Wise Man of West Chester, The

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Anon. (1594)


Contents

Historical Records

Performance Records (Henslowe's Diary)


F.10v (Greg I.20)

ye 2 of desember 1594 ................ ne ..... Res at the wise man of chester ................ xxxiijs
ye 6 of desember 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at wiseman of weschester ................ xxxiiijs


F. 11 (Greg I.21)

ye 29 of desember 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wissman of weschester ................ iijli ijs
ye 16 of Jenewarye 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wiseman of weaschester ................ iijli
ye 23 of Jenewary 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wiseman of wescheaster ................ iijli vjs
ye 4 of febreary 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wysman of weschester ................ iijli iiijs
ye 12 of febreary 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at wisman of weschester ................ liijs


F.11v (Greg I.22)

ye 19 of febrey 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at wisman of weschester ................ xxxxvjs
ye 28 of febreary 1594 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman of weschester ................ xxxixs
ye 25 of Aprrell 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wissman ................ xxxixs
ye 26 of Aprrell 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisseman of weschester ................ iijli
ye 6 of may 1596 ................ ..... ..... Res at wiseman ................ xxxxs
ye 15 of may 1596 ................ ..... ..... Res at wisse man of weschester ................ xxxxiiijs


F.12v (Greg I.24)

ye 26 of maye 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at weschester ................ xxxjs
ye 4 of June 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman of weschester ................ xxijs
ye 11 of June 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wissman of weschester ................ xxxxvijs
ye 26 of aguste 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman of wescheaster ................ xxxixs
ye 9 of septmber 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wise man ................ xxxxiiijs


F.13 (Greg I.25)

ye 29 of septmber 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wiseman ................ xvs
ye 6 of october 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman ................ xvijs
ye 19 of october 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman ................ xvijs
— mr pd— ................ ..... ..... Res at weschester ................ xxs


F.14 (Greg I.27)

ye 29 of desember 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman of weschester ................ xxijs
................ ..... ..... Res at the wissman of weschester ................ xviijs


F.14v (Greg I.28)

ye 4 of febreary 1595 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wissman of weschester ................ xxijs


F.15v (Greg I.30)

ye 17 of aprrell 1596 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman of weschester ................ xxxs
ye 30 of aprrell 1596 ................ ..... ..... Res at wisman ................ xs


F.21v (Greg I.42)

ye 8 of June 1596 ................ ..... ..... Res at the wisman of weschester ................ xxs
ye 7 of July 1596 ................ ..... ..... Res at wisman of weschester ................ xvjs


F.27 (Greg I.53)

[July 1597] ..... 8 .................... tt at wismane of weschester ............... 01— 00— 01-00-03


F.27v (Greg I.54)

[July 1597] ..... 12 .................... tt at wismane of weschester ............... 00— 18— 00-01-00
(marginal note: "marten slather went for the company of my lord admeralles men the 18 of July 1597")
[July 1597] ..... 18 .................... tt at wisman ............... 01— 10— 00-00-00


F.93v (Greg I.148)

pd at the apoyntment of the 19 of septmber
1601 for the playe of the wysman of weschester
vnto my sonne E Alleyn the some of ............... xxxxs


Theatrical Provenance

"The Wise Man of West Chester" was performed at the Rose playhouse by the Admiral's players beginning on 2 December 1594; its initial entry carries Philip Henslowe's enigmatic "ne." Its purchase in 1601 makes it second among the nine playbooks sold by Edward Alleyn to the company in the early years of the Fortune playhouse.

Probable Genre(s)

Magician play; Pseudo-History (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

The presiding critical question about "The Wise Man of West Chester" is whether its title is merely a variant of the extant John a Kent and John a Cumber by Anthony Munday. If so, "Wise Man" is not lost. Scholarly discussion of this question focuses on three issues: similar subject matter, dates, and commerce.

