the Annotated Popular Edition of


The Old Wives’ Tale

by George Peele

Written c. 1590-5
First published 1595


Featuring complete and easy-to-read annotations.


Annotations and notes © Copyright ElizabethanDrama.org, 2018
This annotated play may be freely copied and distributed.





Contemporary Characters:

     George Peele's The Old Wives' Tale is a charming, if

Antic, a Servant.

not weighty, play, and one of the easiest works of the era

Frolic, a Servant.

to read. Its "play-within-a-play", in which a minor plot

Fantastic, a Servant.

involving some contemporary English characters frames a

Clunch, a Smith,

larger story, anticipates that of Shakespeare's Taming of

     Madge, his wife.

the Shrew, but is more interesting than the latter because

Peele's English characters regularly comment on the main

Fairy Tale Characters:

action, risking breaking the audience's suspension of

Sacrapant, a conjuror.


     Wives' Tale is ultimately a fairy tale, complete with 

First Brother, named Calypha, a Prince.

sorcerer, magic disembodied heads, and a kidnapped

Second Brother, named Thelea, a Prince.


Delia, sister to Calypha and Thelea, a Princess.


Eumenides, a Wandering Knight.

Huanebango, a Knight.

     The text of the play is taken from Alexander Dyce's

Corebus, a Clown.

1874 edition of The Old Wives' Tale, cited below at #3.



     Venelia, betrothed to Erestus.

     Mention of Dyce, Gummere, Bullen, Nielson and


Whitworth in the annotations refers to the notes provided

     Zantippa, daughter to Lampriscus.

by each of these editors in their respective editions of this

     Celanta, daughter to Lampriscus.

play, each cited fully below.

     The most commonly cited sources are listed in the


footnotes immediately below. The complete list of

Ghost of Jack, a deceased person.

footnotes appears at the end of this play.


     1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online.


     2. Crystal, David and Ben. Shakespeare's Words.


London, New York: Penguin, 2002.

     3. Dyce, Rev. Alexander. The Dramatic and Poetical

Friar, Harvest-men, Furies, Fiddlers, &c.

Works of Robert Greene and George Peele. London:

George Routledge and Sons: 1874.

     4. Gummere, F.B., ed. The Old Wives' Tale, pp. 333-

383; from Representative English Comedies, Charles

Mills Gayley, ed. London: MacMillan & Co., 1916.

     5. Bullen, A.H. The Works of George Peele. London:

John C. Nimmo, 1888.

     6. Nielson, William Allen. The Chief Elizabethan

Dramatists. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1911.

     7. Whitworth, Charles W. Three Sixteenth Century

Comedies. London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1984.


The Woods, Contemporary England.

The Settings: the original 1595 edition of The Old Wives' Tale did not provide scene settings, a normal practice of the era. All settings are the suggestion of the editor.

     We may also note here that many of the stage directions appearing in this edition are modified, and clarifying, versions of those appearing in the original edition, and are generally adapted from Dyce's suggestions.

Enter Antic, Frolic, and Fantastic.

Entering Characters: Antic, Frolic and Fantastic are servants to some unnamed master; they are travelling through the woods, on an unspecified mission related to their employer's love-life, and are lost.
     Antic = bizarre, grotesque.1
     Frolic = merry.
     Fantastic = fanciful, imagined.2


Antic.  How now, fellow Frolic! what, all amort? doth

1: Frolic = the original edition accidentally prints Franticke
         amort = downcast, dejected.
         1-2: doth…madness = "does this sad mood fit your
     normal merry character?"


this sadness become thy madness? What though we

= suppose, ie. "who cares if".

have lost our way in the woods? yet never hang the

= ie. "your".


head as though thou hadst no hope to live till to-

morrow; for Fantastic and I will warrant thy life to-

5-6: for Fantastic…hundred = Antic offers 5-to-1 odds


night for twenty in the hundred.

     that Frolic will not die or be killed this night.
         warrant = assure, guarantee.


Frol.  Antic, and Fantastic, as I am frolic franion, never

8: frolic franion = "a merry fellow"; the OED defines

in all my life was I so dead slain. What, to lose our

franion as a "gay and reckless fellow", though Dyce alone suggests "idle". Peele uses frolic'st franion again in Scene VI.56.
     8-9: never…slain = Frolic expects to die in the woods this night, ie. "I am already dead."


way in the wood, without either fire or candle, so

= the boys are not only lost, but it is night, and they have no
     source of light.

uncomfortable? O cœlum! O terra! O maria! O

11: uncomfortable = disquieted or inconsolable.1
     O cœlum! = Oh Heaven!
     O terra! = Oh earth!
     O maria! = Oh sea!



= Roman god of the sea.


Fan.  Why makes thou it so strange, seeing Cupid hath

14: Why…strange = "why are you being so difficult".1

led our young master to the fair lady, and she is the

         14-16: seeing…serve = typical Elizabethan language


only saint that he hath sworn to serve?

     describing a man in love.


Frol.  What resteth, then, but we commit him to his

= ie. "remains for us to do".  = consign, entrust.1

wench, and each of us take his stand up in a tree, and

19: wench = girl or maid; wench did not necessarily carry
     any negative connotation.
         take…tree = climb or take a position up in a tree.


sing out our ill fortune to the tune of "O man in

20: ill fortune = bad luck.


         20-21: O man in desperation = a popular song of


     the late 16th century.

Antic.  Desperately spoken, fellow Frolic, in the dark:


but seeing it falls out thus, let us rehearse the old

= "this is how things have turned out".  = recite.



    Three merry men, and three merry men,

26-29: frequently mentioned old song; in Shakespeare's

    And three merry men be we;

     Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch speaks the words "three


    I in the wood, and thou on the ground,

     merry men be we".

    And Jack sleeps in the tree.


