1. At the end of October 1607 the members of St. John's College, Oxford, started planning their revels and plays for the Christmas season, but their deliberations disintegrated into quarrels and brawls. They therefore resolved to resort to the expedient of electing a Christmas Prince, a kind of collegiate Master of the Revels who would have the authority to dictate the nature of the entertainments. No such figure had existed in the college for thirty years, at which time, interestingly, the office had been occupied by John Case, and this probably goes a long way towards explaining why Case was so willing to defend academic drama and music against Puritan attacks in his later writings. This time, the initial choice was John Towse, who declined the honor, and so a second election had to be held. This time the electors settled on Thomas Tucker, who indicated his acceptance in a modest speech. During Tucker's reign, no less than eight dramatic pieces were performed, five in Latin and three in English. The first of these, Ara Fortunae (which, faute de mieux, probably deserves to be classified as a comedy), a play dealing with Tucker's inauguration as Christmas Prince, was performed on November 30, 1607.
2. Like Christ Church, St. John's College was a leading center for Oxford dramatic and literary activity during the last decades of the sixteenth centuries and the first ones of the seventeenth, and, besides Case, it produced such distinguished writers as Matthew Gwinne and Richard Latewar. One of the peculiarities of St. John's was a tradition that fair copies of dramas performed at the college were to be prepared, possibly for deposit in the college archives (if so, the collection is now broken up — some of these mss. are owned variously by the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the library of Lambeth Palace, and one remains in private hands). Thus we possess a number of manuscripts of plays on subjects drawn from Ovid's Metamorphoses, each prefaced by a dedicatory epistle to the current President of the college. The same was done to commemorate the plays produced during this span of time, and we possess a manuscript containing the texts of all eight plays, linked by a connecting narrative containing the history of Tucker's reign and presenting a great deal of particular information about the production of the plays. The result is a remarkable document for those interested in English university drama. The original editors of the manuscript, Frederick S. Boas and W. W. Greg, wrote that no similar record “lets us so completely behind the scenes of the collegiate theatre, or brings home to us so intimately the hopes and fears, the labours and difficulties, connected with the performances.” NOTE 1
3. In the present case, for example, the narrative tells us about the production of Ara Fortunae that (p.26):
This Showe by our selves was not thought worthye of a stage or scaffoldes, and therfore after supper the tables were onlye sett together, which was not done without great toyle and difficulty by reason of the great multitude of people (which by the default of the Dore-keepers, and divers others, every man bringinge in his freindes) had fild the Hall before wee thought of it. But for all this it beganne before 8 of clock, and was well liked by the whole audience, who, how unrulye so ever they meante to bee afterwardes, resolved I think at first with their good applause and quiet behaviour to drawe us on so farr as Wee should not bee able to retourne backwardes without shame and discreditt. They gave us at the ende 4 severall and generall plaudites; at the 2 wherof the Canopie which hunge over the Altar of Fortune (as it had binne frighted with the noise, or meante to signifie that 2 plaudites were as much as it deserved) suddenly fell downe; but it was cleanly supported by some of the standers by till the Company was voyded, that none but our selves tooke notice of it.
Some upon the sight of this Showe (for the better ennoblinge of his person, and drawinge his pedigree even from the Godes because the Princes name was Tucker, and the last Prince before him was Dr. Case) made this concepit that Casus et Fortuna genuerunt Τυκερον Principem Fortunatum, so that one <was> his Father, and the other his Mother.
Another accident worthy <of> observation (and which was allso then observed) was that the Foole carelesly sittinge downe at the Princes feet brake his staff in the midst; whence Wee could not but directly gather a verye ill omen, that the default and follye of some would bee the very breaknecke of our ensueinge sports, which how it fell out, I leave to the censures of others.
4. The ms. in question is St. John's College, Oxon., ms. 52.1, consisting of 260 numbered pages. Here is an inventory of its contents:
Narrative (pp. 5 - 13)
Ara Fortunae (Latin, pp. 14 - 26)
Narrative (pp. 26 - 39)
Saturnalia (Latin, pp. 40 - 47)
Narrative (pp. 47 - 49)
Philomela (Latin, pp. 50 - 83)
Narrative (pp. 83 - 85)
Time's Complaint(English, pp. 86 - 110)
Narrative (pp. 111 - 116)
The Seven Days of the Week (English, pp. 119 - 128)
Narrative (pp. 129f.)
Philomathes (Latin, pp. 130 - 168)
Narrative (pp. 169 - 178)
Ira Fortunae (Latin, pp. 179 - 206)
Narrative (pp. 206 - 211)
Periander (English, pp. 212 - 256)
Narrative (pp.256 - 260)
In addition to the plays and interludes listed here, according to the ms. (p. 115) another play, or at least some kind of performance piece, Somnium Fundatorism was performed ten days aftere Time’s Complaint, but the death of the author prevent the inclusion of its text in the ms. For this piece cf. Martin Wiggins and Catherine Richardson, British Drama 1533 - 1642: A Catalogue (Oxford, 2015) V.450f. Both the author or authors of the narrative and those of most of the plays are unidentified, although Owen Vertue is thought to have been responsible for Saturnalia, John Alder for Somnium Fundatoris and John Sandsbury for Periander. NOTE 2
5. There is no need for an edition of the entire document: a complete transcript was published by Frederick S. Boas, with the help of W. W. Greg, under the title The Christmas Prince (Malone Society Reprints, Oxford, 1922), and a photographic reproduction of the manuscript has been published with an Introduction by Earl Jeffrey Richards as vol. I.11 of the Renaissance Latin Drama in England series (Hildesheim, 1982); Richards supplies a bibliography on pp. 35f. Additionally, the narrative portions of the ms. may be read on pp. 340 - 381 of the first volume of Records of Early English Drama: Oxford (edd. John R. Elliott and Alan H. Nelson, Toronto, 2004). What is lacking, however, is individual editions of the Latin plays in the cycle, and my purpose is to make good this deficiency by presenting such editions in The Philological Museum.
6. According to the analysis of Boas and Greg (pp. xxv - xxvii), the manuscript was executed in no less than eleven hands. I shall not conjecture whether, like the series of abovementioned Ovid plays, this manuscript was the work of a team of professional scriveners, but in any event the care and formality with which the manuscript was obviously prepared is no kind of guarantee of textual correctness. To be sure, in Ara Fortunae one does not encounter any gross blunder such as can be found in some of the Ovid play mss. (it is evident that some of those scriveners were entirely ignorant of Latin), but there are a number of places where the ms. text is clearly wrong, and, as is often the case when working with university dramatic mss., it has proven necessary to perform radical surgery on the received punctuation.
7. I wish to extend my thanks to Dr. Martin Wiggins for the suggestion that editions of these plays and interludes would be a worthwhile project.
NOTE 1 Frederick S. Boas, The Cambridge History of English Literature VI (Cambridge, 1919), p. 319. See also Martin Wiggins, “All Power to the Christmas Prince,” Around the Globe 34 (Autumn, 2006), 28f.
NOTE 2 For the authorship of Saturnalia cf. Boas, op. cit. 1922, xi (cf. also Heinz J. Vienken's introduction to his edition of George Wilde's Eumorphus sive Cupido Adultus, Munich, 1973, p. 32 n. 29) ; for that of Periander, cf. Alfred Harbage, “The Authorship of the Christmas Prince,” Modern Language Notes 50 (1938) 501 - 5. In introducing the 1982 photographic reproduction of the ms., Earl Jeffrey Richards, who had misread the passage, wrongly reported that Boas attributed Saturnalia to Owen Vertue and John Alder.