Phocasse (Focas)

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Anon. (1596)
(see also Phocas, 1618/19)


Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F.15v/Greg 1.30:
ye 19 of maye 1596 ne . . R[d] at tragedie of ffocasse . . . . . . . . . . . . xxxxvs
ye 23 of maye 1596 R[d] at tragedie of ffocasse . . . . . . . . . . . . xxxixs
F.21v/Greg 1.42:
ye 4 of June 1596 R[d] at the tragedie of focas . . . . . . . . . . xxxjs
ye 16 of June 1596 R[d] at ffocase . . . . . . . . . . xxs
ye 22 of June 1596 R[d] at focas . . . . . . . . . . ls
ye 5 of July 1596 mr pd R[d] at focasse . . . . . . . . . . xxijs
ye 17 of July 1596 R[d] at focas . . . . . . . . . . xxixs

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F.45v/Greg 1.86:

Lente vnto the company the 16 of maye 1598 to buye}
v boocks of martine slather called ij ptes of hercolus. } vijll
& focas & pethagoras & elyxander & lodicke wch laste}. . .
boock he hath not yet delyuerd the some of . . .. . . .}

Henslowe's Inventory of Playbooks

Greg, Papers, 121

A Note of all suche bookes as belong to the Stocke, and such as I have bought since the 3d of March 1598

Theatrical Provenance

Introduced as a new play by the Admiral's men in the same run which saw "Julian the Apostate" and "Tamar Cham" (or "Tambercame") marked "ne". It received 7 performances. Martin Slater was paid £7 on behalf of the Admiral's men for this and 4 other books ("Pythagoras", "Alexander and Lodowick", and the two parts of "Hercules") on the 16 of May 1598, which suggests (as Chambers notes) that he had retained ownership of these plays when he left the company (2.167).

Probable Genre(s)

Classical history (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

From Rainolde fol.165 (EEBO).

Greg observes that "Phocas, a centurion, was elected Emperor of Constantinople in 606, and was deposed and killed by Heraclius in 610" (2.180).

Phocas is often mentioned in early modern texts, where he is famed for obtaining power by the treacherous murder of Mauritius and family, and retaining power by installing Bishop Boniface III as Pope. Here's one of the more succinct summaries of the Emperor's barbarous ways --- a chronicle of Roman Emperors, by Richard Rainolde, in which the marginal note simply designates Phocas "a tyrant":

Phocas a base Centurion and a Thracian in ye seditious vprore was created an Emperour. He murtheringe his maister and kinge Mauritius of whom he was brought vp, this Phocas gouerned vii. yeares, he was Crowned at Constantinople of the patriarcke Ciriacus. Assone as Mauritius was slaine, immediatly he exercised crueltye against his frends: After he was placed in the Emperial seate without all nobility, as by bloudye practises he obtayned the same, so he exercised himselfe to the destruction of the Romaines with all crueltye tormenting them, geuen ouer to all abhomination. He toke awaye other mens wyues from their husbands: he made much of wicked persons: He wasted the Romayne Empyre of their riches and treasures: he liued at Rome in all beastly dronkennes, and suffered the Romaine Empyre to be spoyled of the Persians, of the Hunnes, and of Caganus kinge of Hungarye who~ I spake of before. The wrathe of God fell vpon this murtherer, and all that hoast & power of men which was ye ouerthrow of Mauritius and priuye to his death. For Cosroes in .ii. great battailes made slaughter of the Romaynes infinitlye, and ye rest he ledde away captiues. This Cosroes wanne from the Romaynes Hierusalem, and murthered there a greate nomber of Christia~s, he possessed the Dominion of Cyria & destroyed manye Princes.

Phocas thorow his ill life came in hatred, not onlye of the Romaynes, but also of al other Princes: ye murther of Mauritius committed by Phocas was not forgotten. Priscus who in the time of Mauritius was one of his chiefe Captaynes, & also a Duke & sonne in law to Phocas: also Heraclius Preside~t in Affrica whose wyfe Phocas had taken away, all these conspyred against Phocas to destroy him. This was ye effect of their purpose, that at one time Priscus shoulde bringe his hoast of Thracians to Consta~tinople, & Heraclius his hoast out of Affrica to Consta~tinople also, Photius with another part to set vpon Phocas in his Pallace, wher small resista~ce was made, these entring ye Emperours house, toke Phocas & brought him to Heraclius ye sonne of Heracliona who was then generall of the partes in Assyria. Immediatly the men of warre cut of his legges and armes, and cutte of his priuities, and last of all his head. This was the ende of that tyrant, who before murthered the Emperour Mauritius, hys wyfe, his children, his kinsfolke and frendes, and plagued wt all calamyes the Romaynes: God neuer leaueth vnpunished any murther committed, & most of all he scourgeth the bloudye factes of those who seekes to destroy theyr owne king or Prince, and be domesticall vipers to theyr owne countrye. (Fols.165r-v)