Fan.  Hush! a dog in the wood, or a wooden dog! O

31: Fantastic hears a dog bark; he playfully puns as well: wooden = dull or stupid,1 though Dyce prefers "mad".


comfortable hearing! I had even as lief the

32: comfortable hearing = "what a reassuring thing to

chamberlain of the White Horse had called me up to

hear!" - but based on Fantastic's next line, this may be



     32-34: I had…to bed = "I would just as much prefer, however, that the man in charge of the bedrooms (the chamberlain) at the White Horse tavern had been inviting me to take a bed there for the night."
     White Horse = common name for a tavern; the one on Friday Street in London was much frequented by our author George Peele.16


Frol.  Either hath this trotting cur gone out of his

36-37: Either…circuit = "either this trotting dog has

circuit, or else are we near some village, which should

escaped from its enclosure (ie. and hence is lost too)".1
     trotting = the easy locomotion of a dog was frequently called a trot; indeed, the word dogtrot itself became popular in the 17th century.1
     cur = dog, usually used contemptuously.


not be far off, for I perceive the glimmering of a

38-40: I perceive…cat's eye = Frolic is confident he sees a
     light in the distance.

glow-worm, a candle, or a cat's eye, my life for a

39: glow-worm = firefly.



         39-40: my life…halfpenny = an expression of the
     confidence Frolic has in his vision, ie. "I bet my life to a


Enter Clunch, a Smith with a lantern and candle.

Entering Character: Clunch is an elderly blacksmith who lives in a cottage in the woods with his wife Madge. The word clunch came to be used to describe a clown.1


In the name of my own father, be thou ox or ass that

= ie. "even if you are an".

appearest, tell us what thou art.

= who.


Clunch.  What am I? why, I am Clunch the smith.


What are you? what make you in my territories at this

= "what are you doing" or "what is your business";5 Clunch

time of the night?

is genuinely surprised and concerned over the unexpected appearance of the three lost lads in the woods, and not, as the words might suggest, expressing hostility.


Antic.  What do we make, dost thou ask? why, we

51-52: What do…fear = Antic puns on the word make;
     the phrase "to make a face", or "to make faces", first
     appeared in English letters in the early 16th century.1


make faces for fear; such as if thy mortal eyes could

52-54: such as…side slops = "if you could see the terrified

behold, would make thee water the long seams of thy

     looks on our faces, you would urinate in your trousers".


side slops, smith.

         side slops = long wide breeches or trousers.3


Frol.  And, in faith, sir, unless your hospitality do

= truly.

relieve us, we are like to wander, with a sorrowful

= likely to keep wandering.


heigh-ho, among the owlets and hobgoblins of the

= sigh.1

forest. Good Vulcan, for Cupid's sake that hath

59: Vulcan = a form of address to the smith: Vulcan was the Roman blacksmith god.
     59-60: for Cupid's sake…us all = Cupid is the cherubic god of love; Frolic names him as the cause of the lads' predicament, in the sense that they are on their present errand because the god has caused their master to fall in love.
     cozened = tricked, deceived.


cozened us all, befriend us as thou mayst; and

60-62: befriend...and ever = briefly, "if you will help us, 

command us howsoever, wheresoever, whensoever, in

we will do anything you ask us to do forever", ie. "we will


whatsoever, for ever and ever.

forever be in your debt." Gummere categorizes this line as a parody of the sort of speech a wandering knight might make on entering the territory of a giant or the like.


Clunch.  Well, masters, it seems to me you have lost

= sirs.

your way in the wood: in consideration whereof, if you


will go with Clunch to his cottage, you shall have

= Gummere notes the frequency with which characters refer

houseroom and a good fire to sit by, although we have

     to themselves in the third person in plays of the era.


no bedding to put you in.


All.  O blessed smith, O bountiful Clunch!

= generous.


Clunch.  For your further entertainment, it shall be as

it may be, so and so.

= ie. "and so forth".


[Hear a dog bark.]

75: the audience is to understand that the characters have reached Clunch's home.


Hark! this is Ball my dog, that bids you all welcome in

= "listen!"


his own language: come, take heed for stumbling on

78-79: take heed…threshold = "be careful not to trip on

the threshold. − Open door, Madge; take in guests.

the threshold"; threshold is an ancient word from Old English, referring to the stone or piece of timber at the bottom of a doorway.1 Whitworth notes it is bad luck to stumble at the entrance.


Enter Madge, an Old Woman.

Entering Characters: the blacksmith Clunch's wife Madge


     enters the stage.

Madge.  Welcome, Clunch, and good fellows all, that


come with my good-man: for my good-man's sake,

= "my husband".1

come on, sit down: here is a piece of cheese, and a


pudding of my own making.

= either a sausage or a sweet baked dish.1


Antic.  Thanks, gammer: a good example for the wives

= a vocative expression: old woman, grandma.

of our town.


Frol.  Gammer, thou and thy good-man sit lovingly

91-92: Frolic basically asks Madge not to put herself to any


together; we come to chat, and not to eat

     trouble on their account.


Clunch.  Well, masters, if you will eat nothing, take

94-95: take away = "clear the table".1

away. Come, what do we to pass away the time? − Lay


a crab in the fire to roast for lamb's-wool. − What,

96: crab = crabapple.
          lamb's wool = a popular drink comprised of the pulp
    of roasted apples and ale.8

shall we have a game at trump or ruff to drive away

97: trump or ruff = names of popular card games, though


the time? how say you?

     they may be one and the same.
          drive away = pass, wile away.


Fant.  This smith leads a life as merry as a king with

= common simile of the period.

Madge his wife. Sirrah Frolic, I am sure thou art not

101: Sirrah = common familiar form of address.
        I am sure…or other = "I am sure you know a song
     we can sing."
         round = a song in which singers sings in turn.


without some round or other: no doubt but Clunch can

102-3: no doubt…part = Fantastic expresses confidence

bear his part.

that Clunch can sing his own part in a satisfactory manner. Bullen and Gummere note that in this era, citizens of all ranks were expected to be able to participate in a song with multiple parts.


Frol.  Else think you me ill brought up: so set to it

105-6: "if I did not, you would think I was not raised


when you will.

     properly; go ahead and start when you are ready."


[They sing.]




Whenas the rye reach to the chin,

= when.  = a grain.