Similar Subject Matter

From the time Dulwich College put Henslowe's diary into the hands of scholars, theater historians have tried to match titles in Henslowe's records with extant plays on the basis of similar titles and/or subject matter. That has not always been the case with "Wise Man." Malone, who first saw Henslowe's manuscript, did not identify "Wise Man" with John a Kent, but he probably did not know John a Kent because its manuscript had not yet surfaced. Incidentally, Malone misread Henslowe's title as "the wise men of chester" (Malone, 3.304); subsequent editions of the diary by Collier, Greg, and Foakes have corrected the reading. Collier noted that "Wise Man" "was a new play" in his 1845 edition of the diary (Collier, 45), but he too probably did not know John a Kent then. However, in 1851 he published the first edition of John a Kent, exploring thoroughly its provenance, dramatist, and subject matter, yet he did not make a connection to Henslowe's "Wise Man."

Fleay appears to be the first to specify a link between the two plays in A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642 (1891). He entered "Wise Man" in his list of anonymous plays, noting the purchase of its script by the Admiral's players on 19 September 1601 (Fleay, 2.303); for further commentary, he referred the reader to the entry for John a Kent and John a Cumber. In that entry, Fleay stated, "I have no doubt that it [John a Kent] is the same as The Wiseman of West Chester produced by the Admiral's men at the Rose 2nd Dec. 1594" (Fleay, 114). He gave no reason for his certitude.


Greg thought Fleay was "almost certainly right" in making the identification (Greg, II.172). Greg made the first plausible link between "Wise Man" and John a Kent by assigning an item in Henslowe's 1598 inventory, "Kentes woden leage," to "Wise Man" (presumably on the assumption that "West Chester" and/or "wise man" = "Kent"). Inconveniently for this thesis, the manuscript of John a Kent has no need for a wooden leg. Therefore Greg suggested that the manuscript might be a revision with the episode of the wooden leg edited out.


Despite the authority of Fleay and Greg, opinion did not harden into fact. St. Clare Byrne, editor of the Malone Society Reprint of John a Kent and John a Cumber, acknowledged the scholarly interest in linking Munday's play with "The Wise Man of West Chester" as well as Randal Earl of Chester. She thought the relationship of the plays, through serial revision, was "by no means impossible" but saw "no secure basis for speculation" (x).


Beginning in 1929, Ashton published a series of articles disputing the link between "Wise Man" and John A Kent. In the first of those, he asserted that "there is not a shred of evidence that John a Kent and the Wiseman are identical" (225). He granted the link of each play with magic and the landscape of West Chester, but noted the greater prominence in Munday's play of Welsh connections.


Gurr is a long-time supporter of "Wise Man" as John a Kent. At least since 1987 he has been renaming the Henslowe play The Wise Men of West Chester and indexing it accordingly (Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, 140, 152, and 307; see also Shakespeare's Opposites, 317). In Shakespeare's Opposities he offers a new argument that concerns the book-keeper (or scribe) commonly known as Hand C, whose hand appears in various notations including "prompt-directions" and the title on the title page of John a Kent (St. Clare Byrne, vii). According to Gurr, Hand C "belonged" to the Admiral's company in the sense that he was "a loyal worker for Alleyn through more than a decade" (106, n.27). The apparent inference is that Hand C's hand confirms the Admiral's ownership of John a Kent and thereby strengthens the case that "Wise Man" and the Munday play are the same.
JaKent.jpg
Hand C's title on the manuscript of John a Kent (St. Clare Byrne, 1)


Knutson argues for the discrete identity of "Wise Man." She is primarily resisting the urge among scholars "on slender evidence or intuition" to identify plays with similar subjects or leading characters as the same or as versions of one another (3). She argues that the habit of adult playing companies to duplicate the successful offerings of their competitors with similar offerings of their own was "a regular feature of competition among the professional companies" (4). She also raises a question about the title of "Wise Man": namely, if the Admiral's players had Munday's play in repertory, why did Henslowe ignore the popularity of John a Kent as a folk figure by choosing a title that made the company's wise man anonymous? (5). For John a Kent as a folk hero, see Ashton, "Jack a Kent"; and Collier, John a Kent (xxii-xxv).



