Feature of the Month: Thomas Killigrew's Comedies and Tragedies

In 2016 Senate House Library is commemorating the quartercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare. This year’s Features of the Month celebrate books published in the same year as Shakespeare’s first four folios: 1623, 1632, 1664 and 1685. This is the first of three books featured from 1664.

Thomas Killigrew
London: H. Herringman, 1664
[S.L.] I [Killigrew – 1664] fol.

Like the four Shakespeare folios, this is a collection of plays; and like the Shakespeare First Folio, it contains a mixture of previously published works and plays printed for the first time, albeit in markedly different proportions from Shakespeare: the Killigrew folio contains just eight plays in all, of which the two last (Claricilla and The Prisoners) had been published together in duodecimo format in 1641. The plays are written in prose, and the text extends in one block across the page, unlike Shakespeare’s two columns.

The author, Thomas Killigrew the elder (1612-1683), has been described as one of the most colourful figures of the mid-seventeenth century. He was an ardent royalist -- a page to Charles I and groom to the bedchamber of Charles II -- who spent the years 1644-1660 on the continent and wrote several of the plays there: The Parson’s Wedding records on the title page that it was written in Basel, The Pilgrim in Paris, Cicilia and Clorinda in Turin, Thomaso in Madrid, and Bellamira in Venice. After the Restoration Killigrew held, together with William Davenant, a monopoly over acting in London, where he managed the King’s Company and was the first person to employ women to act female roles. He was licensed to stage the largest share of the pre-Civil war repertoire, including the bulk of the Shakespearean canon. His own plays have been remarkably rarely published, with no editions between this one and a facsimile of it from 1967. They are pro-monarchy and anti-parliament, and display a fixation on regicide and restoration. Thus, for us, they raise questions about the Restoration policy of healing and settlement, and about where and when the English Revolution and cultural opposition to it end.

The most popular of the eight plays was The Parson’s Wedding, a bawdy farcical comedy. The most influential, although it was never performed, was Thomaso, or, The Wanderer. Partly autobiographical, it deals with the adventures there and in Naples of a band of English cavaliers during the exile of Charles II. Aphra Behn (1640-1689), the first professional female writer in English literature, based what is considered to be her finest play, The Rover (1677), on it.

This copy of Killigrew’s plays formerly belonged to William Hewer (1642-1715), a friend and assistant of Samuel Pepys.

Blog post details

  • 1 Jul 2016

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