Noble Trial

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Henry Glapthorne (c.1633-1642)


Historical Records

Marriott's List (1653)

Among the twenty-one plays entered on the Stationer's Register by the printer John Marriott in 1653 is listed:

The Law Case
The Younger Brother
The Noble Triall
(Bentley, 5.1445)

Stationers' Register

On 29 June 1660, the printer Humphrey Moseley entered on the Stationers' Register a list of twenty-six plays, including:

The Vestall. a Tragedy.                           }
The noble Triall. a Tragicomedy              } by Hen: Glapthorne.
The Dutchesse of Fernandina. a Tragedy  }

(SR2, 2.271, CLIO)

Warburton's List

"The Noble Tryall. T. H. Glapthorn" is listed among the manuscript plays which Warburton claimed had been destroyed by his cook:


(British Library, Lansdowne MS 807, fo.1r. Reproduced by permission of the British Library. Click image to view full page; click here for more information on Warburton's list)

Theatrical provenance

Unknown. Glapthorne is known to have been active throughout the 1630s, for a range of different dramatic companies (see below). The date range given above is from Harbage. Some online sources ascribe the play to the year 1635: this date seems to have arisen originally from Fleay's identification of the play with The Lady Mother (see below) rather than from any independent source of evidence, even though it is now often repeated as fact.

Probable genres

Tragicomedy according to Moseley. "T", i.e. tragedy, in Warburton's list: but see discussion.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known

References to the Play

None known

Critical Commentary

The three lists in which this play occurs are all problematic. Marriott's list of twenty-one plays, eighteen of them now lost, is transcribed and discussed here. Similarly, "Moseley's entire entry of 29 June 1660 is a curious one", comments Bentley, observing that most of the plays on that, too, have disappeared. Thirdly, there is Warburton's list. W. W. Greg has argued that Warburton's list seems to be derived from Stationers' Register records, and cannot really be regarded as possessing an independent authority. Hence, its description of The Noble Trial as tragedy rather than tragicomedy does not carry much weight. Conversely, John Freehafer has made the case that there is some independent authority to Warburton's list. (Greg, "Bakings of Betsy"; see also Warburton's List).

Henry Glapthorne is one of the unsung journeymen of Caroline drama. His six surviving plays include comedy, tragicomedy, and the tragedy Revenge for Honour/The Parricide; his playwriting career seems to have extended from around 1630 to around 1640, and to have involved a range of companies including the King's Men, Queen Henrietta's Men, and Beeston's Boys. His surviving work tends towards the derivative and repetitive, but that does not make it uninteresting: indeed, Julie Sanders comments that "Glapthorne's plays have slipped from notice but they remain strong examples of Caroline drama and of the age's sensibility and taste."

Fleay (BCED, 1.244) speculated that The Noble Trial was an otherwise unattested alternative title for Glapthorne's The Lady Mother. This suggestion has been universally rejected as baseless (e.g. Bentley, 4.488) but (as noted above) it persists indirectly insofar as it has led to The Noble Trial often being ascribed to the year 1635. J. Q. Adams noted that Glapthorne is also credited with a lost play with a rather similar title: The Noble Husbands, which appears on Hill's List of Early Plays in Manuscript. Tentatively, Adams raised the possibility of a connection between these two similar titles (Adams, "Hill's List", 95). Bentley (5.1446) also noted the similarity between this title and that of Ford's 1638 comedy The Lady's Trial.

For what it's worth

EEBO-TCP currently contains seventeen examples of the phrase "noble trial", the nature of the trials involved ranging from the spiritual to the purely legal. Perhaps more investigation of those examples might help constrain further the likely contents of this lost play.

Works Cited

Adams, Joseph Quincy. “Hill’s List of Early Plays in Manuscript.” The Library 4th Ser., 20.1 (1939): 71-99. Print.
Freehafer, John. "John Warburton's Lost Plays", Studies in Bibliography (1970) 154-164.
Greg, W. W. “The Bakings of Betsy.” The Library, 3rd series. 7.11 (1911): 225-259. Print.
Sanders, Julie. ‘Glapthorne, Henry (bap. 1610)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Page created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University. Revised 7 February 2012.

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