Arrell joins Gurr's advocacy of "Wise Man" as John a Kent under a variant title. Noting that the names "John a Kent" and "John a Cumber" occur in the clown plot of Munday's play, with the former being referred to as a "wise man" (77), he argues that the popularity of John a Kent as a folk figure makes it "likely that The Wise Man of West Chester was about this celebrated 'wise man'" (78). Arrell considers the attempt to link the property in Henslowe's inventory ("Kentes woden leage" [Foakes, 320]) "a red herring" (78). One aspect of Arrell's argument is based on authorship. Proposing that the author of "Wise Man" was presumably among those men named by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598), he avers that "no one on the list is more likely [than Munday] to have written it" (85).

Date

The date of "The Wise Man of West Chester" is not in dispute; however, the date of the manuscript of John a Kent has been read as 1590, 1595, and 1596. All scholars who address the issue of date agree that it is the manuscript only, not the composition or production of the play itself, to which the date applies.

Fleay gave the date of Munday's manuscript as 1595 (the date assigned by Collier, who had seen the manuscript [John A. Kent, vii). Greg initially accepted that date, but when he saw a facsimile of the manuscript, he changed his mind: "it is quite certainly ' … Decembris 1596'" ("Autograph," 89).


Shapiro briefly cooled speculation on the link between the two plays by rereading the date on the manuscript of John a Kent as 1590. This date gladdened the hearts of those intent on a competition among such magician plays c. 1590 as Doctor Faustus and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, but it necessarily loosened the relationship of the Munday manuscript as in some way current with the debut of "The Wise Man of West Chester" on the stage at the Rose.
HM500 verso of last cropped.jpg
The date on the manuscript of John a Kent (Huntington HM500, final leaf, verso)
Ioppolo recently has stated that the Munday date is "1595" (101). Gurr cites Ioppolo on the date (Shakespeare's Opposites, 106).


Jackson (as Shapiro, above) is primarily interested in the date of Munday's manuscript because of its implications for the date of Sir Thomas More. He reviews the dating history of John a Kent and reverts to "the old terminus ad quem of December 1596" (¶8). Relatively indifferent to the relationship of "Wise Man" and Munday's play, Jackson considers it "possible ... that the Admiral's Men's play was merely influenced in some way by John a Kent or vice versa" (¶9).


Manley and MacLean have no investment in the degree to which John a Kent and "Wise Man" may have been the same or discrete plays; their interest is the date and company affiliation of John a Kent (122-25). Like Jackson, they evaluate the date on Munday's surviving manuscript in the context of hands including Hand C in Sir Thomas More, which they argue was initially composed for Lord Strange's men (121). Their contribution to the conversation is to reintroduce arguments by John Dover Wilson (1908-9) and Shapiro (1955) about Munday's involvement in the Martin Marprelate controversy in 1589. They cite the Protestacyon of Martin the Great (especially its phrase, "John a Cant") and The iust censure of reproofe of Martin Iunior, as possibly carrying allusions to John a Kent (123-24). They suggest that the absence of John a Kent from Henslowe's listings for Strange's men, 1592-93, "might very well be due to the disfavor into which anti-Martinist playing, and Lord Strange's Men, fell in later 1589" (124).

Company Commerce

Various scholars have used the identification of "Wise Man" as a way to discuss commercial aspects of the theatrical marketplace.

Ashton saw John a Kent as separate from "Wise Man" at least in part because he believed Munday's play belonged in the repertory of Shakespeare's Shakespeare's company (which he called "Strange's Company"): "Munday was ... an experienced man of the theater [; and possibly in 1594] he was engaged to write for Strange's Company and … his first effort for them was John a Kent, designed to compete with one of the most popular plays [i.e, "Wise Man"] being presented by the companies under Henslowe's management" ("Date," 230).


Gurr, seeing "Wise Man" and John a Kent as the same play, defines the personality of the Admiral's players by their "disguise" plays at the Rose in 1594 and following. He argues that an early exemplar of that disguise dramaturgy was "Wise Man," a.k.a. John a Kent.


