If This Be Not a Good Play – Introduction

First off, in case you are wondering, If This Be Not a Good Play, the Devil Is In It  is indeed the longest name for a play in the entire Elizabethan/Stuart period, easily beating out Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody by seven letters.

If This Be Not a Good Play… was considered a failure in its time.  It was performed in 1611 at the Red Bull Theater by Queen Anne’s Company, and not by Dekker’s usual company, Prince Henry’s Company at the Fortune Theater, but they had apparently rejected it for unknown reasons.

The original source is a Dutch story of the 16th century which had become well known in England by Dekker’s time, The Historie of Friar Rush.  It concerned a devil who disguises himself as a friar in order to bring about the damnation of an entire friary.  An earlier, now lost, play by William Haughton and John Day is known to have existed in 1601.  Ten years later, Dekker took the story and greatly expanded it.  Not only is a devil sent to corrupt the friars, but two more are also sent; one to the court of a newly crowned king, and one to the city to meet with the local merchants.  Thus, from the initial scene in Hell in which the devils are sent out, the plot quickly spans out into three story threads, which eventually become masterfully intertwined, before the final toll of corrupted souls in the closing Hell scene.

The play is easy to date from internal evidence.  In the aforementioned final scene in Hell, two new characters are introduced who would be well known to contemporary theater-goers; indeed one of those, Guy Fawkes of the Gunpowder Plot 0f 1605, is still well known today.  It is the other figure that helps date the play, however.   François Ravaillac had assassinated the French king, Henry IV on May 14, 1610.  Furthermore, there is a casual mention of Dansiker, a pirate, who had perished in January 1611.  There is also a mention of Moll Cutpurse (Mary Firth, the title character of The Roaring Girl) and her legal troubles, also dating to 1611, and it is actually possible that she was in the audience.

Dramatis Personæ and Message to the Reader


Act One, Scene One

Act One, Scene Two

Act One, Scene Three

Act Two, Scene One

Act Two, Scene Two

Act Two, Scene Three

Act Three, Scene One

Act Three, Scene Two

Act Three, Scene Three

Act Four, Scene One

Act Four, Scene Two

Act Four, Scene Three

Act Four, Scene Four

Act Five, Scene One

Act Five, Scene Two

Act Five, Scene Three

Act Five, Scene Four


Return to Dekker page


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