And chopcherry, chopcherry ripe within,

= a game in which one tries to catch a cherry suspended on


Strawberries swimming in the cream,

     a string.1

And school-boys playing in the stream;


Then, O, then, O, then, O, my true-love said,

Till that time come again


She could not live a maid.

118: she could not stand to remain unmarried.


Antic.  This sport does well; but methinks, gammer, a

= ie. "this is great fun."

merry winter's tale would drive away the time trimly:

121: winter's tale = tale of fantasy; the expression predates
     Shakespeare's play of the same name.
         trimly = well, finely.


come, I am sure you are not without a score.

= ie. twenty such stories.


Fant.  I'faith, gammer, a tale of an hour long were as

= truly.

good as an hour's sleep.


Frol.  Look you, gammer, of the giant and the king's

127-8: of the giant…daughter = Frolic gives a generic
     example of the type of story he is hoping to hear.


daughter, and I know not what: I have seen the day,

128-130: I have seen…discourse = Frolic recalls how in

when I was a little one, you might have drawn me a

     his childhood, he was so enchanted by such tales, he


mile after you with such a discourse.

     would have followed a moving story-teller for a mile to
     keep listening.


Madge.  Well, since you be so importunate, my good-

132: importunate = insistent.
     132-3: good-man = husband.

man shall fill the pot and get him to bed; they that ply

133: fill the pot = ie. with ale.
          133-4: they that...hours = ie. "those who work hard
    must keep regular hours", ie. get enough sleep.


their work must keep good hours: one of you go lie

134-5: one of you…with him = it was normal in this era for
     individuals of the same sex to share a bed for the night.

with him; he is a clean-skinned man I tell you, without

135-6: he is…windgall = Madge assures the lads they


either spavin or windgall: so I am content to drive

     should have no fear of catching any untoward disease

away the time with an old wives' winter's tale.

     from the old man.
         clean-skinned = free from scabs or other skin-
     conditions such as leprosy.
         spavin or windgall = names for horse maladies, each
     referring to a tumour or disease caused by a tumour in a
     horse's leg.


Fant.  No better hay in Devonshire; o' my word,

139: I have found no other instances of this proverbial-


gammer, I'll be one of your audience.

sounding expression. Devonshire is noted for the fertility of its land.16 Our author George Peele was believed to hail from a Devonshire family.4


Frol.  And I another, that's flat.

= ie. "that's settled."1


Antic.  Then must I to bed with the good-man. − Bona

144-5: Bona nox = Latin for "good night".

Nox, gammer. − God night, Frolic.

= a variation of good night which appears intermittently in


     this period.

Clunch.  Come on, my lad, thou shalt take thy


unnatural rest with me.

= unnatural presumably because two men will sleep
     together in a single bed.


[Exeunt Antic and the Smith.]

150: we may note here that Madge, Frolic and Fantastic remain on stage for the entirety of the play; the actors who play Antic and Clunch are now freed to play other characters.


Frol.  Yet this vantage shall we have of them in the

= advantage.  = ie. over.

morning, to be ready at the sight thereof extempore.

= something like, "we will be ready (ie. dressed and ready)1 
     to move out at once (extempore)1 at the sight (ie.
     moment) of dawn."


Madge.  Now this bargain, my masters, must I make

155-7: Madge wants her audience of two to at least grunt


with you, that you will say "hum" and "ha" to my tale, 

     every once in a while as she tells her tale to show her

so shall I know you are awake.

     they have not fallen asleep.
         bargain = deal.


Both.  Content, gammer, that will we do.

= "ok".


Madge.  Once upon a time, there was a king, or a lord,

= here is the earliest appearance in English literature of this still common formula used to open a story (though other permutations, such as once on a time and once upon a day had appeared earlier).


or a duke, that had a fair daughter, the fairest that ever

= beautiful.

was; as white as snow and as red as blood: and once

= white and red were frequently paired in describing a woman's beauty; pale skin was considered to be most attractive in this period, and red refers to a healthy ruddy hue.


upon a time his daughter was stolen away: and he sent

= kidnapped.

all his men to seek out his daughter; and he sent so

165-6: he sent so long = ie. "he sent out men to find his


long, that he sent all his men out of his land.

     daughter over such a long period of time".


Frol.  Who drest his dinner, then?

= prepared.


Madge.  Nay, either hear my tale, or kiss my tail.

= Madge puns on tale and tail; this expression first 

appeared in the 16th century's earlier comedy Gammer Gurton's Needle. Variants, including kiss my behind (and ar*e and a*s) came later.


Fant.   Well said! on with your tale, gammer.


Madge.  O Lord, I quite forgot! there was a conjurer,

= sorcerer or wizard.

and this conjurer could do anything, and he turned


himself into a great dragon, and carried the king's

daughter away in his mouth to a castle that he made of


stone; and there he kept her I know not how long, till

at last all the king's men went out so long that her two


brothers went to seek her. O, I forget! she (he, I would

180-1: (he…say) = "no, I mean he".

say), turned a proper young man to a bear in the night,

= handsome.  = into.


and a man in the day, and keeps by a cross that parts

182: a man = ie. into an old man.
         keeps = ie. "he dwells".1
         182-3: cross…ways = ie. three-way intersection,
     marked by an actual cross.

three several ways; and he made his lady run mad, −

= ie. the sorcerer.  = ie. the sweetheart of the man whom the
     sorcerer turned into a part-time bear.


Gods me bones, who comes here?

= typical Elizabethan oath, "by God's bones".


The Play's Scenes: the original edition of The Old Wives' Tale was not broken up into Acts or Scenes; for ease of reading, the editor has provided suggested scene breaks.

A Cross-road in England.

Enter the Two Brothers.

Entering Characters: here begins Peele's "play within a play", as Madge's story gets acted out in front of the old lady and her auditors; the Two Brothers are princes, sons of the king whose daughter was kidnapped by the sorcerer described by Madge. Named Calypha and Thelea, the young men are searching for their sister.


Frol.  Soft, gammer, here some come to tell your tale

= "wait a moment".


for you.


Fant.   Let them alone; let us hear what they will say.