Knutson sees "Wise Man" as an exemplar of the principle of repertorial competition through duplication within the repertory of the Admiral's players (3-4). She notes that in 1594 "Wise Man" shared the stage with the revival of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus; and, perhaps by coincidence but perhaps also by a marketing strategy of duplicating one's successful offerings, the Admiral's players purchased "Wise Man" in advance of a revival of Marlowe's play. She sees an additional parallel in the property of a wooden leg, which the text of Doctor Faustus requires in both its A and B versions (7-8). Acknowledging the lengthy and financially successful run of "Wise Man," she observes that the play demonstrates that "journeyman plays of the period were outstanding commercial properties" (9).


Syme, taking "Wise Man" at face value as a discrete play, refers to it often in his argument that plays not by Marlowe, Peele, or Kyd were the bread-and-butter of commerce at the Rose. He uses the play also to challenge popular scholarly assumptions that the most popular plays in a company's repertory were likely to be published.


Arrell engages the commerce of "Wise Man" by arguing parallels between John a Kent and several plays from which he sees Munday "stealing" (80). Arrell suggests that antics by the "Merrimentes of the men of Goteham" in A Knack to Know a Knave were one such theft, as were elements from Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, John of Bordeaux, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (81-82). Arrell suggests that theft went the other way following the apparent revival of "Wise Man" by the Admiral's men, who purchased the playbook from Edward Alleyn in 1601; in this case, Arrell argues, the author/s of The Merry Devil of Edmonton (Chamberlain's men, 1603) stole features of John a Kent, a.k.a. "Wise Man" (86-87).



See also Wiggins serial number 976.


For What It's Worth

Greg thought that the existence of "Kentes woden leage" in the inventory taken by Henslowe in March 1598 (Foakes, 320) reinforced the argument that "Wise Man" was John a Kent masquerading under another title (II.172). He solved the problem of there not being a need for such a wooden leg in the Munday manuscript by suggesting the latter was a revision that edited out the episode with the leg.

Works Cited

Arrell, Douglas H. "John a Kent, the Wise Man of Westchester." Early Theatre 17.1 (2014): 72-95. Early Theatre
Ashton, J. W. "The Date of John A Kent and John A Cumber." Philological Quarterly 8.3 (1929): 225-32.
— — —. "Jack A. Kent: The Evolution of a Folk Figure." The Journal of American Folklore 47.186 (1933): 362-68.
Collier, John Payne, ed. The Diary of Philip Henslowe, from 1591 to 1609. London: Shakespeare Society, 1845.
— — —, ed. John a Kent and John a Cumber; A Comedy, By Anthony Munday. London: Shakespeare Society, 1851.
Greg, W. W. "Autograph Plays by Anthony Munday." The Modern Language Review 8.1 (1913): 89-90.
Gurr, Andrew. Playgoing in Shakespeare's London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
— — —. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Ioppolo, Grace. Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood: Authorship, Authority and the Playhouse. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Jackson, MacDonald P. "Deciphering a Date and Determining a Date: Anthony Munday's John a Kent and John a Cumber and the Original Version of Sir Thomas More." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.3 (2011). EMLS
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Play Identifications: The Wise Man of West Chester and John a Kent and John a Cumber; Longshanks and Edward I." Huntington Library Quarterly 47.1 (1984): 1-11. (HLQ)
Malone, Edmond. The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare. 21 vols. London: R. C. and J. Rivington, 1821.
Manley, Lawrence and Sally-Beth MacLean. Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014.
St. Clare Byrne, Muriel, ed. John a Kent and John a Cumber. Malone Society Reprint, 1923.
Shapiro, I. A. "The Significance of a Date." Shakespeare Survey 8 (1955): 100-5.
Syme, Holger Schott. "The Meaning of Success: Stories of 1594." Shakespeare Quarterly 61.4 (2010): 490-525.



Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 3 October 2014.

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