1. January 10, 1608 must have been a day of taut nerves at St. John’s College, Oxford. NOTE 1 An interlude entitled Time’s Complaint had been acted on New Years’ Day as the fourth dramatic entertainment of the reign of Thomas Tucker, the Christmas Prince, and, due to its actors’ incompetence, the performance had been a disaster. Another interlude entitled Somnium Fundatoris [“Our Founder’s Dream”], evidently in Latin and perhaps written by John Alder, about how Sir Thomas White was inspired by a dream to found a college at its present site in Oxford, had been scheduled for performance on Twelfth Night. But to forestall another such fiasco the text was “revewed and corrected by the best judgments in the house and a Chorus by their direction inserted to excuse former faults,” extra rehearsals were no doubt held, and the work was not ready to be shown until January 10 (ms. pp. 112f.)/ And so it came about that two pieces were privately performed in the Lodging on that day. The first of which was this Somnium, which “was very well liked and so wel deserved for that it was both wel penned and well acted.” Unfortunately, its text does not survive because (p. 116) “this interlude, by the reason of the death of him that made it, not long after was lost, and so could not bee heere inserted.”
2. The second interlude performed on January 10 was the present one, The Seven Dayes of the Weeke, probably originally meant to be that day’s only entertainment. According to the author of our narrator (p.115):
Now because there were divers youths whose voyces or personages would not suffer them to act any thing in publicke, yet withall it was thought fitt that in so publicke a buisnes every one should doe something, therefore a Mocke play was provided called the 7 dayes of the weeke which was to bee performed by them which could do nothing in earnest, and that they should be sure to spoyle nothing every mans part was sorted for his parson, and it was resolved that the worse it was done, the better it would bee liked, and so it fell out. For the same day after supper it was presented by one which bore the name of the Clarke of St. Gyleses, and acted privately in the lodging...
3. The result must have come as a pleasant surprise (p. 129):
Nothing throughout the whole yeare was better liked and more pleasaunt then this shew insomuch that allthough it were more privately done before our selves onely or some few freinds yet the report of it went about all the towne till it came to the Vicechancellours and my Lord Cliffords eares, who were very desyrous to see it acted againe and so it was...(p. 169)...on Sunday nighte being the Seventeenth of January the Vicechancelor and the Lord Clifford, with many other Doctors and Gentlemen, were invited to Supper in Praesidents lodging, where after supper they were entertained with a shew before mentioned, to witt, the 7 Daies in the Weeke, to which by this time there was somewhat added, but not much, all was most kindely accepted, and the nighte was spent in great mirth. For the straungenes of the matter and rarity of the fashion of their action pleased above expectation.
4. The text of The Seven Dayes of the Weeke is preserved on ms. pp. 119 - 128, and accordingly occupies pp. 136 - 152 of the diplomatic transcript of the manuscript published by Frederick S. Boas and W. W. Greg. In their introduction to this transcription (p. xvi), these scholars made one observation that cannot be passed over in silence:
Though the author of this amusing jeu d’esprit cannot be identified, he must be the same as the writer of a ‘Twelve Night Merriment, Anno 1602.’ This piece, entitled Narcissus by its modern editor, Miss Margaret L. Lee, forms part of Rawlinson MS. Poet 212 in the Bodleian, and was acted, as internal evidence shows, at St. John’s. In it, as in The Seven Days of the Week, the performers, who are young undergraduates, are represented as being youths of ‘St. Gyles his parish’ (in which the College is situated) who come to entertain their betters. In both shows each of the actors on his first appearance gives a ridiculously naive description of the part he is playing, much after the fashion of Bottom and his fellows in Pyramus and Thisbe. And both display the same skill in tours de force of double rhymes, arranged either in couplets or six-lined stanzas.
It is impossible to share the view that these two pieces must needs have been the same man. The most that can be said in favor of this theory is that it is not out of the question, but the undeniable similarities between them are susceptible to at least two other explanations. Vernacular shows of this kind may have constituted a special institutional tradition at St. John’s College, or, perhaps more likely, one can easily imagine that the author of The Seven Dayes may have read and learned from Narcissus. Speaking against the identification is the consideration that the author of Narcissus must have matriculated, and most likely been admitted to the B. A., by 1600 or 1601 and who was still in the college in 1607, by which time he would have been atypically senior if he were still engaged in dramatics (most university plays were written by M. A. students).
5. To avoid confusion, the reader should be advised that a single actor plays both the parts of Sunday and “the Clerk of St. Giles,” which is to say, the author of the piece. The written text identifies the person in which this actor is currently speaking. Unusually, therefore, the author of the interlude is in full view of the audience throughout the performance, and there are a couple of points where sidenotes have him breaking in to expostulate with the other actors for their mistakes (163, 369). One suspects that these interruptions, and maybe a few more in the same vein, are the “somewhat added, but not much” of the second performance. The text has other sidenotes as well, but apparently these are all normal scribal explanatory material, although no attempt is made to distinguish sidenotes included for these two very different purposes.
NOTE 1 Everything known about the 1607/08 Christmas Prince festival at St. John’s College is contained in St. John's College, Oxon., ms. 52.1., 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, which can be read here), 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).
NOTE 2 Edited by Margaret L. Lee, Narcissus: A Twelfe Night Merriment (London, 1883. which may be read here).