1st Broth.  Upon these chalky cliffs of Albion

6ff: unlike the low-brow rustics and pages in the cottage, who only speak in prose, the characters of the fairy tale will frequently speak in verse whenever they employ loftier language.
     These chalky…Albion = Albion was the earliest name for the island of Great Britain16 (today comprising England, Scotland and Wales). The chalky cliffs are the White Cliffs of Dover.

We are arrivèd now with tedious toil;

= painstaking effort.


And compassing the wide world round about,

= circling; as will become clear, the princes, and in fact most of the characters, are originally from the Greek district of Thessaly, so that they have indeed travelled widely to find their sister, named Delia.

To seek our sister, seek fair Delia forth,

= Delia is stressed on the first syllable; it is sometimes


Yet cannot we so much as hear of her.

     pronounced with two, and sometimes with three,

     syllables: DE-lya or DE-li-a.


2nd  Broth.  O fortune cruèl, cruèl and unkind!

Unkind in that we cannot find our sister,


Our sister, hapless in her cruèl chance. −

= unfortunate.  = very bad luck.

Soft! who have we here?

= "hold on!"


Enter Erestus at the cross, stooping to gather.

Entering Character: Erestus is the young man whom the sorcerer has caused to turn into a bear at night and an old man during the day, and who lives at the intersection marked by a cross during the day.
     Erestus is gathering whatever roots and herbs he can find for food; impoverished characters can frequently be found in Elizabethan drama digging up vegetable or other plant roots to eat.
     Erestus is actually identified as Senex here, and only here, in the original edition.


1st  Broth.  Now, father, God be your speed! what do

= common variation for "God speed", an expression of good


you gather there?



Erest.   Hips and haws, and sticks and straws, and

= the fruit of the rose and hawthorn respectively; the two

things that I gather on the ground, my son.

words hips and haws were frequently paired in old


     We may note that Erestus has somehow, in the process of being transformed into both an old man and a bear, gained the powers of prophecy; and as such, has a penchant for speaking in minor rhymes, e.g. haws and straws.

1st  Broth.  Hips and haws, and sticks and straws!


why, is that all your food, father?


Erest.   Yea, son.


2nd  Broth.  Father, here is an alms-penny for me; and

= a penny given as an act of charity.

if I speed in that I go for, I will give thee as good a

= ie. "am successful in (finding) that which".


gown of grey as ever thou didst wear.

= traditional habit of a pilgrim.7


1st Broth.  And, father, here is another alms-penny for

me; and if I speed in my journey, I will give thee a


palmer's staff of ivory, and a scallop-shell of beaten

36: the 1st Brother promises gifts associated with a pilgrim.


     Palmer's staff = a palmer was a pilgrim who made the long journey to Jerusalem, so-called because of the palm leaf or branch such a pilgrim traditionally carried.
     scallop-shell = carried as a badge by a pilgrim; the OED notes that the tradition arose from those pilgrims who, having visited the Shrine of St. James of Compostela in Galicia in north-west Spain, picked up such a shell (which is the symbol of St. James) from the shore there and returned home with it.1


Erest.   Was she fair?

39: Gummere notes that as an oracle, it is natural that
     Erestus would know the purpose of the brothers'


2nd  Broth.  Ay, the fairest for white, and the purest

41-42: note the reversal of associations: the blood, men-


for red, as the blood of the deer, or the driven snow.

tioned before the snow, is compared to the red, which is mentioned after the white.
     The association of red with purity might seem odd, but the reference here may be to unalloyed gold, which turns red, and hence proves itself pure, when it is heated.1
     The simile of white with driven snow seems to have appeared in English letters first in 1566, in a translation of Lamentations.


Erest.   Then hark well, and mark well, my old spell: −

44: hark and mark are basically synonyms for "listen
         my = ie. "to my".
         spell = ie. prophecy.

Be not afraid of every stranger;

45-52: note the rhyming couplets and iambic tetrameter (four pairs of beats, or iambs, compared to the five of iambic pentameter) of Erestus' spell.


Start not aside at every danger;

= ie. "do not shy away from"; the phrase start aside was a common one describing one who steers clear from danger or something frightening.1

Things that seem are not the same:


Blow a blast at every flame;

= breath.

For when one flame of fire goes out,


Then come your wishes well about:

If any ask who told you this good,


Say, the white bear of England's wood.

= interestingly, the original name for a polar bear, in use

since the 14th century; polar bear doesn't appear until the mid-17th century.1


1st  Broth.  Brother, heard you not what the old man said?

Be not afraid of every stranger;

55-62: Gummere notes that it would be normal to repeat


Start not aside for every danger;

     such a solemn and important spell.

Things that seem are not the same;


Blow a blast at every flame;

[For when one flame of fire goes out.

59-60: the original edition of the play, accidentally or not,


Then come your wishes well about:]

     omits the final two lines of the spell in the 1st Brother's

If any ask who told you this good,



Say, the white bear of England's wood.


2nd  Broth.  Well, if this do us any good,

Well fare the white bear of England's wood!

= ie. fare well; fare may be disyllabic for the sake of the


     meter: FAY-er.3

[Exeunt the Two Brothers.]


Erest.  Now sit thee here, and tell a heavy tale,

69f: Erestus talks to himself.
     heavy = distressing, grave.1


Sad in thy mood, and sober in thy cheer:

70: Sad = serious.
         sober in thy cheer = certainly meaning "serious in
     your demeanor", but could also mean "moderate in your
     consumption of food".

Here sit thee now, and to thyself relate

258-275: note that Erestus' story is related partially in
     rhyming couplets, while sometimes a rhyme is found in
     every other line, and some lines stand unrhymed at all.


The hard mishap of thy most wretched state.

= misfortune.2

In Thessaly I lived in sweet content,

= an ancient region of Greece, notorious for the witchcraft
     which thrived and poisonous herbs and drugs which
     grew there.16


Until that fortune wrought my overthrow;

= "worked my ruin."

For there I wedded was unto a dame,

= actually, Erestus is only engaged to be married; such minor internal inconsistencies were common in Elizabethan drama, though here we can perhaps blame Madge for unintentionally forgetting such occasional details as she tells her story.


That lived in honour, virtue, love, and fame.

