The Seven Deadly Sins (play)

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Plot of the Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins, ca. 1597-98.

The Seven Deadly Sins was a two-part play written c. 1585, attributed to Richard Tarlton, and most likely premiered by his company, Queen Elizabeth's Men.[1] The play drew upon the medieval tradition of the morality play; though it was very popular in its time, no copy of either part has survived.

The "plot"

The play is significant, however, because the "plot" of Part 2 still exists; it was discovered in the cover of a 17th-century manuscript play, The Tell Tale, in a collection at Dulwich College. Originally assumed to be part of Edward Alleyn's papers, subsequent investigation suggests it was part of the collection bequeathed by player-bookseller William Cartwright the younger (c.1606–86), and was obtained by Edmund Malone when he traded the college some old religious tracts for plays from the Cartwright bequest.[2] As the term was used in English Renaissance theatre, the "plot" of a play was a chart that summarized its action; it was posted in the "tiring house" or backstage area of a theatre. The plot of S.D.S. 2 has a square hole punched in its middle, where it was hung on a board for all to read. The cast members of an Elizabethan dramatic production had their own parts written out for them, with relevant entrances and cues — but they did not have their own individual copies of the play text as a whole. So the posted plot was an important resource in keeping the production organized. Surviving Elizabethan plots are extremely rare — only half a dozen exist.[3]

The existing plot for S.D.S. 2 is not from the original production c. 1585, but from a later production c. 1597–98.[4] It was acted by personnel from Chamberlain's Men at The Theatre, the first of the large public theatres of the Elizabethan era.[5] The plot shows that Part 2 consisted of episodes concerning three of the seven deadly sins, Envy, Sloth, and Lechery; S.D.S. 1 must therefore have dealt with Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, and Pride.

The cast

That cast names many of the players of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, including two boys apprenticed to John Heminges in 1595 and 1597.[6] The plot refers to the production's personnel sometimes under the actors' names, sometimes by nicknames, and sometimes only by their roles; but at least a partial reconstruction of the actors and their roles is possible:[7]

Actor Induction Envy Sloth Lechery
George Bryan Warwick Damascus
Richard Burbage Gorboduc Tereus
"Harry" (Henry Condell?) Ferrex a lord
Richard Cowley a lieutenant a soldier; a lord Giraldus; a musician a lord
Augustine Phillips Sardanapalus
Thomas Pope Arbactus
John Sinkler a keeper a soldier a captain; a musician Mercury (?)
William Sly Porrex a lord
"Ro. Go." Aspasia
"Kit" a soldier a captain

"Ro. Go.," the actor (most likely a boy player) who filled a female role, might have been Robert Gough, who was with the Chamberlain's/King's troupe down to 1621. "Kit" might have been Christopher Beeston, who was with the Chamberlain's in the 1598–1602 period.[8] The plot also mentions Robert Pallant, John Duke, and John Holland, all Lord Chamberlain's Men, and Thomas Goodale, a hired player. Other players named on the lot include Vincent (Thomas Vincent?), T. Belt (Thomas Belt), Saunder (Alexander Cooke), Nick (Nicholas Tooley?), Ned (Edmund Shakespeare?), and Will (William Ostler? William Ecclestone?).[9]


  1. ^ Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 125.
  2. ^ Kathman 2004 pp. 16-17.
  3. ^ In addition to S.D.S. 2, Chambers (Vol. 4, p. 406) lists plots for George Peele's The Battle of Alcazar, and the anonymous and lost plays Dead Man's Fortune, Frederick and Basilea, Fortune's Tennis Part 2, and Troilus and Cressida Part 1 (not Shakespeare's play but another work, perhaps written by Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker in 1599). A plot for the anonymous and lost Tamar Cham Part 1 once existed and is known from descriptions, but is now itself lost.
  4. ^ Kathman 2004 p. 14.
  5. ^ Kathman 2004 p. 19.
  6. ^ Kathman 2004 p. 19.
  7. ^ Nunzeger, pp. 36, 63, 68, 98 and ff.; Kathman 2004 pp. 21-30.
  8. ^ Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 302.
  9. ^ Kathman 28-30.


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642. Third edition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • Kathman, David. "Reconsidering the Seven Deadly Sins", Early Theatre Vol. 7 (2004), pp. 13-44.
  • Kathman, David. "The Seven Deadly Sins and Theatrical Apprenticeship", Early Theatre Vol. 14 (2011), pp. 121-39.
  • McMillin, Scott. "Greg, Fleay, and the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, Vol. 4 (1989), pp. 3-62.
  • Nunzeger, Edwin. A Dictionary of Actors and of Others Associated with the Representation of Plays in England Before 1642. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1929.

External links

  • The Seven Deadly Sins at Lost Plays Database
  • The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins at Lost Plays Database
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