Two, more colourful versions of the Phocas story may be worth including here:

Justinus (in a translation by G.W., possibly the playwright George Wilkins) relates that Mauritious "was warned in a dream to beware of Phocas, who was a Centurion, on the Scithian coasts, yet was he by him depriued both of life and empire. He was an example of patience and fortitude, for seeing his wife and sons slaine before his face, hee cryed out saying. Thou art iust O Lord, and thy iudgementes are right, bearing it without shew of impatience. In his time began the name of Turkes, to bee first heard of in Asia, and the Gothes and Angles were turnd to the christian faith" (sig.[Gg4]v). He proceeds to summarize Phocas's reign specifically:

Phocas captaine of the band, on the borders of Scithia, was chosen Emp. by the damned Army which he led, who quickly forgat Muricius, and was not warned by his destruction to bewar of couetousnes, but in more greedy maner exacted many tributes, and kept golde more closely, with his courtiers who after the Persian maner disposed all thinges for they gaue audience to Ambassadors, sat in iudgement and bestowed Offices, then which things is more wretched and blameable in a chiefe ruler. They were his greatest fauorites, who made the greatest hauock of the common people, and he payed the Souldiers very sparingly. He declared the Romaine Bishop, by the sollicitation of Bonifacius the thid, vniersall and chefe Bishop of the world. And by his sloath and negligence, the Empire of Rome lost all strength, consisting onely in a bare title, and it was brought to passe that either the name of an Empire must be laid aside, or else Phocas must die. There was one Priscus Patricius the sonne in law of Heracleonas, a great of the Emperor, his son Heraclius was Popraetor and gouerned Affrique, these three conspired to kill the Emperor, Heracleon who was captain of the Warre, raised an army and brought it into Thracia, vnder colour to resist the Barbarians, and to defend that region. Heraclius came out of Affrique into Constantinople, least his father should be suspected to rbel, and so they met at a set time, and of purpose made a tumult, and while the Paeorian Souldiers ranne to appease it, the ilthy Emp. was by the traitors beheaded in the thirteenth yeare of his raigne. (sig.[Gg4]v-Ii)

Purchase also summarises the key details of the Roman emperor's reign:

This Cosroes raigned nine and thirtie yeares. Hee held peace with the Romanes whiles Mauritius liued; but when Phocas cruelly and treacherously had slaine him, a world of euils at once assaulted the Empire. The Germanes, Gaules, Italians, Hunnes, and Persians, by their Armies afflicted the publike State; and the Roman Bishop then began to aspire to an vniuersall Soueraignetie, which that Murtherer first entitled him vnto. That Armie which was yet redde with the bloud of Mauritius, by the Persians sword was punished, and died in their owne bloud: who hauing ouerthrowne the Romanes in two battailes, possessed Mesopotamia, Syria, Aegypt, Palaestina, and Phoenicia. He entred Ierusalem, slew and captiued many Christians, and carried thence the Crosse. Against the Iberians, Armenians, Cappadocians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, euen vnto Chalcedon, hee preuailed. Thus did GOD punish that Murtherer, and besides (to pay him in his owne coyne) Priscus, Heraclon, and Heraclius conspired against this Conspirer, and murthered the Murtherer, and hauing cut off his Priuities, and his Head, hurled him into the Sea, and destroyed his Issue. (308)

References to the Play

(information welcome)

Critical Commentary

Bentley notes that "[i]t is not likely that there was any connexion between Henslowe's play and that of the learned schoolmaster [Bernard]" (3.28).

See also Wiggins serial number 1036.

For What It's Worth

Amongst the epithets commonly applied to Phocas are "murthering traitor" (Bunny 88), "bloudy and cruell tyrant ... who rauished many vertuous matrones" (Bell 187), "an adulterer, murtherer and tyrant" (Valera 34), and simply "wicked Phocas" (Rhodes sig.E).

