Like Sir Thomas More,  and The Welsh Embassaor, this is one of only a handful of plays from the Elizabethan/Jacobean era to have survived in  manuscript form.  The playwright is anonymous, but the 19th century scholar F. G. Fleay mistakingly suggested it was the work of Thomas Dekker.  He seems to have been the only scholar of that opinion, nevertheless, I include it among the works of Dekker as part of my policy to include a Dekker “apocrapha.”

The manuscript is labelled as “Egerton MS. 1994” and has no title.

A. H. Bullen included the play in his collection “Old English Plays,” published during the last decade of the 19th century.  He righty dismisses Fleay’s idea of Dekker’s authorship, and proposes instead John Marston, having first discarded his original idea that it was Cyril Tournier.  His suggestion of Marston rests on the grotesque sequence involving Theodora’s corpse and a perceived simalarity to a similar scene in the anonymous The Second Maiden’s Tragedy which he believes to be Marston’s.  But then Bullen dismisses this idea outright and settles on George Chapman.  A later editor, Franck L. Schoell concurs with Bullen.

It was Bullen who first gave the play a name, The Distracted Emperor.  Schoell renamed it as simply Charlemagne, and it is under this simpler name that John Henry Walter edited the play for the Malone Society in 1938.  Walter does not agree with Bullen and Schoell’s opinino on the authorship, but concurs that it could be an unknown playwrite mimicking Chapman’s style.  It is Walter’s text that serves as my main source for my modern English text here.

The manuscript appears to be the playwright’s fair copy.  A reviser has marked off passages to be cut, and I have noted them in the text in blue.  As well, the Master of the Revels (Edmund Tilney held the office, but the notes are in the hand of his assistant George Buck, who would become Master of the Revels in 1610) has marked off a few passages, and I show his cuts in red.  The proposed changes are nowhere near as dramatic as those in Sir Thomas More.

The pages of the original manuscript, especially at the bottom, have worn away over the centuries, sometimes causing the loss of a line, or portions of a line.  To show where this occurs I have used <…> to indicate missing text.  In many instances, Bullen and/or Schoell have speculated as to what some of the missing words or letters may have been.  I have shown their guesses by including the speculated letters inside the brackets, such as <…T>

The play itself is a curious mixture of historical romance, and fantasy.  The basis for the plot comes from Petrarch who write an account of Charlemagne having fallen under the spell of a woman who possessed a magic ring that caused the emperor to fall hopelessly in love with whoever held it.  After she dies young, still possessing the ring, Charlemagne continues to hold onto her body until his bishop find the ring and removes it, only to become the object of the emperor’s affection himself.  The anonymous author takes the old story and expands it, though the full explanation does not come until the play’s final moments.  As well, there is the court intrigue involving the villain Ganelon, his sister Gabriella and their mother, as well as the other relatives and associates of Charlemagne.

Dramatis Personæ

Act One, Scene One

Act Two, Scene One

Act Three, Scene One

Act Three, Scene Two

Act Four Scene One

Act Four, Scene Two

Act Four, Scene Three

Act Five, Scene One

Act Five Scene Two

Act Five, Scene Three

Act Five, Scene Four

Return to Dekker page.


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