But Sacrapant, that cursèd sorcerer,


Being besotted with my beauteous love.

My dearest love, my true betrothèd wife,


Did seek the means to rid me of my life.

But worse than this, he with his chanting spells

= may or may not be short for enchanting.3,6


Did turn me straight unto an ugly bear;

And when the sun doth settle in the west.

83-84: he turns into a bear at sunset.


Then I begin to don my ugly hide:

= wear, put on.

And all the day I sit, as now you see,


And speak in riddles, all inspired with rage,

86: speak in riddles = like those spoken by the oracles of ancient Greece, Erestus' prophecies are usually highly ambiguous in meaning.
     all inspired with rage = ie. divinely inspired with prophetic ability.1

Seeming an old and miserable man,


And yet I am in April of my age.

= ie. "(actually) a young man."


Enter Venelia his lady mad; and goes in again.

Entering Character: Venelia is poor Erestus' fiancée,

whom the sorcerer has caused to go mad: she enters, then exits the stage, after passing by but not recognizing Erestus.


See where Venelia, my betrothèd love,

Runs madding, all enraged, about the woods,

= acting in a mad or frenzied manner; the OED files this use


All by his cursèd and enchanting spells. −

     of madding as a verb.

But here comes Lampriscus, my discontented neighbour.


Enter Lampriscus with a pot of honey.

Entering Character: Lampriscus is identified a little later
     by Madge as a beggar who lives on the green.


How now, neighbour! you look toward the ground as

99-100: you look…as I = except that Erestus is looking


well as I: you muse on something.

     down to find food, while Lampriscus stares at the

     ground in either sorrow or deep thought.


Lamp.  Neighbour, on nothing but on the matter I 

so often moved to you: if you do anything for charity,

= ie. "have previously appealed to you regarding."


help me; if for neighbourhood or brotherhood, help

me: never was one so cumbered as is poor Lampriscus;

= encumbered, burdened.


and to begin, I pray receive this pot of honey, to mend

= "please accept".  = supplement; Lampriscus hopes that

your fare.

     in return for this gift, Erestus will be more willing to help


     him with his problem.

Erest.  Thanks, neighbour, set it down; honey is


always welcome to the bear. And now, neighbour, let

me hear the cause of your coming.


Lamp.  I am, as you know, neighbour, a man


unmarried, and lived so unquietly with my two wives,

that I keep every year holy the day wherein I buried


them both: the first was on Saint Andrew's day, the

= ie. November 30: St. Andrew was thought to bring good
     luck to lovers.5

other on Saint Luke's.

= ie. October 18, a day thought to be favourable for those who wished to learn of their future spouses: if a seeker of love applied a certain concoction to one's face, and recited a specific formula, one would dream of one's future love.
     Bullen notes that the Horn Fair was also held on this day, as St. Luke was jestingly considered the patron saint of cuckolds (horns were said to grow on the foreheads of husbands whose wives cheated on them), making this, perhaps, an even more poignant day for Lampriscus. The 1886 Glossaries of South-West Lincolnshire, Kent and Berkshire confirms such a fair was held on October 18 in Charlton in Kent, and the fair included a tradition of a riotous mob marching in a procession from Cuckold's Point, wearing horns on their heads, and some of the men even dressing as women.


Erest.   And now, neighbour, you of this country say,

= ie. "as you".  = ie. England; despite Lampriscus' non-
     English name, Erestus' comment suggests he is a native
     of the island.


your custom is out. But on with your tale, neighbour.

= ie. "your obligation to me is paid;" custom referred to a

     regular payment of money or in kind by a feudal tenant
     to a landowner.1


Lamp.  By my first wife, whose tongue wearied me

alive, and sounded in my ears like the clapper of a


great bell, whose talk was a continual torment to all

that dwelt by her or lived nigh her, you have heard me

= near.


say I had a handsome daughter.

= attractive.


Erest.  True, neighbour.


Lamp.  She it is that afflicts me with her continual

130: ie. Lampriscus' beautiful, but shrewish daughter by his
     first wife.

clamours, and hangs on me like a bur: poor she is, and


proud she is; as poor as a sheep new-shorn, and as

= proverbial, perhaps newly-so.

proud of her hopes as a peacock of her tail well-grown.

132: the peacock has ever been proverbial for its pride.


Erest.  Well said, Lampriscus! you speak it like an

135-6: this speech of Erestus' hints that Lampriscus might



     be another transplant from Greece after all.


Lamp.  As curst as a wasp, and as froward as a child

= shrewish, quarrelsome.2  = stubborn.

new-taken from the mother's teat; she is to my age, 


as smoke to the eyes, or as vinegar to the teeth.

140: she is…teeth = that is, highly disagreeable! Lampriscus quotes from Proverbs 10:26: "As vinegar is to the teeth, as smoke is unto the eyes" (all Biblical quotes in this play are from the Bishop's Bible of 1568).


Erest.   Holily praised, neighbour. As much for the

= Erestus, with gentle irony, indirectly acknowledges


     Lampriscus' quote from scripture.


Lamp.  By my other wife I had a daughter so hard-

145-6: hard-favoured…ill-faced = a collection of
     synonyms, all meaning "ugly".


favoured, so foul, and ill-faced, that I think a grove full

146-8: a grove…deformity = even if Lampriscus was able

of golden trees, and the leaves of rubies and diamonds,

     to provide untold wealth as a dowry to a prospective


would not be a dowry answerable to her deformity.

     husband, his second daughter would still not find

     anyone to marry her because of her wretched looks.


Erest.   Well, neighbour, now you have spoke, hear me

speak: send them to the well for the water of life; there

151: well = spring or water-hole.


shall they find their fortunes unlooked for. Neighbour,

     water of life = water possessing supernatural powers:


the phrase water of life comes from Revelations 21:6 ("I will give him unto him that is a thirst of the well of the water of life freely) and 22:1 ("And he shewed me a pure river of water of life"), and refers to eternal life in Christ.


Lamp.  Farewell, and a thousand.

155: "a thousand times farewell" (Dyce).


[Exit Erestus.]

