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Puzzle Board | The Dutch Courtesan

The Dutch Courtesan

Puzzle Board

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    We have designed these pages as a place where questions about the play can be raised, and views sought about the issues they raise. We have started the ball rolling by posing a few queries and requests for information below, and will doubtless add to them as rehearsals proceed. We also invite visitors to the website to propose questions of their own about the play which might be added to the list.



    We know that The Dutch Courtesan was one of the plays chosen to be performed during the celebrations at court for the marriage between the Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine in 1613. Jill Levenson has observed of this fact that “In plot, tone, and setting, this unsettled play must have seemed a strange wedding presentation” (“Comedy”, p.290, in: A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). We would welcome any thoughts readers might have about the question Levenson poses.



    Some of the Cocledemoy/Mulligrub scenes were carved out of the parent play and, during the 1642-1660 ban on play performance, surreptitiously performed as a short “droll”, under the title of The Cheater Cheated. (Its text is reprinted in: John James Elson (ed.), The Wits, or, Sport upon Sport (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1932).) In his The City Staged: Jacobean Comedy, 1603-1613 (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), p.62, Theodore B. Leinwand judges the continuing popularity of this part of the play “less encouraging than we might have thought”, because, in his view, the subplot treats Mulligrub too much as “a tame fool” and therefore “allows” the play’s original audiences “to preserve” their “certainties”. In effect, he condemns it for facile baiting of an anointed victim, and therefore assumes these scenes would naturally appeal to socially conservative prejudice during a time of internecine political and social upheaval. Little recent work has been undertaken on the subject of why particular fragments of earlier plays became the ones singled out for the “droll” treatment during the Civil War and Protectorate period. Any ideas on the subject, with respect to the Dutch Courtesan material, will be gratefully received.

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    In 4.3, Cocledemoy tries to gain a kiss (and probably more) from Franceschina with, among other weapons, what David Crane, in his edition of the play, calls several bursts of “nonsense Greek” (London: A & C Black, 1997), p.78). In his edition (London: Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd., 1965), M. L. Wine is a little more expansive on the subject: “Cocledemoy’s “merry” Greek defies exact reconstruction, some of it probably being no more than gibberish or slang” (p.79). Wine’s “probably” there betrays an uncertainty which afflicts all the editions in their response to this sequence. No editor, for example, has attempted a line by line exposition of what the “Greek” words might mean, and no commentator has ventured a rationale for why Marston bestows this lingo on his trickster at this point. Just for the fun of it, or . . . . ?

    Matthew Steggle notes that Charles Cathcart has compared the moment to another mock-Greek passage in The Family of Love:

    The odd mix-up of made-up language during The Family [of Love]‘s cod conjuring scene, a compilation which has defied its glossators – ‘Clogmathos . . . Clogmathatos . . . Garrazin . . . Garragas . . . Garrazinos . . . Ton tetuphon . . . Tes tetuphes‘ (1063-9) – has a match in Coclodemoy’s [sic] own eclectic verbal inventions: ‘Hadamon key . . . medianthon teukey . . . Numeron key . . . blithefor cany, os cany . . . us key ne moy blegefoy oteeston‘ (IV, iii, 10-12).  (There is an appearance of ‘os’, ‘on’ and ‘tu’ syllables in each set of gibberish and in both there is a suggestion of Greek underlying the nonsense words.)

    Cathcart, Marston, Rivalry, Rapprochement, and Jonson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 104-105.

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     Stephen Minta writes 

    It doesn’t look very Greek. Rather, you’d call it macaronic. The only obvious Greek word is ‘catafugo’ (which means ‘flee for refuge’); mentula is Latin, of course, and ‘flumpum pumpum’ is Latin-inspired, I suppose. But the italicised bits aren’t Greek (medianthon looks a bit Greek, at a pinch, and possibly ‘numeron’, though that could be doggerel Latin, too; ‘cany’ is vaguely Greek). Certainly, ‘blithefor’ and ‘blegefoy’ are very un-Greek. The ‘Ick sall’ bit is presumably doggerel German/Dutch? I’d be fairly sure that none of it means very much! (Personal correspondence)


    We are compiling a bibliography of recent writings on The Dutch Courtesan, which will appear on the website shortly. We hope we are likely to catch all the obvious suspects, but would be pleased to receive suggestions about short, but substantive, passages on the play in works principally devoted to other subjects. An example would be the pages about Marston’s play, focused mainly on Malheureux’s role, in Cyrus Hoy, The Hyacinth Room: An Investigation Into the Nature of Comedy, Tragedy, & Tragicomedy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1964).



    We would be delighted to receive eye-witness reports of previous post-1945 productions of The Dutch Courtesan – the 1964 National Theatre one by William Gaskill and Piers Haggard, for instance, or the two 1950s Joan Littlewood ones, as well as more recent ones (for example, the Orange Tree one by Sam Waters in 1992, and Vivienne Cottrell’s at the Man in the Moon Theatre in 1990).

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    Martin White observes that “both indoor and outdoor theatres were able to reproduce bird-song” and cites as one example of this the stage direction in The Dutch Courtesan, 2.1, which “specifically indicates that ‘the Nightingales sing’’ (Renaissance Drama in Action: An Introduction to Aspects of Theatre Practice and Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), p.137). White, however, makes no propositions about how this might have been achieved. Any thoughts about this?

    Matthew Steggle points out that a similar direction appears in Act 1 of Richard Brome’s A Jovial Crew, but that there is still no indication how it might have been accomplished: ‘Sing Nightingale, Cuckoe, &c.’