London Florentine, Parts 1 and 2

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Henry Chettle and Thomas Heywood (1603)


Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 108v (Greg I.172)

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 17 of desemb[er]
1602 to paye vnto harey chettell in earneste of
a playe called london florenten the some of … xs

pd at apoyntment of the comany the 20 of
desemb[er] 1602 vnto Thomas hewode in parte for
his playe called london florentyn the some of … xxxxs

Lent vnto Thomas downton the 22 of desemb[er]
1602 to paye vnto harey chettell in fulle payment
for his playe called the London florentyn the some of … iijll

F. 109 (Greg I.173)

pd for the company the 7 of Janewary
1602 vnto Thomas hawode in fulle paymente
for his playe called the london florantyn
the some of … xxs

F. 109v (Greg I.174)

pd at the apoyntmente of thomas downton
the 12 of marche 1602 vnto hary chettel
in earneste for the 2 parte of the florentyne the
some of … xxs

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men paid a total of £6 10s. to Henry Chettle and Thomas Heywood for "The London Florentine," which was presumably performed by the company at the Fortune in early 1603. That the play was a success is suggested by the commissioning of a sequel, "The Second Part of the Florentine," although Henslowe only records a single payment to Chettle of £1. Wiggins notes that if the play was staged, it was unlikely to have happened before the closure of the theatres on 19 March. (37).

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

See For What It's Worth below.

References to the Play

None known. (Information welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Fleay assumed that "The London Florentine" was performed at court in the 1602-3 Christmas season and that the Admiral's payment to Chettle on 29 December "for a prologe & a epyloge for the corte" (Greg 173) was for this occasion (124).

Meyer claimed that the eponymous "Florentine" "can refer only to Machiavelli; but as to the nature of the play it would be waste time to conjecture" (99).

Murray, like Fleay, assumes that Chettle wrote his prologue and epilogue for "The London Florentine" (I.140).

Carson notes the "surprising" fact that Heywood, a leading member of Worcester's Men by 1601, nevertheless continued to write for the Admiral's, as evinced by the payments for "The London Florentine" (65).

MacIntyre compares the plays with "The Boss of Billingsgate" as being "clearly localized in London" (103).

Knutson proposes that the use of "trendy couture" may have contributed to the plays' success (60).

Bayer groups "The London Florentine" among the Admiral's plays that "treat the city and its neighborhoods in rich topical detail by tracing the exploits of some of its most colorful residents" (138).

Wiggins suggests that the play "may have dealt in part with popular London xenophobia against resident foreign merchants," dramatized in other contemporaneous plays (4). He cites in particular the London Florentine who appears in the German volksbuch of Fortunatus (1509). (See For What It's Worth below.) He also suggests that Henslowe's title for the sequel, omitting the mention of "London", perhaps indicates a new setting for the same character (37).

For What It's Worth

Wiggins cites the German volksbuch of Fortunatus (1509), which was the original source for the narrative dramatized in Dekker's Old Fortunatus (1599). In the volksbuch, Fortunatus arrives in London and, destitute, enters the service of "a rich Merchant of Florence, that retained many Servants, […] named Jeronimus Roberti" (p. 23). Meanwhile, a spendthrift young Florentine named Andrew ("Andrean") wastes his money in Bruges until his credit is exhausted and he is forced to return home; en route, Andrew meets a prisoner in France who requests that he travel to London to solicit Jeronimus's assistance in the prisoner's behalf. Andrew agrees and, while in England, he overhears the King of England's plans to transport valuable jewels to Burgundy for his daughter's marriage. Finding out which man has been entrusted with transporting the jewels, Andrew tricks him into dining at Jeronimus's house and, after leading him into an upstairs chamber, murders him. The innocent Jeronimus sees blood dripping through the floorboards and discovers the dead body. Andrew insists that he only killed the man in self-defense and disposes the corpse in the privy; Jeronimus instructs his household to claim that the jewel-bearer left the house after dinner. Terrified, Andrew flees the country. Meanwhile, the jewel-bearer's absence being observed, Jeronimus and his household, including the oblivious Fortunatus, are imprisoned while the house is searched; by chance, the body in the privy is found by one of the searchers.

Then drew they him out, being filthy and loathsom, and laid him openly before Jeronimus Roberty his door. When the Citizens of London understood of this hainous murther, they made such an outcry upon the Florentines and Lumbards, that they were fain to keep them close in their Houses, lest if they were seen abroad, they should be beaten down by the people. (p. 33)

Jeronimus is tortured and confesses his understanding of the events. The furious King is unsatisfied and orders the members of the household to be hanged. Fortunatus himself narrowly escapes execution when the cook declares that he knew nothing of the murder and the sheriff agrees to release him. The other Florentines and Lombards in London, fearing for their own safety, "collected among them a great sum of Money, which they sent unto the King, to purchase his good will for their safeguard. The King being much moved with pitty, granted them license to occupy and traffick as they did before" (p. 36).

Wiggins, who proposes Fortunatus as a possible source for "The London Florentine," offers the caveat that the first part of the play would not have ended with the death of its eponymous character (4). It is possible, if Fortunatus was in fact the play's source, that the Florentine dramatized in the sequel was not Jeronimus Roberti but rather the wicked Andrew, who flees

as far as Venice: wherefore he there offered himself to be a Rower in a Galley that went to Alexandria. Where as soon as he was arrived, he renounced the Christian faith, and thereupon was the better-esteemed, and safe from the danger of the murther, although he had slain an hundred Christians. (p. 29)

That said, it's also possible, given the presence of Florentine merchants in London, that the playwrights did not need to look to a German source for their narrative material. They may have known, for example, of the Corsini family, who lived and operated near London Bridge. Phillippi Corsini, "a Florentine, and a famous Merchant," had arrived in London in 1560 and died in 1601, whereupon a monument was erected in his memory at St Benet Gracechurch and the family business returned to Florence (Stow, p. 231; Beale; Rossi). Incidentally, Corsini lived on Lombard Street, the same location as Jeronimus Roberti of Fortunatus. Perhaps the playwrights might have dramatized a character from the familiar milieu of Italian mercantile community in London, and perhaps took specific incidents from real life.

Works Cited

Bayer, Mark. Theatre, Community, and Civic Engagement in Jacobean London. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011.
Beale, Philip. "The Corsinis and the Italian Community in London: The City and Its Trade." In The Corsini Letters. Ed. Philip Beale, Adrian Almond, and Mike Scott-Archer. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2011. 9-15.
Carson, Neil. A Companion to Henslowe's Diary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
C., T., trans. The Right, Pleasant, and Variable Tragical History of Fortunatus. London, 1676.
Fleay, Frederick Gard. A Chronicle History of the London Stage 1559-1642. London, 1890.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Filling Fare: The Appetite for Current Issues and Traditional Forms in the Repertory of the Chamberlain's Men." Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 15 (2003): 57-76.
MacIntyre, Jean. Costumes and Scripts in the Elizabethan Theatres. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1992.
Meyer, Edward. Machiavelli and the Elizabethan Drama. Literarhistorische Forschungen 1. Weimar, 1897.
Murray, John Tucker. English Dramatic Companies, 1558-1642. 2 vols. London: Constable, 1910.
Rossi, Guido. "Florence and the Great Fire: New Sources on English Commerce in the Late Sixteenth Century." The Journal of Legal History 33 (2012): 93–100.
Stow, John, et al. The Survey of London. London, 1633.
Wiggins, Martin, in association with Catherine Richardson. British Drama, 1533–1642: A Catalogue. Volume V, 1603–1608. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Reed College; updated 21 December 2016.

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