157: Whitworth suggests that Erestus may not leave the


stage, but just withdraw into the background as he keeps by the cross.

And now goeth poor Lampriscus to put in execution


this excellent counsel.

= advice.





Frol.  Why, this goes round without a fiddling-stick:

1: the story is moving along nicely, even without musical


but, do you hear, gammer, was this the man that was a

     accompaniment (Whitworth, p. 231).

bear in the night and a man in the day?


Madge.  Ay, this is he! and this man that came to him

ie. Lampriscus.


was a beggar, and dwelt upon a green. But soft! who

come here? O, these are the harvest-men; ten to one

= reapers.1


they sing a song of mowing.

= cutting the grain, as with a scythe.1


Enter the Harvest-men a-singing,

with this song double repeated.




     All ye that lovely lovers be,

     Pray you for me:


     Lo, here we come a-sowing, a-sowing,

     And sow sweet fruits of love;


     In your sweet hearts well may it prove!




The Cross.

Scene IV: it appears that this scene contains numerous allusions to an intense feud which raged in the early 1590's between the playwright Thomas Nashe and poet Gabriel Harvey; the scene and its many specific references to the harsh words that passed between the two authors is discussed in detain at the following site: www.anonymous-shakespeare.com/cms/index.248.0.1.html.
     In the interest of not burdening the reader with the minutia of these allusions, we have chosen to mostly omit their discussion.

Enter Huanebango with his two-hand sword,
and Corebus the Clown.

Entering Characters: Huanebango is a mock-errant, or wandering, knight, of the type the Spanish author Cervantes would make famous in his Don Quixote about a decade later; Huanebango's Spanish-sounding name is symbolic of the contempt the English held of all things Spanish during the reign of Elizabeth, especially in light of the fact that the English had destroyed the invading Spanish armada so recently (1588).
     Huanebango carries a two-handed sword, a large unwieldy instrument that had long been out of date by the late 16th century - another clue to the parodical nature of this character.
Corebus is a country bumpkin (clown), who appears also to have visions of acting the errant-knight. Corebus was the name of the first victor in the first Olympic games.
     We note that the original edition refers to Corebus sometimes as Booby; we will stick with Corebus.


Fant.   Gammer, what is he?

= who, referring to Huanebango.


Madge.  O, this is one that is going to the conjurer: let


him alone, hear what he says.


Huan.   Now, by Mars and Mercury, Jupiter and

6-8: with an exaggerated oath, Huanebango swears on a multiplicity of Roman gods. Note how he alliteratively pairs the deities.
     Mars and Mercury = god of war and the messenger god.
     Jupiter and Janus = king of the gods and the two-faced god of doorways.
     Sol = the god of the sun, sometimes identified with Apollo.
     Saturnus = an ancient king of Italy, often identified with the Greek god Cronus, the father of the Olympian gods.
     Venus and Vesta = goddesses of beauty and the hearth.
     Pallas = alternate name for Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war.
     Proserpina = goddess of vegetation.

Janus, Sol and Saturnus, Venus and Vesta, Pallas and


Proserpina, and by the honour of my house,

= ie. family, ancestry.

Polimackeroeplacydus, it is a wonder to see what this

= our knight's family name is even more ridiculous than his given name; Whitworth observes that this name is a close adaptation of a name that actually appears in the ancient Roman dramatist Plautus' play Pseudolus, Polymachaeroplagides. This mouthful of a name appears to be a compound of three Greek words, meaning roughly "the son of many blows with a sword."17 See the note at lines 43-46 below for additional discussion of this name.
     9-10: what this…adventure = "what love will cause foolish (silly) men to risk to do"; while it is possible that Huanebango is addressing himself in this speech, it seems more likely he is admonishing Corebus, who apparently has arrived also planning to try to rescue Delia from the sorcerer.


love will make silly fellows adventure, even in the

10: adventure = risk.

wane of their wits and infancy of their discretion. Alas,

     10-11: even…discretion = even in the decline of their intelligences and immaturity of their judgment."
     The style of Huanebango's speech is reminiscent of the manner of writing, popularized by the playwright John Lyly in the 1580's, known as euphuism, which was characterized by the heavy use of parallel phrases and alliteration.


my friend! what fortune calls thee forth to seek thy

fortune among brazen gates, enchanted towers, fire

= brass.


and brimstone, thunder and lightning? [Her] beauty, I 

= added by Dyce.

tell thee, is peerless, and she precious whom thou

= without equal.


affectest. Do off these desires, good countryman: good

= lovest.  = do away with, dispense with.

friend, run away from thyself; and, so soon as thou


canst, forget her, whom none must inherit but he that

= ie. "she whom".  = take possession of.

can monsters tame, labours achieve, riddles absolve,

19: labours achieve = great deeds were often performed by
     errant-knights for their ladies; fairy tales generally also
     featured noble acts performed by the hero.
      absolve = solve.


loose enchantments, murder magic, and kill conjuring,

20: loose = ie. remove, free a person from.

− and that is the great and mighty Huanebango.

     murder = ie. put an end to one's ability to use.


Core.  Hark you, sir, hark you. First know I have here

23ff: Corebus' earthy and humorous responses and decidedly


the flurting feather, and have given the parish the start

less-exalted language are the perfect foils for the inflated

for the long stock: now, sir, if it be no more but

language of the self-aggrandizing Huanebango.
     Hark you = "listen up".
     23-25: I have…stock = a difficult passage; the best interpretation suggested by past editors is that Corebus is showing off elements of his dress, as a way to demonstrate his equal status to Huanebango. He first points to a decorative feather on  his hat, which he describes as flurting, which while not clearly defined in this context in the OED, may mean "erect" or "flaunting", based on a mid-17th century citation; then he gestures toward his stockings, which are fashionably fastened high above the knees.4
     In saying he has given the parish the start, Corebus means he has run away from his parish; Elizabethan laws proscribing vagabondage give this act significance. Another editor hence suggests that Corebus is actually daring parish officials to catch him if they can and put him into stocks.4
     Bullen has a different take, suggesting that Corebus is saying "I have been the first beau in the parish to adopt the long stocking of the town-gallants."
     Dyce, finally, wonders if by stock Peele means "sword", so that Corebus is saying, "I have left the parish for the long-sword", ie. to become a knight-errant.


running through a little lightning and thunder, and

"riddle me, riddle me what's this?" I’ll have the wench

27: riddle…what's this = Gummere notes that the solving
     of riddles to win a bride or fortune or the like is common
     in folk-tales.
         have = take, ie. rescue.


from the conjurer, if he were ten conjurers.

