The 'Parnassus Plays'

This is an extract from the second of the three anonymous 'Parnassus' plays put on at Cambridge over the turn of the 16th century.

The sequence kicked off when as part of the Christmas festivities in 1598, the boys of St John's Cambridge - Nashe's old college - put on a play called The Pilgrimage to Parnassus (a.k.a.'Parnassus 1'). It described the progress of two young scholars, Studioso and Philomusus, towards their BA. Together they travel through various 'countries' that represent the curriculum - Logic, Rhetoric, Philosophy etc - evading pitfalls on the way. References in the second play The Returne from Parnassus (Part I) (sometimes referred to as 'Parnassus 2'), which was put on in 1599, suggest that the author of the first play had got into hot water with the college authorities over comments he made in it. He may have had difficulty completing his degree. Nobody's quite sure who the author was, but John Weever the epigrammatist has been suggested.

It was December 1601 before the third and most successful play was put on, The Returne from Parnassus (Part II) - which for convenience is often called 'Parnassus 3'. This was perhaps the most popular of the three and was printed (twice) in 1606. In later years it retained its interest for literary scholars because it had topical references to Shakespeare, Jonson, Marston, Burbage and Kempe, and to the so-called War of the Theatres. But the two earlier plays stayed in manuscript, quite forgotten, till the Librarian of the Bodleian found and published them in 1886.

A character who appears in all three plays is Ingenioso, a sceptical, devil-may-care, chronically-impoverished scholar who leaves Cambridge to eke out a precarious living by writing and editing in London. His outlook on life and style of speech are so reminiscent of Nashe's work that many have seen Ingenioso as a rather rosy portrait of the author.

In this scene we catch him trying desperately to scrape a living by brown-nosing a silly young courtier called Gullio. Gullio is vain, has poor taste in literature - he likes 'Mr Shakespeare', for god's sake - and is using Ingenioso to write verses which he will pass off as his own. Now read on...

(For modernised spelling and punctuation, click here.)

