Sir John Mandeville

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Anon. (1592)


Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)

F.7 (Greg I.13): R[d] at syr John mandevell the 24 of febreary . . . xijs vjd
R[d] at mendefell the 1 of aprell 1591 . . . xxxs
F.7v (Greg I.14): R[d] at mandevell the 15 of aprell 1591 . . . xxvjs
R[d] at mandevell the 16 of maye 1592 . . . xxxxs
F.8 (Greg I.15): R[d] at mandevell the 16 of June 1592 . . . xxs
R[d] at mandevell the 4 of Jenewary 1592 . . . xijs
R[d] at mandevell the 13 of Jenewary 1593 . . . ixs
R[d] at mandevell the 31 of [Jenewary 1593 . . . xiijs]

Theatrical Provenance

8 known performances at The Rose theatre where it was performed as an old play by Strange’s Men (Harbage has "Strange's and Admiral's").

Probable Genre(s)

Romantic comedy (?) (Harbage), travel, eastern, wonders.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The title Sir John Mandeville clearly refers to the purported traveller and author of an immensely popular text written in French, probably on the Continent, in the mid-14th century and translated into English (the ‘defective’ version) before 1400. Between 250 and 300 manuscript editions are still extant (Seymour xii; Moseley, “Behaim’s Globe" 89), and numerous print versions were widely available to early modern readers. The difficulty of adapting the Travels of Sir John Mandeville to a stage play is obvious: the text is almost exclusively episodic, recounting the author’s ostensible journey to the Holy Land and thence beyond to the far East and the courts of Prester John and the Great Khan. As with most travel literature, there is an absence of any kind of overarching narrative. Although the exotic creatures and places described by Mandeville certainly influenced early modern drama (Othello’s account of the “cannibals that each other eat, / The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads / Do grow beneath their shoulders” is a typical example [Othello 1.3.144-46]), it is difficult to imagine how Mandeville’s Travels could form the basis for an entire play.

See Critical Commentary below for Martin Wiggins' suggestion of William Warner's Albion's England (1589) as a likely source.

References to the Play

The following passage in Nashe’s Lentern Stuff (1599) contains a reference to Mandeville that Moseley proposes is in fact a reference to the lost play:

the sunne was soe in his mumps vpon [Leander’s death] that . . . at night, when hee was begrimed with dust and sweate of his iourney, he would not descend—as he was woont, to wash him in the Ocean, but vnder a tree layde him downe to rest in his cloathes all night, and so did the scouling Moone vnder another fast by him, which of that are behighted the trees of the Sunne and Moone, and are the same that Syr Iohn Mandeuile tells vs hee spoke with, and that spoke to Alexander. (Nashe 198-9)

Critical Commentary

C. W. R. D. Moseley deduces from Nashe’s Lentern Stuff (1599) that the play included a scene in which Mandeville spoke with the “trees of the Sunne and Moone” which foretold Alexander’s future:

Now the trees that foretold Alexander’s future are an essential feature of the Alexander Romance from a very early date; but, although all versions (Defective, Cotton, Egerton, and Continental) of Mandeville’s Travels mention the Trees and Alexander, no extant English version claims converse with them for Mandeville. ("The Lost Play", 48).

Moseley concludes that Nashe referred to the lost play, not to the printed text.

In a subsequent attempt to account for “the sudden drop in credence given to Mandeville about 1600 which all critics have noted” (“The Metamorphoses" 21), Moseley again speculates about the lost play Sir John Mandeville, suggesting that the play may have contributed to the demise of Mandeville’s reputation:

One may, in passing, remark that this dual existence is almost enough on its own to damn Mandeville’s Travels as a scientific book by 1600; it must have been hard to take the printed Travels seriously when the play of the book was ranting on the boards, or when William Warner’s bland fourteeners on Elenor’s likeness to the Phoenix came trooping into consciousness. (“The Metamorphoses" 21).

NB. Moseley’s theory is plausible, but completely conjectural.

Greg long ago dismissed “Fleay’s suggestion (Drama, ii. P. 281) that this may be Fair Em,” noting that Fleay’s conclusion “rests on a mere misprint of Simpson’s: there is no list of personae in the quartos” (Greg II.151). Fair Em contains a character named “Manville”.

Wiggins (serial number 911) notes that "[m]ost sixteenth-century references to Mandeville present him as an observer of unlikely marvels rather than a focus for adventurous events, and his Travels is indeed an unpromising narrative source". Wiggins instead proposes William Warner, Albion's England 11-12 (1589) as the likely narrative source; it contains a love story (derived from that of Paris and Vienna [dramatised in 1572]) between Mandeville and Eleanor, cousin of King Edward III. Mandeville, disguised as a green knight, fights for and wins Eleanor's honour in a tournament; he travels to England and then Egypt, avoids conversion to Islam, has his true identity disclosed to Eleanor, and after further disguise-based confusion in Rome, is ultimately united with Eleanor.

For What It's Worth

(information needed)

Works Cited

Fleay, F. G. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642. 2 vols. London, 1891. Print.
Moseley, C. W. R. D. “The Lost Play of Mandeville.” The Library, 5th Series, no. 25 (1970): 46-49. Print.
Moseley, C. W. R. D. “The Metamorphoses of Sir John Mandeville.” Yearbook of English Studies 4 (1974): 5-25. Print. JSTOR
Moseley, C. W. R. D. “Behaim’s Globe and ‘Mandeville’s Travels’.” Imago Mundi 33 (1981): 89-91. Print. JSTOR
Nashe, Thomas. Nashes Lentern stuff . . . the prayse of the red herring. 1599. Works. Vol. IV. Ed. R. B. McKerrow. Oxford: OUP, 1958. Print.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated, 26 August 2009.

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