= ie. even if.


Huan.   I have abandoned the court and honourable

company, to do my devoir against this sore sorcerer

31: do my devoir = "do my duty" or "take on this task".1
         sore = troublesome, severe;1 note the wordplay of
     sore sorcerer.


and mighty magician: if this lady be so fair as she is

said to be, she is mine, she is mine; meus, mea, meum,

= the knight lists the masculine, feminine and neutral Latin
     forms of my, as if he is reciting from a Latin grammar


in contemptum omnium grammaticorum.

= in contempt of all grammar.


Core.  O falsum Latinum!

36: "oh, false Latin!"

The fair maid is minum,

37: faux, and mocking, Latin for mine.


Cum apurtinantibus gibletis and all.

= "with its appurtenances".  = mock Latin for giblets,

     ie. guts.


Huan.   If she be mine, as I assure myself the heavens

will do somewhat to reward my worthiness, she shall

= something.


be allied to none of the meanest gods, but be invested

= "not even the least of the".

in the most famous stock of Huanebango

43-46: Huanebango exalts his family; Dyce notes that Peele


Polimackeroeplacydus my grandfather; my father

is likely satirizing the lengthy character names used by

Pergopolineo; my mother Dionora de Sardinia,

Plautus in his comedy Miles Gloriosus, e.g. Pyrgopolynices


famously descended.

and Periplectomenus, but he seems to have missed the fact,

as Whitworth points out, that the name of Huanebango's father, Pergopolineo, is actually an adaptation of Pyrgopolynices; the latter was the name of the boastful soldier in Miles Gloriosus.
     stock = progenitor of a family line.1
     A fascinating theory by 19th century drama scholar Frederick Fleay (as described by Gummere) suggests these names were designed to satirize the lowly background of poet and author Gabriel Harvey (supposedly a favourite sport of his enemies), and specifically to mock Harvey's father for being a mere rope-maker: hence, the names may be understood to read as Grecianized versions of "Polly-make-a-rope-lass" and "Perg-up-a-line-O".
     Having shared Fleay's theory, Gummere lets his readers know he himself is not convinced, with this single comment: "Fleay is bold."
     Dionora de Sardinia = another invented name by Peele.


Core.  Do you hear, sir? had not you a cousin that was

called Gusteceridis?


Huan.   Indeed, I had a cousin that sometime followed


the court infortunately, and his name

= common variation of unfortunately, meaning "without


= this name of the knight's kin includes elements of bust,


meaning "container", and gust, referring to the sense of taste;1 the name suggests that this gentleman was a notorious glutton, as the succeeding discussion confirms.
     A modern reader might sense the modern phrase "bust a gut" in the name, but the OED suggests the word bust did not gain its meaning of "burst" for another half-century.

Core.  O lord, I know him well! he is the knight of the



= a popular food, the heel of a cow or ox.1


Huan.  O, he loved no capon better! he hath often-

= castrated cock, another popular food.1

times deceived his boy of his dinner; that was his fault,

59: deceived…dinner = ie. tricked his servant boy out of


good Bustegusteceridis.

     his dinner.

          fault = weakness, defect.


Core.  Come, shall we go along?


Enter Erestus at the Cross.


Soft! here is an old man at the cross: let us ask him the

way thither. − Ho, you gaffer! I pray you tell where the

= to there, ie. Sacrapant's castle.  = grandfather.  = please.


wise man the conjurer dwells.

= term for a magician or wizard.1


Huan.  Where that earthly goddess keepeth her abode,

70-72: Huanebango describes Delia.

the commander of my thoughts, and fair mistress of


my heart.


Erest.  Fair enough, and far enough from thy

74-75: ie. "she is truly beautiful enough, and far away

fingering, son.

enough from your ability to capture her, sonny."


     Note the exceptional alliteration in this line, which is continued by Huanebango in the next line, as well as the wordplay of fair enough and far enough.
     fingering = pilfering, laying one's hands on.1,2

Huan.  I will follow my fortune after mine own fancy,


and do according to mine own discretion.

= act.


Erest.  Yet give something to an old man before you



Huan.  Father, methinks a piece of this cake might

83-84: Huanebango contemptuously gestures to some


serve your turn.

     sweetened bread carried by Corebus.

         turn = purpose or need.


Erest.  Yea, son.


Huan.  Huanebango giveth no cakes for alms: ask of

88-89: This is not the response one would expect from a
     supposedly virtuous knight-errant.

them that give gifts for poor beggars. − Fair lady, if

89-91: Fair lady…haratantara = the knight apostrophizes


thou wert once shrined in this bosom, I would buckler

to Delia as he turns his attention to his mission, saying

thee haratantara.

roughly, "beautiful maiden, if you ever become enshrined


in my heart, I will defend (buckler)1 you to the death."
     Fair lady = describes, and sometimes used as a term of endearment as here for, a woman who is the object of one's love, especially in a chivalrous context.1
     haratantara = usually written taratantara, an imitative sound of a trumpet.1



Core.  Father, do you see this man? you little think

95-97: you think…pudding = Corebus notes that


he'll run a mile or two for such a cake, or pass for a

     Huanebango seems to share the same passion for food

pudding. I tell you, father, he has kept such a begging

     as does his gluttonous relative: "you wouldn't believe
     that he actually would run a mile or two himself for a
     piece of cake, or that he cares for (pass for = care for)
     any such savoury desert."


of me for a piece of this cake! Whoo! he comes upon

me with ''a superfantial substance, and the foison of

99-100: a superfantial…earth = Corebus parodies the
     pompous and high-styled language of the knight.
         superfantial = a made-up word; fantial itself is a
     nonsense word.
        foison = plenty or abundance.3


the earth," that I know not what he means. If he came

100: "but if he were to come".

to me thus, and said, “My friend Corebus,” or so, why,

= the original edition has Booby written here; as mentioned
     earlier, we will, for the sake of consistency, stick strictly
     with Corebus.


