was verye honourablye
enterteayned of the Cittizens great store of Corn Cam to the Citty to the
Comfort of ye Cittizens & broughte down the market also a play was
playd at high crosse called the storey of Kinge Ebrauk with all his sonne
but such rayne fell it was hindred much
(quoted in REED Cheshire, 1.223)

A similar record appears in the Chester Mayors List 13 (CCALS ZCR 60/83, f. 15):

This yeare…Henry Earle of darby came to this Cittye./ & was ho[no]rably received
The storye of kinge Ebrauke played in this Cittye
(quoted in REED Cheshire, 1.223)

Theatrical Provenance

Beyond the entertainment, possibly for Henry Stanley, Fourth Earl of Derby (and lord lieutenant of Cheshire), no other performance of the play is recorded.

It was staged at the Chester town high cross, possibly in a temporary arena of some kind; situated before St. Peter’s Church at the intersection of Watergate, Eastgate, and Bridge Streets, the cross was the site of several performances associated with civic celebrations including the city’s Whitsun Plays and the 1529-30 interlude King Robert of Sicily (Mills, 127; see also Coletti and Gibson, 233-4) and was the site each year of a bullbaiting ring sponsored by the Butchers’ guild (REED Cheshire, 1.lvi).

It is not clear if "Ebrauk" was performed by local amateurs or touring professionals – a subject of some debate among the few scholars who comment on the play (see For What It's Worth).

Probable Genre(s)

History, or, more specifically, militaristic historical legend. Benamin Griffin includes it in his list of “Plays on English History” (151).

David Mills states that "Ebrauk" is described as an “interlude” and was thus perhaps of a “light or humorous character” and “not a comedy, tragedy, or play” (133); however, the record from the Mayors List 5 refers to the show as “a play” (the reference in Mayors List 13 is simply to “The Storye” of Ebrauk), not an “interlude”. Harbage's Annals describes the genre of the play as a “show” (55).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

According to legend, Ebrauk, son of Mempricius, was the fourth or fifth King of the Britons and is reputed to have ruled for between forty and sixty years according to different accounts. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who makes him contemporaneous with the biblical David, claims that he was the great-grandson of Locrine, that his great-grandson was Hudibras, and that his great-great-great-grandson was Lear.

His name is associated with the founding of many towns and cities, most notably York, Nottingham, and Edinburgh, though no writer connects him with Chester specifically. There are several potential narratives associated with Ebrauk that would have made compelling plays. Matthew of Winchester relates that Ebrauk “was the first [Briton] who went with a navy into France and returned with victory” (quoted in Widdrington and Caine, 16). Robert Manning of Brunne’s Story of England (ca. 1338) also relates how Ebrauk commanded a great fleet and became the first British naval hero by sailing against France and coming away with a great treasure that he used to build various cities in Britain.

In keeping with the full title of the play (“…with All His Sons”), Manning reports that he had twenty wives, thirty daughters, and twenty sons. The sons who may have appeared as characters in the play were named Brutus Greenshield (subject of a lost Admiral's Men play of 1599 [Teramura, 131-2]), Margadu, Cisillus, Regien, Bladu (legendary founder of Bath), Moryod, Lagon, Ebolan, Kynbar, Spadan, Gaul, Pardan, Eldade, Chagus, Cherin, Luwor, Lud (not to be confused with Lud son of Heli, legendary founder of London), Assarek, Buwel, and Ector. According to Manning, Ebrauk managed to marry his daughters off to thirty wealthy Trojans in Lombardy while his sons, after various wandering adventures of their own, reunited to conquer Germany. After Ebrauk’s death, his eldest son, Brutus Greenshield, ruled Britain for twelve years.

References to the Play

None besides the Chester Mayors Lists.

Critical Commentary

Beyond speculation on why a play on Ebrauk was staged at Chester (as opposed to York) and whether it was staged by amateurs or touring professionals (see For What It's Worth), little commentary on the title exists. Leonard Ashley suggests that “King Ebrauk with All His Sons” “may be a description rather than the actual title” of the play (150).

Based on the wording of the entries in the Mayors Lists, Martin Wiggins doubts that the performance was for Derby (2:831). While skepticism is good, there are reasons that performance of such a play would have been an appropriate honor for Derby (see For What It's Worth). E. K. Chambers, for example, thought that the play was indeed staged to honor the Earl (Chambers, 2.356).

For What It's Worth

Besides the Chester play, during a tableau vivant to celebrate a royal visit to York in 1486, the character of King Ebrauk welcomed King Henry VII into the city (Withington, 1:78; Johnston and Rogerson, 2:139-40, 142, and 147-8). During the entertainment, Ebrauk, in rhetoric typical of royal flattery, told Henry that he was “a primatyve of youre progenye” (quoted in Higgins, 77; for more on Ebrauk’s speech to Henry, see Stevens, 64-5). There is no reason to suppose that the Chester play of 1589 was in any way connected to or based upon the York welcome-pageant of over a century earlier. A statue of Ebrauk stood as a boundary-marker at the west end of St. Saviourgate in York but was moved to the chapel of the Common Hall in 1501, then to the Mayoralty House, and, in 1738, to a niche in the wall at Bootham Bar, one of the ancient Roman gates into the city; the statue no longer survives. A 1405-8 stained glass image of Ebrauk, however, can still be seen on the east façade of the York Minster cathedral (Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi inv. no. 022708).

