The ‘Part’ of Orlando in Robert Greene’s play - Dulwich MSS 1, Article 138, folio 8r

Dulwich MSS 1, Article 138, folio 8r (MSS-1/Article-138/08r)

R. A. Foakes

Robert Greene was accused in an anonymous work called The Defence of Cony-Catching (undated, but entered in the Stationers’ Register on 21 April 1592) as having sold his play Orlando Furioso (probably written in 1591, and printed 1594) to the Queen’s Players, and then, when they were touring in the country, sold it again to the Admiral’s Men. The play appears once in the earliest list of performances in Henslowe’s Diary (MSS-7/007r) as played at the Rose by Lord Strange’s Men in February 1591/2. At this time it seems that Lord Strange’s Men and the Lord Admiral’s Men formed one company, which split into two separate companies in 1594 (Henslowe's Diary, MSS-7/009r), when Edward Alleyn became the star actor of the Admiral’s Men.

Born in 1566, Alleyn was already established, in Thomas Nashe’s opinion, as a supreme actor by 1592, for Nashe wrote that not even Roscius, the greatest actor of ancient Rome, could ‘ever perform more in action than famous Ned Allen (Pierce Peniless his supplication to the Devil (1592).[1] The leading role in Greene’s play Orlando Furioso, very loosely based on Ariosto’s romance, which was translated by Sir John Harington in an English version published in 1591, may have suited Alleyn as a ranting part in which he runs mad with jealousy in his love for Angelica and imagines that he is Hercules.

Several examples survive of individual parts written out for actors in medieval plays, but the part of Orlando is the only one known from the Elizabethan period. It appears that for major roles the actor was provided not with the whole text of the play, but with his own part with cues for each speech. The part of Orlando is written on strips of paper measuring about 16¼ by 6 inches. Originally there were probably 14 strips pasted together to form a continuous roll, but they were separated at some point and three, numbers 1, 2 and 7, are lost. Seven are more or less complete, three more are incomplete, and a fourth is represented by a single line of text. The text of the part was written out by a scribe who had some difficulties in reading the manuscript from which he was copying. Sometimes he got things wrong, and occasionally he left a blank space where he could not read or understand a word. It seems that Alleyn himself supplied words where necessary, such as the names ‘Ate’ and ‘Galaxsia’, and the words ‘crimson’ and ‘caus[e]lesse’. There are a few stage directions in the hand of the scribe, and ‘Exeunt’ was twice added by Alleyn, once at a point where Orlando is alone on stage (the Quarto has ‘Exit’) and he leaves to remain offstage for the next 65 lines.

The characteristics of this player’s part are well shown on the strip, folio 8r, illustrated here (MSS-1/Article-138/08r). Except for some wormholes this strip is in good condition and contains lines 165-226 of the part. The surviving strips preserve 531 lines or parts of lines. The completed part would have run to about 800 lines.[2] The scribe’s secretary hand is for the most part bold and clear, and he marks off each speech by a line that leads into the cue for Orlando’s next speech. These cues consist usually of brief phrases, such as ‘for a woemã’ (i.e. woman); ‘for hir honesty’, ‘wth an othe’, (i.e., oath), and once of the single name ‘Angelica’. There is no indication of acts or scenes. At one point the scribe has written ‘Exit’ in the left margin, followed by a line across the strip and then the word ‘Enter’ centred on the strip. This marks the absence of Orlando from the stage for about 100 lines. The scribe seems to have been unable to interpret one line where he left a space. Here Alleyn inserted in a distinctive hand the line ‘inconstant base inurius & vntrue’.

Some time after Greene died in September 1592 a quarto version of the play was published as the The Historie of Orlando Furioso in 1594 without attribution of authorship, and a second quarto was printed from the first in 1599. The Quarto text has about 1600 lines including stage directions and prose [3] and represents an abridged version of the play, omitting some scenes and conflating others, as a comparison with Alleyn’s part of Orlando confirms. It also has many errors and confusions. Many of the lines reproduced here from the part of Orlando are missing from the Quarto, in which the action too has been changed. Of the 36 lines in the part beginning with the cue ‘Angelica’ and ending with Orlando’s exit on the line ‘That Medor may not haue Angelica’, 19 are not in the Quarto, and many of the cues for Alleyn have no connection with speeches in the printed text.

In the action represented by the part, it seems that Orlando in his madness imagines that he sees Angelica, or takes some mannequin brought on by his page Argalio to be her, until the thought of Medor, believed by him to be her lover, makes him turn against her. In the Quarto, Argalio brings on a ‘Clowne drest lyke Angelica’, according to the stage direction, and there follows some rather feeble comic dialogue in prose. The Quarto contains two other scenes in which clowns appear and speak in prose, and all three presumably are alterations or additions to the original play.

The part is thus of unique importance. It shows how a leading actor studied his role in a play. It also shows that Greene created a heroic romance in which Orlando comes with other princes to sue for the hand of Angelica, is chosen by her, runs mad when falsely persuaded she has betrayed him, but overcomes his madness, fights and kills his challenger Brandemart and the traitor Sacrepant, to be restored to happiness at the end. The printed text is shortened and muddled; however, it cuts the blank verse of Orlando substantially, and adds clowns and comic byplay in prose. It appears to be a version of the play as adapted perhaps for a company touring outside London, and the claim on the title-page, ‘As it was playd before the Queenes Maiestie’ may be merely an advertising boast and not to be taken literally. In any case, the manuscript of the part of Orlando permits a comparison of the text drawn directly from the prompt copy of the Strange’s Men with the text as modified.


1.The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904), 1: 215 Back to context...

2.W. W. Greg, Two Elizabethan stage abridgements: The battle of Alcazar and Orlando Furioso (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), pp. 136-7. Back to context...

3.Greg, p. 275, Back to context...