Essex’s players 17 November 1595

Rowland Whyte identifies some of the actors: ‘Thold Man was he, that in Cambridg plaied Giraldy, Morley plaied the Secretary, and he that plaied Pedantius, was the Soldior, and Toby Matthew acted the Squires Part’. Whyte is referring to a performance of the Latin comedy Laelia, at Queens’ College, Cambridge, witnessed by several peers, including Essex, in late February or early March 1595. Laelia featured among its characters Gerardus, an old man, played by George Meriton, and Petrus Pædagogus, a pedantic schoolmaster, played by George Mountain (Montaigne), both fellows of Queens’. John Weever immortalized the performances of Meriton and Montaigne in one of his 1599 Epigrams, ‘In Georgium Meriton, & Georgium Mountaine’:

Your entertaine (nor can I passe away)

Of Essex with farre-famed Laelia;

Nor fore the Queen your service on Queens day

When such a Maister with you beareth sway,

How can Queenes College euer then decay?

Mountain became a chaplain to Essex and accompanied him on the Cadiz mission; Meriton (c. 1567-1624) later became dean of York, and Mountain (1569-1628) rose to the archbishopric of York, succeeding Tobie Matthew, father of another player here, Tobie Matthew, junior.  The younger Matthew (1577-1655), who later and scandalously converted to Catholicism, would become a close friend of Bacon, and a trusted early reader of his work. The Secretary was played here by Morley, who has been identified as the composer Thomas Morley (1556/7-after 1602); perhaps a more likely choice would be Christopher Morley (1563?-1596), a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who would die on 18 April the following year, and whose elegy by William Alabaster opens suggestively, ‘Squallet scena, silent linguæ, nec Musica garrit …’ (‘The stage is hung with mourning, tongues fall silent, nor does music warble, since our darling Morley has died’).

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