I could spare him a piece with all my heart; but when

he tells me how God hath enriched me above other


fellows with a cake, why, he makes me blind and deaf

104-5: he makes…at once = ie. Corebus instantly shuts out
     Huanebango's pleading for a piece of cake as soon as he
     begins speaking in his heroic manner.

at once. Yet, father, here is a piece of cake for you, as

105-6: as hard…goes = "cruel as the world is," or "hard as


hard as the world goes.

     he times are."5


[Gives cake.]


Erest.  Thanks, son, but list to me;

110-3: the short rhyming couplets of Erestus' speech are
     typical of those used as here for prophetic pronounce-
         list = listen.

He shall be deaf when thou shalt not see.


Farewell, my son: things may so hit,

= ie. turn out.

Thou mayst have wealth to mend thy wit.

= "supplement or compensate for your (meager) intelli-


Core.  Farewell, father, farewell; for I must make haste

= ie. hurry.


after my two-hand sword that is gone before.

= ie. Huanebango.  = "who has gone ahead."


[Exeunt severally.]

118: the two men exit the stage in separate directions,
     Corebus presumably following in Huanebango's foot-


Sacrapant's Castle.

Enter Sacrapant in his study.

Entering Character: we finally meet our play's villain, the
     sorcerer Sacrapant.


Sacr.  The day is clear, the welkin bright and gray,

= sky.  = Whitworth suggests gray means blue.


The lark is merry and records her notes;

= sings, warbles.2

Each thing rejoiceth underneath the sky,


But only I, whom Heaven hath in hate,

4: note the alliteration in the line.

Wretched and miserable Sacrapant.


In Thessaly was I born and brought up;

My mother Meroe hight, a famous witch,

= "was called Meroe"; Meroe was the name of a witch who appeared in the 2nd-century romance Metamorphoses (more commonly referred to as The Golden Ass), by the African-born Latin writer Apuleius.


And by her cunning I of her did learn

= could mean "knowledge" or "magic".  = "from her".

To change and alter shapes of mortal men.


There did I turn myself into a dragon,

And stole away the daughter to the king,

= kidnapped.


Fair Delia, the mistress of my heart;

12: Sacrapant is in love with Delia; she, however, does not
     reciprocate his feelings.

And brought her hither to revive the man,

13-15: Sacrapant is actually a very old man, but he has used
     his magic so as to appear to others as a handsome youth.
         13: "and brought her here to give life back to the old
     man, ie. me."


That seemeth young and pleasant to behold,

And yet is agèd, crookèd, weak, and numb.

= the sense seems to be "emotionally dead".


Thus by enchanting spells I do deceive

Those that behold and look upon my face;


But well may I bid youthful years adieu.

18: "but I may as well kiss my youthful looks goodbye":
     Sacrapant regrets that his appealing appearance does him
     no good, as Delia has not fallen in love with him.

See where she comes from whence my sorrows grow!

= technically redundant, but common, expression, as
     whence alone means "from where".


Enter Delia with a pot in her hand.

Entering Character: Delia is the daughter of the king


     whom Sacrapant has kidnapped, and whose brothers,
     among others, are searching for her.
         pot = pitcher.

How now, fair Delia! where have you been?


Delia.  At the foot of the rock for running water, and


gathering roots for your dinner, sir.


Sacr.  Ah, Delia,

Fairer art thou than the running water.


Yet harder far than steel or adamant!

= a legendary rock or mineral of great hardness.


Delia.  Will it please you to sit down, sir?


Sacr.  Ay, Delia, sit and ask me what thou wilt,

Thou shalt have it brought into thy lap.


Delia.  Then, I pray you, sir, let me have the best meat

= roast beef, according to Gummere.


from the King of England's table, and the best wine in

all France, brought in by the veriest knave in all Spain.

= "greatest scoundrel in all of Spain"; as discussed earlier, relations between England and Spain were poor in these years; as Dyce points out, a particular sore point had been the discovery of Spanish involvement in the 1586 Babington Plot, a scheme to kill Elizabeth and replace her with the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots.
     veriest = common superlative of the era, usually applied to a term of abuse; in Shakespeare we find veriest varlet, veriest shrew, and veriest hind.


Sacr.  Delia, I am glad to see you so pleasant:

= droll, in a good mood.


Well, sit thee down. −

Spread, table, spread;

43-49: Sacrapant casts a spell; note the rhyme scheme of


Meat, drink, and bread,

     the spell, aabbaca.

Ever may I have


What I ever crave,

When I am spread:


For meat for my black cock,

48: most editors delete the first For.

And meat for my red.

     48-49: Gummere notes that this incantation is "less uncanny than usual", as cocks of various colours held significance in various superstitions; indeed, a little research leads to the discovery that witches were typically believed to have black cocks as familiars (as well as black cats), that black cocks were used frequently in magical incantations, and that in Scotland, a formula for a cure for epilepsy included burying a live black cock;14 another source describes a Scottish tradition of administering the blood of a red cock for medicinal purposes.15


Enter a Friar with a chine of beef and a pot of wine.

= section or joint.2


Here, Delia, will ye fall to?

= ie. begin eating.


Delia.  Is this the best meat in England?


Sacr.  Yea.


Delia.  What is it?


Sacr.  A chine of English beef, meat for a king and a


king’s followers.


Delia.  Is this the best wine in France?


Sacr.  Yea.


Delia.  What wine is it?


Sacr.  A cup of neat wine of Orleans, that never came

70: neat = undiluted.1

near the brewers in England.

     Orleans = a number of plays of the era reference this fine


wine-growing region.16
     that never…England = Whitworth explains that brewers were dealers in wine who diluted it before they sold it (p. 238), though the OED does not support such a meaning.

Delia.  Is this the veriest knave in all Spain?


Sacr.  Yea.


Delia.  What, is he a friar?