Act III Scene I

Ingenioso, Gullio

Ingenioso     Nowe gentlemen youe may laughe if you will, for here comes a gull.
Gullio     This rapier I boughte when I soiourned in the vniversitie of Padua; by the heauens its a pure tolledo, it was the death of a Pollonian, a Germaine, & a Duche man, because the[y] would not pledge the health of England.
Ingenioso     He was neuer anie further than Flushinge, and then he came home sicke of the scurueys. - Surely Sr a notable exploit worthy to be cronicled; but had you anie witness of your valiancie?
Gullio     Why, I coulde neuer abide to fighte priuatelie, bycause I woulde not haue obscuritie soe familiar with my vertues: since my arriuall in Englande (which is nowe 6 months I take sithens) I had bene the death of one of our pulinge Liteltonians for passinge by mee in the Moore fildes vnsaluted, but that there was noe historiographer by to haue recorded it.
Ingenioso    Please you now Sr to lay the rayns on the necke of youre vertuous disposition, you haue gotten a suppliant poet that will teach mossy posteritie to know how that this earthe in such a raigne was blest with a yonge Iupiter.
Gullio    I faith I care not for fame, but valoure & vertue will be spoken of in spite of obliuion. Had I cared for that prating Eccho, fame, my exploits at Cosmopolis, at Cals, at Portingall voyage, & nowe verie latelie in Irelande had bene iettinge ere this through euerie by streete, and talk[t] of aswell at the wheel of a cuntrie maide as the tiltes & turnamentes of the courte.
Ingenioso    I dare sweare youre worship scapt knightinge verie hardly.
Gullio    Thats but a pettie requitall to good desertes, he that esteems mee of less worth than a knight is a peasande & a gull. Giue mee a new knight of them all, in fencschoole att a Nimbrocado or at a Stocado. Sr Oliuer, Sr Randal - base, base chambertearms: I am saluted euery morninge by the name of, Good morow captaine, my sworde is at youre seruice.
Ingenioso    Good faith, an honorable title. - Why, this is the life of a man, to comande a quick rapier in a tauerne, to blowe two or three simple felowes out of a roome with a valiant othe, to bestowe more smoke on the worlde with the draught of a pipe of Tobacco than proceeds from the chimnie of a solitarie hall.- But say Sr, you were tellinge me a tale euen now of youre Hellen, youre Venus, that better part of youre amorous soule.
Gullio    Well remembered. Aetas prima canit venere, postrema tumultus: since souldierye is not regarded, Ile make the Ladies happie with enioying my youth, and hange vp my sworde & buckler to the behoulders. Amonge manie daintie court nymphes that with petitioninge looks haue sued for my loue, it pleasd mee to bestowe loue, this pleasinge fire, vpon lady Lesbia; many a health haue I drunke to her vpon my natiue knees, eating that happie glass in honour of my Mris.
Ingenioso    Valiantlie done, admirable, admirable.
Gullio    And for matters of witt, oft haue I sonnetted it in the commendacons of her sqirill, and very latelie (I remember that time I had a muske ierkin layd all with golde lace, and the rest of my furniture answerable, pretty sleightie apparell, stood mee not [long] paste in twoo hundred pounds) they frowarde fates cut her munkeys threed asunder, & I in the aboundance of poetrie bestowed an Epitaphe vpon the deceased litel creature.
Ingenioso    I faith an excellent witt, that can poetize vpon such meane subiectes: euerie Iohn Dringle can make a booke in the comendacons of temperance, againste the seuen deadlie sinns, but thats a rare wit that can make somthinke of nothinge, that can make an Epigram of a mouse, and an Epitaphe on a Munkey. But loue is very costlie, for I haue harde that you were wonte to weare seuen sundry sutes of apparell in a weeke, and them no meane ones.
Gullio    Tushe man, at the courte I thinke I shoulde growe lousie if I wore less than 2 a daye.
Ingenioso    The diuell of the sute hath he, but this, & thats not payd for yet.
Gullio    I am neuer seene at the courte twise in one sute of apparell: thats base; as for boots, I neuer wore one paire aboue two hours; as for bands, stockings, and handchercheifs, myne hostes, where my trunkes lye nere the courte, hath inoughe to make her sheetes for her housholde.
Ingenioso    I wonder such a gallante as you are scaps the marriage of some countess.
Gullio    Nay, I cannot abide to be tide to Cleopatra, if shee were aliue, its enough for me to crop virginitie, & to take heed that noe Ladies dye Vestals, and leade aps in hell. But seest thou this? O touche it not, it is diuine; why man, it was a humble retainer to her buske. And here is another fauoure which I snached from her, as I was in a gentlemanlike curtesie tyinge of her shooe stringes: it is my nature to be Debonaire with faire Ladies and vouchsake to employ this happie hande in anie seruice ether domesticall or priuate.
Ingenioso    Amonge other of youre vertues I doe obserue youre stile to be most pure, youre English tonge comes as neere Tullies as anie mans liuinge.
Gullio    Oh Sr, that was my care, to proue a complet gentleman, to be tam Marti quam Mercurio; insomuche that I am pointed at for a poet in Pauls church yarde, and in the tilte yarde for a champion, - nay euery man enquires after my abode:

Gnats are vnnoted where soe ere they flie,
But Eagles waited on with euery eye.

I had in my days not vnfitly been likned to Sr Phillip Sidney, only with this diference, that I had the better legg, and more amiable face. His Arcadia was prittie, soe are my sonnetes; he had bene at Paris, I at Padua; he fought, and so dare I; he dyed in the lowe cuntries, and soe I thinke shall I; he loued a scholler, I mantaine them, witness thy selfe, nowe, because I sawe thee haue the wit to acknowledge those vertus to be mine, which indeede are, I haue restored thy dylaniated back & ruinous estate to those prettie clothes wherin thou now walkest.
Ingenioso    Oh it is a most lousie caste sute of his, that he before bought of an Irish souldier. - Durste enuie otherwise reporte of your excellencie than I haue done, I would bob him on the pate, & make forlorne malice recante. If I liue, I will lime out your vertues in such rude colours as I haue, that youre late nephwes may knowe what good witts were youre worshipps most bounden.
Gullio    Nay I haue not onlie recreated thy could state with the warmth of my bountie, but also mantaine other poetical spirites, that liue vpon my trenchers; in so muche that I cannot come to my Inn in Oxforde without a dozen congratulatorie orations, made by Genus and Species and his ragged companions. I reward the poore ergoes moste bountifullie, and send them away. I am verie latelie registered in the roules of fame, in an Epigram made by a Cambridge man, one Weauer - fellow, I warrant him, else coulde he neuer haue had such a quick sight into my vertues, howsoeuer I merit his praise: if I meet with him I will vouchsafe to giue him condigne thankes.
Ingenioso    Great reason the Muses shoulde flutter about youre imortall heade, since youre bodye is nothinge but a faire Inne of fairer guestes, that dwell ther in. But you haue digrest from your Mris, for whose sake you & I began this parley.
Gullio    Marrie well remembered, Ile repeat vnto you an enthusiasticall oration, wherwith my new Mris ears were made happie. The carriage of my body, by the reporte of my mistriss, was excellent: I stood stroking vp my haire, which became me very admirably, gaue a low congey at the beginninge of each period, made euery sentence end sweetly with an othe. It is the part of an Oratoure to perswade, & I know not how better, than to conclude with such earnest protestations. Suppose also that thou wert my Mris, as somtime woodden statues represent the goddesses, thus I woulde looke amorously, thus I would pace, thus I would salute thee.
Ingenioso    It will be my lucke to dye noe other death than by hearinge of his follies, I feare this speach thats a cominge will breede a deadly disease in my ears.
Gullio    Pardon faire lady, thoughe sicke thoughted Gullio maks a maine vnto thee, & like a bould faced sutore gins to woo thee.
Ingenioso    Wee shall haue nothinge but pure Shakspeare, and shreds of poetrie that he hath gathered at the theators.
Gullio    Pardon mee moy mittressa, ast am a gentleman the moone in comparison of thy bright hue a meere slutt, Anthonies Cleopatra a blacke browde milkmaide, Hellen a dowdie.
Ingenioso    Marke Romeo and Iuliet: o monstrous theft, I thinke he will runn throughe a whole booke of Samuell Daniells.

