The Old Wives' Tale by George Peele.

Over these past few weeks I've been reading plays from The Minor Elizabethan Drama: Pre-Shakespearean Comedies, edited by Ashley Thorndike (1958) and I'm having some real luck with them. The first, Ralph Roister Doister by Nicholas Udall I really enjoyed, the second, Endimion by John Lyly I loved, and now I'm on the third (out of five) - The Old Wives' Tale by George Peele, which I love too!

Whether or not The Old Wives' Tale is pre-Shakespearean can't quite be said. It was first performed in 1590 (and first published in 1595); Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, most likely his first play, may have been performed as early as 1589, others argue it was as late as 1594. But this is quibbling. At the very least The Old Wives' Tale was first performed very early in Shakespeare's play-writing life.  It was, as I say, written by George Peele, perhaps most famous for his possible (but uncertain) collaboration with Shakespeare in Titus Andronicus (1593). Peele was also once credited with the play Edward III, which is now generally said to be a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, and finally Peele is the author of The Troublesome Reign of King John (not to be confused with Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King John) and also The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First, both of which I want to read.

The Old Wives' Tale is a comedy and it's particularly short (my edition was just 32 pages) and it begins with a conversation between Antic, Frolic, and Fantastic, who are all lost in the woods. They are approached by Clunch, a smith of some kind, and he takes them back to his home where his wife Madge awaits. The brothers stay with the husband and wife, Madge gives them food, and after their dinner she tells them a tale of a king whose daughter is stolen away by a magician: as she gets deeper into the story the characters come to life, acting out the story of two brothers trying to find their sister Delia, who is being held by a magician - Sacrapant (inspired by Sacripante from Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto), who we learn has also enchanted an apparently old man... 

It's a magical story, perfect for these days nights. The fairy tale element with the ghosts, knights, bears, and captured princesses makes this a very beautiful and sweet little tale. Perhaps The Old Wives' Tale isn't as intellectually impressive as other plays of the time but that doesn't make it any less charming. I love it very very much for the magic, and for the gentleheartedness of the tone. I very highly recommend it!


  1. the picture very much looks like an early T. Fisher Unwin, Mermaid Series publication; i have 13 of those, collected over a long time: they're hard to find... i'm very slowly making my way through them...

    1. The Mermaid Series vaguely rings a bell... I think that one is Richard G Badger, though.

      Glad you mentioned Mermaid Series - just looked it up and found a site selling plays at not an unreasonable price, so I'll bookmark that! I'm struggling at the minute to find affordable books (I'm after some obscure ones) :)


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