The few scholars who note the existence of the Chester play of 1589 tend to touch upon two questions: why a play on Ebrauk was staged at Chester at all and whether it was performed by local amateurs or touring professionals.

On the first question, Mills notes, “It is by no means clear why a play about him should have been performed in Chester” (128). A play about a legendary English maritime commander would have been fitting for performance before Derby in the fall of 1589 since the year prior he had been one of the commissioners charged with using the defeat of the Spanish Armada as leverage in negotiating for an end to the Anglo-Spanish War. The REED Cheshire editors suggest that this “is an unusual play to bring to an audience in Chester”, but this overlooks the probability that the play was staged, not so much for the Chester audience, but for Derby specifically (2.1023). The epic and patriotic nature of Ebrauk’s story and the adventures of his twenty conquering sons would have been suitable dramatic fare for performance in the streets of any British city immediately after the naval triumph of 1588, but especially for a local patron with such close ties to the victory. As noted above, Wiggins is skeptical that the performance was indeed before the Earl. While it is possible that the play was not staged for Derby, there is a history of the Stanley family's connections with theatrical performances in Chester (Coletti and Gibson, 232-3). In 1578, for example, the mayor, Thomas Bellin, entertained both Derby and Lord Strange with a command performance of a comedy by "scollers of the freescole" at Chester (quoted in Chambers, 2.356).

On the second question, J. S. Barrow et al point out, “It is not clear if the performance of King Ebrauk with all his Sons in 1588-9 was a civic or a professional production” (255). It would be quite reasonable to guess that the play had been put up by a group of local amateur players (perhaps, if the play was indeed for Derby, the implication of the phrase "enterteayned of [that is, by] the Cittizens"). Chester was, after all, a town with a lengthy tradition of amateur dramatics dating back to its medieval pageant cycles. Furthermore, while there is evidence of touring players in Chester quite often during Elizabeth’s reign, there are no specific records of professional players there that October and there is no mention of a play about Ebrauk in any of the known troupes’ repertories (though, given the paucity of evidence about those repertories, this in itself is hardly telling).

At the same time, however, there are also no records of expenses to cover what must have been some local cost in mounting the play if it had been a civic performance. As the REED Cheshire editors point out, “There are no references to expenses or expenditure on the play in the accounts of the city treasurers or the companies, as one might expect if the occasion was the visit that year of the earl of Derby” (REED Cheshire, 2.1023). Perhaps, then, the play was indeed “performed by visitors rather than citizens” (REED Cheshire, 1.xlix). It may also be indicative that, given the bad weather, the play was not simply cancelled and staged on the next day, as might be expected with a local production; a touring company struck with rain would have been more likely to see the performance through (even if “it was hindred much”) and then to press on to the next town rather than try their luck in the same town a second day. On the balance of the extant evidence, therefore – including the evidence that is lacking – it seems more likely that the play was staged by a touring company whose appearance at Chester was simply not recorded. As for the identity of such a company, there is no clear evidence, though Queen Elizabeth’s Men did tour to Chester in 1589-90, 1590-91, and 1591-92 (REED PP).

There is a slight chance that the play is connected to the lost Admiral's Men play based on Brutus Greenshield that had been licensed by the Master of the Revels in March 1599 (see above, Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues). Chambers thought this play was a sequel to Day's earlier 1 Brute, since a mere revival of an old play would not require relicensing (ES 2.163 and 169). Fleay suggested (without giving any reason) that the lost "Brute Greenshield" was in fact "an old Queen's Men's play" (BCED 2.307-8), which—if true—would make it roughly contemporary with (or even related to) "King Ebrauk with All His Sons".

Works Cited

Ashley, Leonard R. N. Authorship and Evidence: A Study of Attribution and the Renaissance Drama. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1968.
Baldwin, Elizabeth, Lawrence Clopper, and David Mills, eds. Records of Early English Drama: Cheshire. 2 Volumes. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 2007. (Internet Archive: Vol.1)
Barrow, J. S. et al. “Leisure and Culture: Plays, sports, and customs before 1700” in A History of the County of Chester, Volume 5, Part 2: The City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions eds. A. T. Thacker and C. P. Lewis. London: Victoria County History, 2005.
Chambers, E. K. The Medieval Stage. 2 Volumes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903.
Coletti, Theresa and Gail McMurray Gibson. “The Tudor Origins of Medieval Drama” in A Companion to Tudor Literature, ed. Kent Cartwright. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010. 228-45.
Griffin, Benjamin. Playing the Past: Approaches to English Historical Drama, 1385-1600. Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001.
Higgins, Anne. “Streets and Markets” in A New History of Early English Drama, eds. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan. New York City: Columbia University Press, 1997. 77-92.
Johnston, Alexandra F. and Margaret T. Rogerson, eds. Records of Early English Drama: York. 2 Volumes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979. (Internet Archive: Vol.1)
Mills, David. Recycling the Cycle: The City of Chester and Its Whitsun Plays. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Stevens, Martin. “The Royal Stanza in Early English Literature”. PMLA 94.1 (January 1979): 62-76.
Teramura, Misha. “Brute Parts: From Troy to Britain at the Rose, 1595-1600” in Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England, eds. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 127-47.
Widdrington, Thomas and Caesar Caine, ed. Analecta Eboracensia: Some Remaynes of the Ancient City of York. London: C. J. Clark, 1897.
Withington, Robert. English Pageantry: An Historical Outline. 2 Volumes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918.

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