Thrise fairer than my selfe, thus I began,
The gods faire riches, sweete aboue compare,
Staine to all Nimphes, [m]ore louely the[n] a man,
More white and red than doues and roses are:
Nature that made thee, with herselfe at strife,
Saith that the worlde hath ending with thy life.

Ingenioso    Sweete Mr Shakspeare.
Gullio    As I am a scholler,
these arms of mine are long and strong withall:
Thus elms by vines are compast ere they falle.

Ingenioso    Faith gentleman, youre reading is wonderfull in our English poetts.
Gullio    Sweet Mris, I vouchsafe to take some of there wordes and applie them to mine owne matters by a scholasticall imitation. Report thou vpon thy credit, is not my vayne in courtinge gallant & honorable?
Ingenioso    Admirable sanes compare, neuer was soe mellifluous a witt ioynet to so pure a phrase, such comly gesture, such gentleman like behauiour.
Gullio    But stay, its verie true, good wittes haue badd memories: I had almoste forgotten the cheife pointe I cald thee out for: new years day approcheth, and wheras other gallants bestowe Iewells vpon there Mistrisses (as I haue done whilome), I now count it base to do as the comon people doe; I will bestow vpon them the precious stons of my witt, a diamonde of Inuention, that shall be aboue all value & esteeme; therfore, sithens I am employed in some weightie affayrs of the courte, I will haue thee, Ingenioso, to make them, and when thou hast done, I will pervse, pollish, and correcte them.
Ingenioso    My pen is youre bounden vassall to comande, but what vayne woulde it please you to haue them in?
Gullio    Not in a vaine veine (prettie y faith): make mee them in two or three diuers vayns, in Chaucers, Gowers and Spencers, and Mr Shakspeares. Marry I think I shall entertaine those verses which run like these:

Euen as the sunn with purple coloured face
Had tane his laste leaue on the weeping morne, etc.

O sweet Mr Shakspeare, Ile haue his picture in my study at the courte.
Ingenioso    Take heede my maisters, hele kill you with tediousness ere I can ridd him of the stage.
Gullio    Come, let vs in. Ile eate a bit of phesante, & drincke a cupp of wine in my cellar, & straight to the courte Ile goe: a countess and twoo lordes expect mee to day at dinner, they are my very honorable frendes, I muste not disapointe them.


Rape of Lucrece, ll 1014-15:

Gnats are vnnoted wheresoere they flie,
But Eagles gaz'd vppon with euerie eye.

Venus and Adonis, lines 5-6:

Sick-thoughted Venus makes amaine vnto him,
And like a bold fac'd suter ginnes to woo him.

Romeo and Juliet, II, iv:

" Laura to his Lady, was a kitchen wench...Dido a dowdie, Cleopatra a Gipsie, Hellen and Hero, hildings and harlots..."

Venus and Adonis, lines 7-12:

Thrise fairer than my selfe, (thus she began)
The fields chiefe flower, sweet aboue compare, etc (thereafter Gullio quotes accurately)

Spanish Tragedy II, iv, 44-5:

Nay then, my armes are large and stronge withall:
Thus Elmes by vines are compast till they fall.

Venus and Adonis, lines 1 - 2, except that "on" in Gullio's quote should be "of".