In a 1595 text, William Covell relates that Phocas was the subject of a prophetic dream, much like those had by Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great:

But wee shall finde that oftentimes the same is done by persons heroicall, and of great respect; as appeareth by the dreames of Pharaoh, Nabuchadnezzar, & others, especially in great matters, concerning the state of Monarchies & Empires. The same he doth sometime in things particular and of lesse moment, as may bee proued by infinite places of scripture, & other histories. The dreame of the Emperour Mauricius (by reason of the diuine prouidence which may be marked in it) may serue vs for an example, who dreamed that he should be deliuered to a serua~t of his named Phocas, to be slaine: for this cause he sent for the Captaine Philippick to come out of prison, and demanded of him if there were not one named Phocas: the other answered that there was such a one, a centurion, ambitious, and fearefull. Wherevpon the Emperour sayd, alleadging an olde prouerbe to that ende, If he be a coward he is a murderer. This was the same, who after that he had first slaine his wife and children, caused his head to bee cut off: but the recitall of it is memorable, that Maurice seeing his children murdered by Phocas, and that he himselfe must be put to death presently, he spake often in this manner, O Lord thou art iust, and so are all thy workes. In like manner, the dreame of Alexander the Great is also worth the marking... (50-51)

Works Cited

Bell, Thomas. The suruey of popery vvherein the reader may cleerely behold, not onely the originall and daily incrementes of papistrie, with an euident confutation of the same; but also a succinct and profitable enarration of the state of Gods Church from Adam vntill Christs ascension, contained in the first and second part thereof: and throughout the third part poperie is turned vp-side downe. 1596.
Bentley 3.
Bunny, Francis. A suruey of the Popes supremacie VVherein is a triall of his title, and a proofe of his practices: and in it are examined the chiefe argumentes that M. Bellarmine hath, for defence of the said supremacie, in his bookes of the bishop of Rome. By Francis Bunny sometime fellow of Magdalene Colledge in Oxford. 1595.
Covell, William. Polimanteia, or, The meanes lawfull and vnlawfull, to iudge of the fall of a common-wealth, against the friuolous and foolish coniectures of this age Whereunto is added, a letter from England to her three daughters, Cambridge, Oxford, Innes of Court, and to all the rest of her inhabitants: perswading them to a constant vnitie of what religion soever they are, for the defence of our dread soveraigne, and natiue cuntry: most requisite for this time wherein wee now live. 1595.
Greg 2.
Justinus, Marcus Junianus. The historie of Iustine Containing a narration of kingdomes, from the beginning of the Assyrian monarchy, vnto the raigne of the Emperour Augustus. VVhereunto is newly added a briefe collection of the liues and manners of all the emperours succeeding, vnto the Emp. Rodulphus now raigning. First written in Latine by that famous historiographer Iustine, and now againe newly translated into English, by G[eorge].W[ilkins?]. 1606.
Purchase, Samuel. Purchas his pilgrimage. Or Relations of the vvorld and the religions obserued in all ages and places discouered, from the Creation vnto this present. In foure partes. This first containeth a theologicall and geographicall historie of Asia, Africa, and America, with the ilands adiacent. Declaring the ancient religions before the Floud ... With briefe descriptions of the countries, nations, states, discoueries, priuate and publike customes, and the most remarkable rarities of nature, or humane industrie, in the same. By Samuel Purchas, minister at Estwood in Essex. London, 1613.
Rainolde, Richard. A chronicle of all the noble emperours of the Romaines from Iulius Caesar, orderly to this moste victorious Emperour Maximilian, that now gouerneth, with the great warres of Iulius Caesar, [and] Pompeius Magnus: setting forth the great power, and deuine prouidence of almighty God, in preseruing the godly princes and common wealthes. Set forth by Richard Reynoldes, Doctor in Phisicke. Anno. 1571. 1571.
Rhodes, John. An ansvvere to a Romish rime lately printed, and entituled, A proper new ballad wherein are contayned Catholike questions to the Protestant, the which ballad was put foorth without date or day, name of authour or printer, libell-like scattered and sent abroad, to withdraw the simple from the fayth of Christ, vnto the doctrine of Antichrist the pope of Rome / written by that Protestant Catholike, I.R. 1602.
Valera, Cipriano de. Two treatises the first, of the liues of the popes, and their doctrine. The second, of the masse: the one and the other collected of that, which the doctors, and ancient councels, and the sacred Scripture do teach. Also, a swarme of false miracles, wherewith Marie de la Visitacion, prioresse de la Annuntiada of Lisbon, deceiued very many: and how she was discouered, and condemned. The second edition in Spanish augmented by the author himselfe, M. Cyprian Valera, and translated into English by Iohn Golburne. 1600. 1600.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 17 Feb 2011.

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