Foure Prentices of London

Item author: Thomas Heywood
Item date: 1632
Grant Value: £1,000 from FNL's B. H. Breslauer Fund
Item cost: £1,850
Item date acquired: 2016
Item institution: Guildhall Library
Town/City: London
London borough: City of London

Heywood’s drama is e a significant addition to the Guildhall Library's collection of ‘Citizen’ dramas and istthe only copy of this early edition in a public library. The play itself was performed at the Red Bull playhouse which is just a mile from Guildhall Library. It features London apprentices, including a Grocer and a Haberdasher – the archives of both of these guilds are held at Guildhall Library. It joins our first edition of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle which is in part a satire on The Four Prentices.

The Earl of Bouillon (in the Spanish Netherlands) has lost his title and lands to a usurper while away in the service of William the Conquerer in England, and he decides to end his days in the Holy Land.  His four sons, 'bound prentice to foure Trades'  and unhappy with their lot,  set out to follow him, but their ship is wrecked and they wash up variously in Bouillon, France, Italy and Ireland, believing each other dead (these scenes acted in dumb-show and narrated by  a 'Presenter'). Their sister meanwhile has tailed them in disguise, and though the siblings and their father are slowly reunited over the course of the play, leading rival crusading forces, they do not recognise each other fully until before the walls of Jerusalem.

The Foure Prentices  has often been linked to a work entered in the stationers' register in 1594 as Godfrey of Buillon and apparently performed that year, though there several compelling counter-arguments: 1594 would be very early for Heywood, the subject was a popular one not unique to Heywood, 2 Godfrey was performed by a different company from that with which Heywood was involved, and The Foure Prentices is demonstrably not a 'second part'.  According to the preface in 1615 it was written and performed 'fifteene or sixteene years agoe', so in the late 1590s or perhaps the early years of the next century. Critics have heard echoes of As you Like it and Henry  V, both  1597, and it is a main object of satire in Beaumont & Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle  (1607).  The printer of the first edition was Nicholas Okes, publisher here, and the text is reset, though it is hardly 'newly revised' as the title-page claims. STG 13322; Greg, I, 333(b); Pforzheimer 475.’

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This grant was awarded from FNL's B. H. Breslauer Fund, thanks to the generosity of the President and Officers of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation.